Monday, May 28, 2018

How Times Change

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 30, 2018] ©2018

I’ve said it before: when you live in the same house for 45 years, you don’t always get around to cleaning out filing cabinets as frequently as you should.  My husband, Olof, who moved every three years during his Air Force years, said that he had a policy that if a box hadn’t been opened for three moves, it went directly into the trash, unopened.

I probably should use that approach. But then I would have jettisoned such gems as my son Rory’s age 10 Mother’s Day (“You’ve been like a mother to me”), not to mention the time capsule envelope that recently surfaced from my college days.

I went to college in the late 1960’s, a time of tremendous upheaval politically and socially. In fact, one of the items in this envelope is an ACLU-issued sheet entitled “Demonstration and Arrest: Rights and Liabilities.”  Under “Demonstrations,” it advises “Have your attorney and a bail bondsman notified in advance and prepared to act immediately in case of arrest. Memorize the number of your lawyer.”  (Did I have a lawyer?)  Suffice to say, this was not the first info I gave to my kids when they went to college in the late 1990s.

The ACLU pamphlet further advised demonstrating students to:

(1) Do not carry a weapon or anything that could be characterized as a weapon and do not have any trace of drugs on your person. If arrested, all your possessions will be taken from you by the police.

(2) For your personal safety, wear good shoes to protect your feet and avoid pierced earrings which could be torn off.

(3) It would be useful for some in the group to have inexpensive cameras, to take pictures of arrests for future evidence.  [Where were cell phone cameras when you needed them?]

(4) Avoid harassment of police which will lead to retaliation and hasty action, possibly causing serious injury.

(5) You can be frisked if the policeman has reason to believe you are carrying a weapon. Make sure that you don’t consent to the search of yourself or your car but don’t physically resist.  [A harbinger for airport security?] 

Demonstrations in that era weren’t just about civil rights and the Vietnam war.  There was huge social change going on, even within college campuses themselves. 

Given that I was attending a college rather than a reform school for wayward girls, there were some surprisingly strict rules, anachronisms leftover from the 1860s when the college was founded. You had to live on campus in a dorm. Men were only allowed in dorm rooms during specific daytime hours and even then doors had to be unlocked, and “3 feet on the floor”.  (No specific mention was made as to what the fourth foot could be doing but I recollect it was put to creative use.)  Pregnant?  Gone the next day. Married? Not on this campus. All the dorms had their own dining facility which required skirts for girls at dinner, and a jacket and tie for male guests. A selection of (deliberately?) abandoned cheap sports coats and hideous ties were punitively available should your date show up without one.

In 1969, the school decided to go co-ed and the first 70 men – junior year transfers from other colleges - were added to our 900-student population.  It became immediately clear that someone had not thought out all the details. Like dominos, a century of rules collapsed within two months.
First to go: the guys refused to dress for dinner.

The college was now even willing to consider letting students marry. I was engaged to my first husband at the time and got married just before my senior year, spending weekdays at school, weekends three hours away at the hospital where my husband was doing his medical internship.

Having men housed in women’s dorms made the men-in-your-room hours pretty unworkable. So the college just gave up and abolished the “parietal” rules altogether. (Is parietal even a word in use anymore?) You could now be in some guy’s room – and he in yours - 24 hours a day if you wanted.

Unfortunately, the new parietal rules didn’t sit well with some parents who considered it a breach of contract. They sued.

So the college was forced to set up one corridor on the campus that still had the old parietal rules. It goes without saying that no one signed up.

So those rooms were assigned by a lottery no one wanted to win. Against all odds, I ended up in one. When my husband came to visit, he couldn’t stay in my room.  My manila enveloped contains the letter from the Dean of Students responding to my lament of the irony of all this. “It won’t be the last one in your life,” she said, turning down my appeal for an exception.

She was certainly right about that.

My 1970 college graduation

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Just Clearing Up A Few Things

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 23, 2018] ©2018

OK, I’ll admit I’m a sucker just like everyone else for “listicles,” those popular website lists like “seven foods you should never eat” and “12 ways to lose 30 pounds in a week.”  So it wasn’t too surprising that when I saw “10 Styling Tips that will instantly slim you down,” I had to go for it. Especially after the five-week food felony that was the holiday season. 

