GOODBYE AND GOOD LUCK

Thanks for your service, Rich Paschall

He had been in the business for almost 40 years.  The last twenty-seven of those with the same company.  He liked his job and thought he was good at it.  In just a few more years he would retire.  Everything seemed to be on track.

When Carl started in his career, orders were processed with typewriters.  Carbon paper was used when multiple copies were required.  Details of international orders were sent overseas by telex machine.  Everything was done manually and file cabinets were stuffed with files of all the orders and shipments.

Carl made it through all the changes.  At first he thought an electronic typewriter with memory was just about the coolest thing.  Fax machines took the place of telex machines and world-wide communication was getting easier.  As the decades went on, technology and communications advanced faster and faster, but Carl kept right up with everything.  You could never say that Carl was behind the times.

Despite the efficiency of his work life, the same could not be said of Carl’s personal life until recent years.  Only as retirement thoughts started weighing on his mind did Carl pay attention to his accounts.  For the last few years he contributed to the 401K plan.  He even took out some small CDs for better interest return, since savings and checking accounts returned him only pennies per month, literally.

With age, came the problems of advancing age.  Bifocals were no longer good enough to do his job.  He was recommended to get trifocals but opted for a second pair of glasses just to see the computer.  His hands were stiff and sore and he needed medication for that.

Nerve pain in the feet demanded a drug as did high cholesterol.  His blood tests never satisfied his doctor and even when he felt well, there were many pills to take.  With all these issues, Carl still carried on in grand fashion and handled his job like a pro.

When Carl got a new boss, they seemed to get along well.  She appeared to appreciate his experience and they often had nice little chats.  When Carl asked if he could come in late so he could have his annual physical, his boss seemed disappointed.  He assured her he would make up the time during the week and she finally voiced approval.

The doctor’s visit showed the usual issues, but also “abnormal cells in undetermined significance.”  Carl was referred to a specialist and he had to ask for another morning off.  The boss looked quite perturbed when she said “OK, if you must.” Unfortunately for Carl, he did in fact feel he must see the doctor.

The specialist was a handsome young man with a sunny disposition.  He indicated all the dire situations that may be happening with such a cute smile, Carl still felt at ease.  His examination and subsequent biopsy lead to “dysplasia but cells are undetermined.”  Carl was recommended to a surgeon.

Again, Carl asked for a morning off.  The stares of the boss led Carl to say he would make up his time the same week and he would not ask for any more time off in the coming months.  He was greeted with a long and painful silence.  “Fine,” the boss stated with an air of exasperation.

The following day was a Wednesday and Carl worked hard all day under the glares of his much younger boss.  Whenever Carl looked around, she seemed to be nearby staring at him.  Needless to say, it was a rather uncomfortable day.  Normally, Carl had pleasant days and nice little chats with coworkers.  He never got close to any of them or saw them socially.  One young man loved having random little conversations with Carl about anything everyday, but he was the only friend, if you could call him that.  Carl was just at work to do his job.

At the end of that day, just past 5 pm, the facilities manager, the superior to Carl’s boss, invited Carl down to her office for a chat.  When he got there his boss was already seated and staring at the floor.  The facilities manager began.

“Carl, you know we think you have been doing excellent work for us for many years but…” Then there was a long pause while the manager looked for the words.  “Well, business has fallen off some.  The stronger dollar means weaker business. We are well behind budget for the year and we must eliminate a position.  I am sorry, but we have to let you go.”

Carl was dumbfounded.  He planned to work another two or three years and retire.  He was not ready for this.  His boss continued to look at the floor when the manager spoke up again.  She explained about the last pay check, vacation pay, Cobra insurance, unemployment.  She said she would write a nice letter of recommendation.  She closed by saying she was sorry, it was not personal, it was just economics.  She thanked him for his years of service.  His boss continued to stare at the floor.

pills and wine

pills and wine

He returned to his desk, took a few personal items while his bossed hovered nearby and he was then prepared to leave.  That’s when she came over and asked for his badge and ID and walked away.  “What was that?” a longtime female coworker asked.  “I was fired,” he replied.  The coworker started to cry.  Carl quietly said goodbye, looked around for his young friend, who was already gone, and he left.

