Monthly Archives: September 2013

Sometimes you remember, sometimes you forget

1995 was a long time ago, before my daughter was born. It’s remarkable only as the year I had a miscarriage, which isn’t a small thing, but turned out to be a very good thing. I hadn’t really come to terms with the idea of having a baby when I got pregnant the first time, so I was more than a little conflicted about the news. I confess that I was ultimately relieved when the drama of the situation was resolved, and a few months later, when I found out I was pregnant again, I was thrilled. I rarely think about the miscarriage. It moved into the past and became a memory, like so many other things that happen in our lives.

Lately, I’ve been indulging in one of my favorite pastimes, throwing things out at my mother’s house. I’m not being cruel; my parents are fully on board. We pick a cabinet, or a drawer, and go through it, tossing out old bank statements and assorted papers from decades long past. Mom bought a shredder to help with the paper purging and it’s been a boon to our efforts. Unfortunately, you can’t shred frozen food.

When we decided to clean out the freezer, we ended up with two huge plastic bags for the garbage. It was astonishing to see how much that freezer could hold. In my house, we have a traditional refrigerator with a small freezer compartment on the top. Mom’s refrigerator has side-by-side doors and the left side is all freezer. We started at the top shelf where the ice cream and dessert things live. Ice cream gets turned around fairly quickly in their house, but the cookie dough she had purchased to support a high school soccer team several years ago had to go.

The next shelf had frozen vegetables; most of which went the way of the cookie dough. The freezer is so deep that it’s hard to tell what’s in it. I don’t blame her for thinking she needed peas—every time she went to the supermarket. Once something was put in front of the most recent bag of peas, like whole cranberries for a Thanksgiving project that never came to fruition, it receded from memory. Really, I understand how that happens. It was the next shelf that was truly fascinating.

The first package of meat I pulled out was steak from 2010. I was shocked. My mother, slightly embarrassed, argued that it was probably still good, because after all, it had been frozen. I disagreed and out it went. Next up was hamburger meat from 2005. She allowed as how that was, perhaps, a bit over the line and didn’t argue when I tossed it. Next up was chicken dated 1998. By now we had moved on from shock and awe to gleeful laughter. But we weren’t done yet. The pièce de résistance was a whole chicken from—1995.

That whole, frozen, chicken was older than my now seventeen-year-old daughter. And she’s not the only thing that came into our lives after that chicken. My sister produced another grandchild; we bought a new house; presidents came and went. The world turned and things happened; good things and bad things, funny things and sad things. And most of them are now distant memories. Our family has been under a lot of stress recently. We look forward to the day when our memories of this time will dim. In the meantime, that chicken provided us with a much needed laugh; a funny memory we’ll be happy to keep alive.

Now it’s time to go shopping, again. This time, Mom really does need peas.

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Entitled to doesn’t mean approved for

A wonderful comedian, Steven Wright, has a bit that goes something like this:

I went to Store 24, but it was closed. The next day I went in and complained to the manager, “You’re supposed to be open 24 hours!” He said, “Yeah, but not in a row.”

Dealing with my father’s recent illness has been a little like that. It started in the hospital when the neurologist in charge of my father’s case, an expert in the illness he had, wanted Dad discharged to New England Rehab where he could get several hours of physical therapy a day and care commensurate with the seriousness of his illness. Doctor Bigshot, who oversees expenses for my father’s primary care provider’s practice said no. We don’t know if the primary care doctor was even consulted; Doctor Bigshot is in charge of the purse strings. When the neurologist heard he was incensed and instructed the hospital social worker to resubmit the request. He was determined to have Dad sent to New England Rehab. Twenty-four hours later, the transfer request was turned down again, by Doctor Bigshot. He wanted Dad sent to a “skilled nursing facility” which would be less expensive, and he was willing to have insurance pay for Dad to spend more days in the hospital while we argued with him.

This time, we (the family) filed a complaint with the insurance company. If the neurologist wanted Dad sent to rehab, then by golly that’s where we wanted him to go, too. After review by one of their own doctors, the insurance company agreed to authorize rehab. Doctor Bigshot overrode the insurance company. The neurologist, who had sworn to fight the good fight on Dad’s behalf, caved. He agreed to release Dad to a nursing home if he was guaranteed at least two hours of physical therapy a day.

Off Dad went to the nursing facility where, as bad luck would have it, Doctor Bigshot himself was in charge of the purse strings. After a month there, even though Doctor Bigshot and the insurance company agreed that Dad needed twenty-four/seven assistance, that he wasn’t strong enough to do much of anything on his own, they decided it was time for Dad to go home. We considered contesting the decision, but we weren’t convinced that the care he was getting couldn’t be duplicated at home, particularly because, according to his insurance, he was entitled to thirty-five hours of home care each week. And once out of the nursing facility we would no longer be subject to Doctor Bigshot’s penchant for parsimony.

We traded Doctor Bigshot for a VNA-like organization that would be responsible for his care at home. We told everyone that we spoke to that we wanted as many home services as we could get, that “Dad’s insurance entitles him to thirty-five hours of home care each week.” It soon became apparent that entitled to wasn’t the same as getting. Each discipline, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Nursing, would do their own assessment and recommend the appropriate number of visits per week. They explained that their goal was to teach the family how to provide the services to the patient. It only took us a few days to realize that we’d need a whole lot more help than was going to be covered by insurance, even if we could squeeze thirty-five hours a week out of them, which we couldn’t.

If educated people with resources can be brought low by the insanity of our healthcare system, I fear for us all. I have now put healthcare at the top of my list of requirements for any politician who wants my vote. I suggest you do the same.