Friday, September 19, 2014

Retired! Kind Of...

It has finally happened. YEEEE_HAAAAAAA!!!!! I am a free woman, as I informed Steve last night, just not inexpensive. I officially dropped my last run and logged off the last time around 6:00 PM, then swung by HQ to drop off all the stuff that needed to be turned in to them. Farewells were said, hands were shaken.

 This is as opposed to the morning stop-off, where the morning dispatchers both offered hugs. They have been around as long as I have, meaning close to 29 years, and this was the first time I got close enough to Brian to know what his after shave smells like. No really: after the hug, I was wearing it myself! For hours!

NOT my choice of a nice fragrance! Sorry Brian.

I'm trying to figure out how I'm feeling. It's been a mix these last weeks, part relief, part celebratory, part loss. I'm still a bit too busy to sort it all out. I have to shower in a few minutes and head out to the clinic for another finger stab to check blood coagulation levels, now that I'm finally out of denial about needing warfarin. Those needles are way nastier than what I use for testing blood sugar. Then I come home, pick up Paul and head to the attorney to finalize the house sale legally. After that, go and early vote at the county courthouse, do a last bit of grocery shopping, partly for the trip, partly for the retirement+ party Sunday, and partly because I'm working the auction tomorrow.

Yeah, me. Retired. And yet working.

Then Monday is getting the rental, supervising the packing of both vehicles by Rich and Brenda who will also be coming along, catching up on unwatched programs on the DVR (got into the Roosevelts, which makes 7 2-hour stints), getting the last minute packing/moving out of the bedroom done, plus whatever else comes up that we've forgotten or not gotten to. Then Tuesday is hitting the road early, like 7-ish. Tuesday night is Emporia, Kansas.  And Wednesday is Albuquerque, Thursday is home, or what will then be home, and settling in, unpacking the rental, repacking my stuff for the return, Friday making it to Tucumcari, Saturday to Lexana,KS, Sunday to Paul's house (funny twinge there), Monday picking up Jordan, returning the rental at the airport, and waiting for the flight back home. Then another two weeks of fixing up the house, touring AZ with family, sending them back to the airport, and finally, on October 8th, settling back with my feet up and taking time to wonder just what retirement really is.

I will, of course, let you know.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What Else Has Changed

This, not New Years, is my time of year to pause and reflect. School starts, another birthday looms, milestones like Medicare - last year - and Social Security/ retirement - this year - mark the emotional calendar. Some years nothing changes noticeably. That's not the case this year.

The biggest thing is not that I am retiring later this month, years earlier than planned. The big thing, the thing changing my world view, is why.

Last year the big thing was getting health insurance again - finally. I got lucky, slipped through the holes in coverage periods with nothing major happening to bankrupt me. Now there wasn't just coverage but affordable coverage. Some call it an entitlement program. Yes, I'm entitled, having paid into the program for nearly all of my working life, just like I'm entitled to withdraw my own funds from the bank or be compensated by my auto insurance or homeowners insurance when something happens. Qualifying by age for that coverage lifted a burden of fear from my future, nebulous as it was.

And just in time. I spent last year's birthday in the hospital. There've been medication adjustments after each of the following ER visits this year for the same thing. There have been tests finding little, lists of dos and dont's which pretty much haven't changed my life any since I already don't smoke, limit caffeine, get plenty of sleep, don't do drugs like coke, get moderate exercise but not heavy, etc.

It's all come with a cost, and I'm not just talking about the after-Medicare bills that keep showing up. I'm talking about how I see myself and my future.

I used to look at my folks and judge my lifespan by theirs. Since Mom made 90 and Dad made 97, the thought was that I was likely to have a similar lifespan. True, medical issues are creeping up, but medicine has advanced. It might be a wash. Or at least close. I planned on having to save for a long retirement, and as soon as the kids were grown, I did. Being a single parent without financial help post-divorce put a crimp on those savings plans, but I did what and when I could. I invested conservatively, avoiding the ups and downs of stock markets for the security of smaller but guaranteed investments. The only devaluing that occurred was in home value, but that doesn't count when you're not selling until the market recovers anyway. Plus you can't be underwater when the mortgage is already paid off.

