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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

About My Left Breast

There are no accidents. I first met Pamela Wible, M.D., more than four years ago at a publicity conference. I was there as managing editor of a magazine and she was on a long line of people speed-pitching stories to the tick-tock of a stopwatch. The main things I remember were that we greeted each other like old friends, her face felt like full sun on a perfect summer’s day, and I begged the woman with the stopwatch to give her more time because I knew what I was hearing was important. I wanted to know more about how she’d started a compassionate, patient-centered medical practice in Eugene, Oregon, and how other doctors could do the same thing, and how patients could feel cared for at a fair price. Although I can't remember exactly what Pamela told me, I do remember being absolutely certain that she was a revolutionary and I wanted to support her revolution in any way I could.

Jump cut to the present. I am no longer employed. I work as a freelance book editor. I have lousy catastrophic insurance, and I have just completed an odyssey that began with a month-long nightmare at a radiology center that treated me like a member of a herd and, with no information or face-to-face contact or returned phone call from a doctor, tried to steer me down a chute where some person—I know not who—would stick a needle into my left breast for unexplained reasons. I've never been a herd person, so I refused, dug in my heels, and in my best former legal secretary voice, wrote a letter protesting, among other things, their refusal to send me my medical report . . . resulting in the instant return of my records right before Hurricane Sandy hit. Read More 

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The Fog of the Phone War


Lowest jerry-rigged phone/Internet/TV bundle ever:

Basic get-a-clear-picture TV..............................................$35.55/mo.

MagicJack DSL-line unlimited calling to
anywhere in the USA @ $20.00/yr....................................$ 1.66/mo.

Prepaid cell phone for emergencies @ $10/yr...................... $ .83/mo.

Basic Budget (for incoming calls only)
phone + Internet.............................................................$58.54/mo.

Total..............................................................................$96.58/mo.


* * *

“All associates are currently helping other customers. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order it was received.”

Tick-tock, tick-tock, lost count of minutes waited.

“Hello, thank you for using Verizon. How can I help you?”

“Hi, I can hardly hear you. Could you possibly talk into your microphone?”

“Hello, thank you for using Verizon. How can I help you?” Read More 
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The Sad, Sad Saga of an Insured Patient

After years of paying insurance premiums for a high deductible ($2,000) plan that covered nothing but minimum preventive care appointments (meaning almost no lab tests) at a cost of around $500+ per month, I opted out of “Oxford’s good insurance” and bought a catastrophic plan from EmblemHealth that is available to self-employed people in New York City: $231 a month. And although I’m gambling that I will remain healthy and never have to shell out the $10,000 deductible, I figured Emblem is as good as my “good insurance” because it, too, pays for minimal preventive visits (even fewer lab tests).

Unfortunately, five months into my plan I did require a “sick visit.” It was May 3, 2012. There is a walk-in medical clinic nearby whose website says that a basic office visit is $150—even if you have no insurance. If you need X-rays or blood work or anything on top of just being seen by a doc, that will cost more, but unequivocally the basic charge is $150. Not only that, but they said they took insurance so at least my pay-out would go towards my $10,000 deductible. Yippee!  Read More 

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Meryl Streep, Toilet Paper, and the Merits of Pretending




Yesterday I bought 24 rolls of Marcal Small Steps® totally recycled toilet paper because it was on sale for $4.99 plus tax at Staples.com — with free shipping if you got it sent to a store where you’d pick it up.

I don’t know where I’m going to store 24 rolls of toilet paper, but Marcal is hard to find, I’ve been buying it since before recycling was popular, and I’m loyal to the brand. Plus which, it’s a whole lot better than the more popular recycled brands.

It really bugs me that Marcal had to change its name to Small Steps® and redesign its packaging and probably fire all its marketing people and hire new ones to try to compete with the eco-newcomers. It really bugs me that Small Steps® still isn’t carried in organic markets. It is unbelievably annoying that you can do something for 60 years and, when what you’re doing finally becomes popular, you’re still unpopular.

Which brings me to Meryl Streep. Read More 
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Don't Close the New York Public Library!

For a person who’s not really into acquiring things, I’m amazed at how much stuff I have: a whole wall of books, three file cabinets of manuscripts, and then there’s the music — the tapes and CDs, not to mention my collection of 33 1/3 records that take up two feet of floor in my bedroom and simply cannot be discarded.

