Friday, January 16, 2009

Medicare 101

My boss thought it would be a good idea for me to attend a one-day seminar on Medicare. We do see Medicare patients from time-to-time, and the more I know about the Medicare process, the better for the practice. So he paid the sixty bucks and I spent the day in a Marriott ballroom learning all about Medicare 101.

Shoot me.


Who makes this stuff up? I'm convinced that nerds from all over the country get their revenge in one simple way. Medical Insurance. And the biggest nerds write the rules for Medicare.

I know we need it. Thank God we have it. But I cannot imagine for one minute that anyone really enjoys working with this stuff. Prior to my full-time writing career, I slaved in the medical field for a good many years. I learned enough enough about the insurance process to get the job done and supervise others to do the job for me. But to study it? Get excited about it? Memorize the ICD-9 and CPT codes?

I'd rather not, thank you very much.

The room buldged with women (of course) who work in medical offices all over the state. Some of them, you could tell, have spent their life working claims, dealing with irate patients, doctors, and administrators. It showed. Their faces and personalities were lined with endless years of dealing with this stuff. Of being stapled to their desks, tied to their phones, glued to their computers. It alters ones personality and eventually, it'll kill you. I'm convinced.

I, of course, sat at the back of the room and observed it all from a different point of view. Now, that's not to say I didn't get something out of it. I did. It truly is my desire to do a great job for my boss, he's such a good guy, and I appreciate his position. He heart is in the right place, as the man really cares for his patients and their welfare. So, I gathered as much from the conference as I could, asked a few questions, made some notes, and went home. I had to at least get sixty bucks worth to take back to the office with me. Right?

But oh, my, gosh. At one point I sat in the back of the room and laughed. (To myself, of course.) Why in the world would anyone indulge in this type of self-torture for a living? I was ready to slit my wrists.

And then it occurred to me. A story line. A character came into view. She works medical claims by day and walks the street by night. Hmmm.

It's amazing what you can walk away with from a Medicare conference.

Blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Strange Friend

It's strange how we separate our friends into categories. Friend is a loosely-used term, I think. One day they appear, seemingly out of the blue, stick around for a while, then poof ... they're gone.

But like I said, friends fall into many slots. Those we email - occasionally. Friends we write to once in a while, sending a card or thank-you note. We lunch with friends who are great for a couple hours of stimulating conversation. Then with a well-meaning kiss and a wave good-bye ... you don't see or hear from them again until the next lunch date. And that's perfectly - okay.

First friends, boy friends, childhood friends. It's true, friends can leave us as quick as they appear. Then pow - we run right into them in the produce section, or the Walmart parking lot. Or the dreaded class reunion. Old friends who instead of sending us their own snap shot, send portrait pictures of their kids in Christmas cards. A younger version of themself, hoping to trip your memory of when you were all just ... kids.

Sisters can be friends. Or not. And some friends can be more like sisters than real ones. Best friends, it is said, mate for life. They can be tossed over-board and still swim back to you. Half drowned and naked, she's still a friend. Not a drop of love has been lost between you. You cherish that kind of friend. It takes a lifetime, I believe, to make a friendship like that. It's not until a person goes through most of your weakest and worst moments with you, along side of you, that you can call them a best friend. Best friends have the unique ability to see you for who you really are, and still love you to pieces in spite of yourself.

Your spouse can be a best friend. Or at least recognizes the need for his best friend/spouse to have yet another best friend. Sounds complicated, but really, that's a priceless virtue in friends: the ability to share the friendship, and not get all jacked out of shape about it.

Every girl, however, should have a best girl friend. One who knows how to be there, and be quiet. Scream in your face, then know when to back off. A best friend who knows which buttons to push and which not to touch. One who is selfless, has been there all or most of your life. One who will hold your hand while you're dying, while making sure there are no hairs to be pulled on your chin before you're laid open in your casket. That kind of friend.

Friends, for the most part, are human. But there are other friends. A dog or a cherished animal of any species can be a friend. How many stories have been written about the animal friends in our life? Lassie, Free Willy, Marley and Me ... wow. Often, our animal friends, are our best friends.

Well, to be honest, I set out writing this blog thinking about a different kind of friend. The strangest friend anyone could have. An inanimate object with no feelings. A thing. Something that most would look at and think nothing about. The perfect noun ... uh, or rather, friend. A lifelong friend.

Linus had one. Most babies carry one until it's tattered and torn. Some children rub one against their face while sucking their thumb. Even college-age kids will sneak one into their dorm, hidden between the shirts and pants in their suitcase.

My security blanket, has been my lifelong friend. Here's why: Back in 1971, my then mother-in-law-to-be (who was in her late 40s at the time) crocheted. A lot. She made one afghan after another with a real ivory crochet hook. She was good at it, and I told her so. Young I was, only 17, when she promised to make me an afghan for a wedding present. She made more than an afghan. She made thirty-plus years of memories.

