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Just When You Thought Life Couldn't

Toss Another Curve Ball…

Saturday, September 10, 2005

During the first week of August my back went out and kept me hobbling around with a cane for the better part of ten days. We have a family wedding coming up at the end of September and I definitely needed a new suit for the affair. Okay… I needed the suit and the affair was the excuse to bite the bullet and do the dreaded shopping. By Saturday, August 13th, my back was sufficiently recovered for Pat and me to venture over to the Ralph Lauren store in the city. Two new sports jackets, three or four pairs of slacks, five new shirts, new ties, and new shoes later we headed home with the shirts and ties. The rest we could pick up the following weekend after the needed alterations had been made.

Unfortunately on Friday, the 19th, the day before we were planning to pick up the rest of the clothes, a PG&E transformer blew up under the street sending a manhole cover careening a hundred feet away and blowing out the windows and setting the awnings afire on the Ralph Lauren store. Needless to say, the store was closed for several days while they cleaned up the mess.

Danny, my salesperson at Ralph Lauren, called during the following week to let me know that the store had reopened and that my clothes were ready for pickup. Since Pat had to work on Saturday, I asked if it would be okay if we came in on Sunday. He assured me that he would be there.

He wasn't. Robert was able to locate my two sportscoats and two of my three pairs of slacks. But the third pair of slacks, the ones I planned to wear to the wedding, and both pairs of shoes were nowhere to be found. I decided it was pointless to try on what they did have and told Robert I'd return when Danny was back and could locate everything.

The following week, Pat had an absolutely bizarre work schedule going in at 6 a.m. on one day and 9 p.m. the next. The clothes could wait. The following week we were franticly staging our neighbor's house. The clothes could wait some more. Two days after we finished the staging I determined that the severe pain I was now experiencing in my back and chest muscles was due to 21 separate spider bites; I suddenly recalled encountering a spider while hanging curtains at the neighbor's and it must have gotten inside my shirt. The clothes are still waiting to be picked up.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Since when do spiders bite you more than once? Aren't they like bees and wasps: one bite/sting and they've just committed suicide? Yes, one can get multiple bee stings when one encounters a beehive. But the enflamed welts result from enflamed bees… plural. I had seen but one spider.

The cure was a familiar one: grin and bear it. No over-the-counter medication or prescription has any effect on the swelling, discoloration, and severe muscular pain resulting from a spider bite. One must simply await the body's drawn-out process of removing the poison. After two weeks of receding pain, life usually returns to normal. But this was twenty-three (at least) separate bites and when three weeks passed with no improvement, I was finally ready to heed the advice of Pat and Rona and probably half a dozen other folks who urged me to see a doctor.

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I must digress at this point back to early 2000 when I moved my father and stepmother to California from New Jersey. My stepmother had suffered for years with Parkinsons disease and dementia brought on by Alzheimers and we put her in a Napa care facility. My father had survived prostate cancer and at age 74, needed to keep a close eye on his health. Fortunately, he had excellent medical coverage with his retirement from the State of New Jersey and he spent his first two years in California never missing an opportunity to talk me into getting a medical insurance plan for myself.

Finally I looked into medical coverage for myself and, after submitting applications to Kaiser and Blue Cross of California, was turned down by both because I was a smoker. Other health care providers I investigated stated up front that they would not grant coverage to smokers past or present. A tad discriminatory to my way of thinking, but I could at least tell my father that I had tried.

In the fall of 2004 Pat came home to tell me his employer, JCPenney, was now offering medical coverage to domestic partners, same-sex couples, etc. I may be healthy now and I may have never had any major medical problems, but I'm not that far out from turning 60 and we certainly have our share of younger friends who've been taken to the poorhouse by needed medical attention. And the coverage was guaranteed if we could prove we owned a home and/or vehicles in both our names.

We filled out the form and attached the requested pieces of proof and sent it all in to JCPenney Powerline, the company's human resources department. We reshuffled our household financial duties so that Pat could afford the additional drain on his paycheck. The coverage on me was to take effect on January 1, 2005. In March, 2005, the provider, United Healthcare, sent the new medical coverage cards with my name on them which I promptly stored in my billfold.

