Tuesday, December 31, 2013


It began innocently enough several months ago, when I began asking around about what insurance plan I should consider. As a baby boomer, I have a set of circumstances that are not, after all, atypical. In the past three years, I have opted to work as a self-employed (1099) professional, largely due to the flexibility it has afforded my schedule in overseeing my elderly mother's care. Also, my 59 years have exacted a toll on my body, including osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and the need for arthroscopic surgery following a sudden knee injury in March of this year. I'm a single (widowed) woman, with a post-doctoral level of education, and like many in my demographic, I'm probably going to be quite advanced in years before I can mark my student loan account "paid in full." It's certainly fortunate that I've gone on record as saying I actually want to work for the rest of my life, and to not retire. I don't want an opulent lifestyle; I just want to be okay.

I've been paying for private insurance since 2006, have enjoyed a trusting relationship with both my physicians, and have been able to budget for my soon-to-be-former health insurance plan. In short, the whole arrangement was working well for me -- until this current mess dreamed up by the Obama administration. But, now the government has chosen to interfere in my life in some profound ways. And I'm taking this whole situation very personally.

Early in November, I contacted an insurance agency recommended by someone whose opinion I highly regard. The cheery representative promised me she would get back to me in early December, and would meet me "anywhere that's convenient to you." Actually, as it turned out, when I called her back (she didn't initiate the follow-up as promised), she rather curtly referred me to a colleague. Once I was in the hands of this individual, I was passed along yet again to someone else for follow-up.

I was compliant with their instructions -- downloading the application from the link they emailed me, filling it out to the best of my ability, and after some back-and-forth faxing and calls, got my finalized information to the agency by the end of the business day on December 20, to assure that they would be able to submit it prior to the December 23rd deadline. The insurance agent said I was all set, and all I needed to do was watch the mail for the first premium bill from my new carrier. I sighed in relief...mission accomplished before the Christmas holiday, right?

Wrong, as it turned out! So very wrong.

In addition to the expected holiday distractions, I had the unforeseen issue with my mother's sudden serious illness, rush to the hospital, and then transfer to a rehab center on Christmas Eve. With ordinary work and household duties, I was now even less cognizant of a insurance snafu that was awaiting me. Then on about December 28, I got a form letter (dated December 20th)from Covered California, telling me that I needed to call to clarify an alleged "lump sum payment" that was supposedly affecting the income numbers on my application. On the next business day, December 30, I called the several toll-free numbers provided, and spent no less than one hour before I got a nice-sounding "live person" who assured me that this letter "had been poorly written," and I should probably disregard it...but, in pulling up my application in the computer system, I was told that it had been filed, but that the insurance agency had neglected to complete it with the most important part -- the plan that I had selected! With no selection, I wouldn't have gotten a premium bill, and with no premium payment, I wouldn't have had any insurance coverage.

This Covered California rep offered to finalize the process with me, which, in hindsight, I should have done. But, I was so angry and blindsided in that moment, I opted to defer this and try to call the insurance agency to find out just how they dropped the ball on this. Two calls from me...no answer.

Today, what should have been a laid-back, rare day off for me, has seen me frantically making two calls (consuming almost 2.5 hours of my time)to finally secure my new insurance (which, if I'd had my druthers, I wouldn't have wanted. My old coverage was just fine, thank you very ****ing much!) before midnight. In the first call, I found out from the Covered California rep that the insurance agency had submitted income and personal data that was "totally wrong," and that I would have to settle for a totally different policy from what I was sold -- at a price tag of about $100/month more than what the agency quoted me. As an independently contracted professional with a variable income, that bill is not always going to be very "affordable." Furthermore, I was told that I needed to call my doctors' offices to ascertain their participation on the plan I figured I could afford.

My rheumatologist's office was closed. I left a message that conveyed my concern. In a call to my primary physician, I was told that he was not on the network for which I was opting.

I was up against the clock, and my head was spinning with the absurdity of the situation. I permitted myself a brief cathartic crying spell before picking up the phone again, hopefully for the last time. This time, I got a very sweet young woman who walked me through the long-awaited final steps, and assured me that, indeed, I would be covered at the stroke of midnight tonight. I thanked her profusely, and wished her a heartfelt "Happy New Year."

