The Mysteries of Medicare

When you get something for free, you tend to think, this is too good to be true. And then you find it is, that is, too good to be true.

For a while this year, I had the envy of my blind friends. Once a week, a young woman from a home health agency came to my home and helped me with a few tasks around the house, running the sweeper, checking my clothes for spots, reading directions on cake mixes, things like that. The bonus was that she also took me on errands, including running to the bank, the drug store, the doctor, and even to clothing stores. We had a great time. She enjoyed helping me, and I was enjoying having the free service provided by Medicare. Sound like a dream come true? Not quite. Nothing is free.

In order to get this service, I had to endure an annoying visit from a nurse, not once a month, not occasionally, but every single week. I protested that I am not sick. I am not injured. I am not recovering from surgery. I’m just blind. But the rule was that I had to have a checkup by the nurse every week, or I didn’t get the service. In addition, and even more aggravating was that I had to sign a paper stating that the “Aid” had worked 6 hours each week, whether she did or not. To make peace with myself, I tried to keep her busy for 6 hours. I didn’t need that much help, but rules are rules. The powers that be at Medicare say that if you don’t need at least 6 hours, then you don’t need help at all. What a crock. This meant that the aid was being paid for 6 hours when she only worked for 2 or 3. This is wrong. I finally decided that the obnoxious visits from the nurse and the deceitful paperwork were not worth the free help. I was told that I could offer to pay this young woman myself if I wanted to. OK, I thought. I can do that. I had a talk with her the next Monday and told her that I would pay her the same she was getting from the agency, but I would pay her only for the hours she worked, not 6. She was fine with that, but then, the agency barged into our little agreement and replaced me with another client for this aid. In order to keep her standing with the agency, she had to go with it, and her schedule didn’t allow fitting me in as well. So, here I am, back at square 1, recruiting friends to help and orchestrating ways to get things done. Stay tuned. I’ll figure this out.

Tape Pals

I called the post office this afternoon with a complaint. It’s not the first time, or the second, or the third or the fourth that I’ve told them that my mail carrier is ignoring the tape mailer that I put in my mailbox for her to pick up. I asked, “Have you stopped the service of picking up mail that people leave in their mailboxes?” The answer was no. Then why does she keep ignoring my outgoing mail? “Is it out where she can see it,” they ask. “Of course it is. It’s sticking out like a tongue” I replied. “She is tucking the mail behind the tape mailer, so I know she has to be able to see it.” The tape mailer is a plastic envelope, which holds 2 cassette tapes. There is a clear plastic window on one side with an address card that you flip over and reinsert when you want to send it back. Many organizations for the blind have used this method of sending out communications for years, that is, until say the 1990’s, or the turn of this century. For me, when email finally got into my vocabulary. I no longer receive tapes from the Library for the Blind, because now I download them into my lap top or my iPhone. But there is this one friend of mine, John, whom I met at the Seeing Eye back in 1982, who still enjoys a tape-pal correspondence with me. Maybe he tapes to other friends, but I doubt he’ll find anybody else with the patience to keep this up. In fact, I’ve often wished that he’d join the 21st century and just email with me, but there’s something about sitting down with a tape recorder and chatting to the microphone that is appealing to him, and I guess therapeutic for me. Sometimes, when I haven’t seen a human being in a couple of days, I welcome the chance to talk to a friend, even though I know he’s not going to get this monologue for a few days. It’s almost like writing an old fashioned letter.

John and I have never seen each other since that July in 1982, when we were both at the Seeing Eye to meet our first dog guides. Ours is not a romantic relationship, but we know a lot of things about each other that we don’t share with just anybody. Of course, the main topic is how are dogs are doing, but we also talk about our kids, our friends, and news of our daily lives. This relationship started at the Seeing Eye, when we were the only 2 left at the table having coffee, when all the others had jumped up and run off to their rooms or to groom their dogs or whatever. John and I seemed to be the only grownups at our table, the others being college students, and we found we had some things in common. It seemed like a good idea to start taping letters back and forth after we returned to our respective homes to see how we were doing as handlers of our wonderful dogs. He lives in Wisconsin. . When I get one of these tape mailers, I know that I’m going to be in for a nice long chatty letter. One of our shared interests is music, particularly the old standards and musicals. Sometimes, John allows the former radio engineer in him to come out, and he plays some of his music for me, especially if I’ve mentioned a particular song in a previous letter.

