ARE YOU SURE? REALLY? 100,000 HITS? ME? WOW … THANKS GUYS!

100,000 HITS

A few hours ago while we were stuck in traffic on Route 95, I hit two major milestones: 600 followers and 100,000 hits. On the same day — entirely coincidentally. I wrote this post a couple of days ago . I knew the 100,000 would happen this week. (The 600 followers was a total surprise.)

When I started blogging, I wasn’t sure why. A year and a half later, I still couldn’t tell you why. I still don’t know. The simplest explanation is the truest: I enjoy it. I love writing and having people read it. Having an audience is a huge gift. Writers really need readers. Anyone who says they write for themselves is lying … to themselves, if not everyone else. Fortunately, readers need writers. Together we have a wonderful synergy.

I mustn’t forget photography. I’ve been taking pictures almost as long as I’ve been writing. Posting my favorites — not to mention Garry’s photos and other members of the family — really beats out slide shows after dinner or emailing them to people who may or may not even open the attachment. Finally, I get feedback. Somebody out there likes me!

I’m not as good a photographer as many of you. Some of you who follow me — I can’t figure out why. I’m flattered, of course, but you are so much better than me. Despite all the years this has been my hobby, I’m still a babe in the woods with Photoshop. I never seem to get the beautiful “finish” the rest of you get. Part of it is equipment. Lenses to be more exact. I don’t have the great glass I would like. I wish I could throw money at it, but not now. I live in hope of miracles.

Where does hope live? Where is the place we live when life’s not treating us well? When things are going wrong and if you stop and think about it, your brain turns to jelly and you can’t form a coherent thought? When the magnitude of the problems in your life exceed your capacity to process?

Me? I read, write and make pictures. I read your posts, look at your pictures. Sometimes I comment, often I read, look, smile and leave a “like” behind, kind of a calling card to say “Hey, I was here!” I wish I could spend more time on your sites but I run out of time. This blogging thing … it really chews up the hours and days.

I started small. I posted something once in a while and then didn’t post anything for a while, then started putting a few things up now and then. Then … oh, I don’t know. I just got into it. There was no epiphany, no revelation. One day, I just felt I should write, post a picture. The next day, I felt that way again, so I did and then more than once a day.

It was the presidential election that sucked me into the maelström with a vengeance. Talk about lively. The Internet wasn’t merely buzzing. It was screaming. People who normally wouldn’t get involved were out there, giving their opinions on every public forum. The cyber world was wild and I got a share of the action. I doubt I’ll ever post numbers as high as I did in October and November 2012. Crazy numbers, crazy time.

It’s easy to blog when there’s huge controversy everywhere, gigantic hurricanes washing away the right coast of the U.S. It’s harder now. There is always a horrible political thing going on but I find myself writing about my smaller world. Sometimes, it’s about how my little world intersects with the great big world. That’s when politics become deeply personal.

The road, as J.R.R. Tolkien says, goes on and on … back to the point where it began.

And so it does. There’s no starting point, no inherent end. I write, I take pictures and will do that as long as I can. Eventually, after the New Year, I’ll have to stop. For a while. Hopefully not too long a while, but I know it will happen. I hope you folks will remember me and come back to visit now and then.

Meanwhile, it’s been a Hell of a ride. I remember when I got my first 5,000 hits and thought “Wow! 5,000! Never thought this would happen!” and the numbers kept marching upward. A couple of months ago, it became obvious I would cross over the 100,000 mark — a biggie. So … what next?

I never had a plan for my site. 100,000 hits was never a goal. I never told myself if I get “this many followers” or “that many hits,” I will know I’m successful. I consider myself successful because running this site gives me so much pleasure and I don’t want to stop. There are popular blogs that baffle me (why?) and wonderful blogs that fall by the wayside. You can take you best guess at figuring out (1) what constitutes success and (2) why it comes to some, but not others equally or more deserving. Some of is luck, stumbling onto a topic that catches peoples’ attention. And getting noticed by people who help promote you. And I suspect much of it is persistence — posting interesting material often so everyone knows they can always find new stuff on your site.

I never had a goal. I still don’t. I love writing and photography. I enjoy meeting people from all over the world. Learning how their lives are the same and different from mine. Chatting through comments. Getting new ideas. It is the stuff you guys say, in comments and on your own sites, that triggers what I write. You feed my imagination, inspire my muse. And challenge me to be better.

Thanks. Everyone. Really thank you. Truly you are the wind beneath my wings.

Rereading Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart

Cover of "Earth Abides"

When I first read Earth Abides by George R. Stewart more than 40 years ago, it wasn’t newly published, but it was new to me.

