SHARING MY WORLD – BURGEONING SPRING EDITION

SHARE YOUR WORLD – 2015 WEEK #20

What is the most important thing that you ever learned? (I bet it’s not something you learned in school).

That life just happens. Both good and bad. Controlling life, to which we all aspire and in which we fervently believe until we learn otherwise, is a waste of time. You aim yourself in the general direction in which you want to go. After that? You take your cue from what happens along the trail. The people you meet, the opportunities you get.

Taken by the typical friendly passing stranger who, sadly, had no clue about how cameras work. Guess where we are? Hint: The picture was taken yesterday and they are not having a good season.

Taken by the typical friendly passing stranger who, sadly, had no clue about how cameras work. Guess where we are? Hint: The picture was taken yesterday and they are not having a good season.

As they say (with good reason): “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

What feeds your enthusiasm for life?

Writing. Photography. Creating things. Reading. If I feed my mind, I feed everything.

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I don’t know what I would do if I was no longer able to do anything creative.

What’s your most memorable (good or bad) airplane commercial or private flight?

We were coming back from Ft. Lauderdale after a 2-week Caribbean cruise. A lot of unexpected and interesting stuff had happened on that cruise, but we were not prepared for the flight home. Actually, the first leg of the journey, from Florida to Atlanta, was perfectly normal and on time. The connecting flight to Boston was waiting on the runway, our luggage got transferred. So far, so good.

Having boarded, strapped in, we sat on that runway in the plane. No air conditioning, not an offer of water or coffee or a soft drink for three hours. No one explained why. One of the passengers was a diabetic and went into a coma. They removed her from the plane on a stretcher.

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Finally, we actually took off. Thunder storms forced the plane to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia, where we sat for another couple of hours, waiting for the weather to clear. And for a new pilot. Why we needed a new pilot? Your guess is as good as mine.

We got back to Boston at 3 in the morning. Our original arrival had been 6 pm. Garry was scheduled to be at Channel 7 the following morning at five. He was exhausted. They told him “tough luck, you should have planned better.” We went home. Garry took a shower, got dressed, and went to work. So much for (a) Delta Airlines and (b) the glamorous life of a television reporter.

If you were a great explorer, what would you explore

I’ve never thought about exploring. I’d love to see Paris, the Great Wall of China, Japan, India, and Kenya. Among other places.

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That’s travel, not exploration. Exploration makes me think of jungles, insects, snakes, and yellow fever. How about a nice cruise to Tahiti? I’m up for that.

ALMS FOR THE RED SOX – GARRY ARMSTRONG

If you are a real baseball fan, you live and die with your team’s success and failure. It’s all about winning, not how you play the game.

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I’ve been passionate about baseball for more than 65 years of my life. The pre baseball years were devoted to kid stuff like cowboys and Indians. I’ve rooted for three teams in my life. The Brooklyn Dodgers, Casey’s original Amazin’ New York Mets, and the Boston Red Sox.

Agony and ecstasy have marked my love for these teams. All were perennial long-time losers, demonizing generations of their followers. Victory as in winning the World Series was the sweetest wine ever tasted.

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When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, their first title since the end of World War One, peace was bestowed on generations in the Red Sox Nation. The Bosox have since won two more World Series, totaling three in nine years. Success is now expected by the pilgrims who discovered baseball after 2000 and (current) new Sox ownership.

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Great expectations easily breed discontent. In the Red Sox Nation, the grapes of wrath are growing because of the team’s mediocre pitching, despite off-season trades and free-agent signings to bolster the offense.

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The suits who run Fenway’s boys of summer club refuse to deal for quality pitching. They claim to be satisfied with the mediocrity of the current staff, saying the arms will improve with time. One of the pitchers is already on the disabled list with a “tired arm”, six weeks into the season and with an ERA over five.

The suits say it’s still early. They don’t want to deal or spend foolishly.

Marilyn and I recently made our pilgrimage to Boston’s cathedral of baseball. The Sox were playing out-of-town, so we could move around easily, observing the salutes to past teams.

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You could hear murmurs about the current Sox and their woeful pitching. What to do?

Marilyn decided to help boost the team’s financial coffers and bought a nifty hat. It was a bargain! Only 3 times what you would pay at your favorite department store not named the “Red Sox Team Store.” Marilyn should get a lot of use out of her hat. Its brim has more snap to it than most of the curve balls thrown by the Red Sox starters.

It’s a long season. Maybe Marilyn’s purchase will be the alms that bring quality arms to our beloved team.