After a few days of reviewing jobs on-line and making a few calls, Carl saw it would be difficult at his age and salary range to find a new position.  That night, he lined up all of his prescriptions on the kitchen table, including the container of powerful pain killers for his hand pain.  Next, he got a bottle of one of his favorite wines, appropriately chilled.  He opened the wine, poured himself a glass and sat down at the kitchen table.  There he looked over the table and contemplated his future.

 

IN THE COOKER AND ON THE ROAD

I was reminded, yesterday, of all the reasons I love retirement. Why the idea of going back to work makes me feel ill.

The day was beautiful. Perfect summer. Bright blue cloudless sky. Comfortable temperatures in the high 70s. A slight breeze. Minimal humidity.

I needed a prescription from my doctor in Needham. It’s 50 miles away, but normally it’s about 45 or 50 minutes drive time. Not, however, on Friday afternoon in mid-July. If you live around here, you know a summer weekend starts Thursday afternoon, and climaxes late Friday when everyone is coming home from work, jumping in the family buggy, and taking off for somewhere else.

Boston road signs

New York, New Hampshire, Cape Cod. The population of New York is on its way to New England. The mid-Atlantic and New England regions do a population swap every weekend during July and August.

We forgot. It was the day of the asshole driver. The ones who cut you off, the ones who hog the lane driving slow, but refuse to let you pass.

There were endless stretches of “construction” consisting of miles of orange cones without a worker or machine in sight. Closed lanes and crawling traffic. Accidents. Little ones on the side of the road which required each driver to slow down for a good, long look. Major accident with sirens, police cars, and ambulances. Accidents which close lanes in two directions … and of course require all drivers to stop and take an even longer look.

Police, supposedly there to keep traffic moving, who hang out casually in the middle of the road having a friendly chat with fellow officers about upcoming dinner plans — making it impossible for traffic to move. They get paid extra for that.

It wasn’t just one road. It was everywhere. Bumper-to-bumper for miles in every direction.

When we got to the doctor’s office and they’d forgotten to get the prescription ready — atypical of this usually efficient medical group — I was ready to have a temper tantrum. To lay on the floor, kick, and scream. I didn’t. I simply said we’d just spent a couple of hours getting there through the worst possible traffic and I wasn’t leaving without my prescription.

I got my prescription.

We took Route 20 home, which means we got home. Otherwise, we’d most likely still be out there, in our car. On the road. Dehydrated. Demoralized. Depressed. Dying of starvation and probably snapping at each other for want of anyone else to blame for our own gross miscalculation in planning to drive in and out of Boston on a Friday afternoon in the summertime.

72-On-The-Road_055

For all the years I commuted, with a daily deadline requiring getting there, though hell or high water. For all the years I dragged my reluctant carcass out in the morning to plow through traffic to meet a deadline that was not a deadline, but a lost hope. Because the product or project had long since gone off the rails but no one had told me, this experience was a ghastly reminder.

Did I work better under pressure? No. I worked regardless of pressure. Really, I worked best with encouragement, resources, and sufficient time to do the job properly. When those conditions could no longer be met, I worked less and less well until finally, I could not work at all.

I doubt anyone works “better” under pressure. Just some people deal with it and others break down.

Modern management has a lot to learn about how to get the best from their workers. They don’t seem to be learning.

MEDICARE TO SENIORS: WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE?

If you’re on Medicare, that’s the message you’re getting.

Out-of-pocket costs of Medicare have been going up annually, with ever-higher deductibles and premiums and a massive doughnut hole in prescription coverage that like the energizer bunny just keeps going and going and going. Many of the most fundamental, critical medications aren’t covered at all — emergency and other inhalers for asthma sufferers, nitroglycerin, newer antibiotics. Out-of-pockets costs are terrifying. Now, they’ve added a new twist. Something special to make us feel the love.

Coffin

I had my semi-annual physical a few weeks ago. These are supposed to be no-cost, no deductible preventative visits. Included in the visit were some standard blood tests and vaccinations. Three of the vaccinations were boosters to the vaccinations we got as children: polio, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping-cough (which is making a come-back). One was against shingles, which apparently is an issue for anyone over 60 who had chicken pox.