Unlike many other books I have read and forgotten, Earth Abides has stayed with me. I’ve returned to it many times in recent years, but there was a period of almost 30 years when I couldn’t find a copy of the book anywhere. Nonetheless, I could recall it with remarkable clarity. It was especially remarkable considering the thousands of books I read every year. That I could remember this one book — not to be too punny — spoke volumes. It turns out that I was not alone. Many people found the book unforgettable, including many writers. George Stewart’s masterpiece became the jumping off point for an entire genre.

Earth Abides is a “foundation book,” one of a handful of books that you must read if you are a science fiction fan. It is frequently cited as “the original disaster” story. A foundation book it most definitely is, but classing it as the “original disaster story” rather misses the point.

Earth Abides isn’t merely a disaster story or post apocalyptic science fiction. Above all it is a book of rebuilding, renewal and hope. The event that initiates the story is a disaster, a plague resulting from either a natural mutation or something escaped from a lab that runs amok. Whatever its origins, it kills off most of Earth’s human population. As has been true of plagues throughout history, a small percentage of the population is naturally immune. Additionally, anyone who survived a rattlesnake bite is immune.

The plague is the back story. The front story of Earth Abides is how humankind copes with the tragedy as scattered remnants of people slowly find one another, form groups and gradually create a new civilization. Through marriage and the pressures of survival, groups become tribes. Simultaneously, the earth itself revives and finds a new balance.

Most diseases of old earth are eliminated by depopulation. New generations are wonderfully healthy. Along with physical disease, mental illness, archaic religious and outdated social structures are shed. New human generations have no memory of institutionalized bias and prejudice and the color line becomes non-existent. There is much that needs doing in this new world, but there’s an infinite amount of time in which to do it.

Ultimately, earth will be repopulated. But gently … and hopefully, in peace. The reborn world will contain bits and pieces of what went before, but without its demons.

The book was re-released as a 60th anniversary edition in 2009, including an audio version with an introduction by Connie Willis.

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover editi...

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover edition of Earth Abides. Cover illustration by H. Lawrence Hoffman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last time I read it was immediately after it was re-released. Four years has given me time to be surprised by the book all over again. Be surprised by how much Ish — the main character — changes over the years, how much he grows and matures. How his belief structure adapts to new realities, how much more open his mind becomes. It’s a rare transformation from a literary point of view. Few characters I’ve read have transformed as much as Ish does in Earth Abides.

Earth Abides was published in 1949. In some parts of the U.S. and other countries, the issues with which the book’s characters grapple are still very much alive. They shouldn’t be. We have moved on but only to a point.

The technology stands up surprisingly well because it’s essentially irrelevant. All technology disappears, so it doesn’t matter how advanced it used to be. When the power goes off, it’s over. The world goes back to pre-technological. It has wind, water and sun. Books remain, so knowledge exists, but in stasis, waiting to be rediscovered and deployed. Meanwhile, earth abides.

The world ends, the world begins. Ish and Emma are the “mother” and “father” of the new tribe. Ish, in Hebrew, means “man” and “Eema” means “mother” which I am sure is not coincidental. It’s a wonderful story that suggests the human race has the capacity to not only survive, but reinvent civilization and make a better world.

Earth Abides is timeless. As is the Earth. There’s an entire site dedicated to George R. Stewart – The EARTH ABIDES Project. Definitely check it out!

It’s available in every configuration including Kindle, Audible download, audiobook (CD and MP3), hardcover and paperback. There was time when it was difficult to find, but it seems to have found its way back. I have owned at least a dozen copies of Earth Abides and keep an extra copy tucked away to give to friends who haven’t read it yet. I’m glad.

It remains among my top five all time favorite science fiction novels and if you haven’t read it, there’s no time like the present. I have a spare copy, just in case.

Prompts for the Promptless – Ep. 9 – Gallows Humor: Dying Is Easy (Comedy Is Hard)

After I was told I had cancer in not one, but both breasts — they were having a two-for-one special at the Dana-Farber — I had them removed and replaced by silicon Hollywood quality implants. I stopped short of adding the fake nipples. Previous surgeries had left me with no naval, so now lacking both naval and nipples, I think maybe I’m an alien walking the earth.

I have a tee-shirt that says “Yes, they are FAKE. My real ones tried to kill me.” It makes people laugh. It’s the high point of my cancer experience.

Unfortunately, cancer tends to enter your life and like a guest that long over-stays his or her welcome, you just can’t get rid of it. After I gave up my Medigap policy and signed on with Fallon Senior Medicare Advantage plan, it took me five months to get an appointment with an oncologist. It began last November and isn’t over yet.

Dying is easy 1

To get started on the wrong foot, the customer service person who signed me up in the beginning gave me incorrect information, having assured me Dana-Farber in Milford was covered by Fallon. This turned out to be untrue and left me without an oncologist. I was annoyed, but they said I could see my Dana-Farber oncologist once more and I figured I’d get a referral from him.