This huge, hand-crocheted afghan is plain blue with ivory, yellow, and variegated-blue stripes on each end. Ugly as sin. But this blankey of mine has gone with me everywhere. It has slip-covered many a hideous-looking chair or couch since the 70s. It's toasty warm and can be doubled, still covering every part of me. It has wrapped its warmth around my children when they were sick. Covered them as babies, first-graders, eighth-graders, and when they had their wisdom teeth pulled. It covered my son the day he came home on leave from boot camp and slept for 24 hours straight. It rocked and lulled my daughter to sleep after a broken heart. It has soothed me during my darkest hours. This old blankey has seen the three of us through some hard, hard times.

It has absorbed a ton of tears. Believe me.

It waited for me, patiently, as I lost my mind and then found it again. Folded, it has rested on my beds, sofas, and now hangs in a place of honor in my hold farmhouse. A place where we can still grab "covey" as my husband calls it, and snuggle. I've done a whole lot of "snuggling" under that old friend. It has warmed my cold legs while I sat at the computer writing story after story. It never complained, never yelled at me, never told me to quit. It just covered me.

"Old Blue," as I call it, has appeared in many family snap shots. No matter my decor at the time, this afghan looks better with time. There's not a hole to be found, after well over thirty years. It's been through hundreds of washings, laid in a heap on the floor for days, covered doll babies, puppies, kittens, and resisted the heat of an old attic once while packed away for a period of time.

Wrapping it around me is like a time machine. I can see where we've been, how far we've traveled, and how we have ever so gracefully - aged together. I realize now, I've never gone anywhere, without it. It's been my most loyal friend. It's been on most car trips, enjoying the back seat. Old Blue has covered the ground for a picnic or two, has laid on a few beaches, and rode in an airplane. It's quite the traveller. And for all it's wanderings, it has welcomed me home day after tired-day.

There's something about that old afghan that draws me to it. I either want it buried with me or cremated with me. Ha! Now, that's a friend.

My now ex-mother-in-law, who by the way I still love, is in a nursing home. Tucked away in her 80s, she no longer flips a crochet hook around her fingers. But not long ago, I asked her if she remembered that old afghan she made me. She looked at me strange with a twinkle in her eye and said, "You know, I prayed over that thing as I made it. I prayed it would cover the wrinkles in your life."

"It did," I said. "It really did."

Old Blue is my most trusted friend. A strange one, indeed.

Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Chill of Winter

Filling a writer's well can mean different things. It's winter here in NC. In more ways than one.

As plants, flowers, trees, and some animals lay dormant or hibernate, they are, in fact, preparing to pop once the sun's warmth signals spring. Remaining still in their "beds," they're gathering nutrients, strength, and conserving energy for their moment of rebirth.

This winter, I'm filling notebooks with dribs and drabs. Nothing coherent to the reader, just ... stuff. I can't find my muse, but I've got a good hold on thoughts, ideas, words, a jumble of mixed and matched scenes and places.

When I'm not at work, I've decided to rest. Read. Watch a few movies. Old and new. Also, pray. Pray for inspiration. Guidance. And Believe. Believe that I'm just in flux. That old will become new and that eventually, spring will come to us all.

There is peace in winter's landscape. A soft pattern of frost and fog fills and smears itself across the fields around my house. Shadows are long. Huge, bare trees stand guard over it all. It's quiet. A few birds gather at the feeder. There's no vegetation to speak of. Only the chill of the season. It pulls the covers over itself and whispers to me in the mornings, I'm going to sleep a while longer.

I've decided to be patient with myself. Fill this well of mine and get through the chill. I'll thaw with the landscape, I think. Winter will eventually end, but until it does ... I'll just make a few more notes, watch a movie, read a book, try not to worry so much. That might take the edge off.

Blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A New Year

The sun is shining, it's a new year. In working with patients day in and day out, I find myself counting my blessings. And the blessings of those I love and care about.

We whine and pine. Mope until all our wants in life become giants. Searching for things to be thankful for has been a lifelong obsession of mine. After writing blogs, then re-reading them the next day, I sometimes feel as though my writing is bi-polar. Me, on the other hand, I keep my outward emotions (for the most part) in check. Stable. No extreme highs or lows. There is, yes, a bit of a drama queen who rears her ugly head once in a while, but I'm realizing as I grow older -- I like simplicity. Quiet. Less bumps in my road.

Yet, we can't always steer the rudder of our existence.

This morning I heard John Travolta's son, Jett, has passed away. A 16-year old, who suffered from seizures. Although I don't agree with the Church of Scientology, I'm not looking at that right now. I'm looking at parents who have lost a dear boy. A son they loved. All the money in the world cannot bring him back, or restore to the Travoltas what they had only days ago.

I've followed John Travolta's career, sort of. I mean, I was there the first time Vinnie Barbarino came into our living rooms. Saturday Night Fever liberated me. (It's a long story for another blog.) I watched Travolta grow older, along with me. We're the same age, approximately. I've never met him, but I've always liked his smile. All I really know about him exists in the characters he plays.

But my heart goes out to the Travoltas today, regardless.

We don't know what 2009 holds for us. We can make resolutions, determinations, and attempts at change. In the end, it's the character inside us that tells the tale of who we really are. How life's disappointments affect us, writes our true story.

Be thankful each day. Laugh when it hurts. Keep an open mind. And remember to pray for those less fortunate. We can't have everything we want. But we can be thankful for everything we have. Like a new year.

It's 2009. Use it wisely.

Blessings to you and yours.