When I got my statement from Medicare, I expected to find maybe $20 due for the lab. Instead, there was an outstanding balance of $464, all for vaccinations. More than $300 of those dollars was for the shingles vaccine. No way can I come up with this amount of money on our fixed income.

Medicare had covered none of it. It said my “other insurance” (what other insurance? I’m on a Medicare PPO Advantage plan) didn’t pay anything either.

medicare confusion

When my husband’s Medicare statement for his physical arrived, there was another $265 for vaccinations, all boosters. I compared the statements. Garry is not on an advantage plan. He’s on straight Medicare with a “Medigap” policy that never seems to pay anything no matter what the claim.

That was when I realized how they’d done it. Vaccinations are no longer a medical expense. They are prescription medication.

Medicare reclassified vaccinations as prescription medication so they now fall under Medicare Part D. None of the prescription plans ever have — or ever will — cover vaccinations.

Medicare decided it’s cheaper to let old people get sick (maybe they’ll die and save even more money) than to vaccinate them against disease. Because while millions might avail themselves of preventative measures (we are old, not stupid), many fewer will actually contract the illness. Cost analysis won.

I’m so angry, so upset, I’ve been waking up early in the morning already in a rage. Brooding on the kind of mentality which leaves us — people who worked our whole lives and paid tons of money into this system — vulnerable because our government has misused our funds.

I will not go into the history of this mess, except to say it started under Reagan, and has continued apace. With everyone crying crocodile tears over Medicare — while spending the money earmarked to keep us safe in our senior years.

Meanwhile, I’ve got about $700 of medical bills I have no idea how to pay. They never said they won’t pay for vaccinations. They just reclassified them as “medication,” knowing full well that no plan would pay for it. No Medigap plan covers prescriptions, so you are well and truly screwed.

Ever since I turned 65, it’s been a downhill slide.

The day I turned 65, I was dumped by MassHealth (Medicaid). I hoped I’d be protected by my disabled status. I’d been on disability for years which was why I was entitled to MassHealth.

No problem getting around that. Social Security simply reclassified (sound familiar?) me. I’m just old, not disabled. They switched me to standard Social Security. I get the same monthly money, but without medical protection. They also lowered the poverty guidelines so we no longer qualify for the extra help on prescriptions.

“Why don’t you just die already? Stop using up valuable resources.”

Obviously, we’ve outlived our usefulness. So how come we are not dead yet?

When did the United States become such a mean-spirited country? When did we decide it would be better for us to get sick or die rather than give us proper care? How did we come to this? Who are we?

I get the message. Just die already. If you are not outraged, you must think somehow this will never affect you. Think again.


NOTE: Well said, for all of us — of a certain age. The old man was right!

“Generosity. That was my first mistake.” Obviously, not my last.

Apparently we have outlived our value to the society we served so long and so well. You are welcome.

Garry Armstrong

SWEET OLD OXYMORON

Sweet old lady is an oxymoron. It’s one of those myths, probably perpetrated by childhood memories of grandma, a rosy film smoothing over the lumps and bumps.

Age makes everyone cranky. Men get grouchy. Women get snarky. Old people are impatient and significantly less reserved about saying what’s on our minds. We don’t have much to lose, so why not?

Our body is not the only part of us that ages.

72-Garry dogs dinner_32

It’s possible the only people who find old people sweet are very young children. Everyone else gets the sharp edge of the tongue and the flaring temper.

American culture has little use for old folks. From the founding of this country, we have prized youth and energy. We give lip service to admiring experience and wisdom, but we don’t hire the old and wise. Companies fire workers the moment they can’t keep up with workers half their age.

It turns out, older, irascible guys and gals resent being told how to do their jobs by kids who couldn’t do the job, but have lots of opinions and theories. They are not easily managed and do not willingly gulp the company Kool-Aid. Yuck.

To make the cycle perfect, the Social Security retirement age has been steadily raised. You young punks are going to have to find a way to stay on the job until you are 67, 68, even 70. Probably it’ll get up to 80 eventually, with the not-so-subtle suggestion that you’d be doing the world a favor if you would please just die before needing benefits.

Statistics prove people are living longer, so it logically follows they should work longer, right?