My oncologist didn’t know anyone at UMass in Worcester which is Fallon’s only cancer care facility in Worcester County. I remained calm. I’m past surgery and chemo, in the maintenance phase of care, the part where they do their best to ignore you. Failing that, they do the least they can. Unless you obviously grow a new cancer in a location they can see and feel, they tell you you’re fine. Not to worry. Smile. It’s just cancer.

At Dana-Farber, I had been going for quarterly check-ups, feeling for lumps, taking blood, checking for weird symptoms that could indicate something growing somewhere it shouldn’t. Annually they run a scan to take a look around the property, aka my body. I’d had to go to war for the scan. Their plan was to do nothing at all unless I had symptoms. Does death count? I felt their plan was insufficient while they felt running a scan was a frivolous waste of taxpayer’s money. My life didn’t come into the equation.

My former oncologist couldn’t help me find a new doctor. He suggested I call the HMO and ask them to refer me to a medical oncologist with a speciality in breast cancer. I knew my PCP wouldn’t be able to refer me because she had already said so. She had suggested I get the referral from my oncologist. Full circle.

I called Fallon Senior Heath Plan.

CustomerSvcFallonQuote

The customer service rep sounded about 12-years-old, but knew even less than her years suggested. She didn’t understand the concept of different kinds of oncologists. After explaining for perhaps the dozenth time, I began to sink into the slough of despond. It was like talking to a smiling plastic doll who will recite one of 3 pre-recorded phrases. Pull the string, get an answer.

I got transferred to a supervisor and retold the story. She said she would “research the problem” and get back to me. Research the problem? Sounded like a kiss-off to me.

I called my doctor’s office, explained I hadn’t been able to get a referral from my oncologist or from Fallon where they kept saying my family doctor should send me to the right doctor even though I told them Dr. S. didn’t know the doctors in oncology at UMass, Worcester.

HELP, I said. Please!

I did my little song and dance, explaining I needed a Medical Oncologist with a specialty in Breast Cancer. Since breast cancer is frightfully common, it shouldn’t be that hard to find someone.

A few hours later, my doctor’s office called back, gave me a name, an appointment, a phone number. The appointment was for a few days hence, also my birthday. I didn’t want an oncology appointment on my birthday. Nor did I need an appointment immediately. I had just had my annual scan. So I called the doctor’s number to change the appointment to something more sensible.

I got transferred, transferred, and wound up talking to Lisa, the administrator for the Breast Care department. The doctor with whom I’d was booked is a surgeon and they need my medical records before they can continue. The records are all over the Commonwealth, scattered between 4 hospitals.

Lisa said not to worry, she would take care of it. She did. She changed the appointment, booked me with an appropriate doctor, called the various offices and ordered my records. Said if I had any kind of problem, give her a call and she’d fix it because women with cancer shouldn’t have additional problems because they already had quite enough. My feeling precisely!

Shortly thereafter, my doctor’s assistant called asking why I’d cancelled the appointment she had made for me. She was furious. After all the effort she’d made making that phone call on my behalf, I’d had the gall to CANCEL the appointment. I explained she’d booked me with a surgeon — pointless since I’ve already been thoroughly surged. I needed a different doctor.

She was pissed because it hadn’t been easy to get that wrong appointment and seemed unable to grasp the difference between a medical oncologist and a surgeon. I explained — again — that a surgeon would not be able to help me because I don’t need breast surgery. I have no breasts. But I do need my medical records sent to UMass. She said Lisa from UMass had called about it but she wasn’t sure where to send them.

“Did Lisa tell you where to send them?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Then … why don’t you send them there?” Duh.

“But you cancelled the appointment I made!” she whined, still pissed off.

“I changed the appointment. To be accurate, 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.” We went back and forth for a while until she grudgingly accepted my apology for not needing a breast surgeon. I assured her that I truly appreciated her futile efforts.

“I’m so sorry to upset you,” I repeated.

Yesterday I got a note in the mail (not email, the regular mail) from UMass cancelling my appointment with the oncologist and suggesting I call to make a new one.

Maybe I don’t really need an oncologist. Dying is easy; comedy is hard.

Dying is easy

Daily Prompt: Million-Dollar Question: Why I Blog, But You Play Golf

A friend asked me why I do this, why I blog. So I asked her why she plays golf.

We do what we do because we love it, need to do it, or both. Writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I suffocate. My friend needs to compete, to be active. To play golf or she will suffocate.

I can’t begin to count the number of people who have told me they want to be writers, but don’t know how to start. They want me to tell them how. Because they asked the question, I’m reasonably sure they will never be writers. If you are a writer, you write. No one has to tell you how or when. You will write and you will keep writing because it is not what you do, it is what you are. It is as much a part of you as your nose or stomach.

