Friday, June 23, 2017

Decreasing the Surplus Population via Unattainable Healthcare

I've written about it. I've tweeted about it. I've talked about. I've fumed about it. And yet, I feel like a voiceless bit of sand in the wind, uselessly begging for someone to start working on real affordable healthcare and health insurance.

I've fought the big insurance company machine going back to the first institution of "HMOs" and their draconian "deny first" policies; taking my case, at one point, directly to Senator Bill Bradley. (Yes, THAT long ago.) I've dealt with preventive childhood services not being covered because they were "well visits," children forced to wear heavy plaster casts because the lighter ones weren't covered, medication dropped from the insurance company "preferred" list, co-pays, deductibles, co-insurance and lifetime limits. Imagine getting a letter that your teenager has exhausted her lifetime allowance for CT scans and a particular blood test. Her LIFETIME limit. I remember people holding onto jobs that were miserable and paid terribly because they had pre-existing conditions and were afraid they would be rejected by the next employer because of it. Or people mysteriously fired after contracting cancer, getting pregnant or developing another "health issue" causing them to miss work. I've had family members graduate college, go to work, not be offered health insurance and be left with  either paying for an individual plan or paying student loans. The vision of the Affordable Care Act was to relieve some of this craziness. Perhaps the saddest part is, it was written with the idea that Americans understand how insurance works. How those who are fortunate enough to not need it TODAY help those who do. That we all understood the concept of "it could happen to me." We expected that a supposedly religious nation would ascribe to the "there, but for the grace of God, go I" proverb. 

However, the coldest, cruelest attitudes of capitalism raised their heads. The same attitudes - and resulting actions - that have suppressed wages, raised CEO and other compensations to 100, 200, 500 times the compensation of their lowest paid workers (In the 60s a 20 to 1 ratio was considered generous.) While American businesses were downsizing in order to artificially boost the bottom line for stockholders, insurance companies were buying stock in tobacco and getting into bed with pharmaceutical companies. And they have been making money. Obscene amounts of money. Even factoring in the "exchange losses" they are quick to highlight, they still made huge profits. And this is because the compromises made for the ACA included not putting any rules in places to curtail Insurance and Pharmaceutical companies.

The minute the law passed, thousands of us received notices that our plans were "no longer available." And yes, I mean employer-provided plans as well as individual plans. How "lucky" we were that a new plan was available. But, oh, this one now contains a deductible. And certain "co-insurances" that apply whether or not you have met your deductible. Not to mention a new payment schedule for prescription medicines and an even more restrictive "preferred" medication list. Some even raised their deductible before the plan year was over.

And above our heads, politicians, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies battled with each other about how impossible it was to deal with the concept of health insurance for almost everyone. Some insurance companies bailed out as soon as they could, and the attitude of "why should I have to pay for..." became the drumbeat for some. 

  • Why should I have to pay into an insurance plan that pays to rebuild your house that burned down? My house didn't burn down.
  • Why should I have to pay taxes for natural disaster relief? I don't live where there are tornadoes and floods.
  • Why should I have to pay for your pregnancy? I'm a man.
  • Why should I have to pay for your Viagra? I'm a woman.
  • Why should I have to pay for your sickness? I live right. You obviously don't.

This week we found out that the "destruction for the sake of destruction" crowd is closer to creating their "every person for themself" version of America. They think because they have money, influence, powerful friends and a sense of superiority that they are immune to calamity and illness. They think that even if they do get sick, they can cover their own expenses despite the fact that no one is looking into how to control costs. Their ignoring of "it could happen to me" is shortsighted, and against everything I was raised to believe about the United States. It breaks my heart. A heart that soon may no longer be eligible for healthcare. I guess getting rid of the "surplus population" may actually be what is at work here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Foot Follies – The Ocean Grove Boardwalk Edition

First, I need to make clear that as a Jersey Girl (OK, I was born in Brooklyn so I’m a Brooklyn Girl too!) there is very little that can keep me away from the Shore, summer or winter. So, it is understandable that after spending so much time nursing my broken foot on the couch, I would soon start craving the sea.

One of our favorite places to go is Ocean Grove. The drive is short and traffic-free and the boardwalk is long, mostly smooth, and mostly quiet enough to hear the surf and the seagulls.  Follow it long enough, you cross into historic Asbury Park, whose rebuilt-after-Hurricane-Sandy boardwalk is replete with shops and eateries. Go the other direction, and you are soon in Bradley Beach, another long stretch of smooth, rebuilt boardwalk. It is an excellent way to get in those thousands of steps to satisfy our step trackers.

We sometimes go around sunset to enjoy the changes in the sky, watch the moon rise over the ocean and take in the view of the Victorian homes as they light up for evening. Other times, we go in the daytime, spend some time on the sand, catch rays walking on the boardwalk, and stop for ice cream at Nagle’s.  Easy, enjoyable walking.

