The Cost of Healthcare

blood pressure

“Why don’t you just go to the doctor?” my husband asks after hearing my chest crack and pop.

“It’s complicated,” I moan in pain.

Maybe he doesn’t know about the extent of my white coat syndrome and that merely making an appointment makes my heart race and my palms get sweaty. Or that as a kid, I never went to the doctor outside of ingesting a battery or being covered with purple lesions.  And if we did go, it always resulted in the occurrence of something uncomfortable or more painful than the original issue.

As an adult, there is little difference except that now the pain comes from the initial cost of the copay and then later the portion of the bill not covered through insurance.

“It’s all explained in your insurance policy,” the customer service rep explains. “You know, in the really fine print. You agreed to pay for anything not covered when you signed in to see Dr. Gulash.”

Trickery and crooks! I scream in my mind, and then passively settle on a monthly payment of six months to pay off the balance.  It’s easier than taking a stand and getting sent to collections.   The bitter sting of that bill is still on my mind as I refuse to get the cracking and popping evaluated, not just yet anyway.

Let’s follow the journey of Papa Puney who decided not to wait until there were no other options and his proactive approach to his healthcare.

Papa Puney is fit man in his fifties; he sits in a hard plastic chair at the doctor’s office, off to the side and away from the sick people. There are stacks of germ covered magazines next to a pump bottle of hand sanitizer.  It’s a nice gesture but too little too late for most.

He calmly waits and peruses through emails and Facebook on his phone.   He has been working to lower his blood pressure through diet, exercise and limiting his views on the Donald’s latest tweets.   He moves his upper lip unconsciously and the mustache above it bristles out, not unlike a well groomed porcupine, as he flips through the online posts.

A young woman with dry, dyed black hair pops her head out of the door next to the receptionist’s desk.

“Mr. Papa Puney?”

She holds the door open with shiny, red nails. The man looks up in acknowledgement of his name.

“We’re ready for you now.”

Opening the door wider, she waits for the proactive patient to follow her down a tile hallway that smells of antiseptic cleaner.

The woman chews gum as she leads the man into his own room.   PP feels a seed of irritation begin to grow with each snap and pop of the gum.

“Sit right here and the nurse practitioner will be right in,” she gestured with her hand to another hard backed chair.

“Wait a minute, what about the doctor?”

“Oh, he is too busy to see you today. The NP will be right in,” the woman explains cheerfully and leaves before PP can say anything else.

PP waits and feels his heart rate increasing and the blood pulsing through his veins. PP waits and waits, keeping busy by cruising the internet until he reaches the end of the interwebs and still he waits.

Finally, the door opens and a chubby blonde woman in her early thirties with purple Crocs enters the room.

“Hey there, Bub, what’s going on with this blood pressure of yours?”

“Bub?” PP asks.

He feels a pounding in his head as his blood pressure rises like a tribal drum urging him on to stand and leave. No, this is not going to work.  There are other ways to lower blood pressure.   PP excuses himself from the clinic and takes a trip to Burger King to reassess his health goals and the price of proactivity.

Bub out.

Timely

Hospice, the conversation killer

Expectation

wilted-flowers
Hospice, it’s a real conversation killer.

So death, what a bummer, amiright?

The couple, Jack and Jill, rode in silence with the occasional interjection about the weather and the Grammy’s.  When they arrived, it was a relief to leave the car.  They stepped out of their temporary vacuum world onto a freshly sealed, asphalt parking lot.

“This is nice,” Jill said with a grimace against the cold.

She pulled her coat together with one hand and held a bouquet of wilted flowers in the other. At the top of the inclined parking lot was a light grey stone, two-story building with clean, white trim around the windows. Along the edges of the building dry, brown, stick bushes waited for Spring to come alive with bright and vibrant colors, unlike the occupants of the building, grey and prostate, watching the world turn from their beds.

Next to the door, a sign read, “This is a secure facility, please ring bell for assistance.”