I then sat back on the sofa, now totally wasted from this ordeal.

There you have it. As we enter 2014, I have insurance coverage, purchased out of desperation and haste, that I really hadn't bargained for. It's for sure I'll have to start over with a new primary doctor, after many years with one I've come to trust, and I don't know what's going to happen with my rheumatologist and the treatment I need for my R.A. And who knows what this means for the medications crucial for my health and well-being.

Thanks a lot, Washington! And to that incompetent insurance agency, damn you!



What's shown is a cake I had made for the 1999 I threw. Who knew, as I gathered my group of intimate friends around me, what lay ahead for each of us? I've posted this as a reminder to stop and toast, even as life sometimes slams into us and sends us reeling.

Below is another pic -- of me at the same party. I remember Mom telling me, as I scurried around in this dress getting the festivities going, that I looked like Mae West. That continues to be a compliment to me; Ms. West's brassiness and benign vulgarity actually inspire my view of myself as an older(ish) woman.

Fourteen years later, the evening will be different, but my hopefulness for the future still just as high. In fact, I've decided to bump things up and be defiantly optimistic. 2013 stank -- with both my own health challenges reminding me to pace myself better, and Mom's continued frailty. I'm leaving this year behind as a wash, and am actually eager for 2014. Even in thinking what possibly could "go wrong," my endurance so far gives me some combat skills. The future? Bring it on!

So, here's my scintillating agenda for the next 36 hours or so:

1. As I monitor the televised festivities in Times Square throughout the night, I'm going to be pressing my shredder into service. There's ancient paperwork in the corner desk and in a large cardboard box nearby. What isn't relevant going forward in 2014, goes through the cutting blades, and out with the recycling on Friday morning. Visual clutter is as painful to me as the tangible kind. Getting organized is a common goal I hear my clients voice, and one I share with them. And as I'm faced with more responsibilities in my mother's care, being as organized as possible with be a life-saver on many levels, now and in the days ahead.

2. Get organized for resumption of life on Thursday morning. Get my wheelie-case ready to go out the door, organize my files, see that my computer calendar is up-to-date, scrub down the kitchen and bathroom, and take inventory in the near-empty fridge. With my Mom's sudden hospitalization more than a week ago, I've focused an inordinate amount of attention on this situation, and allowed my home to be neglected. I need to trust that Mom's in good hands at the rehab center. Home is supposed to be my refuge; I should feel gratitude and honor it as such. How many times do I lecture people about caring for themselves? Now, the famous saying, "Physician, heal thyself" holds real meaning for me. Maybe I can sneak out and see the movie Nebraska during the matinee hours. The themes in this film are near to my heart, and I want to see if I agree with the reviews I've read.

3. Making time for my backyard. It's been neglected for so long, and it breaks my heart to see my rose bushes hidden among overgrown tufts of grass. There's a neighbor down the block from me, with whom I've had only a smile-and-wave acquaintance as I drive by. I want to knock on his door, and in our conversation, ask him about the native plants with which he has landscaped his front yard. I'm going on record, here and now, and saying I want to restore my own front yard's beauty with some fresh-looking, water-thrifty plants. Recreational gardening used to be more than some chore -- it was real therapy for me. I must get back to it; I long to get happily dirty once again.

People reading this might think that I'm taking on an awful lot for "downtime," but that's me. I've always been happiest when taking care of my home and personal life.

And 2014 is the year to keep my life up there on my list of priorities.

Happy New Year to all of you, with lots of love.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2013, With New Meanings

This year, the holidays saw a swift and unexpected change. They will never be quite the same again.