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I started writing as soon as I learned to read, which was about 45 minutes after someone handed me a book. It was as if a switch had been thrown in some circuit in my brain. Words felt right. Putting words on paper was exactly the same as speaking, but took longer. I didn’t mind the extra time because I could go back and fix written words. Being able to change my words and keep changing them until they said exactly what I wanted them to say was the grail.

I was awkward socially and my verbal skills were not well suited to my age and stage in life. I was not good at sports and no one wanted me on her team. In retrospect, I can understand why. But when I was a kid, it hurt. Games and other social activities let you become popular, make friends, and do those other things that matter to youngsters. I couldn’t do the regular stuff … but I could write and I could read and that gave me wings. I might be a klutz, but words let me build my own worlds.

I was consuming adult literature when I was so little that my mother had to run block with the librarian to make sure I was allowed to read whatever I wanted. I had to be told to stop reading so I would eat, sleep, or go outside. If I was writing, nothing could stop me. Some things never change.

If you are going to be a writer, you know it. Practice will make you a better writer, can help you understand how to build a plot  and produce books that publishers will buy, but writing itself is a gift. If you have it, you know it.

Writers have words waiting to be written, lining up for the opportunity to get put on paper or into the computer. It may take quite a while for you to find what your special area will be, fact or fiction. However it sorts out, you will write, professionally or as a private passion.

There are many gifts. Talent comes in an endless number of flavors. If you have the soul of a musician, you’ll find a way to make music. The same with painting, photography, drawing, running, hitting a baseball or throwing one so that it just skims that outer corner of the plate at 96 miles per hour. Mathematics, engineering, architecture … creativity and talent are as varied as the people who use it.

Gifts are given to us. It’s up to us to use our gifts as best we can. Not everyone is gifted, Plenty of people would give anything for gifts that you may take for granted. What is easy for you may be impossible for most people.

So my advice to all hopeful writers is simple. Write.

Don’t talk about it. Do it. Write a lot, as often as you can, even if most of it is awful and you never show it to anyone. Sooner or later, you’ll find your way to where you should be. If you don’t write, it is your loss, but it may also be the world’s loss. You will never know how good you can be if you don’t try.

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This blog is my way, in retirement, to find an outlet for the millions of words stuffed in my head, seething restlessly through my brain. Blogging is freedom in every sense. I have no deadlines to meet other than those I set myself. No editor is looking over my shoulder, I can write about anything and I have no word count to meet.

I hate golf. I can’t figure out why anyone would want to walk or ride around an enormous lawn hitting a little white ball. I can’t think of anything more boring … but I know a lot of golfers and they live for it. The rest of the week is just a pause between tee times.

So, if you don’t get why I write, that’s okay. You don’t have to get it. That I get it and can do it and other people actually read it … that’s enough for me. You do your thing, I’ll do mine. If I believe in anything, I believe with all my heart that we should all be what we were meant to be because that is the only route to any lasting happiness.

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Daily Prompt: Prized Possession — Annabelle

Annabelle was a doll made by Madame Alexander. She was in production for one year only — 1952 — the year I turned five.

My mother loved dolls, but she had grown up poor. She had only had one doll in her entire life, a china-headed doll she got from her mother. That was a big deal in a large, poor family. There were 6 other brothers and sisters to keep fed, clothed and who also had birthdays. Mom loved her doll and when one day, the doll fell off her bed and broke her china head, my mother was inconsolable. She said she had cried for weeks and everyone was sympathetic, but she never got another doll.

Then there was me, her first daughter and the one who loved dolls as much as she had. My sister, who came afterwards, never cared for them as I did.

Annabelle - by Madame Alexander - 1952

Annabelle – by Madame Alexander – 1952

Annabelle was the first of a line of expensive dolls with which I was gifted through my girlhood. Annabelle was followed by Toni,the big 24″ Toni with platinum hair and the whole set of curlers and “permanent wave” solution. After that, there was Betsy Wetsy, though my mother, in the midst of potty training my younger sister couldn’t imagine wanting a doll that wet herself. Many other dolls would follow. But Annabelle always had a special place in my heart. I talked to her, slept with her, dragged her around. I loved her through restringing, rewigging, repainting and redressing.

After all my other dolls had passed along into dolly heaven, I still had Annabelle. Right before I left for Israel, I gave her to my friend’s daughter … and Loren still has her to this day.

Annabelle Too

Annabelle Too

Some years back, I went hunting for Annabelle. I knew I couldn’t get my original girl back. She was Loren’s now. Even though Loren was grown with a son of her own, she was not parting with Annabelle. Most of Madame Alexander’s dolls had long production runs, but Annabelle was a one year only limited edition. But I found her, and she has rejoined my life. I even have her original box, traveling beauty supply kit and tag. She’s perfect and obviously had never been loved quite as voraciously as I love her predecessor.