Jack studied it for a second, pushed the red button and waited; he was very good at following directions. The door clicked after a few seconds and was opened by an unseen hand.

“After you,” Jack said gesturing for Jill to walk in front of him.

Jack was also known for his good manners and gentle nature. Once inside, they met with another obstacle, Doris.  Doris sat at a table in the foyer, posing as a receptionist, bouncer, and tour guide, depending on the day.

“We’re here to see Beverly De…”

“Bev DeMonn?” Doris cut him off eagerly as though to say yes, we know the same people, isn’t that a coincidence.

Doris was a small woman with short hair done up in that old-lady-way requiring weekly visits to the beauty shop for a wash and style.  She nervously adjusted her glasses on her face and shuffled a stack of papers on her desk.

Jack stood tall and looked Doris in the eyes. He shook his head in confirmation and gave a warm smile.

“Yes, exactly, she’s my grandmother.”

“That’s nice,” Doris said with as much sincerity as she could muster. “Right this way.”

Jack and Jill followed Doris’s shuffling steps as she led them down a hallway and through an open sitting area. There was a fireplace pumping out dry heat, warming two empty arm chairs and an empty couch. The place was strangely quiet and still for such a large facility.

“It’s nap time,” Doris explained, reading their minds. Then in a whisper over her shoulder, she added, “And we just lost a few residents.”

“That must explain all of the locks, everyone wandered out,” Jill snickered.

“Not funny,” Jack hissed without looking at his companion.

“Ok, ok,” Jill said unrepentantly with a shrug, “anything to lighten the mood.”

Suddenly, the lights grew brighter as they stepped into a cafeteria. The kitchen area was against the far wall.  The rest of the area was taken up by empty tables and chairs.

A shriveled up human, presumably a female from the fuzzy pink sweater with shoulder pads that she wore, sat alone at a table. In front of her, there was a small dish with a half-melted, purple Popsicle.  A wooden stick leaned out over the edge, like a riderless teeter-totter.  With a weak shove, the woman pushed the dish to the side and folded her bluish hands on the table.

“Bev, you have company,” Doris announced and readjusted her glasses.

Bev looked straight ahead, her eyes a bleary blue with pupils drawn into pinpoints.

“Grandma, it’s me, Jack.”

Perhaps he was as unrecognizable to her as she was to him; her once black hair was now gray, her face shrunken in without dentures to support a shape, and her body was half of its previous size.

A dehydrated apricot, apple, plum? Jack tried to match up the fruit with the woman without any luck.

“Oh, and this came for you.”

Doris reached into the pocket of her sweater and pulled out a letter, postmarked and stamped from Florida. Bev turned to Doris, reached out with a claw like hand and grabbed the letter without a word.  She sliced it open with the long nail on her index finger and extracted the contents.

Slowly, she read each word of the epistle, feasting her eyes as she refused to allow her body. Jack pulled out a chair and sat next to his grandmother while Jill selected a seat across the table from the two.

On Bev read and still she refused to acknowledge her company.

“How are you, Grandma Beverly? We heard you were sick and brought you these flowers,” Jill spoke loudly.

For the first time, Bev looked up at Jill.

“I can hear just fine. What time is it?”

Jack stepped into the conversation, seizing his opportunity. Gingerly, he put his hand on her arm and said, “Its two o’clock, Grandma.”

“Hmmm…too bad,” Bev exclaimed and returned to her letter.

Dying was not about to change her mind about these unsaved heathens. It was simply too late to do anything about it. So Jack and Jill went back down the hill, got into their car and drove away with a sad promise not to return until another much, much later day.

A quiet day with Chicken-Little

Sanctuary

Earl has not returned as planned.

I am left alone with my thoughts and the tortuous sounds of a dying air-conditioner.