All this is very old fashioned and very very low tech, but the only snag seems to be my mail carrier. Maybe she doesn’t know what a cassette mailer is? It’s possible that that’s what the problem is. Maybe she sees it and wonders what the heck I’m putting in my mailbox. If it isn’t an ad or a catalog or a bill, then why is it there? But doesn’t she see the address label? And didn’t she just deliver it to me last week?

Fruit Flies and Other Home Owner Foes

I must have the cleanest kitchen in town. I am driving myself nuts trying to make sure there isn’t a drop, a crumb, a smear of anything, because if there is, the fruit flies in my house will first have a feast and then reproduce. This has been going on for several weeks, but I had no idea of the severity of the problem, until a thoughtful person reported them to me.

I have my cleaning lady to thank for letting me know about things that other people are afraid to tell me about. They don’t want me to be embarrassed, but in not telling me, they are fostering a more embarrassing situation. In the space of a week, I learned that not only did I have fruit flies, but also mold, mildew, and stains on every one of my dish cloths and kitchen towels. How long have I had those stained dish cloths out where anybody could see them? And how long have those fruit flies been parading around on my ceiling and cabinets? How long has my dish scrubbing pad had mildew on it? Yuck. And when I got an estimate for someone to professionally wash the outsides of my windows, he informed me that my house could use a good power washing, because there was mold. Great.

I had invited my friends, Deirdre and Charlie over for a cookout the other night, and I almost uninvited them, because of the fruit flies. But not only did they say they didn’t mind coming, even with the unwelcome guests in my kitchen, they got out my little sweeper with the hose and sucked up those little buggers for me. I Am so grateful to them for rolling up their sleeves and doing something about it, rather than just making suggestions that turn out to be useless. Yes, I had already tried the bleach in the drain, the cider vinegar in small bowls, fly paper, and sprays. On Saturday, , my son Steve set off those foggers for insects, because the spiders have decided to join the flies.

As for the mold and mildew and stains, I’m attacking each of those joys in turn. At least I know my living room is in good shape, since I completely remodeled, right down to the paint on the walls. Of course as Dan painted, he discovered cracks in the walls and the ceiling. I feared that my house would be falling down around my ears, but Dan assured me they were minor. I depend on people who can see to tell me what they see, whether it pleasant or not. Not telling me does not make it go away. For this reason, I routinely ask a sighted friend to take a hard look at my clothing, especially at the start of a new season, and check for spots and stains. Sometimes it can be fixed with some stain remover, and then again, sometimes it means throwing something away. In any event, I want to be told.

And are the fruit flies gone? I’m not sure, but I’ll continue to knock myself out keeping the kitchen spotless until I’m informed that the enemy has called a retreat.

Always Greet Your Customer

The customer is always right. How often have you heard this statement? It’s one of the 3 rules for doing business. Yesterday, our pastor told a story about his grandfather’s store. As a little boy, our pastor asked his grandfather if he could work behind the counter. His grandfather said he could, as soon as he could make change and remember these 3 rules. Always greet the customer. The customer is always right. Always thank the customer for their business.