The one thing that was clear about this listicle is that it was not geared to my demographic.  I may not be in the pastel polyester pantsuit crowd just yet, but for me, it’s all about comfort.  Unless I get a spinal transplant, there is no way a pair of heels will ever grace my feet again. 

So here are the 10 listicle suggestions:

(1) “Invest in shapewear, particularly a seamless slenderizing piece that has reinforced panels to suck in your stomach, slim your thighs, boost your derriere and define your waist when wearing bodycon dresses, clingy skirts, tight pants or evening gowns.”  First, what is a “bodycon” dress?  Does Land’s End sell them? Actually, it doesn’t really matter because I’m pretty sure I don’t own one, or for that matter, any clingy skirts, tight pants, or evening gowns.  Whew! Dodged the fat squisher bullet! 

(2)  “In terms of skirts, a knee-length pencil skirt is the most universally flattering silhouette.”  Are you kidding?  The only silhouettes that pencil skirts flatter are pencil-shaped people. The rest of us look like fermenting pork sausages.

 (3) “Say ’yes’ to higher rise jeans.”  They advise “going for a rise that hits directly above your belly button.”  That’s their idea of “high rise”?  I will say no more. 

(4) “Rock out with vertical stripes.”  I will concede that vertical stripes can make a person look “longer”. But we chunkies tend to eschew stripes altogether.  For good reason.

 (5) “Cinch with skinny belts to accentuate your natural waist.” What if you have no waist?  Of course, I make up for it by having multiples of other parts, like chins. And thighs.  But it makes the whole skinny belt thing moot.

(6) “Don’t discount maxi skirts; a well-cut maxi skirt can actually give you the appearance of looking longer and leaner.”  I’d totally agree, so long as you weigh a maximum of 95 pounds.  The rest of us look like a beluga whale about to give birth.

(7) “Buy a new bra.”  I don’t know what it is about aging, but bras just keep getting more and more uncomfortable as you get older.  For me, it didn’t help that I got my chest crushed and three thoracic vertebrae permanently de-stabilized by a drunk driver a few years ago. But maybe I wouldn’t be any happier with bras even if hadn’t had this accident.  I was telling a friend that the first thing I do when I get home is take off my bra.  She said she usually takes hers off in the car.

(8) “Choose heels with a low-cut vamp.”  A vamp, apparently, is the portion of a shoe that cuts across your foot at the front which allegedly gives your legs a slimmer look, even as it cuts off circulation to your toes.  A high vamp shoe comes up the foot and possibly up to the ankle.  (Do Adidas lace-up walking shoes count?)

 (9) “Mask problem areas with dark colors and highlight assets with bright colors.”  Not a bad concept, but what if your whole body is a problem area? Do you wear all black?

(10) “Wear all black.”  You were probably waiting for me to shoot this one down just like I did the first nine but this one I could (mostly) get behind.  OK, I don’t wear ALL black which seems a tad funereal. But I’m really big on the slenderizing effect of black slacks.   When my young granddaughter was visiting one weekend, she queried, “Mormor, why do you always wear the same thing?”  As I explained to her it only looks like the same thing.  Mormor actually has eight pairs of those black slacks (and at least as many white tops the combination of which I admit make me look like a server at a trendy trattoria).  It is my personal opinion that black slacks best minimize years of abuses of chocolate and chardonnay.  I wear them with colorful tops and sweaters even if they bring attention to areas that No. (9) suggests I shouldn’t be highlighting.  But tough luck. I LIKE color.

Unlike my college years when I wore miniskirts to sub-zero college football games (can you say “bronchitis”?), I am no longer willing to suffer for fashion. And I would also aver that all the camouflaging tricks in the world won’t help chubby folks like me look good in anything that’s tight.  Sorry, listiclist lady. That’s the word from the trenches.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Most Expensive Jell-0 You Never Ate

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 8, 2018] ©2018

Before Olof even got home from the hospital in January after his heart attack and brain injury (from falling during the heart attack), I already had my spreadsheet set up and my phone log ready.  I knew from Olof’s 2009 surgery that went awry that my part time job in 2018 was going to be reconciling medical bills.