I still do give her a furtive hug now and again. Sometimes, the best person in the world to talk to is a doll that will always smile and understand. That’s my Annabelle.

Portrait of Annabelle

Portrait of Annabelle

Daily Prompt: Five a Day — 5 Foods for Island Life

You’ve being exiled to a private island, and your captors will only supply you with five foods. What do you pick?

On my little island there’s a cottage.

I have a tiny kitchen, but well-organized for its size. I have some good black iron pots and pans, sturdy bright dishes in the cupboard. A small ice box keeps a few things cool if the weather is sultry and I get at least some electricity, perhaps from a small generator. I can only bring five foods. Well, I’m going to hope that the drinks are separately counted so I can can put the coffee and tea on different list, along with the sports drinks I need to keep from dying of a serious electrolyte imbalance. Hard to do the island thing when you have very specific, rigid dietary requirements. Diabetes is not island friendly. So I’m just counting on drug deliveries along with food stuffs! I wouldn’t last long otherwise, though if I had enough books to read, I’d go out smiling.

Since this is not a desert island, if the soil is at all fertile, there may be many ways to supplement a limited diet and the sea contains much that is good to eat, including kelp and other seaweed. Maybe there will be some coconuts or mangos to be found. A little fruit would be awfully welcome! I’d better also have a goodly stock of vitamins and minerals too! Wouldn’t want to get scurvy or something.

VeganWitches

  1. First, protein. I love seafood, so if I have to pick just one, salmon it is, but if I can get seafood as a category … I’ll be happily stranded.  Seafood has the highest amounts of all the good stuff to keep ones body and soul together.
  2. Next, a calcium source. Cheese it will be! Pass the Jarlsberg please! If I can get cheese as a category, just bring them on, love them all, but if it has to be just one, I’ll go with a full flavor Jarlsberg.
  3. Need veggies!! Okay, perhaps I’m cheating a wee bit. All veggies are a single food for my purposes: tomatoes, onions, peppers, mushrooms, spinach, collards … the things that turn just food into meals.
  4. For the high carbohydrate choice: Potatoes. You can bake them, boil them, mash them. Serve them fried, grated and made into a loaf. Serve them with fried onions and make them into pancakes. My ancestors more or less lived on potatoes, so I gotta have item.
  5. Bread. There’s a reason “breaking bread” is synonymous with eating a meal with others. Bread goes with everything — cheese,  gravy, tomatoes and lettuce. Bread is there with all the meals. Dry it out for crumbs and if I have some spare, maybe I can lure some egg-laying birds to my little camp.

No sweets, no junk food. But I can live on these foods and remain healthy.

I’m assuming that condiments and spices come “free.” Sugar, salt (especially salt!), garlic, basil, cumin, ginger, peppermint.  I shall have an herb garden. No one said I can’t grow a few things, right?

I wonder what I’ll do for cooking oil? Any coconuts on the island?

Every bit of space not otherwise occupied with a bed, a few comfy chairs, a table and a fireplace will have to be filled with books … although if I have access to the internet and can bring a Kindle, I will be in Heaven.  I do hope the water is warm enough for swimming and the soil rich enough for growing. I might really like that island. Guest room anyone?

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Weekly Writing Challenge: The State of the State: Dying of Laughter

It took me five months to get a new oncologist from Fallon, the HMO that runs my Medicare Advantage plan. It began last November when, in a necessary cost-cutting move, I gave up my Medigap policy and signed on with Fallon Senior Medicare Advantage plan.

Dana Farber lobby

To get started on the wrong foot, the customer service person who signed me up gave me incorrect information. She had assured me Dana-Farber in Milford was covered by Fallon. This turned out to be untrue and left me without an oncologist. I was annoyed, but not wildly upset. They said I could see my Dana-Farber oncologist once more and I figured I’d get a referral from him.

custSVC

That turned out to be overly optimistic. My oncologist didn’t know anyone at UMass in Worcester — Fallon’s only cancer care facility in Worcester County. Like many satellite facilities  for larger institutions, it’s hard for them to keep ambitious young doctors on staff. They stay a while, then move to better paying jobs at bigger more, prestigious hospitals. A few doctors stay, usually those who live locally, but most move on. It’s a bit of a revolving door, personnel-wise, though it really isn’t their fault.

Even this didn’t faze me. I’m past surgery and chemo. I’m in the maintenance phase. I go for checkups and blood tests. Once a year they scan me to make sure nothing is growing someplace it shouldn’t. Nonetheless, I’m only 2 years from the initial discovery of two separate tumors and there have been a lot of cancer deaths in my family. Mother. Brother. Both maternal grandparents and I’ve had cancer twice, so there’s no reason to assume I’ll ever be entirely safe. I’m not acting crazy because I feel it’s a bit soon to stop monitoring me.