The point of the sermon was about serving others, but I wanted to jump up and down and applaud when he said, “Always greet the customer.” I should wear a sign around my neck saying those words when I enter a place of business. I have written before about how so many people behind a desk, whether it’s in a doctor’s office or the cashier at the grocery store seem to lose their ability to speak when I approach. I’m not asking for any special attention. Just speak to me. Greet your customer. Say hello, at least, if not, how may I help you, as my pastor was taught as a little boy. How hard is that? It’s not only good business, but it’s so helpful to me. First, it’s the way I know that there is indeed a person there to serve me, answer a question, or direct me someplace. Then I know exactly where the counter is. I have even been in a situation where my sighted companion says to me, here’s someone to help you, and they still don’t speak. I’ve also been introduced to people, people who presumably have a brain, and they remain silent, waiting for me to speak first. I extend my hand, only to find out that they are not in the place I expected them to be, and that’s embarrassing to me. If they could just have the curtesy to say hello, so I know where they are, it would be so easy. It continually baffles me why this seems to be so hard for so many people. I realize that this is the age of visuals, graphics, pictures, and eye contact. But really, has the art of speaking become obsolete?

Mary’s Anti Aging Routine

The soreness in my abdominals this morning told me that I must have done something good yesterday for my body. Let’s see. I got back on my jogging trampoline, and I did a couple of stretches. What did the trick, though, was the core strengthening exercises I have been neglecting. But my annual hiking trip, is coming up in a few weeks, and I need to get in shape. Here are the exercises I think every older person should make as their daily routine. They don’t take long, and they don’t have to be done all at once. Some of them are from AARP, and some are from my physical therapist, and some are from friends who read. Here’s my anti-aging routine. There are 4 exercises, none of which will make you sweat.

For your core: This is the key to success at any physical endeavor. Lie on the floor face down. Now raise yourself up onto your elbows and toes, with your hips off the floor, so your body forms a plank. Just hold that position for 30 seconds. It’s called a plank, and it’s harder than you think. Then collapse for a few seconds and do it again. If you can’t hold it for 30 seconds, start off with 10.

Now do it on your side. Lie on your side, and prop yourself on 1 elbow. Put your other hand on the floor in front of you to get your balance, and then raise your hips off the floor. Put your hand on your hip to strike a pose that says, look at how in shape I am. You should try to make your body as straight as possible. Then switch to the other side.

For your balance: And this is really important for all of us. Stand on one foot near something you can touch. Hold that position for up to 30 seconds, or longer, if you can. Then stand on the other foot. Try to keep your balance without touching the floor with your raised foot or grab onto something with your hand. You might wobble a little, or a lot, but try to right yourself before touching. Again, start with a few seconds at a time. Repeat 3 times on each leg.

For your arms: Don’t you just hate it when your arms aren’t toned. Here, I must apologize to my late mother for all the times as a child, I playfully poked her upper Arms to watch them jiggle. That was so mean. But I vowed to never let my arms get like that. Lifting weights kills my back, so a friend, a physical therapist, suggests this one. Sit in a chair with arms. Using your hands only, push yourself up off the chair, so your bottom is off the seat. Repeat until you can’t do it anymore. For me, I’[m only up to about 17, but now that I’m motivated, I’ll get better.

Finally, to avoid that puffiness under your chin, and I won’t call it a double chin, thrust your lower jaw out and back, about 20 times. I do this several times a day, whenever I think about it, in private of course. Another facial exercise, which my friend says will prevent frown lines is to put your lips together, as if you are playing a wind instrument, and then smile real big. Do this about 20 times, in private of course.

There you have it, Mary’s “I’ll never look old” workout.

Don’t forget to walk briskly, every day, find something fun to do every day, thank God for something every day, and eat dark chocolate every day.

Living Room Make-Over

It was Christmas at my house today. My living room has had a make-over, and the new furniture was delivered today, so it feels like I have a brand new living space. This has been a work in progress for the past 2 months. See my post on July 20 of this year, Goldilocks Goes on a Bike Ride, where I describe how I enlisted several friends to help me find the perfect sofa and recliner.