I plan to weed. In my bedroom closet there’s a trunk full of I-don’t-know-what — oh no, it’s photo albums and decades of personal journals that I’ll never read or look at, but I cannot throw away.

One nice thing about being unemployed is that I no longer buy anything to add to the clutter. I mean that. Aside from food and rent and essential services, I don’t spend money. And I don’t feel the least deprived. Why? Read More 
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Itty Bitty Matters


There are three pertinent pieces of background to this story:
(1) I am allergic to tomato plants;

(2) It takes approximately 500 years for a plastic bag to decompose in a landfill;

(3) Anything that demonstrates a determination to stay alive is an object of my admiration.
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Socialized Medicine, Compassion, and Life — Oh No!

Last night I watched Sicko, Michael Moore’s documentary about our health-care system. A guy at the grassroots Health Care Organizing Kickoff meeting last weekend referenced it a few times, and since I missed it when it was in theaters, I got it at the New York Public Library. This required asking for it, receiving an email when it arrived at my local branch, strolling over, showing my library card, and walking out without paying any money. This is because the public library is a government-funded social program, allowing even unemployed people like me access to free information. It seems to work awfully well.

A block up from my library is my local fire department. They are a government-funded social program that seems to work awfully well.

Last weekend, a guy on my block had a very loud party late at night. I dialed 311 and a courteous government-paid employee took my noise complaint and dispatched a member of our socialized law enforcement department to quell the din. It worked awfully well.

I’d thought Sicko was going to be a diatribe about our lousy heath-care-if-you-can-afford-it system, and I was quite surprised to see that the majority of the film showed compassionate doctors and satisfied patients in France and the UK and Canada. When asked how much money care cost, they either laughed or looked befuddled and then responded, with polite horror, that they wouldn’t want to work or live in a system that allowed people to die if they couldn’t afford to pay.

Although it seems like yesterday, many years ago my beloved hometown switched from subway tokens to Metrocards. Lots of New Yorkers said that the change was too big; it wouldn’t work. We survived it quite well. Read More 
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Rants & Raves: Staples, Oxford, Garnier Nutritioniste, Obama

I’m living on unemployment at the moment, so I’m consuming a lot less than I used to. And that means I think a whole lot about what I’m choosing to consume. Below, for my own gratitude and ventilation, are some Rants & Raves. Feel free to add your own in comments:

RAVE: Staples Stores
I got a whole ream of recycled paper today, free with the coupon I received for recyling ink cartridges. I was worried I’d only be able to buy more ink, but no — you can do the right thing and actually get something you need with the recycle benefit.
Not only that, I thought Staples only recycled ink cartridges and batteries. Did you know they also take electronics? I’ve got a busted computer adapter and cable that Hewlett-Packard was going to charge to me return for recycle. I can just drop it off at Staples. Not only that, but the Staples employees look you in the eye when they talk to you and treat you like a human being. Read More 
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Church in a Greenhouse


I eat a lot of lettuce. I just love the stuff. And even before the recession and getting laid off, I had a lust for homegrown salad. Since I live in an indoor jungle, it seems natural to extend it into my fifth-floor apartment window boxes, and to learn the art of lettuce growing from seeds, I recently joined my local community garden. An unexpected benefit was that the garden’s greenhouse is located behind the world famous Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. The Cathedral is not only a breathtaking work of architecture, but it has a long history of supporting progressive causes and a mission to be “a house of prayer for all people and a unifying center of intellectual light and leadership.” Technically what’s happening in the greenhouse is not one of the Cathedral’s many service programs, but, for me, it has become church in a greenhouse — a weekly dose of horticultural therapy. Read More 
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Why I Didn’t Write the Great American Novel Last Week

I would have. Really. I have a great idea and I even started on it about a month ago after I got canned from my job. (Please don’t tell the Unemployment Office, because they might dock me for self-employment.) I wrote a few pages on the computer, but then the sound of the fan — that relentless mechanical shriek — made me stop. Then I wrote some pages longhand, but I ended up with so many cross-outs and arrows that I couldn’t read it.

Then there was the man in my bathroom. Just try doing your morning ablutions with a tile guy three inches away renovating the apartment on the other side of your wall. Bathroom rituals and writing go hand in hand, so no way could I write the great American novel last week.  Read More 
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