IF THE TRAINS DERAIL, RAISE THE RATES – Marilyn Armstrong

I finally had to tell Garry that I have one more stenotic, broken vertebra. L 4-5-6 were fused when I was 19. Despite a lot of abuse and arthritis, those three are still (more or less) fused. They don’t feel particularly happy, but they should hang together for the duration. Unless I do something really stupid, like fall off a horse or down the stairs, or have a serious auto accident.

Sometime during the past couple of years, the S-1 vertebra — the one at the very bottom of the spine which supports the whole shebang — broke. I don’t know when it broke. It may have just decayed or been damaged by arthritis. I didn’t have an accident or fall, so I’m just assuming it more or less fell apart all by itself. knew something was wrong because I was finding it so difficult to walk.

There’s nothing to be done about it. I guess we could, as my friend Cherrie says, call this “My new normal.”

Anyway, what would I do with a wheelchair? Even a small one is too big for this house and we live on a road that doesn’t have a sidewalk. In town, the sidewalks are a disaster; so full of potholes, you don’t need a disability to fall on your head.

Boston’s no better. The Commonwealth has been busy “saving money” by failing to provide basic services … but hey, we have a full treasury again. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to spend some of that money and create safe sidewalks, ramps for wheelchairs, and repair our crashing trains. They’ve been derailing, rolling over, and generally banging into each other. There are lots of software fixes for these problems, but the tracks are so old and decrepit, you can’t install the new software.

So, realizing they had a transportation issue (and have had this same issue for all the years I’ve lived here), you know what they did to fix it? They raised public transportation prices.

A lot of people are very grumpy about it. No idea why.

Most public places don’t have ramps. For wheelchair users, there are few down ramps at intersections. In our little town, we have one traffic light and a few random stop signs to which no one pays any attention and sidewalks that resemble tank traps.

When I first moved to Massachusetts, I had to ask a friend if the driving laws were different. No-one stopped at signs or lights. I figured they must know something I didn’t know. It turned out, they just don’t LIKE traffic laws.

Someone once said the only way to get a moving violation in Boston was to run over the Governor. It really encourages one to keep walking as long as possible … though there are days …

THE JOY OF MEDICARE – Marilyn Armstrong

I belong to Blue Cross Blue Shield Advantage Value Added PPO group, which is a Medicare plan that offers extras but costs just a tiny bit more than basic Medicare.

Last night, in a moment of mindless stupidity, I decided to register for my medical plan. Usually, I just call them, but it was after hours and I just wanted to look up the price of a  medication. Which I could do online. If I registered.

This is the cutest little Tufted Titmouse I think I’ve ever seen.

No big deal, right? Fill in the form and voila, registered. Medicare was even easier. You could just call them and do it all by phone. I think it took me all of 10 minutes to register for Medicare in the five years I had straight Medicare before I switched to the BCBS Value Advantage plan.

I entered most of the registration information at which point I was told that I had “timed out” and would have to do it again. So I tried to do it again BUT it would not let me because it already had my ID and password — basically everything except my Medicare number.

The gallant Tufted Titmouse – He’s blue and yellow!

I have a week coming up of major medical exams — heart and head and back and more about my eyes.

I was going to die as a result of software glitches. I could cope with being eaten by an alligator or a Gila monster … but SOFTWARE? Seriously?

I tried to call them to fix it but got the “closed for the weekend” message. Starting October 1, they are open 24/7, but this isn’t October. Close, but no cookie. I ultimately discovered that the databank is closed all weekend because they are setting up for the incoming members for 2020, but I didn’t know that until later.

Finally, I finally managed to connect with someone who informed me that my membership had expired.

What?

Expired?

I pay my Medicare/BCBS advantage plan straight out of Social Security. When I was told I belonged to Aetna, not BCBS, I gurgled. I’ve never worked with Aetna AND. I had the BCBS card in my hand. It was blue, blue, and blue. A Blue Cross. A Blue Shield. A blue card. All the ink was blue. \

I had the wrong department and the person I was talking to didn’t have any idea what was going on. I’m not even sure she knew was software is. The right department was closed until Monday and I have a doctor’s appointment early in the day.

By now, after 2 am. I was tired. I knew I’d be even more tired by morning. At this point, all I now wanted was an assurance I was signed up and hadn’t somehow inadvertently or via glitchily cancelled my medical plan.

Forget the price of medications. I was too tired to keep on keeping on, so this morning I got up and called the number that was supposed to work, but it was closed until Monday. Of course.

