Reduced Focus

For the past four years my eye prescription remained relatively unchanged. Unfortunately, my glasses haven’t remained unscarred through an infant’s grabbing hands, a puppy’s curiosity, and life in general.

I took advantage of a coupon to buy an emergency pair of bifocals for $250. During a recent week of travel I wore that pair. My eyes never adjusted to the left lens, the one the optical tech said was stronger than my old prescription. Each afternoon I found it difficult to zip through messages on my phone, enjoy a book, or read small print on a menu. Headaches started early in the day. I panicked about fulfilling writing obligations and tried to not think that maybe my eyes were in trouble.

This is the kind of bad decision I made because of a high deductible health insurance policy. The $175 eye exam would be out of pocket so spending $400 for the security of back up glasses felt prohibitive. I shopped around and spent less. Fortunately, my discomfort ended when I returned home and put on the old glasses. Scratches and all, my vision cleared, and the headaches stopped.

Others are making more difficult decisions—taking the gamble of not purchasing an asthma inhaler for themselves to make it possible to pay for a partner’s insulin, cancelling necessary lab work or tests to pay for their child’s asthma inhaler, not following a physician’s directions in using an expensive medication to stretch its use, staying in a hated job to hold on to health insurance, not replacing bald tires on the family car because of a health emergency.

Most of my adult experience was in a health maintenance organization. We groused about wait times for appointments, lack of choice in the optical area, going to a hospital across town, but we never faced decisions like today. If we hesitated about taking a child to clinic for a possible ear infection, it was about traffic or workload and not about the $125 bill.

These decisions are made in all zip codes throughout our wide metropolitan area. Only the very wealthy or very fortunate are exempt. We don’t comment on a good friend’s darkened tooth, push a neighbor to join in a night out, or question why a kid’s wheezy cough doesn’t improve. We’re all too polite to talk about the healthcare monkey choking America’s sense of comfort and scared about what’s coming next.

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Chemical Factory Body

Influenza B beat out my early season flu shot. The fourth day of a common cold morphed into a significant fever and body aches between morning coffee with a friend and dinner. The doctor’s nurse suggested I come in the next day to rule out a recurrence of walking pneumonia.

Results of a nasty nasal swab changed the visit to treatment planning for flu and asthma management. On the way home prescriptions were picked up at the drug store along with creature comforts such as soft tissues, flavored water and ice cream. Not many creature comforts because the cost of these meds, even with insurance, was triple our weekly grocery bill.

Instructions on the boxes for taking the medications are clear. The patient information booklets packed inside suggested I was doomed to suffer whether I used the meds or just muddled through the flu with the generic acetaminophen, cool drinks and a few good movies. With the expense of hundreds of dollars in meds on my conscience I behaved like a good patient.

It is now one in the morning. All the steroids in the asthma meds are doing a nice job of easing my breathing and the flu med must be starting its work. The garbage basket next to me is filling with used tissues; there are a number of empty water glasses or teacups on the bathroom counter. Unfortunately all these miracle cures list sleeplessness as a possible reaction and that is my fate.

Sleep is a treasured state because I’m not always successful in claiming six successive hours. An old IT band injury occasionally flares. I didn’t outgrow a childhood pattern of nightmares. My brain can get busy, but when do you need sleep more than when sick?

Which makes me think of how my brother and I would tease my parents that their teams of doctors kept them healthy by turning their bodies into perfect chemical factories. At one in the morning with two inhaled meds and four pills fighting the bad flu stuff I wonder how many nights they dealt with similar internal disruptions. The joke isn’t quite as light when the medical arsenal is lined up on your bedside table.

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Home is…

Growing up I wanted a permanent address and the company of grandparents and cousins. My parents weren’t nomadic, but restless when it came to houses. With the exception of one five-year span after a job transfer landed us in Milwaukee, we moved about every three years. We stayed within the city and its northwest suburbs, as they took steps toward acquiring their dream house. Years after I moved out they found that Colonial on a large lot and settled in. They declared that house the family home. But, my brother and I had already established our own family homes. Then my father’s employer transferred him to Green Bay and they hopped and skipped throughout housing there.