Soon after Thanksgiving, I hauled out the decorations, with an underlying mixture of eagerness, sadness, and even impatience. I have always looked forward to seeing the items that evoke memories of personal or family events, but this year I felt as if I would be doing this just for me, without much opportunity to share the displays with others. The fact that Mom was now bed-bound and rarely out into the rest of the house. The "kids"--my son and daughter-in-law--are busy with their jobs and live nearly an hour away. Other friends are surrendering to aging and limited mobility, and so their visits are becoming pretty rare. The thought of Why bother? crossed my mind more than once, especially as I pushed the bulky box with the prelit tree from my garage along the back walkway to the house, and then feeling the effects in my arthritic hands. Still, everything went up in its ritualistic place, and I felt an odd comfort after sitting back on the sofa to take in the full visual effect.

The house wouldn't look the same without the numerous hangings my mother made in the early 1980s, when latch-hook was all the crafting rage. We have small rugs, wall hangings of every design and size, Christmas stockings, and even a tree skirt, all done by Mom to relax after she would come home from her nursing shift.

And the intricate knitted stockings that Mom made over the course of three decades, lovingly, for each family member, are stuff of family legend. Now there are only three that get hung on the mantle. Others are poignantly stored in a sealed box in Mom's closet, with the label in her handwriting, "Christmas stockings for deceased family."

Then, this past Sunday at approximately 1:30 AM, I was awakened to the alarming sound of Mom coughing. Her cough is not a new phenomenon, but this time there was an alarming difference. There was a desperation to the sound, an insistent struggle. I went in to find Mom in the throes of projectile vomiting and respiratory distress. After doing a clean-up and then sitting briefly at her bedside with the "barf bucket," I put my foot down and called the EMTs. Mom, in keeping with her pattern of not wanting to accept help for herself, tried to downplay the breathing difficulties as "just a little cold I've had recently." I stood at the head of her bed and gave the EMTs a different take on it. One of them said to me, "Well, it's whatever your Mom wants, and she seems pretty clear to me." My fear was that we would get so caught up in a war of opinions that Mom would have worsened quickly, and it would have then been too late for intervention. At the end of this debate, off the ER she went.

It turns out that Mom's almost-89-year-old constitution was under full assault, with bilateral pneumonia and two virulent infections. The ER staff went to work and launched their counteroffensive, with two days of inpatient follow-up. I'm grateful for the staff at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center here in Burbank, and have already sent a letter to the head of the nursing department expressing my deep thanks, with special mention of one particular nurse, Melinda. At a time when I was, frankly, scared about what was happening to Mom, Melinda's calm, cheer, and competence was itself good medicine. It's so important, despite whatever our many preoccupations, to stop and express thanks to those who help us. It feels good to give well-deserved praise; it boosts the morale of those receiving it, and it makes the world a more compassionate place.

Mom has been transferred to a rehab facility, and her absence from home has given me time and space to reflect -- not just on what this illness means medically for her, but what it means to me. The amount of vulnerability I feel has taken me by surprise. Certainly, at our ages (Mom, 89; me, 59), this turn of events is not unexpected. A part of me wants to hide behind my education and work experience as some kind of theoretical buffer against my visceral feelings. Still, the harsh reality is that someday, my mother will die. I will lose her.

I've taken to sleeping on the couch after work, as if being in the living room, closer to the street, will keep me in touch to the world. My taste in TV and music is now determinedly (or maybe desperately) brighter, the more comedic tone the better. I've probably reached out to my Facebook friends with more openness than I had since I signed up in 2008. Wherever I go, even to errands about town, I have found myself making more connections -- saying "hello" and smiling to passersby, and being more engaging with store staff. Even my "big brudda" is hearing from me by phone, text, or email at an unprecedented rate.

First thing in the morning, I have to remind myself that Mom is not waiting in her room for me to come and check on her. Who knew that the absence of a person could be so profound, so palpable? And yet, since the onset of this illness, it's only been three days.

At home, I find myself staring at the homemade decorations, and memories of sitting near Mom and watching her creative process come flooding back. Because they are such vivid reminders of Mom, I wonder when I'll bring myself to put them away after the holidays.

When I visit Mom, I find myself becoming the proverbial "parent to my parent." She resists eating, despite my pleas and my cutting up her food. She wants me to leave only minutes after I get into her room, saying that I "shouldn't have to be here." I see this woman, who once seemed so formidable and protective of me. Now, lying in her hospital bed, Mom is delicate and alone. I am now her protector.

