Posts Tagged Health Care

Losing weight the hard way

A few years ago, I became so concerned about the extra pounds I was carrying that I actually joined one of those dieting plans.  I got the pre-planned diet, the once a week counseling, and the target weight loss.  About half way through the program, I realized that the losses had leveled out and I was starting to gain back the lbs.  So I dropped the plan and went back to my usual strategy for weight loss, excessive exercise.  That worked for a while until the stress of the job began to take my attention and time, and  back came the pounds.  So then I decided on taking the radical approach.  I went to a health food store and picked out one of the 48 hour flush plans.  Within 10 hours I had lost 5 of my target 20 and I was sick as the proverbial dog.  My head ached, I had a fever, and my mouth tasted like old sauerkraut. 

But whatever I went through then was nothing compared to the trip my wonderful partner, T, has taken to lose her extra.   A year ago last December, she became enamored of the ads that were then running for weight loss with Jenny Craig.  She loved seeing the fat woman, Kirstie Alley, before become the skinny after.  So she joined and for approximately $90 a week all her meals became planned.  She took the once a week weigh-ins, she learned to cut up her meals into itty bitty bites, and she drank rivers of water.  Seven lbs, 4 lbs, then for a long while, 1 pound a week was her weight loss all through this past summer and into the fall.  About 25 pounds and 10 months into the plan though something began to happen.  She began to have a problem digesting.  She felt like she had a constant cramp in her right side.  Gradually her nights became sleepless.  I’d wake up to find her watching TV with the sound down low.  She stopped eating the Jenny Craig and went to her doctor.

Skip four months ahead to a week ago last Friday, when T took one last fearful look at me as the nurse wheeled her into surgery.  Four months of constant pain, plus one last excruciatingly painful visit to the ER had convinced her to join the apparently thousands of others who choose to have gall bladder surgery.

So here we are, slim and almost boney, T and I.  She has been limping towards recovery for 10 days now.  Those extra pounds are definitely gone.  The way that she picks at her low fat food indicates they won’t be coming back any time soon.  Our trip to weight loss has definitely thinned down our emergency fund.  If there is a plus side to all of this, it’s that T has discovered she has tons of clothes in her closet that now fit perfectly her new slimmed down chassis.  And I, well, let’s just say there ain’t nothing wrong with hugging a slimmed down chassis.  But if we had it to do all over again, there’s no question we’d pick a way that was a lot less painful.

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I am reading two books this week

Jim Harrison’s, Returning to Earth, and Lyn Miller-Lachman’s, Dirt Cheap, and though on the surface they don’t have much in common my digging deeper by reading as discovered some connections of note.  Jim Harrison is writing a story that is told as a memoir by a dying half-Native American who’s last desire is to set the record straight before he goes.  He’s sick to the death with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Well, Clarence and his wife, Sally, were pretty happy out there on their small farm southwest Negaunee.  Their little son, Clarence, who was my grandfather, was born with a hair on his ass by which I mean he was a real wild boy.

Donald the man telling us his story has a habit of digressing but he wants us to know right away that he would have been called Clarence too if the family hadn’t decided that that name had had enough use by the time he got born.

The family had ups and downs especially when Sally got sick from an infection and back then just like for many people now there was no health insurance.  Sally was in the hospital in Marquette for a month but Clarence’s credit was good though it took him years to work off the debt.

Being in debt can lead a person into doing something that he or she may always regret.  In Clarence’s case the story goes that

What happened was that the son of the Milwaukee brewer whose horse farm Clarence had worked on telegrammed Clarence and said he would pay five hundred dollars, which was about what a man could make in a year in those days, if Clarence would guide him to a big bear he could shoot so he could be photographed with the bear for a beer advertisement.

The upshot of the whole event was that Clarence ends up having to shoot the bear himself and after a month of heavy remorseful drinking when he realizes the bear had a cub he could save, he gets there too late.  The cub is dead of starvation.

This was a sad tale and Clarence never hunted or trapped again because his dreams told him this was his penance.