The one thing that bit was when the company I contract with dropped everybody's commission percentages. Because they could. I was busy eliminating that pesky credit card debt until then. My inability to keep doing that as quickly led me to adjust retirement age to 70. It was going to be a sacrifice, spending winters away from Steve, but I'd be much better set for retirement.

Then the heart problems started. Each time another episode of A-Fib hit, I lost a bit more optimism, a bit more ability to stay in denial. And they kept hitting. Everything I read, internet to ER handouts, said to seek medical attention, and since I was always away from home, on the road, inconvenient to anything but an ER, that's where I went. It gets costly. It shouldn't be how medicine is practiced, especially with insurance. Tests showed little. Everybody just said to me, "Learn to live with it."

Nobody said how, exactly. Coping seemed like just another revision of my life expectancy downward. And again. Plus piling the bills upward. And of course, facing my need to get out from behind the wheel. A little investigation after bout two left nothing but pessimism about any chances to pass another DOT physical. Retirement, then, ready or not, at the end of my grace period before the next physical was due. The last round left me calling Paul to come meet me at the ER, pick up my last package, and deliver it for me. I did of course clear it with dispatch, but she was just grateful she didn't have to try to track down an available driver in the Forest Lake area late on a Friday night. Luckily the drop was a regular one, and I could describe to Paul just where to take it.

Each time it happens, my meds get changed, the metoprolol dose gets doubled, in hopes of stopping the next time. Obviously, that is not working. The last time added in the complication of what they call paroxsysmal A-fib. That means throwing in a flutter of rapid heartbeats every so often. My pulse would go dub dub du-du-du-du-du dub dub ... dub dub.... dub du-du-du-du dub and so on. I could feel it in my chest, besides getting light-headed from improper oxygenation. But the road I was on had wide paved shoulders, allowing me to pull over a couple times to allow the light-headedness to pass, and continue till the next time, until I pulled into the ER parking lot. And yes, if you must know, no matter how bad I was feeling, my first stop inside the door was the bathroom. No need for another complication, eh?

The treatment in the ER was, as usual, more IV doses of metoprolol. After three, and no conversion to normal sinus rhythm, they decided to send me to the ICU overnight. The nurse I had then started showing me what nobody else had bothered to yet: ways to maybe stop the A-fib myself.

Wow! What? Something I can do besides take daily pills and wait for the next bout? First was abdominal pushing, like if you had constipation and needed to force a bowel movement. Of course, you didn't actually have one. Just kept pushing. No dice.

Then there was coughing. I had hopes for that, because sometimes I've felt a single little flutter, now that I know what that feels like, and I involuntarily cough and it goes away. Only now I was to cough-cough-cough-cough fast and with many repetitions. Alas, again no dice.

Another option is dunking the face or head into icy cold water. We didn't actually try that. She got busy with a trauma patient, other staff popped in and out, and somewhere in there, about three hours after walking in, I converted.

It was noticed. I was informed that they would keep me another couple hours on the monitors, so they could tell for sure that it was going to take. Then I could go home instead of to the ICU. One nurse asked me what I converted to? Was I now Jewish? Catholic? I just told her cheerfully that this as a free country and I didn't have to tell her. Luckily she had the right sense of humor. Doubly so in that I was struggling to keep mine.

No longer able to keep in denial, I made my appointment to start with the coumadin clinic, something I've found excuses to avoid for nearly a year. The side effect of A-fib that everybody keeps warning me about is stroke. The blood pools when the heartbeat is wonky (technical term, eh?) and can clot, making stroke likely. Blood thinners are standard as preventative, but need monitoring regularly for the rest of your life.

