Monday, October 31, 2005

These Pumpkins are Smashing

I headed to Old Navy late last week for a second look for the boys' costumes. I was excited to see that the Halloween stuff was on sale - half price. And, by some miracle, they still had the boys' sizes. Needless to say, my decision was made.

Don't the boys look excited that I saved 10 dollars?

I knew my procrastination would come in handy one of these days.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Tug of War

My mind and my hair tie have a lot in common today. They are both one firm tug from snapping completely.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

You Know You're Jaded When...

  • your son's neurologist asks you how many seizures he's having daily, and you say "Uh, 20. 30. 50. Something like that."
  • the neurologist instructs you to increase your son's $1500 a month drug until it is effectively doubled, and without blinking you say, "That's fine. When Cigna rejects the claim, I'll let the nurse know."
  • upon opening an overdraft notice from your bank, you think, "Two days until payday. That's only 40 dollars in fees."
  • you get what is supposed to be a threatening phone call from a Ms. Betty Hill at a medical collection agency, and all you can do is laugh that her name reminds you of someone else.
  • when your boss tells you you're getting a small bonus, you say, "Good. Now I can get Betty Hill off my back." And laugh again. Because that name is damn funny.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Cows and Elephants and Frogs, Oh My

Halloween is one of those holidays that just reinforces that things just aren't "Normal" in our house.

I dressed Ethan up for first two Halloweens and took him to all of the grandparents' houses. He was dressed first as a cow and then as an elephant. Last year, the boys were dressed in matching frog costumes. Ethan was 2 and a half, and CG was about 6 months old. Two babies. One a little bigger than the other, but developmentally, about the same.

This year things seem different. CG is 18 months. Walking, climbing, running EVERYWHERE. He has obviously surpassed Ethan.

Ethan is almost 4. He's big, like an almost 4-year-old would be. Despite the tendency most kids with CP have to be thin, he is a bit chunky. He's got a little pot belly and big meaty thighs. He somehow jumped quickly from the 3T clothes directly to 5T. He's even more comfortable in the Little Boy Size 5 than he is in the Toddler Size 5.

I have absolutely NO sewing skills, so I stole an hour from my weekend to shop for costumes for them. I went to Old Navy first, where I had gotten a couple of the costumes in the past. They're great. Soft, warm fleece. Easy on and off. Perfect for two boys in diapers.

Of course, waiting until a week before Halloween never leaves you with many choices. They had exactly two options left in Ethan's size: an astronaut and a pumpkin.

I quickly dismissed the idea of Ethan the Astronaut. That seemed ridiculous to me: dressing a mentally retarded four-year-old in an astronaut costume. I know Halloween is a time for make-believe. My cousin's daughter has no chance of growing up to be Buzz Lightyear, her costume of choice. But I can't deny the fact that Ethan will never be an astronaut. Why pretend?

I moved on to a few other stores, but got more discouraged as I looked. The costumes for little boys are things like Ninja, Pirate, Race Car Driver, Cowboy. The packages show pictures of precocious little boys dressed in the costumes. Obviously, they assume your child can stand and walk as they trick-or-treat.

As I shopped, I couldn't help but think - how long should I go on like this? This will be his fourth Halloween. Will I still be dressing him up when he's 7? 10? Should I even bother to dress him up again next year? Or should I be giving up now?

The truth is, I'm not ready to give up Ethan's childhood just yet. I'll probably go back and get the pumpkin costume. It's more his speed than an astronaut or race car driver. He won't mind. He doesn't know that he's dressing up. And as the years go on, he won't know who Santa or the Easter Bunny are.

But soon enough, CG will know. And I know he'll enjoy those regular, typical, childhood traditions. I want to keep them alive, for his sake.

And maybe, probably, for my own.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Only in Amherst

'Freshman' year eliminated
Thursday, October 20, 2005

AMHERST - There are no freshmen at Amherst Regional High School.