Brrrr….brrr…bleh…..brrr….brrr….bleh….I am unsure how much more time the unit has left, but it can’t be long. There is no home appliance hospice that I can call to quiet its final days or a minister to read its final rites.  It must die on its own terms and then we will make do with the wide range of illegitimate services offered by Junkman.  In the meantime, I turn up the radio to drown out the brrr…brrr…bleh… and send a message to find out Earl’s whereabouts.

Could it be that he is in the hospital? Stuck on the side of the road with a flat or engine trouble?  Was he saving a kitten from a tree or helping an elderly woman across the street with her groceries.

I know that something is wrong; it is unlike him to be four hours late on a Monday. Or more accurately, it WAS unlike him before this summer.  When the message came through from the once ever so reliable and committed Earl, I spluttered out the hot tea I was sipping in a spray of disbelief.

He meant to take the day off; he just never got around to making the request, formally or informally.

No sorry or my bad. He was offended in an unaware, teenage type of way that taking the day off without previous notification of any sort was an issue.  Like duh, can’t you read my mind, he might have said if he was a few decades younger.  Instead, he texted, a clear sign of the times, “c u tmw.”

Perhaps even more surprising, this explanation was accepted by our supervisor as one of those things that sometimes happen. With no further questions, the case was closed, chalked up to the miscommunication of a senior moment.

In this, a fortunate new precedent has been set, whether my supervisor is aware or not, one in which intention is just as good as filling out the time off form and following through with the two required signatures at least one week in advance. This opens the door to so many wonderful opportunities, like sleeping in and texting mid-morning that I simply won’t be coming in today.  Did I not submit a form?  Well, I meant to, so that’s enough, right?

Things are changing, every day and in every way. People are giving slack in the rope as they pull the strings tight in other areas.  The chicken-littles cry that the sky is falling while others refuse to even take the time to look up.  It is preposterous, the sky can never fall.  Perhaps we will stop saying what is impossible when the clouds get stuck in the trees and the sky’s blanket of blue is held up by those few who are still standing.

cl

Maybe Earl won’t come back and I will join the rank of chicken-littles crying that the end is nigh or maybe just plan to take an unplanned day for myself.

Almost Time to Make Nice

Cowardice

king

The old red van rattled up the narrow driveway. Wheels spun hard to make the steep ascent and shot out rocks like a wake of water behind a boat. The van slowed, turned right and parked behind the apartment building.  Turning left would have placed the vehicle in an equally empty lot belonging to the neighbor, Randy.

Randy was a tightly-wound, anti-establishment, gun fanatic who patrolled the shared driveway for strangers and friendlies, alike. They were all forbidden from using the gravel drive which also happened to be the only access point for parking along the busy street. He was insanely militant about the use of the driveway, calling whenever an unknown or known vehicle was parked in either parking area.

One unfortunate day when I didn’t answer my phone because I never answer my phone when he calls thanks to caller-id, Randy came over for a visit.

The doorbell rang no less than 20 times in a row. I saw through the glass panes on the side of the door a tall man with long grey hair, in a plaid flannel shirt.  Hairy knees stuck out from holes in his jeans, and uncared-for toes wiggled from his flip flops.

“Hey Puney, we have a problem out in my driveway. You get that car moved before I move it for you.”

“Randy, that car belongs to a police officer who is currently inside taking statements for an incident. Would you like me to send him over after we are done to talk with you?”

I looked down at the gun shaped bulge at his hip, knowing how he felt about the importance of his second amendment right and how adamantly he also felt against registering his arms. He had explained his passionate views on both topics multiple times, usually following a parking related complaint.  I quickly made a calculated guess that he would avoid contact with the police, if possible.

He narrowed his eyes at me, his pupils were already pinpoints, and considered my offer.

“Alright, he can stay. I don’t want any trouble with the cops.  Just make sure nobody else uses my drive. Got it?”

Oh yes, Randy, I’ve got it now. You’re a damned bully who takes pleasure out of pushing around anyone without an illegal gun stuffed in their pants or a legal one strapped to their ankle. You gain a sense of self-importance through control of the gravel driveway and lord over it like a corrupt king who is drunk on power; or in Randy’s case, high on whatever prescription pain killer he can get from DopeMan.