My doctor assured me that the facility is good, but he couldn’t help me find a new doctor. He suggested I call the HMO and ask them who do they have in medical oncology with a speciality in breast cancer.  I already knew my PCP couldn’t give me a referral because she said so. She had suggested I get the referral from my oncologist. Back to square one.

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 in the world can anyone get an appropriate referral? This is supposed to be senior health care organization. It’s not as if cancer is a rare event. There’s a lot of it going around. I patiently — really patiently — explained I needed a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer. That yes indeed, cancer doctors are highly specialized and it really did make a difference and no, there’s no such thing as “just an oncologist.” If ignorance was bliss, this was one deliriously happy young woman.

After I explained for the dozenth time it would not be okay to send me to “just any” oncologist, that I wanted someone who knew about my kind of cancer and moreover, I want a doctor who has been out of medical school for at least 5 years. I’m not ready to put my life in the hands of a baby doctor. My life, my choice.

I spent over an hour trying to make some progress, being repeatedly told I needed to go to my primary care doctor and get a referral from her. Despite my explaining she had already told me she didn’t know the doctors at UMass Oncology, it was like talking to a doll who only has three or four recorded phrases. By now, my good nature was gone and my fangs were showing.

It took another 45 minutes and further reiterations of the same information to get transferred to a supervisor. I told the story again. Finally, 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 and they seemed to be of the opinion my family doctor should send me to the right doctor even though I had told them that Dr. S. didn’t know the doctors in Oncology at UMass in Worcester. I needed someone to step up to the plate and help me.

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. Nor did I need an appointment immediately. I had just had my big annual scan and wouldn’t need to be seen again for six months, so I called the doctor’s number to change the appointment to something sensible.

I got transferred then transferred again and wound up talking to Lisa, the administrator for the Breast Cancer Care department. It turned out that the doctor with whom I’d been booked was a surgeon, not a medical oncologist and that in any case, they couldn’t do anything without my medical records which were scattered through three hospitals and a doctor’s office — each located in a different town.

Lisa said not to worry, she would take care of it. Remarkably she did. She changed the appointment and booked me with a doctor who specialized in my type of cancer, called all the various offices and ordered my medical records send to UMass. Said if I had any kind of problem, give her a call and she’d fix it because women with cancer shouldn’t have additional problems because they already had quite enough. My opinion precisely. But wow. What a difference a woman with intelligence and a willingness to actually provide customer service can make!

Shortly thereafter, my doctor’s assistant called asking why I’d cancelled the appointment she had made for me. I explained that she had booked me with a surgeon. I’d already been surged so I needed a different kind of doctor. She was pissed off because it hadn’t been easy to get that appointment and seemed impervious to the difference between a medical oncologist and a breast cancer surgeon. I explained — again — that a surgeon would not be able to help me because I don’t need a surgeon. I have no breasts, but I really do need my medical records … and she said yes, Lisa from UMass had called about that 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? What am I missing?”

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

“I changed the appointment. Really Lisa changed it because the doctor to which you were sending me was the wrong doctor. Now I have an appointment with the right kind of doctor. I’m not blaming you, so why are you mad at me?”

And so we went back and forth for a while until she finally accepted she had booked the wrong doctor, but I assured her that I truly appreciated her efforts. Since this is my life, getting the right doctor was my goal regardless. Sorry to upset you.

“Oh,” she said. Not a “sorry” in the batch.

“Right,” I said.

I’ve gotten a lot of calls from Fallon since then, all of them wanting me to explain again why I wasn’t happy with their customer service. I said a patient should be able to call and get names of appropriate doctors and at least some basic information about the doctor, like how long he/she has been in practice, their specialty, from what medical school he or she graduated and on which boards he or she is certified. And this information is fundamental to medical care and I am entitled to this information and they are obligated to provide it. Nor, I pointed out, is this such a difficult thing to accomplish. I could produce an appropriate data base in a couple of days using the internet and making a few phone calls. The problem could be solved with a memo sent to all customer service personnel in an email. Lives could be saved and it wasn’t an insurmountable problem. It just needed someone to recognize they had to do something and just do it. Although everyone agreed with me, I had the definite impression that no one would do anything about it. Inertia always seems to win over doing the right thing.

The day was only half over and I was not done with medical misinformation.

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

I hadn’t made the payment because I cancelled the insurance when I switched to a Medicare Advantage (HMO) program. I didn’t want to switch but I couldn’t keep paying the almost $200 a month for my Humana policy.  When, at the end of November, I signed up with Fallon, I called Humana and explained I was changing to an advantage plan and needed to cancel my Humana policy as of the first of the year. I was told that as soon as my new program kicked in, the policy would automatically be cancelled and there was nothing more I needed to do.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” I was assured.

So, there it was, the middle of March and Humana is harassing me for money I don’t owe. When they called again, I finally got a person on the phone and pointed out I had called and cancelled at the end of November 2012.