My annual physical was due a week later. I decided I had questions. Just what was "live with it" going to entail? Were there any other options? Was this going to kill me in a year or two? How did I stay out of the ER? Since they dosed me with metoprolol, could I just stay home, pop extra pills myself, and wait for it all to go away again?

My primary doc listened and decided I needed another visit with a cardiologist. Only this time I got sent to one down in Edina, primarily because the move is coming up and time was to short to get an appointment with the guy I'd been seeing.

I got really lucky, starting with an appointment the very next morning. But it got better. I found out that even cardiologists have sub-specialties. This guy's expertise was in the electrical system of the heart. In other words, exactly what I needed. And, boy, did we talk.

I could, next attack/s, just stay home, relax with my feet up, and ride it out. Not driving was a good idea for the duration. As to dosing with extra metoprolol, that was a bad idea. Really bad. It slows down the heartbeat, potentially useful with the fast flutter, but too much slowing down is, well, just way too much. (I had noted that my new pulse rate on the increased dose was 54 the day before. Not bad for a prime athlete, perhaps. Not so good for an out-of-shape geezer.) He thought it likely I converted despite the ER meds, rather than because of them.

He added a new med and halved the metoprolol. The combination would do a much better job of controlling the A-fib. I just needed an EKG in a week to make sure  my rhythm was doing what it should, and note whether side effects like headache or skin rash occurred.

And long term, there is a possibility of a surgical procedure called abladement (I think) where they send a catheter up a vessel to the heart and cauterize/kill the cells that are sending the wrong signals to the heart as to when to beat. It sometimes needs to be done twice, but is about 90% successful.

WOW! HOPE! I left the ER the week before completely discouraged. I left his office optimistic again. What a change in such a short time!

Oh, and what else has changed, is the retirement date got moved up a day. When I cancelled my commercial drivers policy, I told them I would be working through the 19th. They cancelled it on the 19th. My new AZ policy starts the 20th, so I've got one day uninsured.

I won't be driving.

There'll still be packing to do.

What Free Water?

I'm scratching my head over the idea of people thinking they should be able to get free water at their homes without paying any bills. It's some sort of "right".

Perhaps in some kind of perfect world, some place where water is evenly distributed over the planet, always fresh and unpolluted, people don't worship bluegrass lawns, no sewage returns to the system to be processed, no testing is needed to ensure potability, no people need to be hired to manage all that, no pipes, pumps, holding ponds, labs or anything like that is required, and, hey, no idiots flush weird things down their toilets to clog up the system and require expensive repairs - then maybe water is free to all.

I don't live there. Detroiters who haven't paid their bills and complain about shut-offs don't live there. Spokes people from the UN who blather on about human rights don't live there either.

Do you?

Didn't think so.

So everybody shut up and pay your bills, conserve water sensibly, and treat the system as if you owned it. Because you do. The only alternatives are a policy of anarchy where the rich are the only ones with any water access and you become their slaves in order to "earn" your necessary share, or taxes are raised so everybody supports the system regardless of usage or income.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hello Kitty and Ring-Come-Ditty

Stories out of two news reports on the same day:

This morning the shocker was that the head of "Hello Kitty" announced that she isn't a cat. She's a little girl. From London, even.

Silly us. How could we not know? After all these years, yet.

Wait a minute: check the calendar. Nope, not April 1st. Maybe a publicity stunt? How's the corporate bottom line been doing lately?

Let's examine the product again. Hmmmm.... whiskers on each side of the mouth... perky ears on top of the head... yep, looks like all the little London girls I've ever seen all the many times I've been over there. Oh wait: I've never been. Somehow I have managed to live my entire life imagining that all the little girls in London looked exactly like little girls here and elsewhere, resembling cats only on special occasions like Halloween. Apparently, between myself and the head of the Hello Kitty company, one of us seriously needs to get out more.