Ninth-grader is now the official term used for first-year students. Following in the steps of several area colleges, including Amherst, Smith in Northampton and Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, the school has dropped freshman from its vocabulary because of the male connotation of the word.

"I think it's kind of weird," ninth-grader Sam F. Hart of Shutesbury said yesterday. "There's a lot of other words that have man in it. I don't see it as sexist. Freshmen is what we've always been called."

Marta M. Guevara, assistant principal for student support, said yesterday the change to ninth-grader was initiated nearly two years ago during a week that highlighted issues surrounding violence against women. The week ended with the student production of the controversial play "The Vagina Monologues."

That town is messed. up.

I just don't get the need to force everything to be so incredibly PC. It's ridiculous. I worked there for a few years, and I was suffocating from all that pompous stuffiness.

And maybe I'm a big fat prude, but having ninth-grade students - fourteen year olds - performing the Vagina Monologues seems a little over the top to me. It's a great play, fine, but for the ninth grade? Besides the fact that most of the play is sexually related, I hardly think the average fourteen year old can appreciate the perspective of sex and all your body goes through as you get older. They're just starting puberty for cripes sakes.

And yet, a few years ago, Amherst voted that the students could not perform West Side Story, because of it's "racial stereotypes". They thought it promoted the idea that all Puerto Ricans (but not Polish people?) were gang members.

Guess I was missing something. I always thought the play was saying that you shouldn't judge people based on their racial background. That it was about people getting along.

But what would a town full of rich, white people know about that?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Playing the Odds

I've reached a new high (or low?) with my dealings with Cigna. I called to ask another question, and ended up speaking to a customer service rep that I've already spoken to before - JANELLE. WOW.

With the amount of people working there, you'd think that the odds of speaking to the same person twice are pretty high. Almost like hitting the lottery or something, right?

Well. Without the money. And happiness.

On second thought, it probably makes more sense to compare it to the odds of being struck by lightning.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Stay at Home Moron

I really admire Stay at Home Moms. Not that they have a harder job than I do necessarily, but I have to believe they just do it so much better than I do.

I'm home alone with the boys today, since Jete is working overtime (yay OT!). It is 3:21 PM and I've yet to:

1. Brush my teeth
2. Remove my hair from the matted ponytail I slept in
3. Put on a bra (which, trust me, I could use)
4. Change out of my pajamas
5. Eat lunch

I love the boys so much. And I love being home with them all day. But honestly - more than a few days like this in a row, and I start to get a little kooky. Well. More so than usual.

I have, however, been good enough to:

1. Wash 3 loads of dishes
2. Clean up the living room - 4 times (you can't tell)
3. Bring out the trash
4. Wash 1 load of laundry
5. Make dessert for the out-laws tonight (but not dinner. That's someone else's job. I'm not superwoman.)

Most of that happened in the 1 hour and 47 minutes CG was napping. Ethan's good about letting me get chores done, as long as I feed him lunch in between. But now, CG is awake. And I'm off again.

Only 4 and a half hours until bedtime...

Weirdest Dream EVER

Okay, I just had a flashback to a dream I had last night. I'm disturbed.

I was a pilgrim, and my family and I lived in a small community with Native Americans. Everyone got along wonderfully. We had just finished a big party to celebrate ... something. We were all sitting around listening to the leaders of each group give a speech about unity and peace and love.

All of a sudden, one of the teenage pilgrims walked over and stabbed one of the Native Americans. Suddenly, there was mass bloodshed. All of the pilgrim children - even the toddlers - brandished knives and slaughtered every Native American. It was a massacre. Blood everywhere. I remember watching people die in slow, gritty detail.

We adults of the pilgrim community tried to stop the kids, but it happened too fast. It was kind of like that Chucky movie where the kids were evil little adults in tiny bodies. They scowled at us and told us they were jealous of all the attention the Native Americans were getting. It was time for them to go.