The result? You’ll see millions of unemployed old people who should be able to take it easy, but have to find a way to keep working. No longer able to do what they did for 30 or 40 years, they will be unemployable. It’s already happening. Just look around.

A TAP ON THE SHOULDER

When Hope Pays a Visit, Rich Paschall

Bill woke with the Florida sun proclaiming the new day, as he did on most days. He did not set an alarm clock, it was against his retirement protocol. Instead, he waited for the room to brighten with the energy of a new morning.

A new morning

A new morning

As he wandered through his house, getting ready to meet the world, Bill thought of what he would do that Friday. It seems he had been on a futile mission all week. Nevertheless, he would try again, and give it just one more chance. It felt like the least he could do for his friend.

Bill’s morning routine could not exactly be described as a routine.  Rather it was haphazard at best. He went to the washroom. He went to the closet. He went to the kitchen to start coffee. He went back to the washroom to shave. He looked again in the closet for what to wear and he went back to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. It took him over an hour to get ready to start the day, but that was Bill’s retirement plan. In other words, there was no plan.

His neighbor Harold, on the other hand, always had a plan. His time seemed to be allocated to the minute. While Bill liked Harold, he was not fond of the rigid lifestyle. That was no way to retire, Bill thought. Of course, it all did not matter now.

At the beginning of the week, Harold was found lying on his screened in patio and carted off to the local hospital, just a short distance away. It was not unusual for the Emergency Medical Technicians to pick up old timers in this part of Sarasota County, but it was still a shock to the few who knew Harold. Bill was one of those few.

Although a daily purpose was never part of Bill’s retirement goals, he nonetheless scheduled himself into a visit to the county hospital every day in a vain attempt to learn something, anything, about Harold’s condition. He was not immediate family and he was not named on any medical documents, since Harold, Planner Supreme, had no plan for this life-altering event. So Bill had learned nothing all week-long. Still, he could not settle his mind over the thought of Harold just falling over on his patio. So he kept trying to get a medical update.

When coffee was gone and toast was eaten, Bill was ready to make the trip to the county hospital. He stepped out into the Florida sun to find the day was already hot and humid.  Neighbor Mabel Crockett, would tell anyone who would listen that “the air was so think you could cut it with a knife.”  And so it was exactly that.

Bill hopped into his car in the driveway of his townhouse and hoped that the air conditioner would be at work right away. He was a bit disappointed at that, but he did not have far to go.

He arrived at the parking lot that was just two dollars for patients and visitors for four hours. “Don’t forget to have your ticket validated,” the guard warned Bill. If he forgot, the charge was double. Bill did not seem to care too much about that.

He entered by the Emergency Room and walked past the Trauma Triage and down the hall to the main lobby area. There he walked right up to the same receptionist who greeted him every day that week.

“Yes?” the elderly receptionist said with a sigh. She recalled Bill immediately and was prepared to go through the routine again.

“I am here to see my friend Harold. He came in through Emergency on Monday.”

“I know,” she said with a tired sound. It is the same sound that came with all of the disappointing statements she must give to visitors. “I’m sorry,” she continued. “Your friend is in intensive care. I can not give out information to anyone but immediate family.”

Bill started with his usual response, “But I might be…”

“I know, sir, and I am very sorry. It is the regulation and there is nothing else I can say,” the grey haired woman proclaimed with a heavy dose of sadness.

They stared at each other for a moment when Bill finally conceded. “I understand,” he said with a bit of a choked up sound. He could understand the rule, just not the dogmatic enforcement in this circumstance.

Bill started back down the hall toward the exit by the Emergency room. He passed pictures of important donors, including the Ringling Family of Circus fame. There were also paintings of peaceful ocean scenes that would seem to go with the best rooms at a Holiday Inn. Bill noticed none of it all week-long.  He just knew how long the walk would take to the exit.

As he got half way down the hall, Bill felt a tap on his shoulder.  “Excuse me,” a voice announced. “Excuse me, sir.”

Bill turned around to find the elderly receptionist right behind him.  She seemed a bit out of breath, probably from her pursuit of Bill.

“I am not supposed to say anything,” she said softly, as if she was telling a big secret, “but what are they going to do?  Fire me?  I am a volunteer.” At that, Bill saw her first smile of the week.