This time we were going to have bills not only for the cardiac cath lab, but for paramedics, ER services, twice daily head CTs, never mind assorted MRIs, the cardiac ICU, the trauma ICU, laboratories, the cardiac rehab gym, cardiologists, trauma surgeons, and neurosurgeons. Even the occupational therapy folks stopped by to say hello although Olof is retired. 

Let me just say once again, he got fabulous care.  He’s alive and healthy because of all those people.  We are beyond grateful.

Who I am less grateful to is Scripps Health billing.  If the doctors operated on the same level as the hospital billing service, they’d be amputating the wrong leg. Reaching the billing people by phone is at least a half hour wait, often longer. They’re hoping you’ll just get fed up and pay the bill even though they’ve forgotten to credit you for payment by your secondary.  You know they got paid because you’ve got the EOB (Explanation of Benefits) from your secondary, dutifully logged into your spreadsheet.

I’m trying to think of the bill reconciliation as a sort of sadistic Sudoku game. I can see why people hire a service to handle this stuff. Because it will drive you TOTALLY EFFING CRAZY.

Of course, it may not be Scripps Health billing’s fault that what shows up on the Medicare and secondary insurance EOBs doesn’t always match up with their bills.  This appears to be because the twice-daily head CTs, for example, were all billed individually, but clumped together in mysterious combinations when we actually got a statement.  That’s the “game” part of it: trying to get any combination of EOB “You owe this amounts” to add up to the bottom line of a bill.  When I succeed, I’m deliriously happy. 

The first few days that Olof was in the hospital generated a ton of EOBs that merely said “critical care services,”  “medical care,” “therapeutic services.” or “hospital inpatient.”  I’m just assuming that lots of people did a lot of all those things to him during that time. 

Recently we got a bill from Scripps Health for $10.90. Usually if it’s less than $50, I just pay it.  Mental health move.  No point in my having a heart attack over Olof’s heart attack bills.  But there was no date of service and the Type of Service was listed as “recurring.”  I waded back through the Medicare and secondary EOBs and in a eureka moment realized that the co-pay for Olof’s thrice-weekly cardiac rehab gym visits was $5.45.  So this must be for two of them!  I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. 

If you have large medical bills, you’ll get a form from Meridian Resource Company, an organization hired by medical insurers to drive patients into homicidal rage and/or despondency.  Their purpose is to make absolutely sure that you don’t have some other previously-undisclosed insurance coverage (Workers Comp, third party after an accident, etc.) so that they can hurl you into an endless perpetual loop of denied claims that will never be resolved, even after your death. 

I’d dutifully filled out the Meridian form, keeping a photocopy, verifying that we do not have other insurance and that charges are for “A medical condition or age related condition that is NOT work or accident related.” 

So, smack in the middle of (at least) $200,000 worth of medical bills, our secondary starts denying claims with the notation:  “Are group health insurance benefits for these expenses available from any other source? If so, please send us: name and birthdate of the other insured person. If you do not have any other coverage, please indicate such on this form along with your signature and date, and return to us for payment consideration.” 

Now, the folks at Meridian aren’t as bad at customer service at Scripps Health but you can expect some serious hold time. They agreed, oops, their mistake, you DID send the form, they will go back and mark those denied never-ever-going-to-be-paid claims for payment consideration. 

Of course, the EOB that really got our attention was the one for the ICU for “Room/board”:  $152,972.83. Olof definitely wants to dispute the “board” portion.  When he collapsed during his heart attack, he did a face plant into an armoire, which in addition to causing a brain bleed (do NOT have a heart attack near heavy furniture!), resulted in a mouth full of stitches.  So he couldn’t eat. Not even that nasty Jell-0.  So he’d like a partial credit. Not much, maybe $10,000.  We’re reasonable people.