The other story comes from MPR. It's state fair time. Translation: every media conglomeration in the state is reporting from inside the fair, the number one absolutely mandatory story to cover being fair food. After a panel discussion this noon on good and bad foods, favorites and hates, one speaker opined that we all have one food from our childhood that may not have been good but the nostalgia makes up for it and we continue to enjoy eating it throughout our adult lives.

He got it half right. There is a food from my childhood that - no may about it, simply was not good. The part about nostalgia and continuing to eat it, well, forget that part.

Mom called it ring-come-ditty. Or at least that's how she pronounced it. No clue where the name came from. I have my suspicions where the actual dish came from though: the depression. A lot of Mom's cooking came from there. A breakfast staple, for example, was a slice of white toast on a plate covered with a sprinkle of sugar (a spoonful if we could get away with it) and a bit of milk poured over it, called Yankee Pudding. A few decades ago I heard it referred to as Depression Pudding. But hey, sugar!

Mom's cooking had a lot of hallmarks that I believe hail from the depression. It was cheap, usually had many ingredients from cans, had little flavor, and tended to be seasoned only with salt and pepper. Not too much, though! The only spices  in the house were a few basics used in baking: vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves, nutmeg and ginger for pumpkin pies. Sage came out once a year for turkey stuffing. Words like basil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, peppers, may all have been a foreign language. Onions were occasionally present, not as a spice but as a vegetable, battered and deep fried in rings when there was also fresh-caught fish to go with  it. That she did very well.

Ring-come-ditty was a simple dish, carefully prepared. There were four ingredients, evenly layered in a casserole dish before baking in an oven. The layers were crumbled saltines, stewed tomatoes, cream style corn, and bits of fried bacon. They were repeated, and covered with a final layer of cracker crumbs. Lest you think, "Bacon, yummm!" just be aware that she could manage to do the whole hotdish with at  most 4 slices, or almost enough to actually taste. All the liquids would soak into the bacon, eliminating flavor and crispness, before sogging up the cracker crumbs.

Somehow we ate it. It wasn't spectacularly bad or disgusting, just completely blah. She usually cut the stewed tomatoes into small enough bits that I could choke them down without having to actually chew, and thus taste, them. I guess we were hungry - enough, anyway. Certainly we'd been taught to eat whatever was put before us with no waste and few complaints, a rule that held with only one major exception. Ask me someday about boiled potatoes. They, like ring-come-ditty, are neither served nor eaten any more. And nobody suddenly comes upon hiding places with old dried boiled potatoes, such as the framework under the kitchen table.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Moment in the Life

I'm beginning a listing phase. I get this way when all the tasks that must, must, MUST get done are starting to pile up and deadlines loom. It is, after all, less than a month now till retirement. And that's immediately followed by working an auction, hosting a big party (retirement, all-fall-family-birthday, and sayonara), getting a rental minivan, loading up all the stuff we want to take down to Arizona this year since I'm selling the house to Paul and moving the remainder of my stuff into what has been only Steve's room, heading out with help from Steve, Rich and Brenda on Tuesday morning for a 3-day drive, then heading back with an empty minivan for another but solo 3-day drive, picking up Jordan, and flying down with her the next Monday. Then there's work on the house down there (just the cheap stuff, like painting, minor repairs, cleaning, planting), doing some touring of that very scenic state, and flying everybody but Steve and me back. He will need to be registered ASAP for his fall vote in Arizona. We'll need groceries,  more community center passes for swimming....


See what I mean?

Some of the tasks are done. Books are packed. More empty boxes are piling up ready for clothing, personal supplies, food, dog supplies, etc. Then there are the things that are more optional, depending on space left over. The rental is arranged, as are all the airline tickets. Utility companies need to be called for start-ups, and I need to double-check the date on vehicle insurance transfer to be sure there is not a one-day gap. Paperwork on the house must be completed, meaning I need to nag the attorney. Mail and subscription addresses need to be changed, and an absentee ballot filled out for what is likely my last vote in Minnesota.

