Wednesday, January 18, 2012

That Post On The Healthcare System

I realized something today.  I realized that I've been putting off blogging, primarily because I had promised a post on the healthcare system, which I felt unequal to for a number of reasons.  One is a lack of organization, one a distaste for controversy, but primarily I've been avoiding the subject here because it involves going back there, and there is a place I've successfully managed to steer clear of for several years now.

However, I do think what I have to say needs to be said, and luckily it is not up to me to offer the perfect solution to solve all our problems and create a disease and debt-free paradise.  I can only point out the problems as I see them.  Sit back and relax.  This promises to be a longish post.

I was sixteen years old when I was diagnosed with stage three (stage four being worst-case, stage one best) Hodgkins Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system.  It came out of nowhere for our family.  Someone later made a remark to my mother, as if it was something she should have done, about how they were "concentrating on prevention" themselves.  Now, my sister and I lived about the healthiest lives possible.  We lived on the side of a mountain, breathed clean air, climbed trees, ran around in fields, not to mention having ballet classes every week.  My mother cooked everything we ate from scratch, we drank soda perhaps once a year.  We were always healthy, and because we were always healthy, when our family couldn't afford health insurance, just about the time I turned sixteen, it didn't seem like a big loss.  I couldn't remember the last time I'd been to the doctor.

My dad was (well, still is) an airborne firefighter.  Not with a silly little helicopter either.  He flies different planes now, but at the time, in fact for the first eighteen years of my life, he flew a WWII bomber (a PBY Catalina for the technically inclined) which had been adapted to carry water.  It was a beautiful plane...but my thoughts on aviation shall be saved for another post.  He was (and is) a hero to many, certainly to those whose homes he saved from the flames.  So much for those who like to imagine that all people who can't afford health insurance are useless layabouts.  Incidentally, both of my parents are also college-educated, intelligent people who don't say "ain't".

So much for the background.  We fell into that larger-than-politicians-like-to-admit category of people who fall through the cracks.  We did not qualify for the state programs, but the cost of conventional health insurance would have drowned us.  We already lived frugal lives as it was, and once I was diagnosed it wouldn't have mattered anyway.  Conventional health insurance companies have a useful little thing they call a "waiting period for pre-existing conditions" which means that, when you sign up for your policy, anything you were diagnosed with when you signed up is not covered for the span of time known as the "waiting period", usually six to nine months.  During that time, you pay your premiums, and they pay nothing.  If we had taken that route, none of my treatments would have been covered, and we would have been paying them premiums on top of my already huge medical bills.  My mother (a true gem among women) spent hours on the phone and online researching our options.  In the end we took the only option that didn't involve us selling everything we owned to pay my medical bills.  My dad took a voluntary pay cut, which put us down to the income bracket where I qualified for the state program.

I want to make it quite clear here and now that I have nothing against the doctors.  I had the most wonderful doctor that anyone could ask for through my whole ordeal, and he fought for me tooth and nail on many occasions.

And now we come to a special pet peeve of mine, called the "amount allowed".  (There really is a euphemism for everything.)  This simply means that when the medical provider bills the insurance company, the insurance company will not pay more than a certain amount.  Then you (assuming you have insurance) pay a percentage of that amount.  I have in my hands an old explanation of benefits from my old insurance company for an office visit a few years ago.  The original charge was $115.  The amount allowed was $37.45.  Of that amount I paid $15 dollars.  If I had not had insurance I would have had to pay $115.  The only people stuck paying the entire bill are the people who have no health insurance and can least afford to pay it.  If you could choose to have no health insurance and just pay $37.45 for that visit, that would be one thing, but the reality is another entirely.  And that is a fairly small bill.  There is a shot they give you the day after you receive chemotherapy, which helps raise your white blood cell count and thus boosts your immune system so that they can keep giving you the chemo.  Because (and I know I've said this before) the whole idea of chemo can be summed up in these words: they're slowly killing you and hoping the cancer dies before you do.  I'm not knocking it. After all, it worked for me.  It just always amazes me that someone thought of it in the first place.  Anyway, that shot, which they give you in the stomach (gross, and painful) sent me into a serious allergic reaction culminating in a blackout, a trip to the ER, a very speedy ambulance ride, and a blood pressure of 45 over 20.  I was the first person on record to react to that shot and I have yet to hear of any other cases.  However, the bill for that shot (not the ambulance ride or the ER or the oxygen, just the shot) was $13,000.  Of course, the amount allowed was much less.

