Winter 2013 – Note to self: don’t get sick in December

In the fall of 2013, I decided to enroll in an Affordable Care Act health insurance policy. Everyone was written a letter by their health insurance companies giving policy holders a little time before then end of the year when all insurance plans expire.

Little did I know how close all those would be to home until I enrolled under ACA and was also a recipient of more than my fair share of medical care during the hectic Obamacare transition period.

For most people, there wasn’t much of a transition if covered on the job or some other public program.

I don’t think most people who have real jobs and a personnel office that annually negotiates group insurance realize that insurance actually lapses at the end of each year keeping coverage, apparently, seamless.

Nor do I think most people in insurance groups bother to read their coverage fine print.

Back when I had a real job, I was surprised to learn that as a single guy, in my group plan, I was covered for maternity care.

But when it was explained to me that to spread around the risk, I am obliged to pay to help cover my colleagues who have families or may want to start one. I viewed it as being a good community member.

This was in the 1970s – 1990s and it has been that way since. Now that I’m self employed, I’ve had to annually negotiate m y policy.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) began to point out what they considered to be unnecessary coverage, like maternity care for single guys.

As a quick primer, the ACA was proposed by President Barrack Obama approved by the US Congress and signed into law March 23, 2010. It set up centralized health insurance exchanges where users who weren’t covered by their employer, the Veteran’s Administration, Medicaid, Medicare, or some other program could sign up for health insurance.

Of the US population in 2015, 49% are covered by their employers, and 43% by some other form of coverage leaving around 8% needing health insurance coverage including self employed people like me.

Other than mandating health insurance for all as a means of diversifying the national insurance pool, there are provisions like not being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions and young people being covered under their parents’ policies until they are 26.

I’m one of the self-employed people who has had the same insurance carrier for the past several years. My insurance is routinely “cancelled” when the company annually changed the terms and conditions, deductibles and more times than not raised the premium prices at the end of the year.

I could either take the new plan or be cancelled. I always opted to stick with my carrier, but had to call up every year to see what options I had. Generally, I settled for higher deductibles to keep my payment close to what it was before. In my estimation the insurance industry is a big legal ponzi scheme, if you ask me, but thank God I have health insurance!

… and I knew I wasn’t going to get dinged for a preexisting condition.

People who are shocked or surprised that their policies are routinely changed tossed out letters from their insurance carriers as junk mail.  In March of 2012, I was informed that my insurance would be grandfathered under the ACA if I wanted to go that route – keep my doctor and everything in tact.

Pioneer that I am, I set up an account on the Connect for Colorado Health exchange website and after a few delays and glitches, was a approved for a way better plan from my existing carrier for less price.

So I was “double-covered” with my existing policy and my new ACA policy because I didn’t quite trust the new system.

I finally gained confidence in the ACA and canceled my higher deductible plan which was a good thing.

Politicians have been trying to “Repeal and Replace” Obamacare since its approval. I chuckle when I see the political action committees running ads on TV about the small group of folks who claim to have fallen through the cracks when they didn’t take personal responsibility to take care of their health insurance business during the one-year window during which they had a chance.

Rather than be accountable for their irresponsibility, Obama and all the other socialists are to blame for their current misfortunes.

You know what?

Obamacare, socialism, public / private partnership – whatever you want to call ACA, have nothing to do with reality. Health care reform only has to to do with people like me who were flat on their backs pushing the hospital room call light hoping a nurse’s assistant will come by to empty the urinal or patch a bed sore.

Truth is, Trump, McConnell, Ryan or any other politician can’t help anyone, let alone improving advice individual patients get from their doctors and their staffs. Anyone who disfavors ACA hasn’t been sick lately.

Before I get into the gory details, I have to tip my hat to health care workers in the trenches, namely nurses and certified nurse assistants. The world wouldn’t turn without them. I’ll jump ahead a bit and say that I’d never really had a hospital stay before and after being flat on my back for six weeks.

I couldn’t walk, stand, wipe my butt. The nurses and CNA’s were there to meet my every need, particularly when I got very low and bummed out.

This raises another big topic of self advocacy. Being flat on my back, I was complacent and didn’t advocate for myself as much as I should have. My partner in crime, Diana, was a big advocate. She questioned what was happening and kept on the nurses and doctors, to their annoyance.

She brought over a couple friends and neighbors, Nicki and Evie who also had experience advocating and helped particularly early on when I was first admitted.

I can’t say enough about having a strong advocate. I’m pretty sure, my doctors weren’t waking up in the morning wondering how I was doing.

Over the course of the fall and summer, I was being treated for various types of pneumonia and eventually went to the hospital. I was quite out of it because I had lost a lot of weight – eventually 30 pounds – had no energy or stamina, and no appetite.

What happened next is a bit of a blur, but, my lung doctor did a biopsy to figure out about my pneumonia.

Did I mention the morphine pump?

Meanwhile, I was on steroids which led to a perforated ulcer and stomach contents were leaking into my body cavity causing sepsis. I don’t know this as a fact, but I’ve been told that I was not given much chance of making it through the emergency surgery to patch up the ulcer – mostly because of the lack of eating and general indifference, translated into “failure to thrive.”

I read through my medical record and I was also classified as anorexic. That sounds worse than it is. It means I was very skinny.

So I have this emergency surgery and am being fed pablum through a tube bypassing my stomach and intestines while the ulcer patch heals. This causes me to lose weight and strength. I’m flat on my back between ICU and a regular hospital room and rehab for six weeks.