I also got transferred a lot, but at least not disconnected. Everyone was enormously polite, friendly, and unable to help me. At all.  Of course, no one mentioned that the databank was down, too. That was the guy at Medicare who told me. How come HE knew but the people at BlueCross didn’t know?

One Titmouse and a Chickadee. They will share the feeder … but from opposite sides and they never touch.

I was getting increasingly frustrated. So after I had coffee in hand, I tried calling in a prescription. I figured if I wasn’t signed up, they’d tell me because my card wouldn’t go through. Nope. It went through fine, no problem. Not only did it go through fine, but it went through for a medication that had no refills left. I have to call back and make sure she has the right number. Regardless, it was the first good news of the day.

Having tried every single number for BlueCross and getting nothing but people who didn’t seem able to access my type of BCBS care, I chanced upon the 24/7 number for Medicare. Even though I have an Advantage plan, it’s still a version of Medicare, so one way or the other, I had nothing to lose by trying.

And this is why I love Medicare. Not merely are they REALLY open 24/7 all year long, but they are consistently helpful, polite, and cooperative. If they don’t have the answer, they will find it, no matter how long it takes. And they never put me on hold.

I explained that I had had a software glitch with BlueCross and with an early doctor’s appointment Monday, I didn’t want to find myself dying due to a computer glitch. That would be too pathetic.

The guy at Medicare checked and said, “Don’t worry. There’s no problem. You are paid up and everything works.

So for all you people who are afraid of Medicare? Don’t be. It’s great. It really isn’t one of those messed up government agencies. In fact, I am convinced it is the ONLY government agency where everything actually works just like it is supposed to work.

Now at least I know I would not die from bad software and be buried in an Amazon box.

You all will LOVE Medicare. I promise.

To make things even better? The birds have already begun to return. There was a flock of Tufted Titmouses on the feeder this morning. Where there’s a Titmouse, can the American Goldfinch be far behind?

BUT WHAT HAPPENS IF THE FAX IS BROKEN? – Marilyn Armstrong

In case you haven’t noticed, doctor’s offices rely heavily on faxes to get prescriptions to the pharmacy. Although that has always left me a bit twitchy — personally, fax machines and I get along about as well as my printer and I get along, which is to say, not well — I have come to assume they know what they are doing.

I know, for example, that my doctor’s office is very good about getting prescriptions done quickly. If I call in the morning, the pharmacy usually has the script ready to pick up in an hour or two. Considering I pretty much left my last two doctors because they couldn’t seem to get a prescription ready inside of a week, I consider this amazing.

Windy day in a parking lot

Since two important prescriptions were canceled last week due to unavailability and we are planning to be away on vacation next week, I’ve been trying really hard to get all this stuff worked out. There really isn’t anything crazier than realizing your script ran out and you’re miles from your pharmacy.

I got the prescription worked out for the pain medication over the weekend. Not only did I get a prescription, but it works a lot better than the previous one. I actually wake up in the morning feeling like I can move. Not very fast at the moment because my left knee is pretty dodgy, but the rest of me feels almost like … well … normal. I didn’t think it was possible!

As for the Adderall gone missing, it’s all CVS’s fault. Through some accident — I’m serious about this, so laugh all you want — they ordered ALL the Adderall. All of it. So if you don’t shop at CVS — I don’t because I can go to Hannaford and get a prescription immediately — while it’s always a half an hour wait on a long line at CVS. For just about anything.

But honest to god, that’s what the doctor’s office told me. So all the smaller pharmacies are completely out until the next order. You think maybe CVS did it on purpose?

Eventually, we got this worked out. I’m getting double strength pills and I just have to split them. I already split some of my BP meds, so it’s no big deal … but I had a lot of weird mental issues about CVS ordering ALL the Adderall from the manufacturer. They must have tons of it. Literally tons.

The problem with my regular doctor was far more peculiar. I called, said the medication had worked gangbusters and I was really happy with the replacement and they said they would ship the fax over immediately.

But the pharmacy didn’t have the fax. I called again — both doctor and pharmacy — and the doctor’s office sent another fax and Hannaford didn’t get it.

Because, as it turns out, the fax machine was broken.

Some of the ladies who work in the front office are not tech savvy. They manage to deal with computers, but they always look emotionally and mentally strained. They are sure — always — that something is going to blow up.

I’m very patient with them. They are nice women and work hard. Not everyone does well with electronics, even very smart people. I can do almost anything with a computer but put me in front of a printer or fax machine and my brain dies.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Their fax machine was broken. That’s why Hannaford didn’t get the fax.