Western Digital 3TB My Book Essential External Desktop Hard DriveThe representative said that he could see in his records I’d called to cancel, but I’d been given incorrect information. I was required to send them a letter; I could not cancel by phone or on-line. I pointed out that I signed up on-line and on the phone, so 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, and I don’t owe them any money. He said I’d have to file a dispute to not pay them because although it was their fault and they have it in their own records that I called in advance to cancel the policy, it didn’t matter. I was going to have to fix the problem, even though they were the ones who had caused it.

I thought my head was going to explode.

The manager reiterated that indeed they had given me incorrect information, but now it is my problem. Tough luck lady.

I hung up before I said something really rude. I believe there was steam coming out of my ears.

I took a slow, deep, cleansing breath, then called the other customer service department, the one whose number is printed on back of the membership card.

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 that until this snafu, I’d had positive feelings about Humana and would have recommended them.

They had handled my claims promptly without haggling, but they had burned a whole year of good will in about an hour. I pointed out that I was not going to pay them any money because I didn’t owe them any money and they know it. I wasn’t going to send any letters or dispute any charges. They could put it all where the sun doesn’t shine. And thanks for everything. Have a good day.

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The Humana Building

It had grown dark while all this was going on and as the day had gone from morning to evening, my hard drive had been doing a full system back up. It was, I was glad to see, nearly complete.

As I hung up the phone, panting with exertion though I hadn’t gotten up from the office chair, the backup announced itself finished. I registered the hardware, did whatever I thought I was supposed to do. Garry got back from the grocery store and I put the stuff away. The dogs started howling for dinner. Life closed around me. The dog’s dinner was half an hour late and they were telling us they were so hungry they were going to fall over from weakness, poor darlings. They lie like dogs. Of course, they are dogs, which accounts for it.

So passed my day. Now, it’s eight in the evening. Either everything is fixed or it’s not, but I’m done. Totally and completely out of gas, I am ready for some mindless entertainment. Please,  do not give me anything to think about for at least 24 hours.

How come so  many blatantly incompetent people have jobs? Why are they working when so many others are unemployed?

Something is terribly wrong. I just don’t have enough strength to figure out what it is, much less fix it.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Beyond – Benches

Beyond - Benches

Beyond – Benches

The benches in front invite you to sit and look beyond the waterfall, down past the bend into the river beyond. So many hours have been spent sitting on these benches doing just that … looking beyond and beyond.

Daily Prompt: My Favorite People, Weird Things and Kismet

How long were we apart? How long. An eternity? Or so it seems. Sometimes it feels like a strange dream I had as it fades in memory and so few people remember the places we lived or the language we spoke.

My home in Jerusalem.

My home in Jerusalem.

From the end of 1978 until August, 1987, I lived in Jerusalem, Israel. It is where I wanted to be and I was there by my own choice. I had wanted travel. I didn’t want to only travel. I wasn’t looking for a long vacation. I wanted to become part of another culture, another world, as different I could manage from the world I knew where I felt I was being swallowed by blandness.

Never did I have great yearnings for fame and fortune, though I wouldn’t have turned either away had they come knocking on my virtual door. But there are those of us who need to not only dream of other places, but experience them directly and apparently, I am one of them. My friends warned me I would suffer from culture shock. “Yes!” I said. I wanted culture shock. I wanted to be smacked in the face by a different lifestyle.

“You’ll be poor.”

My mother stepped in. “Marilyn’s never cared about things very much … she’ll be fine.” I didn’t know she knew that about me.

My friends sang three choruses of “What about me?” and I said “Buy a ticket. Visit.” Only Garry and one other friend … and my ex-husband (yes, we stayed friends until he died in 1993) took me up on the offer.

Garry, now my husband for 22 years (heading to 23) took me to the Four Seasons in New York and told me he’d really miss me and he would write. In all the years since we’ve been married, I’ve never seen him write a letter to anyone,  but he wrote me twice a week, sometimes more, for 9 years. Those letters became a lifeline. I used to call them my fan letters, but when everything seemed to be falling apart around my ears and the life I’d built shattered, there was Garry. No surprise that we hooked up as soon as I got back and were married a few months after my divorce came through. Life take its own time.

And then there was Cherrie, my friend. When I said I was leaving, she said she was too. If I was going to quit Doubleday, she wasn’t going to quit too. We have this parallel life thing going. She wanted Hawaii, wound up in Austin. We completely lost track of each other for all the years I was away.