“Your friend is doing better,” she stated, “And they should move him out of Intensive Care soon, maybe tomorrow.”

Bill grabbed the old woman and gave her a big hug. Tears formed in his eyes as he told the receptionist, “Thank you so much!”  This was followed by another big hug.

So Bill thanked some woman he didn’t know for some news about a neighbor he hardly knew. The news itself really wasn’t anything at all, but it made Bill’s day complete.

WAITING FOR THE STORY TO CONTINUE

When Words Lost Meaning, Rich Paschall

If there was anything Harry did not need, it was more disappointment.  He’d had a lifetime of disappointments, but it seemed he was in for more.  Mistreated and mislabeled, he was now also abandoned.  Unintentionally abandoned, but for Harry, alone was alone.

Harry came into the world with great hope.  His mother picked out the name of the most famous boy in the world for her new-born.  She named him after the famous boy wizard, Harry Potter.  She thought he looked a bit like the drawings of Harry on the book covers.

As he grew, little Harry had trouble learning.  He never developed good reading skills.  He baffled his mother, telling her the letters moved, and words did not make sense when put together.  Eventually, his mother told him he was stupid, accused him of not trying.  Just to confuse the issue, she followed that by telling him he was bright (which was true) and could read if he wanted to. Which was not true. The further behind he fell in school, the more labels he acquired. But no one gave him the right label: “Dyslexic.”

The lad withdrew. He began hiding in the last place anyone would look for him. The library.

Thus a boy who could not read, looked at books in the library and waited. Maybe someone would come and read to him. Someone who would explain the stories.  It was awfully hard to find anybody to do this. Until he spotted Harold looking at the Harry Potter books.  Little Harry decided right then and there that Harold was his friend.

Library Road

Harold had been going to the library every Tuesday and Thursday to read books on engineering and machinery.  One day, Harold wandered over to look at the books about which he’d heard so much. The Harry Potter series.

When Harry, the boy with the reading problem spied Harold, in the “fantasy aisle,” he instantly knew he’d found someone to read to him. Harry had withdrawn in recent months, so he began the relationship by staring at Harold.

The librarian’s assistant misinterpreted Harold’s attempts to send little Harry away. She thought Harry and Harold were together. So she opened the usually shuttered reading room, making it possible for Harold to read aloud to the boy.

Harold read to the boy that day and it turned into a regular Tuesday and Thursday affair.

Harry knew old Harold was not a great storyteller.  He was obviously uncomfortable reading out loud.  Nonetheless, little Harry kind of liked big Harold’s awkward attempts at narration. And Harry was learning.

Sometimes the boy would be emboldened to ask questions.  Even though the boy with the little wizard face was not yet learning to read, he was building his vocabulary.

When Tuesday arrived and no Harold appeared at the library, Harry waited. His new friend never showed up. The boy roamed the lobby, then just stood there. It was a sad sight. Thursday brought the same scenario. When the little boy looked as if he was going to cry, the Librarian stepped in.

“What seems to be the problem, young man?” she asked Harry.

“He’s not here,” Harry said and tears rolled down his face.

“Shh.  This is a library.  Now, explain to me. Who is missing?”

Harry tried to explain, but was so upset had couldn’t.  The librarian’s assistant rushed over to help.  She finished telling Harry’s story for him. Harry remained disconsolate.

At last, the assistant suggested, “Maybe your friend is ill and can’t come. I’m sure he’d be here if he could be.” Of course, she had no idea how accurate she was.

“But he’s supposed to read to me,” Harry whimpered.

“I know,” the assistant said, “but he can’t come if he’s sick.  You know how your mother makes you stay home if you’re not feeling well, right?”

The boy didn’t know. He mother ignored him when he was sick, figuring it was a ploy to stay home from school.  The boy looked at the Librarian and her assistant, his face full of sadness and mistrust.

“I’m sure your friend will be back to read with you very soon.” She had no way of knowing when, or if, Harold would be back, but maybe little Harry would find her words soothing.

At this same moment,  a doctor stood at the foot Harold’s bed in the hospital’s Intensive Care unit reading his chart.  This Thursday, Harold could not read, talk, or explain anything to anyone.