Maybe. Not.

STATE OF THE STATE: LAST YEAR, REDUX

It took me five months to see an oncologist from Fallon who ran my 2013 Medicare Advantage plan. In 2014, I switched to Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Value Advantage PPO. It came as a blast of clean air. Life has been so much better ever since. Not perfect, but better.

Still, this is a story worth retelling because although the names change, the same situations recur. Right now, I’m going through a similar snafu with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It has me convinced that my state is run by morons. Garry says I’m being unfair to morons.

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This story had a beginning and an end. It started when, in November 2012 I gave up my expensive Humana Medigap policy and joined Fallon’s Senior Medicare Advantage plan. It sounded okay on paper.

The customer service person who signed me up assured me Dana-Farber in Milford was covered by Fallon. Untrue. It left me without an oncologist. I was not too upset. I could see my Dana-Farber doctor once more and get a referral from him.

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Wrong. My oncologist didn’t know anyone at UMass in Worcester which is Fallon’s only cancer care facility in the county.

Even this didn’t faze me. I’m in the maintenance phase. I go for checkups and blood tests. Nonetheless, cancer runs in my family. Mother. Brother. Both maternal grandparents. I’ve had cancer twice. It’s too soon to stop monitoring.

My Dana Farber oncologist said the UMass facility is good, but he couldn’t help me find a new doctor. He told me to call the HMO and ask them who they have in medical oncology with a specialty in breast cancer. I already knew my PCP couldn’t give me a referral.

I called Fallon.

She said — this is a quote: “We do not list our doctors by specialty.”

“What,” I asked, “Do you list them by? Alphabetically?”

I mean, seriously, if you don’t list doctors by specialty, how can anyone get an appropriate referral? This is senior health care . It’s cancer — not rare among the senior set. Not rare among any set.

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I explained I needed a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer. Cancer doctors are specialized and it did make a difference. No, there’s no such thing as “just an oncologist.” If ignorance was bliss, this was a happy woman.

I explained (again) it would not be okay to send me to “just any” oncologist. I needed a doctor who knew my cancer.

I spent an hour or two being told I needed to go to my primary care doctor for a referral. It was like talking to a robot. Another 45 minutes passed until I was transferred to a supervisor. I retold the story. She said she would “research the problem” and get back to me.

I called my doctor’s office, explained that I hadn’t been able to get a referral from the oncologist at the Dana-Farber, nor could I get a referral from Fallon who seemed to think my PCP should send me to the right doctor. Even though I told them that Dr. S. didn’t know the doctors at UMass, Worcester. I needed help.

A few hours later, my doctor’s office called back and gave me a name, an appointment, and a phone number. The appointment was for just a few days hence, also my birthday. I didn’t want an oncology appointment on my birthday. I called the office.

I got transferred, then transferred again. I ended up talking to Lisa, the administrator for the Breast Cancer Care department. It turned out the doctor with whom I’d been booked was a surgeon Also, they couldn’t do anything without my medical records — scattered through 3 hospitals and a doctor’s office.

Lisa said not to worry, she would take care of it. She did.

She changed the appointment, booked me with a doctor who specialized in my type of cancer, called the various offices and ordered my medical records sent to UMass. Said if I had any kind of problem, give her a call and she’d fix it. Women with cancer didn’t need extra problems. What a difference she made!

My PCP’s assistant called to ask why I’d cancelled the appointment she’d made. I explained that doctor was a surgeon. I’d already been surged. I needed a different doctor. She was pissed because it hadn’t been easy to get that appointment. She could not grasp the difference between a medical oncologist and a surgeon.

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I explained again I didn’t need a surgeon. I have no breasts. I did need my medical records. She said yes, Lisa from UMass had called, but she wasn’t sure where to send them.

“Didn’t Lisa tell you where to send them?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Then … why don’t you send them where she told you to send them?”

“But you cancelled the appointment I made!” she said.

“I changed the appointment. Actually, Lisa changed it. Because the doctor to which you were sending me was the wrong doctor. Now I have an appointment with the right doctor. I’m not blaming you. Why are you mad at me?” I reassured her I truly appreciated her efforts.

“Oh,” she said. Not “I’m sorry.” Just “oh.”

“Right,” I said.

I subsequently got many calls from Fallon, all wanting to explain again why I was unhappy with their customer service. I said a patient should be able to call and get names of appropriate doctors and basic information about the doctor. This is fundamental to medical care.

Everyone agreed with me, but I was sure nothing would change. Inertia always wins.