Since my parents died a few years ago, celebrating the winter holidays have been different every year. I wrote a stage play about this which was produced by Hitching Post Theater a few years back – I’ll have to dig out that story.

This was no different being being in a hospital with the second tier help on duty.

This stint in the hospital was good in that when the biopsy results came back from the University of Michigan, the results figured out about my lung condition as being an auto immune pneumonia now being treated by steroids, which is a good thing – particularly for those of you who had to deal with my hacking and coughing over the summer and fall.

Not so good with the ulcer recovery, I still had a rubber tube sticking out of my stomach that was. removed after a week. So getting to the bottom of my pneumonia was good, the state of my physique, not so good. Then I was kicked out of the hospital.

Meanwhile, I can’t stand, walk or otherwise take care of myself and I’m lifted into a wheel chair and strapped into an ambulance to go to rehab at this place in Denver.

Unable to move on my own, I start sliding out of the wheel chair and bouncing around like a rag doll. I felt like the dead guy, Bernie, in that bad movie “Weekend at Bernies”. The driver pulled over at the cooking school on Quebec and got me repositioned before getting to the rehab center in Glendale, which is a neighborhood in Denver.

The rehab center was an hour from Boulder, served mostly geriatric patients and I was the youngest one there. It was good meeting some folks from Denver.

This rehab center has it figured out. Everybody there gets about an hour or two of rehab each day and the other 22 hours, they feed everyone high protein and lots of carbos. It got a little monotonous plotting out the day based on meal time.

I am totally amazed that I received enough physical and occupational therapy after two weeks to walk out – albeit with a walker, compared to when I arrived as a total invalid.

My diet was simple – eat anything, particularly high protein and sweet stuff – a lot of rare steak and ice cream floats. It takes a long time to gain back wright. I was up 15 pounds during rehab and stabilized after getting 30 pounds chubbier.

After being out of captivity since the first week in February 2014 and getting stronger every day I was getting back in to the swing of things. Being self-employed, I had many ongoing projects.

I think it’s also an Asian thing to be totally self reliant – but this experience has taught me that it’s okay to ask for help. Many thanks to Michael and Barbara for keeping mud in my entrepreneurial cracks over the past couple months of my recovery.

After being out of rehab for a week, I attended the Boulder International Film Festival over President’s Day weekend – I’m on the BIFF Board of Directors. It was my first outing “off campus” since Dec. 16th – prior to this, I was in an ambulance, hospital, ambulance, rehab center, in my condo.

I’m also back in the editing booth – I cut together a tribute to Shirley MacLaine that screened Saturday night at the BIFF.

It’s been a big wake up call for me, particularly about big picture issues – mostly around downsizing and relationships with people.

Small picture issues, I’m now more serious about plotting out some exit strategies for projects I head up and handing off projects to others and getting ready to “retire”.

Even though I’m mostly recovered, I’m still planning for a long road ahead, I still consider myself “disabled” and will likely be recovering for awhile. I may be out and about, but I anticipate plenty of limitations.

I still encounter steps and small inclines and places without banisters or elevators that I didn’t notice before.

My message to the politicians? Keep muddling through the ACA because here’s no turning back.

 

 

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‘When I’m 64’ birthday book project for 2016 – 2017

A poem that inspired my book project.

Today is the final day of last year’s birthday activities.

A few months ago, a sidewalk poet in Fort Collins typed up a few lines for me that inspired the “When I’m 64” book project that begins tomorrow.

My 63rd year starts uneventfully tomorrow, May 2nd, with well-wishers on facebook and that will be the extent of it, but a yearlong celebration is stacking up to be action-packed. A smattering of events include:

  • a screening of “Aging Gratefully: The Power of Community” at the cohousing conference in Salt Lake May 19th
  • finishing up two documentaries – “New Deal Art in Wyoming” and “Art of the Hunt”
  • starting some new projects – in August “Plein Air in Thin Air” with a trek up the Grand Teton, teaching Arapaho kids movie production, Prince project in Wyoming
  • going fly fishing

When I turned 60 back in 2013, I had big plans to kick off a productive and action-packed decade. 

Instead, it was a big mortality wake up call. I barely made it through 2013 with a big reevaluation of life which is why I continue my tradition of celebrating for the year.

The cohousing community had a talking circle tonight about transitions over the past few months.

Most of the conversation was rather dark about health issues and mortality.

I tried having those conversations a couple years ago with my neighbors which largely fell on deaf ears. Funny how people believe their own observations. It will be interesting to see if their perceptions will match up with reality.

As many of you know by now, May 2013 started out uneventfully – the Bolder Boulder; then the top of the Cyclone roller coaster; then a shingles attack; then too much work – “Mahjong and the West, Governor’s Arts Awards, a wedding; then a week stint in the hospital and then another six weeks in the hospital – that time on my death bed.

I snapped out of it and now every day I wake up, I’m grateful. I’ve been culling through my stuff which includes  a bunch of newspaper columns and other muses.

I’m compiling all that into a memoir woven through my health recovery experiences over the past couple years.

I took a couple writing classes to scrape off the rust, but turns out there are a lot of authors with worse cases of writer’s block than me.

The class exercises were helpful fir stricture and tooics, though, hearing about and helping others slog through their writing struggles was the most worthwhile.

I may run some parts of the book for you to check out. I still have a few things on my 2013 list to complete including weightlessness, skipping stones, climbing a tree and writing a book.