The adults got together and sobbed and lamented how horrible it all was. We just kept saying, it's no wonder the Native Americans hate us so much.

That's about all I remember. But? What. The HELL. Does that mean? Is it a delayed Columbus Day guilt dream or something?

I frighten myself sometimes.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Just Don't Get Sick 2: Tough Choices

See. THIS is why I'm seriously torn between the two insurance choices.

As part of the Catatstrophic Relief Fund paperwork, we have to come up with a letter proving that Ethan's hearing aids weren't covered when we purchased them last year. Of course, I don't have a letter. At the time, I just spoke to someone at Blue Cross who explained our benefits - hearing aids weren't covered.

I was going to dig through three years of paperwork to look for our explanation of benefits, but I thought I'd try calling first. I explained to the representative, Jeff, that I'm no longer a member, but I needed verification of our old benefits. He looked up Jete's social security number, verified my name and said, "No problem. Do you want me to mail or fax it?" I gave him my work fax number and he sent it within 10 minutes.

I have never had service like this with Cigna. Every time I call I get some incompetent person who doesn't know what I'm talking about. They pass me around from department to department, and even after I've talked to them for hours, nothing is resolved. I can call on Monday and get a completely different answer than if I call back on Tuesday.

No matter what we choose, Cigna will still manage our prescription coverage. And prescriptions will be be much more expensive if I choose my plan. And Jete's plan does have better equipment coverage - AFTER all the deductibles and co-insurance, and for whatever few things they actually cover.

The thing is, good customer service is worth so much. More than the money I'd pay in a higher premium. More than a few extra things being "covered", but only if you know the secret handshake.

This decision will affect how much stress I'll be under for the next year. Financially and emotionally. I guarantee no matter who we choose, I'll be on the phone with them regularly. They're both going to reject coverage sometimes. They're both going to have annoying phone menus to navigate through.

But maybe I can finally start getting ANSWERS when I reach someone on the other line.

DUH. Just Don't Get Sick.

(See how nice I am. I drop off the face of the earth, then return only to moan about insurance again.)

We've had health insurance through Jete's job since we got married. At one time, it was awesome insurance. So awesome, in fact, that sometimes I think it was only a dream or fairy tale. It made up for the fact that he makes so little money. Dirt cheap weekly premiums. And? The Happily Ever After? It was only 5 dollars - FIVE - for every doctor visit and prescription. No extra for "specialists" or "tier 2" drugs. Five dollars, across the board.

If only Ethan was born a little sooner, we might have really taken advantage of it. As it was, they paid for every penny of his NICU stay and his first 2 years of seeing specialist after specialist. Not a question asked.

The past two years, costs have increased, and the plan changed from one company to another - HATE HATE HATE. With every test, drug, or doctor comes another fight. I have called them no less than 20 times in the past few months to straighten things out, and I still have almost a thousand dollars in unpaid medical bills buried on the counter. Because even after all the begging and pleading, they only pay a percentage of every bill. Sometimes, it hardly seems worth all the effort.

Over time, we realized - hell-o! - just switch carriers! My company is large enough that you can choose from 4 different insurance companies, including the nicer people we had before. When my reenrollment period came around, I'd just sign us up for that one. The Big Plan was hatched.

This week, we got the paperwork to sign up for health benefits at my company. Someone must have alerted them to The Big Plan. Because now, their benefits are awful, too.

You still have the option to choose from the different carriers - for your doctor's visits. However, all prescriptions, no matter which plan you choose, will be administered through my Arch Nemesis. I can't get away from them.

(Let me just say to you companies out there: you get what you pay for. They may be cheap, but that's because their service SUCKS. Plain and simple.)

Not only will it be administered through them, but they have gone to a coinsurance system. You will always have to pay 25% of the cost of the drug, up to a maximum. I did the math, and if Ethan's drugs fall into the categories I think they do, we'll be paying about $300 a month just for his prescriptions. (That's on top of the $25 copays for every doctor visit, often once or twice a week.) The three-month mail-away option only saves you a few dollars, and it's not really an option since his dosage changes so often.