The day was only half over; I was not done.

When I finished the marathon calls to Fallon, I got a call from Humana to remind me I hadn’t made a payment this month.

I hadn’t made the payment because I had cancelled the insurance when I switched to a Medicare Advantage (HMO) program. At the end of November, I had signed up with Fallon, then called Humana to cancel my policy as of the first of the year. I was told that as soon as my new program kicked in, the old policy would be automatically cancelled. There was nothing for me to do.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” I was told.

In was the middle of March. Humana was harassing me for money. When they called again, I got a person on the phone,  pointed out I’d cancelled the plan.

The representative said that he could see in his records I’d called to cancel. I’d been given incorrect information. I had to send them a letter. I could not cancel by phone. I said I signed up by phone. Why did I have to write a letter to cancel?

“Those are the rules,” he said.

“I want to speak to your manager,” I said. He explained that the manager would tell me the same thing. I pointed out that I didn’t care, I wanted to talk to a manager. I didn’t owe them any money.

He said I’d have to file a dispute to not pay them. Although it was their fault and they could see I called to cancel the policy, I would have to fix the problem, though they caused it.

I thought my head would explode.

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The manager reiterated indeed they’d given me incorrect information, but it was my problem. Tough luck lady. I hung up, steam coming out of my ears.

I took a breath, called their other customer service department.

The lady I spoke to looked it up, agreed they had given me erroneous information, contacted the cancellation department and assured me it was fixed. I have a name and a number in case it isn’t. I pointed out they had burned a whole year of good will in an hour. And any further harassment and I’d call the Attorney General and report them for sharp business practices.

It had grown dark while all this was going on and as the day had gone from morning to evening.

How come so many incompetent people have jobs? Why are they working when so many more intelligent and better qualified people are out of work? It’s a mystery.


STATE OF THE YEAR, REDUX, 2013 EDITION WITH UPDATES

DIRECT CREMATION – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was driving along I-95 in Connecticut when I spotted the billboard for “Direct Cremation”.

cremation with confidenceTraffic was just slow enough for me to read a few lines of the pitch. It promised no fuss, no delays, no middle men, red tape … and a money back guarantee if unhappy with service. I wasn’t sure who’d get the money back.

I started laughing over Marty Robbins and “El Paso” playing on the oldies CD. I was still laughing when Marty’s gunfighter died in the arms of his young sweetheart. Instead of a tearful funeral and the strains of “Streets of Laredo”, maybe the gunfighter should have had direct cremation. No muss, no fuss, no mournful boot hill goodbye.

Direct cremation may be the latest answer to a world of violence. Mob hits, drive by killings, gang bang slayings with collateral damage. Stressed out serial killers and contract button men doing “jobs.” The bodies just keep piling up. Medical Examiners are overworked and cemeteries are running out of room. What to do?

Direct cremation!

Speaking of overworked medical examiners, I’m reminded of a story I covered in Boston.

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Goes back 40 plus years. The county medical examiner was, if you’ll excuse me, “under the gun” with some of his findings. He didn’t look like Quincy, Ducky, or even the sexy Lacey from the “Castle” series. He was a sad, tired, bleary-eyed man in the autumn of his years.

Your intrepid reporter was on the scene. The M.E. was momentarily diverted so I could check the autopsy lab and the morgue. I found the controversial corpse and made a cursory examination.

I confronted the M.E. about his findings on the case. He insisted the victim was stabbed to death. I asked him about the several large bullet holes I’d just found. He was speechless.

Direct cremation would have avoided a lot of controversy and embarrassing questions. It’s an idea whose time has come.

TOO MUCH STUFF, REDUX

A couple of days ago, my new 60 mm Olympus macro lens arrived. I didn’t expect it so quickly. I’ve been lusting after this lens for years. Olympus finally dropped the price by $100. I bought it.

I unpacked it, attached it to the new Olympus PEN PL-6. I moved the 20 mm lens to a different camera and put the 40-150 zoom into a pouch because that’s the lens I never use.

I decided to put together a “grab and go” bag of Olympus equipment, but the bag was too small.

Camera bags

After a lot of pulling things out and repacking, I knew a full equipment reorganization was the answer. The big bag I’d been using for “spare parts” moved up to lead camera bag. Previous number one became the grab and go bag.

By the time I finished reorganizing the equipment, I was too tired to take pictures. But I took some yesterday morning — the camera bags and the fuchsia were taken with the new lens.

Today, Garry and I are on a photo shoot in Boston. 
Just to let you know, I'm off-line all day.

