It has been just over a year since Ondrejcak paid his last medical bill. Now 27, he no longer works at Sweet Melissa, having established himself as a freelance set designer for fashion shows. He works in a studio near the Gowanus Canal that he shares with a client, the designers behind the trendy Vena Cava line. A sun-speckled loft with wide-plank flooring, white-brick walls, and exposed air shafts, it’s a space that epitomizes a kind of bohemian success: independent, informal, productive. During one of our meetings, he was in the process of conceptualizing Alice Roi’s Bryant Park show, one of a handful he was working on for Fashion Week, and had to excuse himself numerous times to give assistants direction or to answer calls from his agency. His circumstances are vastly different from the morning he woke up in pain—on the surface, at least. “My credit is basically destroyed,” he said. “It’s amazing how much it haunts you. The other day, I tried to apply for an extension on my credit limit and they rejected it, bringing all this up. I can’t even imagine what will happen if I ever, like, try to buy a house.”
Toward the end of one of our conversations, I asked Ondrejcak, the least invincible of young invincibles, how coming down with appendicitis changed his attitude toward health insurance. Did he now see it as essential? Given what he had been through, and that he was better off financially, I assumed the answer was obvious. I was wrong. “Oh, no, I still don’t have any insurance,” he told me, rolling his eyes to indicate that, yes, he knows how it sounds. “I think about it, but it’s not like I have a consistent income right now. I think about paying $300 a month on top of my other expenses, and it’s like, God, when’s it going to end?” He paused. “But, really, it’s more than that. I was just so disillusioned with the process. I wanted nothing to do with it, you know? And maybe because, in the end, I kind of managed to get away with it, I end up thinking …” He trailed off, not finishing the thought, but the sentiment was clear: He is still young, he runs, he does yoga, he takes all the vitamins. And it’s not like you can get appendicitis twice.