Apparently, they didn’t know anything was wrong until they started getting calls from all the pharmacies in the area that prescription faxes hadn’t arrived. Putting two and two together, they got at least 22. Most of the pharmacies agreed to take the orders by phone — just this once. I guess now they are going to have to (gasp) buy a new machine. Hook it up. Convince it to connect. It’s probably wireless and will only work when it feels like it.

Just like my printer.

So I spent almost all day on the phone because the fax machine in the doctor’s office is broken and they didn’t know it. Apparently, the people at the pharmacy worked through the problem with them.

And meanwhile, my glasses are ready to be picked up tomorrow! Yay! Are things finally beginning to run a little more smoothly? Will we make it to vacation alive? Tune in!

IDIOPATHIC – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Idiosyncrasy

I am the proud owner of a body which does its own thing Although I knew the word “idiosyncrasy,” until I got into understanding “doctor-speak,” I didn’t really understand the word.

When a doctor says you have an “idiopathic neuropathy” in your left foot, it means your left foot doesn’t work the way it should and he/she has no idea why. Anything idiopathic in medical language is the equivalent of the doctor shrugging his or her shoulders.

Over the years of my life, many things have been officially idiopathic or, as I prefer to put it, idiotic.

Reflexes that stop working. Sensations that disappear (aka “idiopathic neuropathy”) and later reappear. Idiopathic dizziness, idiopathic raising/lowering creatinine, changing levels of red blood cells, iron deficiency, electrolytes that vanish, then reappear … and the list goes on.

None of these things have ever been diagnosed. All of them eventually went away without medical intervention. Frequently, my hardest act to pull off is not letting them give me medication that is going to give me a whole new set of problems I didn’t have before.

It’s not that I don’t think we all need regular checkups. We do.

But our bodies do stuff. On the whole, a lot of it doesn’t mean anything important. Our bodies adjust themselves, pushing this level up and another down and when it sorts itself out, it settles down. We have become so used to reading stats that when anything seems out of line, this doctor or another feels he or she should DO something about it.

First, they have to figure out what to do and that always involves a lot of expensive testing. After which the result is usually nothing. Sometimes you hear, “You’re getting older” — as if I didn’t know that. My personal favorite: “You should probably drink more liquids.” Thank you for reminding me.

My favorite line yesterday was the nurse who asked me why the electronic blood pressure machine doesn’t work on me. How in the world would I know? Ask the machine or its manufacturer. Read the manual.

Or forget the machine. Take a standard, manual blood pressure reading, the kind every nursing student learns during their first five minutes in training.

EKG setup

It’s why I often wonder why do a dozen tests so they can then tell you it was “a massive yet idiosyncratic drop-off of blood sodium levels” that should have killed you. “It’s amazing you could even stand up.”

Not only did it not kill me, but if they hadn’t called and told me something was terribly wrong, I’d never have noticed anything. It did, as it turns out, finally explain those cramps in my legs and feet.

Electrolyte insufficiency. If I drink Gatorade or any of the dozens of other electrolytes drinks, my legs and feet don’t cramp. After years of pain and agony, the answer was “sports drinks.” I don’t have to take any expensive and likely to kill me medicine, either. Amazing.

Meanwhile, I learned yesterday I still do NOT have cancer (again). My anemia is gone. Let’s hear it for those little, dissoluble iron pills. All my levels are NORMAL, especially for someone who had two kinds of cancer nine years ago, and major heart surgery 4-1/2 years ago.

I’m in fabulous condition — except for the broken spine. the hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, and the dysfunctional gastrointestinal thingamabob. Also, whatever was making my left eye cease seeing has gone away so I can probably skip the expensive tests they were going to run.

Glass on glass

I probably didn’t have a stroke. Maybe I just need tinted glasses. I absolutely need new eyeglasses because I can’t see very well at any distance except really close up. Maybe I can get the hospital to pay for them instead of $10,000 worth of tests they were going to run.

Just call me idiopathic

FEELING A BIT WAN – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Thursday – WAN

After yesterday’s doctor visit, having to go to yet another doctor seems like charging up the same hill — and there’s a guy at the top with a machine gun. Nonetheless, gotta do it. I still don’t know where to put my head. I feel like I carry poisonous genes and have passed them down the line.

But, speaking of wan, I’m still in the process of trying to work my way out of anemia — the last of the repairable issues on my medical agenda. I’ve actually found an iron pill that seems to work and doesn’t make me ill. I’m not taking enough of it, I know, but it beats out the nothing I was taking before.

I’m beginning to really resent DNA.

Junco and I think a House Finch

Isn’t what you inherit supposed to be a sort of grab-bag? You get some of the stuff, but not ALL of it? Because I seem to have collected everything and be in the process of passing it along.