The good news? I found a place for everything, sort of. I’m careful with equipment. Every camera, lens, widget, and gadget has a clean, padded place to live. But it’s an incoherent solution. Too much stuff in too many containers. I need one large box with a lid to put cables, cords, wires, connectors, lens backs, flash attachments, filters in a place where I might find them should I actually need something.

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The empty box situation is out of control. In recognition that I need to deal with it, I piled the empty boxes on my desk chair. Each time I go in there, it will remind me to reconsider the box situation.

Alternatively, I could avoid the room. Just close the door. It would bother me only when I have to put something away or retrieve something. Which would probably be every day.

Or I could deal with the boxes.

I have the original box from every camera, lens, cell phone, and accessory I’ve bought since 2000, when we moved into this house. The theory is that original boxes make equipment more valuable on resale. Except, I’m not going to sell anything. I already know that. So what’s the point? Why am I keeping the boxes? For that matter, why do I have software and manuals from the 1990s?

Maybe I can re-purpose one of my sweater boxes for spare stuff. Even though I don’t need and won’t use any of it. Anyway, if I re-purpose a sweater box, what will I do with the sweaters?

I’ll think about that later.

My first macro shot. Not too bad.

My first macro shot. Not too bad.

Among the many things I don’t want to think about are trunks filled with doll parts and clothing for antique and collectible dolls. For that matter, one of the closets in my office holds a couple of dozen (small) Madame Alexander dolls from the 1950s and 1960s. In original boxes with tags. Properly stored, face down, so their eyes won’t stick or fall back into their heads. But the poor girls have no place to go.

Another macros hot of fuchsia buds

Another macro shot of fuchsia buds

I would happily give them away, but kids don’t want dolls like that these days. These are relatively common dolls, as old plastic dolls go. They aren’t worth huge money. Antiques and collectibles are the ultimate goodfer. I don’t suppose anyone out there collects dolls and would like a lot of dolls and related stuff? You pay the shipping and it’s yours. Free.

Then, there’s the crate containing books I wrote, the evidence I worked for a living. The books have no value — other than sentimental — because I’m never going on another job interview. Ever. I’m retired.

My office has become a closet. Not disorderly or dirty. Just full.

It comes round to the same point at which I started. I do NOT need another bag. I need to get rid of stuff. I can’t seem to do it. It’s a disease, a disability.

Is there a 12-step program?

THEY FOLLOW ME EVERWHERE

I’M A SINGULAR SENSATION 

The news has been slow around here. Just regular stuff. Accidents, government stupidity and incompetence, scandals of the famous and wannabes. Changes in weather. Boston has a new mayor, too. So after all this ordinary stuff, I was thrilled to find this headline. From Dublin across the seas, this pops up on my browser:

Italian lodger tells police he is ‘guilty’ of cannibal murder

Saverio Bellante is remanded in custody after gruesome killing in Dublin

I bet our newscasters would be really happy to have a shot at something this juicy. Yum. Since the demise of Jeffrey Dahmer, there hasn’t been an incredibly disgusting, gory serial murderer to liven up the news cycle.

That got me wondering about today’s prompt which asks us who we would want — of all the possible readers and followers — to be reading our blog. This isn’t bragging, but I know a few of my favorite authors drop round here now and again, usually when I review one of their books or feature an interview with one of them. I know because they send me little thank you notes, probably advisable for any author that gets a really good review from any reviewer. We are prima donnas no less than they and we feed our hungry egos with the cast off kudos of the great and nearly great.

But how cool to be followed by a cannibal? It would be a coup. Definitely would come with bragging rights!

Garry Clean Harbors-SMALL

While Garry was a working reporter, we occasionally got phone calls late at night from convicted serial killers, sometimes critiquing his performance du jour. Turns out, they watched him on the telly. Who’d have guessed that serial killers have phone privileges? Icing on the cake?

Perpetrators of gruesome murders currently on trial would wave and wink at him in the courtroom. I’m sure all the other reporters were jealous. Aside from being intensely creepy, it always made me wonder if their fondness for my husband and his work would count for or against us if they were to get loose and drop by for a visit. They obviously knew how and where to track him down. Find Garry? Find me too.

Garry with Tip O'Neill

Garry with Tip O’Neill

On second thought, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover I’m a major hit in the prison system. It would explain the thousand or so followers who remain nameless and never leave comments or even a “like.”

Personally, I’d prefer to be followed (breathlessly, eagerly) by a power player in the literary world. An agent!