Once I settled on the sofa and recliner, I then had to select the materials they would be covered in. Here’s where I had to trust the color sense of my friends. Risky, I know, but it’s all good. Then there was the area rug, the end tables, and the lamp. When I thought of all these beautiful new furnishings against my boring old walls, I recruited yet another friend to help me pick out paint, another one to paint the walls, and still another one to help me buy a new valance for the window. It truly took a village. Thanks Dierdra, Sherri, Lynda, Judy, Maggy, and Dan. It took a lot of planning, fretting, and praying too. I wanted to have a “tah-dah!” moment, when the furniture guys set everything in place, so first, I had to arrange for the Furniture Bank to come and haul away the old stuff. Then the carpets could be cleaned and the walls painted. Next would be the new window treatment, and then the stage would be set. I worried that the new furniture would come before the old stuff got hauled away, because the only day the Furniture Bank could come was the same day that the new furniture would arrive. I pictured my old couch being shoved into the kitchen, where it would sit all day until the Furniture Bank came, but it all worked out. Now I must invite everybody over to celebrate and admire their choices and their work. Furniture shopping was indeed work, and my friend Dan spent all week prepping and painting and making repairs where the ceiling had cracked and holes had been left from previous hanging plants and lamps. Each day of this last week, another task was complete, carpet cleaned on Monday, walls painted on Tuesday, valance hung on Wednesday, etc., building toward the finished product, a brand new room.

If there’s anything I like more than buying new furniture, it’s rearranging furniture. You’d think that a blind person wouldn’t want anything moved, for fear of falling over it, but I get bored with the same old arrangement, so I move my furniture often, for a fresh outlook on life. That’s why, now that I’ve got the living room done, it’s time to start on the family room. Only this room does not need anything new, just rearranging. That’s almost as good as a make-over. Next, we’ll tackle the garage. Wait a minute. Where did everybody go?

90th Birthday Party

As I stood and chatted with old friends and neighbors at my mother’s wake, it saddened me that there was not the crowd I had anticipated. But she had left her friends and neighbors 2 years ago, when she had to move into assisted living near me. She was over 98, and most of her peers and all of her immediate family, except for me, had preceded her in death. As she put it, she was the last leaf left on the tree. That’s why I was so glad I made every effort to make sure she had the most wonderful 90th birthday party she could imagine. My mother was the event-planner extraordinaire, so it was hard for her to not take over the planning. It was not a surprise, so I let her make the guest list, and I let her plan the refreshments, but I did not let her choose the decorations on the cake or anything else.

There were 2 sheet cakes, as we had over 100 guests, and the church let us use their fellowship hall. One cake was decorated like a Scrabble board, because of her love of the game, complete with Happy Birthday written down and across. The other one was decorated like a piano keyboard, because of her talent as a pianist. As each guest arrived, they were handed a crossword puzzle game, because of Mom’s skill at doing them, in ink, with all the clues being about her. It created a fun way for people to mingle as they asked each other for the answers. One of the surprises was a chocolate fountain, a big hit with the kids. There was a copy of the newspaper from the day of her birth. Her Red Hat Society friends all showed up in their hats and posed with her for a picture. So did her Tri Kappa friends. Kara, along with some special friends, decorated the hall with balloons and flowers, and Steve brought crafts and games and entertained the little kids. Her great grandchildren at that time ranged in age from 2 to 7, and of course, there were precious photo ops. The best surprise of the party was having a local barbershop quartet emerge from the crowd, surround her and sing several songs to her. She was beaming, and so was I. It was a wonderful way to celebrate her life, while she was alive and well enough to enjoy it herself. Even though she didn’t get to plan it, she still loved every minute.

That night, after the grandkids and great grandkids had all gone to a hotel for the night, Mom and I sat by the fire with a glass of wine to bask in the glow of the day. “What did you enjoy the most?” I asked her. “Seeing all my family and friends,” she said, without a hesitation. That Christmas, Kara presented her with an artfully crafted scrapbook of memories from that day.

As I packed up the things from her apartment, after her passing, I was reminded of her love of history, travel, and the English language, but when I found that scrapbook, it was like discovering buried treasure. It is a memoire, in pictures, of the richness of her life