JerusalemNow, we get to the good parts of the story. When I came back from Israel, I had nothing. A suitcase full of ratty tee shirts … a couple of hundred dollars … and my résumé. It was 1987 and the economy was beginning to move, especially in the Boston area where — coincidentally — Garry lived. Meanwhile, though, I got a job working for Grumman in Bethpage where among other strange and wonderful top-secret and not so secret jobs, I got to work with a bunch of NASA scientists on the design of the satellite catcher. We concluded that an effective satellite catcher had to have no fewer than 3 arms. Ignoring all recommendation, the U.S. government went cheap and made a catcher with 2 arms. It didn’t work. Mainly, as we had said, it wouldn’t catch satellites that were not rotating along a single axis. So, proving why humans have risen to the top of the food chain, our astronauts reached out and grabbed the spinning satellites with their dextrous hands and convenient opposable thumbs and easily caught them. Everything is weightless in space. We didn’t need a machine at all. Oops.

I also discovered we are hunting for anti-matter. Here’s a quoted interchange between Marilyn the Blogger in her incarnation as atomic editor anda  highly place NASA physicist:

Me: “I thought anti-matter was a science fiction thing.”

He: “Oh, no, it’s very real. We want it.”

Me: “And you are sending probes to the ends of the universe to try to collect it?” (Unspoken: “Isn’t that a little bit dangerous? Like, to the world which you might eradicate?”)

He: “Yes. We have several probes seeking it and hopefully they will be able to collect some and bring it back.”

This ranks high in the weird conversations of my lifetime department.

Meanwhile, I had met a couple of people at Grumman and one of them published his own jazz newsletter, telling people what groups were playing where on the Island. He asked me to write some stuff for it. I said “How about an astrology column?” I actually can do astrology, though I don’t anymore for a whole bunch of reasons, but astrology columns are so totally bogus that it’s effectively straight fiction-writing, but people actually believe you (how cool is that?).

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Ed, the guy with the newsletter, left them in pile free in the lobbies of buildings, local delis, and so on. And one day, my friend Cherrie who had returned from Austin and was living with her Mom while I was temporarily abiding in my ex-husband‘s guest room, was walking through the lobby of the building in which she worked and she saw there “The Jazz Ragg” and picked up a couple of copies.

There was a column by Marilyn Tripp. She read it and she said “That has GOT to be Marilyn, whatever her last name is now.” She knew my writing (we had worked together, after all), so she called my ex-husband and it turned out we were living a couple of blocks apart. Yay team. We have never been parted by more than a couple of hundred miles since … and after the Atlantic Ocean, that’s nothing.

By the Blackstone River

As for Garry, we got together, married, bought a house, had our lives fall apart, put our lives back together and now live in the middle of nowhere in an oak woods with many dogs, my son and his family, way more bills than money to pay them, and a legion of aches and pains. In compensation, we also have a really huge television and many computers — 6 on this level and 5 or 6 more downstairs. It’s compensation for destitution.

So although we were apart,Garry and Cherrie and me, we found each other and are busy getting old together. How strange and wonderful to get old with the same people with whom you were first young.

Daily Prompt: Morton’s Fork – Hobson may have a choice, but I don’t

I'm part of Post A Day 2012

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The question posed is as follows:

If you had to choose between being able to write a blog (but not read others’) and being able to read others’ blogs (but not write your own), which would you pick? Why?

For me, the answer is a no-brainer. I would write. Why? Because I am a writer. If I could not write, something in me would die. When asked “what are you,” I never immediately think I’m a wife, mother, grandmother or even that I’m a woman. I automatically and instantly respond that “I’m a writer.”

Being a writer is so much a part of my identity that if I am not that, then I am not sure what I am. Writing was my profession, but I was a writer before I earned my living writing. I have been out of the job market for more than a decade and I am still a writer.

Unlike other professions … and probably this is true of the arts in general, not just writing … what you do is more than how you earn your living. It’s a drive, an instinct, the way you synthesize your world and experiences. It stays with you as long as you breathe, long after the paychecks stop coming and often, even though the paychecks never started coming.

Writing is so deeply embedded in who I am that I cannot imagine not needing to write.  I think only death will stop me … and depending on how that works out, maybe not even that. If there’s an afterlife, I’ll be blogging about it.

Reading blogs is wonderfully inspirational for me and I would miss it greatly  … but there are books, newspapers, all other literary and news inputs. Writing can’t be replaced. There in no substitute for it. Nothing else could fill that space.

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  • “The 12-Foot Teepee (Book Review)”. Anti Essays. 5 Dec. 2012: NOTE: This is a review of my novel. It is supposed to be free and available, but the site on which it is posted (Anti Essays) says that due to technical difficulties, none of the free essays on the site are accessible without paying them money. Do NOT pay them money. Read what you can without payment (which is most of the essay, fortunately) and then forget it. They call it a technical problem. I call it fraud.
  • Daily Prompt: Hobson’s Choice (writinglikeastoner.wordpress.com)
  • Daily Prompt: Hobson’s Choice (burningfireshutinmybones.wordpress.com)
  • Why read blogs? (bottledworder.wordpress.com)