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The Sad Business of Dying

MedsMy family has always been exceptionally lucky when it comes to medical insurance.  Jim had a great job with a company that not only offered free healthcare benefits, they were the best healthcare benefits money could buy.  We never paid a copayment, deductible, or a percentage of treatment.  No money ever went out of our pocket for prescription drugs or durable medical equipment.  Everything was always covered, everywhere we went.

We no longer have that insurance, since Jim’s retirement due to disability from that awesome job.  However, we are lucky enough to still have health insurance coverage.  Gone are the days when everything medical was handed to us.  My last kidney surgery was not going to be performed unless I showed up at the surgical center with $500 to cover my percentage of the procedure.  The medications I needed following the multiple procedures cost us more than $100 out of pocket – a huge discount over what they would have cost if we had no insurance at all, but at the same time, that $100 is a big chunk of money to families struggling already to make ends meet.  Let’s not even speak of trying to come up with $500 to unblock a kidney – ridiculous.  What if a family doesn’t have that money?

I read an article today in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the family of Luis Rodriguez.  Diagnosed a year ago with acute myeloid leukemia, Luis and his family just made the bittersweet journey to Florida, where Luis will live out his final days surrounded by family after losing his home of 13 years due to the cost of his illness, combined with his inability to work and his wife’s need to cut her hours back to care for her dying husband.  This family went from being comfortable, able to provide things for their children, enjoying life to losing their home and barely scraping by – all due to illness.

I don’t claim to know the answer.  I’m not a huge fan of Obamacare, but this isn’t about politics.  There is a huge business in treating sick people – from the doctors and hospitals to the drug companies and pharmacies.

Maybe dying should be more about dignity and less about dollars.


It’s expensive to be dying.  It’s an expense so few of us are prepared to take on.  The bank doesn’t necessarily care that you have cancer and can’t go to work when your mortgage payment is due.  Walgreen’s doesn’t want to know that you have a life insurance policy that will more than cover your prescription medications when you die – you have to come up with the money now if you want to die comfortably.

Even if you can afford the medications you’ll need, Medicare and Medicaid aren’t going to cover the rest of your bills.  Sure, you might qualify for Social Security disability, but you’ll have to live at least three months to see it kick in, and by that time, many families are already drowning in debt.




What Good Came From Gastric Bypass Surgery?

I’ve posted quite a bit about some of the negatives and side effects resulting from my gastric bypass.  I’ve even mentioned the downside of weight regain – which I struggle with on a minute by minute basis.  But there are benefits that far outweigh – for me, anyway – the risks I undertook.

When I decided to have surgery, I had just watched my father fight – and lose – his last battle with diabetes.  I sat in a room with my dad’s brothers and sisters, who came from various parts of the country to be with us in hospice, and realized that we were all diabetic.  As my dad slept fitfully on one of his last days, his youngest brother by his side, all I could think was that I hope and pray my young cousins never have to sit like this and watch their father die from this horrible disease.

And then it struck me that I never wanted my children to sit and watch me.

After losing the first 50 pounds, my blood sugars became normal.  Not only did I no longer have a need to test seven times daily, I also stopped needing medicine.  My blood pressure, which really was in the medium to high normal range, is now low normal – unless it’s the night before a chemistry exam.

I didn’t know how much the excess weight slowed me down, and honestly, I thought I was a damn mobile big girl.  But when I lost 100 pounds, and realized I could get down on the floor and not have to crawl to the sofa to lean on it to get up, it was an epiphany.  I volunteered more at school, after backing off when Brighid was in elementary school.  I went in one afternoon to read to her class, and one of the boys told her I was the fattest mom ever.  He was an expert, having a pretty enormous mother himself, but it occurred to me I might be an embarassment to my kids, so I didn’t go back to school to volunteer.

I also didn’t put myself out there for things – like applying for the Walt Disney World Moms Panel.  But then I lost weight and found courage.  I can’t tell you how happy I am that I did.

I didn’t know my quality of life was as poor as it was until it got better.  And it did.

So, yep, there have been a lot of pitfalls in my journey through gastric bypass.  But the days when I’m flying high make every small stumble worth it.

Re-learning How to Spell Inspiration

Awakening before dawn, they arrived.  There was Captain Jack Sparrow.  I saw a few Tinker Bells.  Buzz and Woody were  represented, and there were even a couple of the 101 Dalmatians.

Some of them, by mile 24, where we patiently waited, were still wearing smiles.  But more than smiles, they wore blood, sweat, and tears.  Some were bandaged from falls, while others had knees and shins taped up to help support them on the journey.

I saw cancer survivors, people who ran in memory of those they loved, people who ran to raise money for causes they believed in, and people who ran hoping the finish line was paved with bottles of cold beer.

I cannot tell you how many people thanked us – they actually thanked US!  Margaret cheered until she was hoarse, Erin called out to as many runners as she could, and Jodi and I clapped until our arms ached.  And I could not believe how much it meant to some of those runners – ones who actually used some of the last breath available in their lungs to say thank you.  It made me tear up!