Yes, we are hanging our addresses officially at different times, and voting in different states. He's already gotten his AZ drivers license. I'll get mine the day after the election, car license too.

There's more to do, more to add to the lists. But right now, I'm still working, and it's time to get ready for it.

Hmmm, make motel reservations, list TV shows for the DVR down there, list chores for while I'm driving back..........

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friends Don't Let...

Just a quick note to our government:

Friends don't let friends... bomb schools.

Or hospitals.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Destabilization: There and Here

You know Iraq is all our fault, right? Maybe not individually, unless by some fluke one of the governmental authors of that fiasco has stumbled upon this blog. But we, as the USA, our fault. And one of the things that caused the mess has been brought home to roost.

So what did we do? First, go for the neighbor, Iran. We rolled right over their functioning democracy (That's right. You believe we did that?) and deposed their duly elected government and imposed the Shah on them. Much as our news stories of the day glorified him, he was a monster. When they finally dumped him, we decided to arm Iraq, and then just to keep it interesting, plus bring more profits to arms manufacturers, because it always boils down to money after all, we decided to arm Iran too. Yep, we armed both sides. Those are mostly still in play.

ISIS wouldn't be the problem it is today if we hadn't laid the groundwork, first, by arming everybody, and second, by going in and replacing the leaders of their governments. That includes Saddam Hussein. He was awful, but he was a secular leader and kept the fanatics from imposing their cruelty on the rest of the population.  For those of you rooting for the Christians over there, in case you forgot, under his rule they were safe. Jews too. And whichever sect of Islam was the "other" from anybody's point of view.

And we had to go and throw arms into that mess. No, we're not alone in that. Russia did her part. Eventually anybody who could jumped on that bandwagon. Couldn't miss out on their share of the profits.

Here's a little lesson in the difference between strategy and tactics. If your strategy is to destabilize a nation or an area, then your tactic for best effect would be to throw weapons into it. Think about it. If I'm pissed off and want to retaliate, without arms I'm pretty much limited to my fists and knives, or whatever rock I can hoist and throw. Kinda limits the extent of the violence, having the wonderful effect of also limiting the retaliation violence too. At some point it is just too much effort to keep it going at any level above a slow simmer. Life goes on.

If you add arms, my little spat gets blown up (hah!) into something major. I can kill dozens, hundreds, thousands, if not directly then by ruining their ability to support, feed, and shelter themselves because there's nothing left. My spat becomes war and drags everybody in. Life doesn't go on.

What you are seeing all through the Middle East right now is the inevitable result of that decades old decision to arm both sides, and ongoing decisions to keep it up, governmentally or privately. Somebody's getting rich off it all. A lot of Somebodies.

Now, bring that back home. There are forces at work here doing the same thing. It's not another government this time, at least I don't think so. Not unless you go for the idea of corporatocracy being our new wanna-be government, not so far fetched. The rich here are trying to get richer. Since the rich are running massive corporations, the way to accomplish what they want is to cut costs. Thus all the screaming about taxes, about labor costs, about regulations. Hell, we even passed laws requiring them to maximize profits.

They just can't really maximize profits in a stable, informed, educated, middle-class society. If we were that, we'd demand fair wages, sharing business profits via taxes to maintain roads, water, education of the workforce, etc. Slavery, or as close as they can come, works much better for them, or at least in their short-term max-profit world view. If our water gets poisoned, or we can't breathe properly, or our food is tainted, or we don't live past 45 or so, our maximum productive years from their perspective, well, that's no issue for them. We don't need to think to push buttons, so let's kick art out of the schools and lower education levels under the disguise of national standards testing. So long as their trucks can get through, the roads are good enough.

As long as we, our society, is destabilized, we won't fight their tactics to maximize their profits.

Have you noticed the abundance of guns out there? The daily shootings, the crazy laws, the paranoia?

Now ask yourself: just who is destabilizing us?