Since having my mobility assisted by the knee scooter, I have become keenly aware of how many places are inaccessible, in a practical way. Sure, there may be a curb cut or a ramp, but some are dangerously sloped, others have cracks and holes. Sidewalks are full of sections lifted up by tree roots just waiting for you to slam into unexpectedly. I am lucky enough to be able to step off the knee scooter and lift it over such obstacles, but I have become aware that many who have mobility issues will not be able to navigate their wheelchair, walker or crutches over these things.

I’ve been to stores that have weather strips across their doorways that prevent smooth rolling into the establishment.  I’ve been in elevators that do not have enough room to turn around in so I can get out facing forward. Again, I am able to drag the scooter around, and may even be working my arm muscles, but many people cannot.

Knowing this, I was very careful on the old sidewalks of Ocean Grove. Tree roots, broken cement, overhanging bushes and broken curbing all required my attention. When we finally got to the end of the street and crossed over to where the boardwalk was, I figured I was home free. One more ramp up to the boardwalk, and then smooth sailing.

I could not have been more wrong. I took my eyes off the ground to look at the ocean. I turned to smile at the Love of My Life.  I hit a lifted piece of concrete in the middle of the ramp and my scooter pitched me off like a bucking bronco.  My right shoulder, wrist and hip hit the sidewalk, and like a trained stunt woman, I immediately rolled over until I was flat on my back, arms outstretched, looking at the sky.
People came running from all over. Someone picked up the scooter, and the piece of brake handle that had broken off.  Another grabbed my bag that had flown away. The Love of My Life bent down, and with his first aid training kicking in, he asked me to check all the parts of my body for injury before standing up. Then, two people help me get back up.

Luckily, I was not bleeding anywhere, wasn’t feeling any pain – although in the back of my mind I was already thinking, “this is going to hurt somewhere tomorrow.”

I was aware that my acrobatics had drawn attention from both directions on the boardwalk. I waved like a Nascar driver walking away from a crash. I was pleased to find out that, at my age, I can still bounce pretty well. The last thing I wanted was to have a police report issued somewhere saying  “elderly woman breaks hip on Ocean Grove boardwalk.” And I suppose the last thing Ocean Grove wanted to hear was “elderly woman sues for damages because of faulty handicap ramp.” Although now that I think of it, I really should send them this so they know. And I’m wondering, do I need to file a police report for the damage to the scooter? Or will I be charged with leaving the scene of an accident?

In any event, I am still booted and scootered, so the adventures continue.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Johnny Mathis, my parents, and me

  It has been said that time heals all wounds. I don't agree. The wounds remain. Time - the mind, protecting its sanity - covers them with some scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it is never gone. 
- Rose Kennedy

Marge, Bill and Bob. Without them, I would not be me.
Today, June 17, 2017, my mother would have turned 85 years old. We lost her way too soon, at age 56 in 1988. It was a loss that no child is ever prepared for even as an adult, and for us, it was a devastating blow. Only 4 months later we also the man who was father to my sisters, and stepfather to me as  my own father, Bill, died at age 23, when I was just 3 weeks old. Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays always are a time to pause and think about the ones who are no longer with us, and this weekend, in combining both my mother's birthday and Father's day, brought thoughts of all of them to me.

Tonight, quite by chance, I turned on the local PBS channel and found they were showing a concert featuring Johnny Mathis, who is celebrating 60+ years of performance. A nanosecond of the musical arrangement and I recognized the song and the artist. This was not just nostalgia from my babyhood — I am, myself, celebrating 60+ years of life — it was the soundtrack of my young life. His was the music my young mother listened to in widowed loneliness and then the music that created the bond between her and the new love that entered her life.

They were inseparable — Marge and Bob. My mother, a scant 4’10, my stepfather at 5’ 11” — they were easy to spot in a crowd. For me, their wedding was the greatest celebration I had ever been to, and while they were honeymooning, I proudly announced to everyone on the subway that “now I have a Daddy.” My mortified Aunt Stella (It was 1958 after all) found herself explaining to complete strangers about my father’s death when I was so young, and my mother’s remarriage.

Soon I was joined by two little sisters. We moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey, and in each home the huge “Hi-Fi” came with us, as well as the complete collection of Johnny Mathis albums. Christmas was not complete without his renditions. For sure there were other favorites, but Johnny was king.

As I grew, there were the Monkees, Simon & Garfunkel, Chicago, Boston and then all the disco hit makers like Donna Summer and KC & The Sunshine Band. Pop from the 60s and 70s provided the soundtrack for my teen and young adult years.

Yet, nothing would stop me in my tracks like hearing the strains of a Johnny Mathis song played in a restaurant or a store, or at a wedding. No one could beat me at “Name that Tune” when the first second of a Mathis song played. It was not just music I knew, it was music indelibly inscribed in the part of my brain where only the most precious things are stored.