A much more recent experience is that of the dad of a good friend of mine, who recently had a heart attack which led to open-heart surgery and eight days in the hospital.  He had no insurance and his medical bills added up to almost twice the amount of our mortgage.

So yes, there is something horribly wrong with our healthcare system, and it can't be ignored.  Health insurance should not be a for-profit business.  The full weight should not fall on the shoulders of those who can least afford to pay, and that is where it falls.  Not on those who have nothing.  They are covered by federal programs.  It falls on the responsible, hard-working citizens.  Yes, there are people on welfare who abuse the system, or people who lie on their unemployment forms.  My parents were not, are not, those people.  Neither is my friend's dad.  They work hard.  They pay their taxes.  They don't want handouts.  They want their hard work to be enough to pay for the lives of their children.

Whew...there it is.  Done.  Any thoughts, feel free to comment.  To end on a good note, I have just been declared cancer-free for ten years.  This summer: celebratory head-shaving!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Guest Post By Tara Roberts: In Praise Of Gentle Men

Enjoy this great post by Tara, who has graciously allowed me to share it with you.  Check out her blog "Tarababble" at:

In Praise of Gentle Men

     Tim with little tiny Henry

I’m married to a gentle man. Not a gentleman, though I suppose sometimes he is that. A gentleman.

In more than eight years, I’ve rarely heard Tim raise his voice. He roughhouses with our older son, and I’ve seen him wrestle with his younger brothers, but he has never displayed his anger with physical aggression toward anyone or anything, ever.

In fact, he’s rarely angry at all. He doesn’t hide it or bottle it up, except on occasion, as most people do. He lets it go. He pauses, he reflects, he prays, he thinks. He asks whether anger will fix a problem or improve a situation -- and the answer is usually no. Even in situations of injustice or evil, he is not fooled into believing that “righteous” anger is helpful, or even real. He chooses to use his energy to communicate, build people up, and seek solutions.

He’s probably totally embarrassed reading that, and he might argue with it, but it’s what I see in him. His gentleness, kindness, and self-control (sound familiar?) are an enormous part of why I love him.

I try to be more like him, though my impulses tell me to yell, to throw, to hit. Most people who know me as an adult think of me as fairly mild-mannered, but know that when I joke around about wanting to punch people in the nose, I really want to punch people in the nose. (I did it, once, in fourth grade, to a boy who was making fun of my brother. It felt awesome. But it didn’t accomplish much.)

So why, today, am I talking up my gentle Tim? Because I’ve been reading lately about a movement within my faith that is pretty nasty toward gentleness.

Pastor Mark Driscoll, of Mars Hill megachurch in Seattle, has been getting a lot of attention lately for a new book on sex and marriage he wrote with his wife. I haven’t read it (and probably won’t – way too busy with so many fun books on my Kindle!), so I won’t comment on it here. However, in  reading about his new book, I’ve learned about some other statements he’s made, and I really don’t like them.

Now, I imagine the dude says plenty of things that are interesting and enlightening and totally fine. (He is a frequent user of the word “dude,” which I can’t fault.) But he’s also said stuff like the following, summarized nicely in an excellent 2008 Christianity Today article:    

‘According to Driscoll, "real men" avoid the church because it projects a "Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ" that "is no one to live for [and] is no one to die for." Driscoll explains, "Jesus was not a long-haired … effeminate-looking dude"; rather, he had "callused hands and big biceps." This is the sort of Christ men are drawn to—what Driscoll calls "Ultimate Fighting Jesus." '

[later in the article] "real men"—like Jesus, Paul, and John the Baptist— are "dudes: heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes."

(Note: I try not to be too uptight about language. In fact, I’m going to amend “stuff like the following” to “shit like the following.” But I am not OK with using words like “queer” in a way designed to hurt others, as is done above. Also, I kind of like Richard Simmons. EspeciallyRobotic Richard Simmons. Back on topic …)

I was pretty floored by this when I first read it, and other statements like it. I was doubly floored when I started to learn that this is a whole movement, sometimes called the Christian masculinity movement, and that it’s gaining in popularity. I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to learn about, especially considering Driscoll spoke at a large church conference in my own town a few months ago, but hey – I’ve got a lot on my mind, I can miss a few things, OK? 