So now, I've got exactly 2 weeks to crunch all of the numbers. Jete's insurance SUCKS for one set of reasons, and this insurance SUCKS for another set. Which option sucks less?

Ah, a mathematician's dream.

As numb as I am when it comes to insurance stuff, two things really bothered me about this:

1. The condescending language in the literature.

They said they are doing this to encourage us to "ask the doctor for a different drug if it is too expensive." See, this assumes we just blindly take whatever drugs our doctors give us with no thought for the poor MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR COMPANY paying for it. Boo-freakin-hoo. We don't have a choice. I'd love for Ethan to take no drugs. If there's a plan that guarantees that, sign me up. (And for the record, if there is a generic available, we ALWAYS ask for it. I'm not looking to make drug companies richer either.)

They want to encourage us to "shop around to different pharmacies for the best price." Listen, I hate my pharmacy. I'd LOVE to switch. They are always mean to me, they never ring things in right, and they usually don't have his full prescriptions available. But they are the biggest ones out there. And they're open 24 hours. I can't take the chance that his drugs will take a week to come in, or that they won't be open on a Sunday evening when we realize we're out of a seizure medication. Sorry.

My personal favorite: they're doing this "so that we can see just how much our drugs are costing". Hi? I'm not an idiot. I know EXACTLY what Ethan's drugs cost. I can read.

Oh, I know! How about - we just don't get sick! That will save us tons of money! Why didn't I think about that sooner?

2. This is a HUGE change with almost no warning.

Why do they always feel the need to wait until the last minute before springing stuff like this on people? I have two weeks to crunch my numbers. I'll complain and moan, but the bottom line is, I have a choice. I'm lucky.

I have a single friend with 3 kids who also has a son with special needs. Her son is on a lot of experimental drugs. They're going to cost her over $400 a month. I don't know how she is going to do it. It would have been nice if she'd had some time to save up, explore other options, even process what this means for her. It still would have sucked, but it would have been nice.

I guess that's what really made me the maddest. The feeling that no one cares. There's no nice in business. This is our health insurance, but they aren't interested in making us well. They're interested in making a dollar. And this plan must save them a lot of money, plain and simple.

I got the feeling from all the literature that they've been preparing themselves for "whiny" employees for months. They've got stock answers ready for us when we complain. They've documented all the reasons that this is a good thing. So read up and shut up.

Nowhere in the literature is the acknowledgement that some of us are going to have to fork out a lot of money every month. That they know we have no choice about that. That they know it's going to be hard for us. And maybe, that they're sorry. That they did the best they could for us, because they value us as employees, but they had to consider the good of All over the good of the Individuals. I could understand that. I could respect that.

Yeah, I know. I'm looking for fairy tales again.

In between crunching numbers, I want to draft a letter to the benefits department. My friend already sent one and got a stock answer back, but I want to put my two cents in. I know it won't change anything. I know they probably don't even care. But I just want to try to make them see the individuals under that pile of money. We all have a story to tell, and if nothing else, I want them to hear mine.

In the meantime, I'm washing my hands 100 times a day and spraying everything down with bleach. No one else is my house is allowed to get sick. Not for the next decade or two.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Gutter Girls

Conversation with a coworker this morning:

K: So this guy was in LOVE with me. He followed me around like a puppy. He thought he was my bodyguard or something.

M: What did he think when Pete (her now-husband) came around?

K: Ohhh, this was B.P.

M: B.P.?

K: Before Pete.

M: I like that. I'll have to use that. Ooh. No.

K: What?

M: That... wouldn't exactly work for me.

K: Why not?

M: B.J.? I don't think that sounds very good.

K: (laughs) Well not to you it doesn't, but to some people it would sound very good!

M: True. I'm just glad his name isn't Mike.