“Yeah, I got it, Randy.”

As I pulled the door shut, I almost added, guess what, your driveway isn’t all that great anyways.

When I see that he is calling again, I remembered just what I should have said last time. Today, I assume, it is about the red van and the ongoing unauthorized use of his driveway.  The phone buzzes and I wait for voicemail to pick up, saved once again by caller id.

“Puney, I am without words. A red van has been using the driveway for the past two weeks and you know I don’t want your people using my driveway. Yet, you insist on continuing to allow this to happen…”

The message went on for another two minutes but I deleted it after about nine seconds. I had to get back to valet parking behind the building and waiting for the big blow up, which was expected within the month.

Ice Time

Phase

ice

After a minor disagreement, my only coworker, Earl, stopped talking to me.  I thought he was in a meditative state, reflective and quiet.  Perhaps he was dealing with a health issue or his aunt died seven years ago on this date and he was remembering the cinnamon apple muffins she used to make. 

Then I asked him a question about office supplies and he ignored me.  I asked him another question about the mail and he still ignored me.

Ah-ha, he isn’t wearing his hearing aid, I assumed.  No need to make a mountain out of a molehill. He simply cannot hear me.

I walked by his desk to drop off an extra pack of staples as a good-will gesture and he spun his office chair away from me towards the wall.  He pretended to study the blank calendar.  From his new position, it was clear that his hearing aids were both firmly in place.  Suddenly, I realized what was happening.

This was the silent treatment.

I thought the mostly unwarranted punishment would end by noon.  Much to my surprise, it did not.  In fact, it grew worse as he refused to eat lunch with me. I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich alone, remorseful of whatever thing we argued about earlier in the day.  The silence of the office was deafening until he started watching videos of old stand-up comedians, starting with Richard Pryor.

As I struggled with the peanut butter sealing my tongue to the roof of my mouth, I flashed back to grade school.  I sat alone with a PB&J at the end of a long white table, unfolded from the cafeteria/gym wall with a bunch of confident, athletic, and well-adjusted kids.  In retrospect, I see that they were actually mutants and I was the normal one.  

I wished for a carton of cold chocolate milk to wash down the pangs of childhood loneliness but more so for the all- natural peanut butter as it clung to my throat.

It was only at the end of day that the ice melted and Earl began to communicate again.  I breathed a sigh of relief, it was just a passing phase.  We were both in the parking lot and Earl raised his hand to wave as I got into my car.  I waved back, humming Hakuna Matata, when I realized he was waving to the police officer who had pulled up next to my car, likely investigating a 911 call in the immediate area.

Too bad throwing shade isn’t considered a crime. 

I drove off a little sadder and certain that life is too short for a grudge, even if the grudge is only for a day.

Scammed

“I just got this in the mail and I won $5000.”

The man who stood in front of me was ecstatic. He wore his usual flannel pajama pants and dirty collared shirt, turned inside out.

“This is for a car dealership and you can’t drive,” I said.

I looked over the flyer more closely; it was addressed to Preferred Customer or Current Resident. The prize could only be claimed during the “event” described as a HUGE VEHICLE SELL-OFF in all capital letters.  The prize winnings were to go towards the purchase of a vehicle which would be a problem since he didn’t have any money for the purchase of bread and milk, let alone a vehicle, and again, he couldn’t drive.

“I already called the number and gave them my confirmation code. I’m definitely a winner they told me.  They are holding my prize downtown.  I just had to give them my address, name, birthdate…”

This was beyond smelling fishy.

df

“You gave them all that information?” I asked in disbelief.

“I’ve never won anything this big before,” he said, ignoring me. “Let’s go pick it up on Monday.”

He handed me the flyer, “You can go research this but I’m keeping the ticket.”

Just like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he held the ticket tightly in his fist, not about to give up his claim to something magnificent.