Now that I’ve learned about this, though, I’ve been deciding how to respond to it. I’m certainly only one small voice in a pretty big sea of criticism (just Google it), but I feel like I should contribute.  I’ve considered punching someone in the nose, but I’m not sure it would have the desired effect.

On the one hand, I agree that we do sometimes make Jesus out to be a pushover, and he’s not. (That’s a topic for another time, I guess.)   But I’m disturbed by “Ultimate Fighting Jesus,” by this weird macho, violent, angry version of what it means to be a man, especially a man who follows Jesus.

So I’m going with praising my gentle husband – who, by the way, is 6’1”, has callused hands, loves video games, goes fishing, wears flannel, and is stereotypically “manly” in plenty of ways. He could bench-press Mark Driscoll – but he wouldn’t hit him.

And I'm going to praise a small number from the long list of men I know who show that they don't have to fit any certain definition of masculinity, especially one characterized by aggression:

My grandfathers. One is a farmer-massage therapist-painter with a long hippie ponytail and colorful earrings who loves good jazz, good wine, and long hours digging in the dirt. The other is a carpenter-pastor who loves fishing and pinochle and could nap while a volcano erupts outside his window. They’re very different men, but they’re good men, strong men, and gentle men.

My brother. People were sometimes cruel to him when we were kids, and I’d look for a head to knock off, while he’d turn the other cheek. Eventually I figured out he was demonstrating the better way.

And my dad. I inherited my impulse toward aggression from him. I’ve seen him really mad, he’s seen me really mad, and we’ve gotten really mad at each other plenty of times. But he’s always encouraged me to do better, to seek peace, to channel my frustrations into something constructive.

I could go on, but I’ll throw in one last one,  the husband of one of my best friends. He’s an actual ultimate fighter—a mixed martial artist, jujitsu coach, and total badass. But I’ve never seen him fight. I’ve seen him play with his children, adore his wife, create incredible art, and behave with exceptional gentleness. He doesn’t share my faith, so I don’t know what he’d think of “Ultimate Fighter Jesus,” but something tells me he wouldn’t buy it.

I’m not saying that Mark Driscoll or any of the men in this masculinity movement aren’t also good husbands and fathers and friends, that they don’t display gentleness and peace in their lives.  But they’re selling a message that devalues what I value most in the men I know –including Jesus.

They’re selling force instead of strength, aggression instead of assertiveness, dominance instead of leadership.

Let all the gentle men and the women who love them say – with gentleness and respect – we don’t want this.
Yes, aggression and anger and nose-punching are in the nature of many men (and many women). And God loves us as we are – but he doesn’t leave us as we are. We are invited to be transformed, to transcend, to leave our weaknesses behind and be filled with a better way.


Now it's your turn, in the comments! Praise a gentle man of your own -- or argue with me -- or whatever. Let's hear it!

Thursday, January 5, 2012


My thanks to Sylvia Ney for the interview on her blog, Writing In Wonderland.  Click on the link below to read the whole interview.

Writing In Wonderland: Author Interview: Melanie Rose: Melanie Rose calls herself a “Renaissance Girl”. In fact, the name of her blog is Musings of a Renaissance Girl: http://www.roseandwren.b...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year to everyone!  I like the sound of 2012.  It has a nice ring to it.  Today, as it happens, is my birthday as well as the second day of the new year, so I get to start off clean and new on all fronts.  Ferdy had a bath yesterday, so he's starting out the year clean and new as well. We generally bathe him once a week.  We were advised to do it once a month, but he enjoys bath day so very much that we decided to make it a more frequent event.  He's more relaxed on bath day than at any other time, lets his quills down, and makes happy little snuffly noises.

I don't do New Year's resolutions, as such.  There's a general intention to be better and do better than the previous year, but I find specific resolutions (aside from the "made to be broken" aspect) to be more muddlesome than anything else.  I certainly ended 2011 in a different (and hopefully better) place than I began it, and isn't that what ought to happen?

Still expect the "controversial" post on the health care system one day soon, but not today. As it is my birthday, and I spent the morning in dutiful industry organizing my fabric stash, and the early afternoon getting Aaron's oil changed and promoting Ashford, I intend to retreat downstairs, make myself a cappuccino, and curl up with a book until Aaron gets home, at which point we shall go down to Sporty's to celebrate.  Hurrah!