The first night she was at the rehab center, Mom stated, "I wonder if I'll ever be allowed to go home."

That broke my heart.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

59. Whatever.

Yes, my dears, I'm 59 today. That leaves me another 41 years (more if I'm lucky) to meander around life, and see how I can leave my mark on the world.

My Facebook friends, most of whom are also old Burbank High pals, have been overwhelming me with their lovely birthday-wish posts. One thing that I've come to appreciate is the friendship and company of others -- these former classmates; my colleagues, former and present; my family; my current tenant; my neighbors; my teachers and professors in my higher education. Looking back into my teens and early twenties, I was quite moody and resistant to others' companionship, and I can only regret the amount of time I wasted in being such a loner.

So, anyway, today came, and I reflected back on birthdays past -- 13, 18, 21, 25, 40, and 50. Some were bittersweet, others spectacularly fun. All I care about now is this moment. So, even if 59 isn't one of those ones usually seen as a milestone, I don't mind. The future still beckons...

Originally, I'd considered calling off work on "My Day," but then asked myself "Why?" On my way there--the only day in the week I leave the Burbank city limits for business purposes--I found the I-5 nicely uncrowded, so I applied a bit of pressure to the accelerator. Speeding along, and pushing various preset radio buttons, I was struck by what I heard.

First was a ad spot for a local hospice, complete with sweetly maudlin piano music in the background. As the primary caregiver for my mother, I recognize and honor the work these people do. It's just that I didn't want to hear this material on this particular morning. Click...

On the next preset station, KRTH-101 (first broadcasting, by the way, during that wonderfully significant year of 1972), was Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky." Don't get me wrong, this is among some of my all-time favorites. Again, though, I didn't want to be reminded of dying...not today...

Finally, on "The Sound," KSWD-100.3, the brash challenge of Pat Benatar, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," provided just the right sentiment. Now I was ready to face...whatever!

The morning wouldn't have been complete, though, without the comedy segment, "Laughter at 45 After," (yes, at 7:45)about teenage girls, texting, and the comic's fear of being seen as a "creepy guy in a van."

It was a light day, and so I actually got home about an hour earlier than usual. Mom and caregiver Esmeralda were finishing dinner. Mom asked me, "How old are you today?" Ever the smart-aleck, I replied, "59, Mom, and I'll be that tomorrow, too." Mom: "Really?" She was quite taken aback, and continued to ruminate on this up to bedtime.

Oh, well...it was a good day in any case. If I don't attach any inordinate importance to my age, it won't be an obstacle.

Comedy -- Rx for Grumpiness in Aging

I love my House and Law and Order reruns, but as of last night, I'm taking a serious break from them.

My gentleman friend had the TV tuned to Comedy Central the other night, and we were delighted to see Gabriel Iglesias doing some wonderful material, which I found both hilarious and totally not subtle. One segment:

As if we did not have enough laughter to make our sides sore, we then were treated to Bill Cosby in his wonderful performance, "Far from Finished."

It's occurred to me that I've convinced myself that I'm so busy, that I've almost forgotten how to laugh, including at this absurdity called my life.

I'm starting to keep a resolution from last New Year's that I was going to make the time to read more. Recently, I finished a delightful, heart-warming book, God and Mr. Gomez, which I had heard about for years. After awakening from a recent, detailed dream about how I'm going to refurbish my 1922 Burbank home, I had the compelling thought that I had to get this book and read it now. So, even before I made my 5 AM coffee, I was at the computer, summoning up the genie Amazon to place my order.

Growing up, I faithfully read Jack Smith's column every day before going to school. His gentle, folksy humor has always been an inspiration to me, and I mourned when the Los Angeles Times published news about his death in 1996. Now that I read the story about Smith's association with Mr. Gomez, I found I have a new obsession. As I write this, I am awaiting delivery of one of his other books, How to Win a Pullet Surprise: The Pleasures and Pitfalls of our Language, and also a tribute called Eternally Yours, a collection of some of Smith's columns.

Levity is long overdue, and I intend to relish it as much as possible.