Earl

 

toe

“Nope, I can’t make it,” the maintenance man flatly refused without offering a reason.

“Earl can do it,” he continued.  “It’s easy, just tell him to… Is he there? Let me just talk to him.”

I handed the phone over to Earl with a shrug, “He won’t come out and he wants you to do it,” I whispered with a twinge of guilt in the pit of my stomach.

Earl is a tiny, old black man, made about ten years older due to his health.  He wore the same self-assigned uniform of a black pants and a collared shirt every day, pressed and ironed, with pleats sharp enough to slice a blade of grass in half.  He walked slowly with heavy, thudding steps that announced his presence before his actual arrival.  Orthopedic shoes make it very difficult to sneak up on someone.

Fortunately, Earl was not a one to sneak, steal, lie or cheat.  He kept a demanding moral code and held tightly to the training he received in the military, meaning that he never shirked responsibility or refused an order from a superior.

The maintenance man, on the other hand, received no formal training other than from the School of Hard Knocks and had no moral code.  He had no scruples about assuming a superior position to which he had earned no right and making Earl do his work.

“No problem, I can do that,” Earl said after thoughtfully listening to the maintenance man on the phone when he should have been saying, “No, that’s a problem,” and “I won’t do that.”

Without complaint or hesitation, Earl hobbled away with a strange new limp.

Something was wrong, but what, I wondered.

“Wait, let me do it,” I shouted after him and raced across the room to cut him off at the door.

“No, I’ll do it. It will just take me a minute and I’ll be right back.”

Earl pled with his eyes.  Please, don’t take this from me.

And I let him go.

Over an hour passed before he returned, perspiring and covered with cobwebs and grease. He dropped into a chair and pulled a plain, white handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his forehead. If he was in pain, it was a mystery to me.

It was a little later that I discovered the origin of the new limp and the teeny, tiny feeling of guilt exploded into that of a massive fireball and my admiration for Earl grew at the same rate.

I learned the following things about Earl.

  1. Earl’s toe was just amputated one day earlier.
  2. The stub was wrapped in gauze and stuffed inside of his orthopedic shoe.
  3. Earl refused all pain medications so he could come to work in spite of having lots of PTO.
  4. Earl needs a vacation. And a new third toe.  He really misses it.

A day of resignation

  
She woke up early, excited and nervous to make it official. 

Her husband, on the other hand, was less excited and hoped that she had changed her mind overnight.

Yet, he knew, as fickle as she was, that she was set.

He scrounged around in the closet for a pair of socks. Hangers jangled against each other as he maneuvered his wide shoulders through the small space.  Clothes swished back and forth and the rod creaked. He settled for two singles, one blue and one black.

He didn’t complain, he was glad to have socks. A quick sniff, clean socks, even better.

A pair of dark eyes watched as he emerged, switching the light off behind him with the socks flopped over his hand.

“You give up the fight in there?”

“There never was a fight. It just is what it is,” he replied with a shrug. 

And so it goes…

letting go

Does throwing out the empty boxes my husband stores with the intention of using someday make me a bad wife? Or donating his old t shirts, video games and unmatched socks? In my mind, it’s being tidy. At least, that is what I tell myself as I flip open the lid to the trash can.

Hoarding should come naturally to me. After all, I come from a long line of stackers, packers, fill the closet/cabinet/garage and shut the door tight. Plus, I think I was a squirrel or a mouse in a past life.

However, now I am the courageous defier of clutter, sworn to fight hoarding or die trying.

Woe to the fool who dares to meddle with the order of disorder.

Of course, Messy Boy thought it fitting to bring up my solemn vow when sorting through the contents of the closet. I held a black purse in my hand and a fanny pack in the other. Coats were strewn across the back of the couch. The cats were sneaking into position on the coats, targeting the black, wool one on which to shed their fur.

“It’s still a good purse,” I fretted.

He raised an eyebrow, with a questioning look that said, Really?