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So, I now had medical coverage; why not use it? Well, frankly… never having had coverage before, I had no clue how to go about finding a doctor. So, I called the toll-free number on the back of my United Healthcare card, identified myself, and they assisted me in locating a nearby physician who was part of their network.

Next I called Dr. Anderson's office in San Leandro to make an appointment and was surprised to get an opening that very afternoon after having told the receptionist my persistent symptoms from the multiple spider bites. "You are the most interesting patient I've had all day if not in the last few weeks," Dr. Anderson told me after a quick glance at my pock-marked back and chest. "Those aren't spider bites. You have shingles!"

It was a classic case which he described on a scale of one to ten as being a two: pock marks that started in the middle of my back and wrapped around to the center of my chest. I was a little more than three weeks into it and I could expect it to last for several more weeks, if not months. Like the spider bites I thought I had suffered, there was no cure and no medication; we'd simply have to wait for my body to heal itself.

Well, I'd been right all along: a trip to a doctor would serve no useful purpose other than relieving my billfold of money that could be put to better use (like Bounder repairs?). But at least this time it didn't cost me the $500 I blew on an emergency room visit a few years back for another spider bite. This time I got by with a relatively painless twenty dollar co-pay.

Dr. Anderson had me return every two weeks to check on my progress with the shingles and during the visits we talked about other problems with my health that cropped up occasionally. In early October he sent me down the hall to the lab for a blood panel. My next visit was October 20th where I got the results: I'm in great shape for my age and have no indicators present that would point to problems in the future.

The bad news had come in a phone call from his secretary a few days before: United Healthcare had turned down my coverage and Dr. Anderson, other than my twenty dollar co-pays, hadn't been compensated. I made a frantic call to United and was told that JCPenney Powerline had cancelled my coverage on the same day they had initiated it!

I called Pat at work and relayed the problem. Had he noticed the additional withholding for my coverage from his paycheck? No, he had direct deposit and never bothered to look at the stubs. When he got home that night he managed to locate a recent stub on his dresser and a cursory look indicated the additional $200+/month had not been deducted for the entire year.

Powerline told him over the phone that they had never received our documents which proved we were in a domestic partnership and consequently had cancelled my coverage two hours after it had been activated on January 1, 2005! So why had we been sent the cards with my name embossed on them in March? They had no idea. Why hadn't they contacted us about the problem? They swore they had. We had received no such notification.

With only two and a half months left in the year, they weren't willing to activate my coverage until January 2006 and in the interim we'd have to resubmit the needed paperwork and write two checks to Dr. Anderson and the blood lab totaling $612. Pat and I concluded it was a cheap lesson. What if I had gone into the hospital for major surgery and then discovered this mess?

Powerline assured us they would send out another application for coverage immediately and we should receive it within seven to ten days. Two weeks, then three weeks passed with no letter from Powerline. Pat called them again under orders from me to document the call in its entirety: date, time, and name of person he talked to. They swore they sent the application; would we like them to send it again? Yes!

A week later it arrived and I set about scanning and printing out the needed documentation. We took all of the assembled evidence to the same notary up the street who had notarized the original application the year before. The next morning I took a 9 x 12 envelope containing the application and documents to the post office and sent it off to Powerline as registered/certified mail that required a signature and a returned receipt.

As luck would have it, the envelope was mailed on a Tuesday and the post office attempted to deliver it to Powerline in Chicago on Saturday… when no one was there to receive it. According to the post office's tracking website, it would be returned to me if someone from Powerline didn't come down to the local post office to pick it up. I was ready to scream!

As it turned out, the post office did attempt to deliver it again on Monday and I did get a receipt back stamped with the name Jeff Stanley in the signature box. Pat's call to Powerline that week confirmed that they had, indeed, received the paperwork and indicated that everything appeared to be in order.

Starting in January, we'll start crossing our T's and dotting our I's to ensure my coverage is in effect.