It was the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic and the world had just gone into lockdown. I didn't know what non-fungible tokens were yet, but my journey to understanding them would somehow start with a 4 day trip to the hospital's intensive care unit.
You see, I'm a type one diabetic that requires insulin. But I have always had health insurance through my parents or my employers, and so it was lucky for me that I had never needed to worry about it. My luck ran out though when I was laid off because of COVID-19, and then lost access to my insurance. Long story short, I was able to get insurance through the state of Minnesota, but there was a 3 week period where I had zero coverage. The timing couldn't have been worse.
One night I went into what's called "diabetic ketoacidosis" and it's a doozy. I spent almost 5 days in the bed of an ICU, and when it was done I got handed a bill totaling nearly $30,000. I applied for assistance, cried, begged, and pleaded with the hospital to help me out. 30K may as well have been 300K, since it was going to be a lifetime before I would be able to pay that back. They refused.
Not long afterwards I started seeing news articles talking about the $69 million dollar sale by Beeple and these things called NFTs. I was intrigued and unemployed, so I jumped in to Clubhouse rooms and learned with everyone else. Eventually the idea of selling NFTs to raise money to pay my hospital bill came to me and started exploring ways I could leverage this technology.
Normally, something like GoFundMe or relying on family to help out would have been the path someone takes when they find themselves in situations like mine. With all this talk of "utility" with NFTs and all the possibilities it offers, paying off an insurmountable debt caused by forces outside of my control seemed like wonderful utility.
Coming up with the NFT
How could I leverage NFTs to make paying off this bill a reality? Prior to this idea of my hospital bill as an NFT, I'd only minted a small handful of items. I never really tried to promote them seriously or approach them in any other way than casually. I was here to explore, learn, and connect with others, but this needed to be more than a meme.
My first inclination was to do something on OpenSea, since that was all I knew. I thought a collection for this hospital bill where each item in the collection was a different piece of the bill – like a piece of paper that had gone through the shredder. I minted a few pieces on OpenSea, but quickly realized it wouldn't work.
At the time, Ethereum was far too cost prohibitive to use for something like this, not to mention the tooling to mass mint items wasn't very available. The communities on Ethereum also didn't seem as receptive to the idea since there was such an outward focus on profits, floor prices, and flipping. I ultimately decided against it and sat on it for a while.
Then I discovered Tezos. It had trivial fees, the community was welcoming, and there was less focus on bottom line profits. It didn't take long for me to realize that this was where my hospital bill NFT would live, and I decided to go for it. On April 24th, 2021 I minted my hospital bill NFT onto Hic et Nunc.
I called it #1 because it was my hope that other people would be inspired by it and perhaps someone else could create #2 – I didn't want this just to be a one-off idea. I wanted to change the perception of what NFTs could be. My bill was roughly 30,000 dollars and at the time Tezos was floating around $6. My thesis was that it would be easier to find 10,000 people to pay $3, or half a tez, rather than 1000 @ 30, or 100 @ 300 each. So 10,000 editions were minted and I was off to the races.
How it performed
The response to all of this was overwhelming. I would share my story across Clubhouse and Twitter and was in awe at the amount of kind words I received. I was told that this was first NFT they'd ever purchased, or the parents of diabetic children would say how touching and relatable my experiences were. To this day I still receive messages about it every now and then. I even had a number of people just send me donations which is always a little unexpected.
One question that I often received was why I didn't choose to do a GoFundMe or some other more traditional method of raising money. The reason I wanted to do this with NFTs was simply because I don't think it had been done before. It was a creative, novel use case for NFTs that used cryptocurrency to great effect. It was also an artistic choice – I found the idea of taking something that had negative value like a hospital bill, and using that actual bill to raise money to pay off the same bill. It was poetic.
All told, I sold about 200 copies after a few months, which is far short of the 10,000 I had been hoping for. It was clear that the spark I had been hoping to ignite wasn't quit there, but I did find about 200 people who believed in what I was trying to do. I ultimately made the decision to burn the unsold editions rather than keep pushing it. There were about 200 editions in circulation afterwards, and I remained relatively quiet about it for the next year or so.
The Tezos Permanent collection
In May of 2022 it was announced that Misan Harriman, chair of the London Southbank Centre, was creating curating the "Tezos Permanent Collection" – A permanent digital art gallery designed to remind of the most prestigious art museums. It highlights the most notable, creative, and boundary pushing artworks in the Tezos ecosystem and was backed by a 1 million dollar grant.
After receiving some encouragement from people I really look up to. To me, the Collectabill was an experiment, but not an artistic creation. It was only after chatting with Laurence Fuller that I considered it's value as an artistic creation. Misan agreed, and he purchased an edition of the Collectabill in August for 2,000 tez. This not only was helpful to pay towards my hospital bill, it also validated and empowered me to be seen as an artist.
One of the things I've learned in life is that you can't have any preconceived notions about how most things will go. Did I expect to actually generate $30,000 by selling NFTs like this? Not really. I didn't have any expectations, but I was maybe hoping to be recognized in some fashion for being innovative. I certainly didn't expect my hospital bill to be in the same collection being celebrated alongside the best and brightest that Tezos has to offer.
I think the space for altruism and charitable causes needs to be explored heavier in this Web3-NFT-crypto space we're participating in. Never in the history of mankind has it been easier to help people and the communities who need it. With a single click we can materially change people's lives for the better, but it's on us to actually do it. Let's be the change we want to see in the world.
P.S, Carlos also made it into the collection.