It took a long time after 1988 to be able to hear Johnny sing without bursting into tears.  I also spent a lot of time crying to “The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics.  The pain was raw, and deep, compounded by the inescapable feeling that I had now lost 3 parents, all too young, and all leaving me with unanswered questions and unfinished business.

It is sixty-two years since the man who gave me life left me, twenty-nine since the man who raised me and the woman who loved them both, left.  Today, on my mother’s birthday, and the day before Father’s Day, I feel a deep sense of connection to all of them, a feeling of warmth and love. The feeling of loss is still there, but in listening to their music – no, listening to OUR music, I feel that time has curved in a giant arc; bringing me closer to the time we shared. Such is the power of memory, such is the power of love, such is the power of music.

Thank you, Johnny Mathis for being the cosmic force that brings my parents back to me.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

How about a Podcast from the Smile Side of Life?

I've been thinking about producing a podcast for some time. A couple of years ago, I recorded a short story for Halloween, and that was fun. So, I am dipping my toes (the ones on the non-broken foot) into these waters, and would love to know what you think. I've taken the audio file and put some graphics over it, just so I could fake a video and get it up on YouTube quick. I'd love to hear what you think of the content and the idea that I am proposing. If it sounds like you want to hear more from me, I'll work on doing it as a regular podcast.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Holding a Candle Against the Darkness

In October 2001 it felt to me that life would never return to anything resembling “normal.” The United States had been dealt a wound so deep, so terrible, and so painful, that recovery seemed impossible. Still, we were encouraged by people such as Rudy Giuliani and President Bush to go “back to business as usual,” not only for personal healing but as a way to take power away from the perpetrators of terror.

The idea of ever being able to laugh again was a difficult thought, yet, we knew, deep down, it is often with smiling and laughter – even through tears – that mourning takes place, happy memories are invoked, and lost loved ones are honored and remembered.

I remember well the first episode of Saturday Night Live after 9-11 where first responders were saluted. Lorne Michaels turned to Rudy Giuliani and asked if it was OK to be funny. Giuliani’s priceless response of “Why start now?” was a cooling balm on America’s feverish wound.

Since writing the essay below I have learned much about laughter and humor, and their importance to physical and mental health. I’ve learned how they are tools in humanity’s survival arsenal. I’ve become a practicing advocate for their use, but had my convictions shaken many times in the years since. I've seen humor gone awry, causing hostility instead of relief. And I've been torn about that, knowing that satire, humor and parody must be allowed to be shocking, and even painful, in order to inspire discussions, even hostile ones, about subjects often bubbling below and behind current events and concerns.

Now it is 2017, and the world has been breaking my heart with a proliferation of war, terror, and political upheaval at the hands of people who seem bent on destruction and nothing else. And yet, in the laughter of a sick child, the smiles of clowns bravely donning red noses in war zones, the funny tales told of tragically departed loved ones, and the words of people such as Viktor Frankl, Erma Bombeck and countless others, I find the spark of love and humanity that deserves our protection and cultivation. 

Humans can be cold, cruel and evil. But we can also be loving, generous and selfless. By continuing to share a smile or a laugh, we hold a candle against the darkness. Use that candle to light others.


We Will Laugh Again 

As I write this, October 2001 is spreading the golden crown of fall across most of America. A sense of change is in the air, as nature prepares herself for the long restful sleep of winter.  And, deep within us, there is change too – not a seasonal change brought about by nature, but a violent upheaval that reverberates to the innermost depths of the soul. Our hearts have been slashed open by an insidious foe hiding behind a cowardly mask of self-serving ideology. Our pain is so great, we know we have been changed forever, and in our grief, in our mourning, in our righteous anger comes the feeling that will never smile again. Indeed those of us who have survived these horrific events, those of us who can hold our loved ones to our breasts are burdened by an overwhelming sense of guilt and a helplessness that is almost paralyzing.
But we have been asked to get back to business. We have been asked to prove that our way of life here in America is not something that cannot be snuffed out by those who place no value on life, have no sense of honor and seek only to destroy all who cannot feed into their megalomania. Indeed, they are depending on the very things that make us American ­– our compassion, our openness, our hands that we extend in friendship to those who love and hate us - to let them get to us, hurt us, kill us. But those hands have now closed into fists of anger and frustration, those hands have grasped the tools of rescue and rebuilding, those hands have raised the flag of freedom and justice, and those hands are reaching across the globe, to find the cowards where they hide, to drag them out into the light of day, where no evil thing can live.        
And slowly, yes, slowly, our tears will dry. Our faces will wear the grim visages of determination; our eyes will focus on the task ahead. As one, we will rise like the Phoenix from the ashes, stronger and fiercer. And when the dust, dirt, debris and blood of the battle clears – we will stand, united and free still.
And yes, as time goes by, we will smile again, we will laugh again. The United States, the nation blessed and charged with standing as the shining example for all, will go on.  But we shall never forget.