We moved to Minnesota early in our marriage and have lived in the same house for decades. The house changes, but our address and telephone number stay the same. Our adult children have friends who had sleepovers in this house, who took prom pictures in our yard, who attended baby showers and music recitals here as well.

My birth family has all passed. All the holiday ads featuring people driving back to their family homes leaves me feeling unsettled. Was a certain Christmas on 96th Street or 95th? On McCastlen or East River Road? Were we gathered in their first condo or second? Does it matter?

We have a second house that we consider home as well. It is filled with memories of extended family and friends relaxing together, celebrating birthdays, holidays, and a marriage. Both places provide shelter, refuge, ice dams and landscaping fun.

Home is…? In spite of the satisfaction I feel about providing our family with the stability of one address, I want to believe that home is a more complex set of emotions that can be transferred with us to new settings. We are most fortunate to have a permanent address and the company of friends and family that make this home.

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The Daily Slide

November 27 was a hectic day filled with appointments, work, weekend cleanup and errands. Near sixty degree temperatures lured me into thinking the gentle fall weather would last. When darkness began I apologized to the dog for missing our daily walk and promised him a long one the next day.

Within twenty-four hours drizzle, falling temperatures, freezing rain and snow changed the scene. Ice turned the roadway into a glossy slip and slide that the UPS truck found difficult to navigate. Dog and I found footing dangerous at the end of the driveway and turned back to the house.

Winter is not my friend. Warm sweaters and cozy evenings are great, but aside from occasional beautiful days I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the package deal. I prefer green grass and gardens filled with flowers to brown sticks poking through white and hothouse daisies purchased with the groceries. I’d rather open the office window for fresh air than fill a humidifier.

What I dread most is ice. Nothing undermines free exercise faster than the possibility of losing traction at any moment. If the mail vehicle, a neighbor’s SUV and the UPS truck are having trouble, the dog and I are not heading out. Even walking like a penguin can’t make everything enjoyable and safe.

The penguin walk instructions offered in the lobby of a family member’s condo building, is one of the personal affronts of the icy season. With feet apart and turned slightly outward, lower your center of gravity over one leg, and waddle around the sidewalks. Pretend others don’t notice your strange effort to stay upright.

Being resigned to months of dressing in layers of black outdoor clothing with leather boots is enough. The indignity of a daily slide or penguin walking is undeserved punishment.

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Thanksgiving 2017

Family will fill the dining room Wednesday evening for Thanksgiving Dinner 2017. We’ve divvied up side dishes so everyone will be carrying something to the feast. It will be a grand gathering.

No holiday has morphed as often in our home as Thanksgiving dinner. Loved ones who shared the day have passed. Friends who joined us at various times left stories we share. Korean students we hosted carry memories of our pecan pie. Babies grew up. Family dogs endured ribbons or costumes with rewards of bits of our meal.

Turkey always appears but side dishes reflect the times. My father’s sausage dressing gave way for my mother-in-law’s oyster stuffing. A former son-in-law only liked a five-minute version made out of a box. For years I rehydrated and doctored up packaged stuffing mixes. Now it is made from scratch. Green bean casserole has given way to Brussels sprouts. Homemade applesauce and cranberry relish still claim menu priority.

Tears accompanied some transition years. Significant tears cried about an empty chair. Exhausted red eyes when traditions overwhelmed my ability to deliver. A parent’s sadness as children are absent a first time. Happy wet eyes when the stories begin flowing among those who are present and it is no longer important that we are gathering on Wednesday night for the whole deal or on Friday for turkey tetrazzini and leftovers.

Wishing all of you a moment of comfort however you spend the coming holiday.