The good news? Yesterday’s doctor seemed to think that I didn’t look particularly anemic now. My gums have stopped being pale and that’s a good sign. Now all I have to do is worry whether or not I’ve managed to pass everything along to another generation. Or two.

So feeling wan? Literally and figuratively. At the same time!

INTREPID BY ROAD – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Intrepid

Intrepid will always be the name of one of Horatio Hornblower’s ships. Somewhere in my 20s, I discovered Horatio Hornblower … and that’s how I learned that there was an actual use for trigonometry! If only they had mentioned this in school, I might have had a clue what I was doing instead of random calculations used to reach an answer that meant absolutely NOTHING to me.

We probably should have named The Duke “Intrepid.” He is quite the intrepid voyager. Except he likes when we come out and let him IN the yard, even though he jumped out. I guess out is easier?

Today I am off to see the wizard, also known as my cardiologist. He’s a new one. I’m trying to finally shake off Boston and get all my physicians lined up locally. Boston made the news the other night as officially (who is the official calculator of such things?) having the worst traffic of any city in the U.S. Not in the world. I think there are quite a few cities in Europe (and how about the traffic in London!) that could compete.

Boston has gotten terrible. When I moved here in 1988, traffic wasn’t great, but you could get from one place to another and generally even park when you got there. Not any more. Not only can it be impossible to get there, but if you do parking will cost the price of feeding two people for a week. Or more.

Bad. Very, very bad.

We spent something like 50 billion dollars to remodel our road and I swear they are worse than they were before we spend more than a decade redoing everything. The thing is, they move things around, but they didn’t make them bigger. Just stuck them underground (cough, cough, cough) or straightened out the crooked pieces.  So we’ve got nice straight bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Boston traffic is only for the intrepid.

We’re away shortly. As we head for UMass, a mere 20 miles away, call us intrepid. Also, please hope they don’t find anything new or interesting.

TOM’S CATARACT SURGERY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Recently, Tom’s cataracts started to give him problems driving at night. He began seeing large halos around the headlights of the oncoming cars, which made driving a challenge. He went to the eye doctor who told Tom that his cataracts were ‘ripe’ and it was time to get cataract surgery in both eyes.

Now, no one looks forward to someone slicing and dicing their eyeballs, but Tom was borderline phobic about anyone touching his eyes. We had two close friends who had recently had the surgery and they both reassured Tom that they had felt nothing during the procedure and little if any discomfort afterward.

Tom listened to them but didn’t believe them on some level. So he procrastinated about scheduling the surgery – and procrastinated, and procrastinated.

When he finally scheduled it, he didn’t feel good about it. He worried more and more as the surgery date drew near and he reached a peak of panic the sleepless night before D-Day. On the ride to the surgery center, as well as in the waiting room, Tom kept repeating that he really didn’t want to do this. I began to worry that he might make a run for it.

Of course, Tom had to wait endlessly at the doctor’s office before he was finally taken in for the seven-minute procedure. So by the time he saw the doctor, his blood pressure must have been off the charts. Fortunately, along with buckets of numbing drops, they gave him some ‘good drugs’ to relax him.

I waited anxiously in the waiting room for an hour before he came out the other end. During that time, I saw a veritable parade of post-surgery patients, smiling in their identical pairs of unfashionable sunglasses. I relaxed as I realized that no one seemed freaked out or even stressed.

So I was not surprised when Tom reappeared, gushing about what a weird but not unpleasant experience it had been. As he had been told, he felt nothing but water being pumped into his eye. He saw strange lights and heard psychedelic music, which made it all feel like a mini acid trip.

Tom in his ‘cataract sunglasses’

Fresh out of surgery, his eye was blurry and totally dilated, and he felt like he had a grain of sand in his eye, but he could already tell how much better his vision was. Everything was brighter and clearer, especially colors. Tom said it was as if he had been looking at the world through a yellow filter and suddenly now he was seeing everything in vibrant, living color.

We bumped into an old friend in the waiting room who was coming in for the same surgery. Tom went on and on about how awesome his vision was now and told his friend not to worry but to get ready to be amazed at how colorful and sharp the world is.

By the next day the dilation was gone and even though only one eye was fixed, Tom’s vision was dramatically improved. He no longer needed his glasses for distance vision but will still permanently need reading glasses. Not a big deal. He also could see that our sunroom was painted bright blue, not green or teal.  And he was telling everyone what a miracle he had just experienced!

Tom seeing great without his glasses for the first time in decades

Now Tom can’t wait for the second surgery!