It’s funny how we punish ourselves.  In Dirt Cheap, penance takes a different form.  This is story about a former 60’s radical who teaches at a community college in Connecticut.  He and his family have ended up there as a result of his radical past coming back to haunt him when he is targeted by a conservative hate group at his former college and denied tenure.

Maybe because Nicky had always been wrapped up in his work, it was easier for him.  But Holly still remembered the slights, the people they had regularly socialized with who after the tenure vote avoided them as if they had a contagious disease.

. . . When she overheard one of Nicky’s graduate students say to a friend, “If they’d known earlier, they could have had an abortion,” she cried for an hour.  Then she went down to J & R Music World and charged a thousand dollars on her credit card for a new stereo receiver and speakers.

And if this isn’t bad enough, when they get the job offer at the community college, Holly, still trying to compensate for the loss of prestige, volunteers to find them the perfect house.

That weekend she put a deposit on 15 Butternut Court, a four-bedroom colonial on a cul-de-sac.  Despite the piles of dirt and construction materials scattered all around, . . .

At that time she never even saw the abandoned chemical plant a mile upstream and on the other side of the river.

Stress is a terrible force.  Relief from it can be found but sometimes as in the two literary examples above that relief bears a horrible price.  In literature these conflicts and stresses are a necessary part of moving the story forward.  But in real life events like these, which do happen to real people too, are something we need to think about when we set up our emergency fund, and go about organizing our plans for the long term.  Playing what would happen if is one way to think about the future and reading well-written stories can help us see that, even in the worst of times, the human spirit can survive.

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Self Medication

Health care that new old argument that has been dogging the debates all year has become a topic of great concern in our household.  We both have health care insurance and are fairly regular in our use of it for check ups and medical needs.  But this year we have learned anew that old saw, the doctor is only human.

Around four months ago my wife, T, began feeling a consistent pain in her right side.  Since it was also accompanied by an upset stomach and a soreness in her jaw, we felt that we needed to get it looked at immediately.  So we went to the ER were she was admitted and had her blood tested and then was examined.  The doctor prescribed a sleeping pill  and a medication for calming her upset stomach.  Two nights later, after a daytime visit to her personal physician, we found ourselves back at the ER.  Another attack of pain so severe we knew she needed help.  This time the ER doctor, after reviewing her CAT Scan, prescribed more stomach pain medicine and told her that she needed to see her personal doctor about it. 

Her doctor, apparently after reviewing the information, referred her to a gastro-entrologist and away we went.  Within a week, T, was in his surgery and being scoped, as they say, from top to bottom.  The not so funny thing is that the scoping found no anomalies except for a long colon, a possible growth that turned out to be benign.  Whew! we were relieved but then puzzled as T’s pain persisted and indeed the one in her jaw increased.  So in the midst of worrying about why her side pain didn’t go away, her dentist diagnosed an infected wisdom tooth that needed to be removed.  At this point, now some three months into it, T was only able to sleep via the sleeping pills.

Enter the Google Health Care plan.  In February, I decided that it was time to research this problem myself.  I know, what the hell had I been thinking?  Trust the doctors?  First, using a general search, I looked for info about her symptoms.  Almost immediately, I was pointed to the gall bladder or liver as being the source of her side pain.  The next step was a trip back to the doctor where I insisted on being in the room for the exam.  T told me that this was the first time he had actually performed a physical examination of the area in pain.  His immediate referral for an ultrasound exam was further confirmation that we were onto something.  That exam revealed the presence of gall stones, sub-centimeter sized echo-densities.  We then were referred by her doctor to a surgeon.