What if I need a mid-sized black purse? What if I lose my normal purse and need a backup right away? What if I go another year without using it?

I don’t want to end up in a house with stacks of boxes leaning against the walls, shelves of tiny teacups and a horde of porcelain cat statues, but I also don’t want to be a minimalist. By that, I mean I want to keep my husband and just a few cat statues.

So I am working on controlling my impulse to pitch what looks useless or dust covered especially if its not mine. Instead, I slowly move those of-concern things towards the door, little by little. Sometimes, they move into the trunk of my car for another chance to be noticed and rescued.

Then I think about how Messy Boy would miss his old baseball helmet or the extra cutting board, and how much he loves his old sweater. Maybe I could use that black purse?

And the junk/treasure moves back inside, and I realize that you can’t always fight what’s in your nature.

Float On


This post is about a very expensive bath.

It happened at a float spa. Although, I suspect that a very similar experience could have been had at home with low lighting, a big, bath tub and a generous handful of Epsom salt. I was lured in with promises of relaxation and untold health benefits. All I needed to do was soak in salt saturated water, Dead Sea style, without the sea part, for 90 minutes.

Did I mention it was in a pod that was meant to be completely dark and silent? Sensory deprivation was part of the salt-water-soak to cure what ails a person that added the potential for psychedelic visions and enhanced creative abilities. So maybe, it couldn’t have happened at home.

How’s that for a selling point?

The salt soak was the newest in a long line of health and beauty fixes with which I have experimented, ranging from algae for breakfast to healing stones strategically placed under my pillow at night. If someone tried to sell me snake oil, I would stop them and say, “What, just one bottle? I need the entire case.”

With each approach, I hope to find a type of magic, a way to reverse the aging process or to replace good old fashioned diet and exercise. Could floating in several hundred pounds of salt and water for 90 minutes be just what Dr. Merlin ordered?

I had to find out.

I booked two floats, one for me and one for my mom (who has dabbled in even more quackery than me). When my brother and I were kids, she sat us down at the kitchen table each morning and dosed us with charcoal, strange pills, and foul smelling liquid vitamins, as she used a whirring machine that guaranteed youthful, hairless skin for just six payments of $19.99.

I was in good company. We are a pair of believers and adventurers, willing to take a risk for what could be the next big thing as long as it comes neatly packaged, more or less.

There were three rooms each with its own shower and glowing pod. We entered our neighboring rooms with a parting wave and prepared to have a real experience.

Sliding into the lukewarm water, I closed the overhead hatch, like the last member into a submarine with one last wistful look behind me. Settling in, I bobbed up and down on the water, surprised at my own buoyancy.  I tried to relax in spite of being naked in a glowing pod full of room temperature water but just couldn’t bring myself to turn out the lights.

So much for sensory deprivation.  Maybe I should have asked for a partial refund?

Afterwards, I admitted sheepishly that it was too creepy to float in total darkness, to which my mother said with her usual lack of a filter, “You are such a wimp.”

If I were to further analyze the situation, I’m sure this could be key in understanding my unresolved childhood issues stemming from the same mother who happened to be floating next door as free as a bird.

Really, who has time for rehashing the past?

The first thing she asked when we rejoined in the lobby was, “What spirit animal led you? I actually became a starfish.”

Still lethargic and covered in salt, I was speechless. Nothing was how I expected it to be after 90 minutes away from the world.  I’m not sure where I was during that time, but it was nice.  I came back too relaxed to have a conversation.

I should have guessed that she would have an out of body experience (OBE) as a spiny, multiple armed, opportunistic sea creature. While she was spinning and stretching her extra arms to embrace sea life, I refused to admit that I too had an experience as a sea snake, gliding from one end of the pod to the other.

She didn’t need to know. Sometimes, OBE’s are not meant to be shared. Of course, the same could be said for bathwater, but that didn’t stop me from stepping into the pod of recycled water or writing this post.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Out-of-body_experience

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