But let me tell you why we were really there.  When I first started with the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, we all talked about losing weight, getting fit, and running.  I’m a good talker.  A doer – not so much.  so when a good chunk of the panel started running, I was so impressed.  Tanya, Jodi, Whitney, everyone was just running their behinds off.  I so admired them for everything they were doing, for how hard they were working.  These were busy moms with kids, husbands, work, lives – and they were taking time out to do something for themselves.

And I hope none of them will take offense when I say that the one who has most inspired me was Diane.  She worked the hardest, she fought the longest, and she has achieved goals I’m not even sure she thought she could set for herself.  And along the way, she’s the one that has kicked my own ass for putting the goals I have for myself aside.  She’s the one who sent me the link nearly three years ago for the Couch to 5K program.  It’s bookmarked.  It’s read.  It’s on the bucket list.  She’s the one who just a few weeks ago called me out for promising come hell or high water that I would get my act together and do what I set out to do – and then I didn’t.

I went to Orlando this weekend for Diane.  I wanted to be there with her to celebrate this moment with her, and to let her know just how freakin’ much I love and admire her.  Not only does she put this mere mortal mom to shame, but she could out do Martha Stewart, the best of the Top Chefs, and the brightest of Project Runway.

Why yes, she is all that AND a bag of chips.

And because of modern technology, I failed.  Well, we failed.  We relied on information gathered somewhere out there by satellites in the universe to let us know when Diane would pass us by so we could cheer her on.  We stood and waited until headache, hunger, and our ability to control our bladders gave us no choice but to stand down from our post and seek remedies for our ills.  The universal powers that be told us we had plenty of time to do it.  But we didn’t.  And we failed.

We weren’t there, waving pom-poms, clapping, and shouting her name when she ran past us.  We were eating, peeing, drinking, and caffeinating our headaches.  And because we relied on modern technology, we missed her.  By minutes.  Literally, by minutes.

I failed.

But it doesn’t mean that I don’t love her any less, admire her any less, or regard her as any less a superhero.  I do so even more.  She ran and succeeded without us there to push her through the last few miles.  She set the goal, she worked her ass off, and she achieved.

Yeah, I’m thinking I’ll be spelling inspiration with a capital D from now on.

2011 – What I Learned This Year

I could sum up my year in one word.  School.  I feel like the entire year was consumed by my educational aspirations.  But aside from all the -ologies I studied in 2011, I’ve learned quite a few other things.  With a year that saw me recovering from last fall’s bout with MRSA and then a stay in ICU battling kidney failure, I had lots of time to reflect on things – the good, the bad, and what was more important.

So here goes:

I learned that it’s perfectly okay to be sad about the things I’ve lost.  My sister, who died way too young; my dad, who fought for the last ten years of his life to make sure he snatched every bit of joy and happiness he could in the time he had left; the five babies I never got to hold or cuddle or sniff the tops of their tiny heads.  I know now that it’s okay to still find myself in a puddle of my own tears over not having those things.  But it’s even more important to celebrate and appreciate the things that I haven’t lost.  I have three amazing daughters, who can melt my heart with their beautiful smiles and warm me on my coldest days with their giggles.  I have a husband who loves me – cherishes me – and through all of his own battles, always manages to make me feel like his number one priority.  I am blessed with an awesome sister, terrific parents and step-parents, and extended family and friends that I adore.

I learned that it really does take the worst to make you truly understand and appreciate the best.  The worst snowstorms help you appreciate the warmest days.  A bad grade on a test makes you truly grateful when you get an A.  A bad eye day for Jim makes a good eye day such a gift.  Laying in bed in intensive care helps you to remember to find gratitude when “it’s only a cold” or “it’s a small cut”.  I’m going to bitch way less about how sore my nose is when I get a head cold and be happy instead that they discovered Puffs with Lotion!

I have finally figured out what a “good” doctor is.  I’ve had the same primary care doctor for almost 30 years.  While I’ve appreciated everything he’s done for me, I never really appreciated what a good doctor he is.  He’s funny.  I don’t mind going to see him, because I feel I will surely be entertained, but this year, when we needed balls to the wall, he stepped up to the plate.  And you already know that I truly believe I found God’s gift to medicine when I found Dr. Veitia.  So if you’re in the area, and need a primary care doctor, it’s Dr. Gary Heck.  Looking for a phenomenal surgeon?  Dr. Nestor Veitia.  And you’ll love them as much as I do when you meet some of the other doctors that are out there.

I”d like to say that in 2011, I figured out the meaning of life.  Well, at least my life.  I haven’t.  But I have made huge strides in figuring out what was important.  Family, friends, health, education, and Mickey Mouse.  If you discover the joy in all of that, you don’t really need to know the meaning of life – you just need to enjoy it.