Note: The next “Harold story” appears in 3 weeks.

WEDNESDAY WONDERING

When A Regular Guy Goes Missing, by Rich Paschall

It was just about time for Tiffany’s favorite customer to arrive, so she took a spot at the server’s station. That was located at the end of a long bar.  There, between the bar and the back wall, was an area for water, extra glasses and silverware.  Neatly tucked into an alcove was a computer with a touch screen.  On the modern device, the waitresses could place their orders which would go back to the kitchen or alert the bar tender of something to prepare. They also had a spot to bring dirty dishes for handsome young Hispanic bus boys to take to the back kitchen.  It was not unusual for a waitress to be there, but Tiffany was there for a particular reason.

From the end of the bar, at the server’s station, one could look down the length of the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar and see the front door. When Tiffany’s favorite customer arrived promptly at 1 pm, Tiffany planned to direct him to a table that was in her serving area.  If he sat outside that area, she would have to let one of the others wait on Harold. She just did not like that idea.

Tiffany had started working at the restaurant and bar three years earlier.  She was in her earlier 30’s then and had a friendly and energetic way that got her hired by the hard-working managers.  After a while, she became a favorite waitress for many of the regular patrons.  She usually worked through the lunch hour and into the early evening. Sometimes she covered on a later shift where drunken patrons tipped her well.  Despite that, she still preferred the afternoons.

After she was well established at the restaurant, a retired gentlemen from the Midwest became a regular Wednesday and Saturday afternoon customer.  He was very punctual, arriving right at 1 pm each time.  Tiffany knew his order and he was easy to serve.  When Tiffany had left for a few months to try a new, and allegedly exciting place, she found she missed the atmosphere and the friends at the Wild West.  She did not realize how much like family they were until she went away.  The customers were nice, the managers were fair and friendly and the other waitresses were like sisters.  When she got the opportunity, she returned.

Gulf Coast

Harold started coming to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports bar shortly after he had left the cold Midwest climate for sunny retirement on the Gulf Coast of Florida.  He liked the Soup and Sandwich special each Wednesday and Saturday so he quickly made that part of his schedule.  You see, Harold was very well-organized and when he put something on his schedule, you could depend that he would follow through on it. That’s why all of the employees knew Harold was about to walk in the door.

Tiffany had a sweet spot for Harold, as the saying goes.  Even though he did not say a lot, she found him rather endearing.  She looked forward to his dependability as well as his smile.  It just sort of indicated that there was some order in the world.  Despite the lack of conversation, she knew he appreciated these twice weekly visits

When the front door opened at 1 pm, Tiffany was ready with a smile, but the patron was not Harold.  Nevertheless, she politely smiled as a young man took a seat where Tiffany had planned to place Harold.  It was OK, there were other places for Harold that he would like.  A few empty tables had a good view of one of the televisions.  So, she brought the young man water and a menu and returned to the server’s station.  She tried to watch the door diligently, but the lunch crowd kept taking her away from her post.

At 13:30 it was apparent something was wrong.  Time had gone by quickly before Tiffany realized Harold was late. He always came through the door at the exact minute.  Some days she was convinced he waited around outside for a few minutes so he could be precisely on time at 1 pm. This particular Wednesday he was not there at 1, 1:30 or at 2.  Harold did not arrive for lunch.

Tiffany’s disappointment was noticeable to her coworkers.  She liked how nicely Harold fit into the routine, and now he was missing.  Could he have gone to another restaurant?  Could he have scheduled some place new?  Could she have lost her favorite customer?  Questions swirled through her head. What could possibly be the answer? Perhaps he was sick.  Perhaps he had an accident.  Perhaps he was stuck at home and had to make his own lunch.  Whatever was the issue, she hoped Harold was doing well and had good food.

At that very hour Harold was indeed having lunch.  A middle-aged nurse, who looked like she had not slept for a day or two, was hanging a fresh bag to feed Harold intravenously directly with the stomach tube. It was not the sort of meal he was used to on a Wednesday afternoon, but it seems he was in no position to object as the stroke had left him rather speechless.  Today’s meal definitely was not on his schedule.

Note: The next Harold story appears in two weeks.