Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Part of the plan: "Oh, Canada..."

We're movin' to Canada.

Not today or, even, tomorrow. But Joyce and I are serious.

(And now it has less to do with the prospects of a political loony being elected to our nation's top office.)

I've checked out rentals in both Vancouver, B.C., and Nova Scotia. (It, by the way, appears to be but a one-day's drive to Chelmsford, Mass., where our daughter, Jennifer, her husband and grandson live. Vancouver is but an overnight train ride away from our son, Ian, and his girlfriend, Andrea, in California.). And housing is affordable. Plus, after three years, we'd qualify for Canadian citizenship, if my sources are reliable, which would then put us under universal coverage of the Canadian health care system at little or no cost. And health care is the biggest scare with our pending retirements.

The boot in the butt to head north came because I just got the bill from the doctor who roamed the ripples of my brain.

Now, I think he deserves to be paid -- and paid well -- and (or, rather, but) he had to do it twice. (You'd think the second one, at least, would be like the Men's Wearhouse -- buy one, get the next at half price. The doctor even admitted to Joyce that the second one would be easier because he'd just have to remove the staples and plunge back in.)

But no. Same price for both (a hair under $10,000 each for sub-scalpal surgeries that left a Y-shaped bald spot), plus a hefty $3,600-plus for something called a "pierce skull implant device." (Isn't that from a scene in "Young Frankenstein"?)

My beef is not with the doctor (though I still think the second "emergency" surgery two days after the first unsuccessful effort should have been at a reduced price because I've never been told what happened with the first to demand a second unless . . . "Oops, nurse pick that -- er, him -- up, please").

It's with Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Or, more truthfully, with our health care system in general.

Seems I have to pay the doctor -- all but about $2,000 -- out of my own pocket.

Yep, $20,000-plus. (Hope he ships the pierce skull implant device. I'll have it mounted.)

I thought I had health care coverage. Apparently not.

In the interest of full disclosure, Blue Cross did cover about $270,000 -- yep, more than a quarter of a million dollars (though it paid less than half that because the hospital was "part of the plan") for my 15-day stay (seven in ICU) in the hospital. (But I'd like to note again, had the first surgery "taken," I was told that I'd have spent but three days in the hospital.)

Confusing. Yes. (And if you think you're confused, what about me? Remember, I've had brain surgery. Twice.)

Interestingly, the first bill we received -- and the first call we got from a detached, rather unsympathetic young woman demanding blood from this turnip -- was from the ambulance company that transported me the 13 miles from the Alameda hospital to the brain palace in Castro Valley. She insisted that we had to pay a good chunk of the bill because the ambulance company wasn't "part of the plan." And we had to do it within 12 months or, she said, she'd have to turn it over to the collection agency. That bill (you do the math) was about $300 a mile. (Hey, Joyce, call a damned taxi.)

What was I supposed to do? "Excuse me, you'll have to remove the IV from my arm unless you're 'part of the plan.' Got the number for Yellow Cab?")

Same with the doc. Why is the hospital "part of the plan" and he isn't? (And I don't recall him saying, "Oh, by the way, I'm not 'part of the plan.' Scalpel, please.")

Now, we are, thankfully, in a position to pay (though it does eat into our retirement plans somewhat). But what about folks -- most of America, by the way -- who aren't as fortunate? No one should go bankrupt because of the need to be healthy or to save a life, as in my case, especially in an emergency.

So, "Oh, Canada, where good health care for thee..."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Another step to 'normal'...

Confucius was correct: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

I took another on Wednesday during my tête-à-tête with my new neurosurgeon.

The news was mostly good. (Actually, all good considering; the only real bad had to do with martinis!).

The news is that (a) I'm doing as well, actually better, than expected, that (b) the swelling on the right side of the head is a muscle -- didn't know the skull had a muscle -- and it'll eventually go back to normal, that (c) the big, crooked "Y"-shaped scar that still has jarring (to the viewer) red spots will eventually subside and shrink a bit (though I'll always have a weird-shaped sliver of baldness, but that doesn't bother me much because I can't see it), that (d) the likelihood of seizures is "low," though I must continue the anti-seizure medicine for two more months, that (e) the weaning of the one med I'm taking will take another two to three months, (but) that (f) , if a seizure does hit, it likely will NOT involve passing out, but likely will manifest itself as severe twitching of appendages on the left side ("But no one might notice," I replied, "because that's how I dance."), that (g) I still can't fly because they drilled four holes in my head so the docs could then saw a big square hole in my cranium for access to the brain matter, and those holes haven't yet "closed" completely, that (h) the big square hole is secured by four titanium screws (that won't set off the metal detectors at the airport when I can fly again), and that (i) I'm not to exercise ("Just take walks," he said.)

Oh, and "no alcohol," he insisted after I asked about beer and martinis. (Sorry, Joyce, still no Sundays over gin, vermouth and three olives).

After tense negotiation (and questions from him about good beers after I told him I'm a beer snob, and me recommending New Belgian's "1554" and anything of the Samuel Smith's brand), he allowed me to continue the one-(good) beer-a-day regimen that I'd put myself on.

"It's not drinking the beer (or martinis) that's the problem," he said. "It's the 'coming down' when the alcohol wears off," he said. "It increases the chances of a seizure."

OK, as I told Joyce, I've got a solution for that. I'll just drink all the time and never 'come down.'"

Hmmmm, whataya think?

Ah, but, under that plan, those steps Confucius alluded to wouldn't be quite as steady as the doc (and I) would want them to be. And falling is the biggest fear (for him and for me) on this road to recovery.

So, one beer a day.

And one step a day.

And after a thousand miles, back to normal.

I plan to enjoy the trip.