That’s when we discovered that her insurance, a PPO, wasn’t accepted by the surgeon.  Meanwhile, I was back to the net and ordering a month’s supply of the GallCleanse formula.  T continued to work and struggle with the pain, and use the sleeping pills.  Last Monday, she started the cleanse.  Tuesday afternoon she had a severe attack of abdomen pain, her face became flushed and we rushed her to the ER again.  The pain subsided slightly during the five hours we waited for her to be examined but at the end of the exam we had another referral to see a surgeon.  One who was on her insurance plan.  Friday, we met with him and after a discussion that included his casual and dismissive look at the cleanse medicine, T decided to have the surgery that afternoon.  I was convinced that the attack she had indicated that the cleanse had started immediately to work and that she had simply but painfully passed a stone.  The surgeon’s assurance that dissolving the stones might lead to blockage convinced T to have the surgery. 

We will never know if the cleanse would have continued to work as promised.  She was in pain for four months.  Her personal doctor had treated her as though she had an upset stomach.  If we hadn’t gone to the Internet and Googled for our information, who knows, maybe his next guess would have been cancer, remove her stomach, ???  We do know this, without the use of the Google search we would have spent (the original colon scope, tests, and exams cost $4ooo above our insurance coverage) more time and probably money waiting for the doctor to actually figure it out. 

Could this have been a case of an incompetent doctor, I don’t know?  I subscribe to the theory that the doctor too often hears what he or she wants to hear and quite often turns out to be just a human who makes mistakes.  I do know that in this day and age, if you don’t do your own research, you may be being fairly incompetent, too.

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Health, care, and our emergency fund

Over the years T and I have come up with and endured several different kinds of health care emergencies.  We dealt with these in a variety of ways. At first, because we were economically strapped we just used a credit card system.  Someone got sick, we pulled out the card or rather a card since we, like a lot of other folks, really didn’t know too much about how our interest compounded.  Then, as we began to become moderately successful, we began to look at the possibility of insurance taking some of the load for the various and sundry health care needs that came our way.  Our son, C, played a part in this since his school athletic program required he be covered.  So once we started with him it seemed only natural to find a plan the covered T, too.  I was already covered through my job but since we hadn’t yet married neither she nor our son could be included there. 

Anyway, we picked out an insurance company, Blue Cross, and began paying out monthly premiums on an 80/20 plan with a copay and a deductible.  The not so funny thing was that now that we were insured we seemed to stay relatively healthy and after two years we totaled up the costs ($1735.00 the first year and $1800.00 the second) and came to the conclusion that maybe just setting the same amount aside in a savings account would serve the same purpose.  So that’s what we did and though we didn’t know it at the time we were also starting our first Emergency Fund.  As a matter of course, as our business had become more successful, we had begun to pay off our credit cards, too.  And because we were doing that we began to look at the interest rates, 19.9, 22.4, 21.1, 17.8 on the different cards we used and think about how best to get out of this debt.  This was back in the late 90’s and we knew nothing about the things that seem so natural to the Personal Finance world of today.  We worked so much – full time day jobs plus our concession business on the weekends and in the summers – that we really didn’t have time for frivolous spending.  We just started attacking the cards from two directions.  Each month we paid extra on the card with the largest balance and at the same time we tried (and mostly succeeded) to pay off any new charges against a card within the monthly charge period.  This strategy just made sense and it worked to the point where we were actually finally out of debt.

At this point, in 2001, we decided to take the next step with our concession business and move from a sole proprietorship to a corporation. (I’ll save that story for another post)  Once we had a corporation and a business plan, we began to realize the possibilities.  As employees of our corp, T and C were both eligible to join our corporately paid for health plan, which they did.  The corp then was able to write off the health-care plan as part of its operating expense.

Still, the habits we had developed through our growing years stayed with us.  Since the corp now took over the health care, our personal savings began to grow into what we now realize really is an Emergency Fund.  One which, when that health care emergency finally hit this last winter, we were able to tap into to cover our share of the copay and the 30% that the plan didn’t cover.  The corp plan costs $5200 a year with a deductible of $1000 and a 70/30 split on the expenses so when T came down with colitis and needed surgery that ended up costing a little over $12,000 the plan covered everything except for our $3700 share.  And our Emergency Fund, well let’s just say it’s time to start a new one.

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