I apologize for not posting in so long, but I’ve been going through a rough patch. I ask for your patience while I indulge myself by writing such a long story here. But there are many people I want inform about my situation and to apologize for being so irresponsible. I also feel a compelling need to tell my story to anyone who’ll listen.
For most of my life, I’ve neglected my health, purposefully avoiding doctors, and I’ve reached an age where it’s caught up with me. For the past couple of years, I haven’t really been able to put in more than an hour or two of productive work at a stretch, so my businesses have really suffered. This, in turn, has meant that my financial situation deteriorated from what I whimsically called being “independently indigent” to “borderline destitute”. I’d been rationalizing a lot of my problems by blaming some complications in obtaining a clear title to the family home in south Minneapolis, which I technically inherited in 2007 and needed to secure a loan. I was emotionally considering the house as my financial backstop and, having recently reached the qualifying age, I intended to get a reverse mortgage to pay off my bills, invest in my businesses, start eating decent food again, and get myself back on track financially, physically, and yes, emotionally. Being persistently poor wreaks havoc on the self-esteem.
There’s also a small backstory here that’s the impetus for my writing this. In 2016, I screwed up sending my Christmas cards – which is to say, I never sent them. I signed, stamped and addressed them, put them in a small bag and put it in the trunk of my car along with some packages that had to go to the Post Office. Well, once in the Post Office parking lot I got so flummoxed in getting the boxes securely in my arms that I forgot the bag of cards. That is, until I discovered them again around Valentine’s Day. It was obviously too late to do anything about it, and there’s really no card-worthy holiday for friends and extended relatives that would allow me to make a belated amends. So, this year I was determined to get them out early and include a note of apology in each one. Like so many of my fellow procrastinators love to say, I had a plan!
In early 2017, I started to actively pursue the reverse mortgage. That process turned into a nightmare of continuous stumbling blocks that took nearly a year to complete. While some of them were my fault, many felt like the universe hated me. For example, one of the things the bank required was a valid driver’s license. Unfortunately, my driver’s license had just expired and there was a problem with getting it renewed. You see, sometime around the fall of 2016 I developed a cataract in my left eye and I didn’t think I could pass the eye exam. Further complicating matters was that another thing the bank required was my Social Security card. Well, I hadn’t seen my Social Security card since 1969, so I started the process of requesting a new one. It turned out that Social Security also required a valid ID like a driver’s license. So it became a matter of some priority to get my vision issue resolved.
Since my failing vision was also giving me headaches at the computer, making it nearly impossible to get any substantial amount of work done as well, I capitualted to the idea of having cataract surgery. Thanks to Obamacare, this was my first foray into using medical insurance. I was fortunate to find an eye clinic “in network” just a stone’s throw from my house, even though I wasn’t driving myself. The initial consultations went pretty much as I’d expected, except that my surgeon required a pre-surgical physical exam. Being very overweight for most of my life, I hadn’t needed to see a doctor for decades because I was all too aware of the state of my health. However, I’d had to see a doctor in 2009 following a bad fall off my back steps. I somehow managed to injure my left foot on the way down and my left hand when I hit the ground and I had to see a doctor about the pain and numbness. Given my not having seen a physician for almost twenty years, the doctor gave me a basic physical exam which included a blood pressure test and a diabetes test. So, fast-forward to 2017 again, I already knew the precarious state of my health, except that my new “primary physician” immediately put me on meds for high blood pressure, which was another slap in the face on my path toward accepting the fact that I really wasn’t 35 years old any more and I needed to finally get serious about my health.
Thus, now fully ensconced in the arms of modern medicine, two days later in early October I had my cataract surgery. I was very anxious about the surgery because I’d never had anything even approaching an invasive medical procedure, and my doctor had heavily implied that the surgery might well require general anesthesia. They went so far as to require me to fast for 12 hours ahead of time, so I knew they were serious about it. Given my health, I had long known that general anesthesia presented some risks to my heart so it seemed like a gigantic leap of faith to me to have any kind of surgery. But I knew I really had no choice, so I check into the hospital on schedule at 6:30 AM and they start to prep me by giving me a shot, a pill, a series of drops in my eye, and an IV in my right hand. None of the meds had any significant effect that I could discern, but I chalk that up to being so nervous. It seemed like no time at all before they wheeled me into the operating room, did the deed in a couple of minutes, and wheeled me back to recovery. My memory of the process are fuzzy, but I do remember going through the operation and later walking out of the hospital with Donna to her car. I wore the eye patch overnight, but by the next morning it was off and I was amazed at the result. After a lifetime of being nearsighted, my left eye saw everything from about five feet on out in sharp, clear detail. By the same token, it was suddenly also very apparent that my right eye had the beginnings of a cataract and so I’d be going through this ordeal again someday soon. Dammit!
With my vision improved, I went through the drudgery of getting my driver’s license renewed, which included having to take the “written” test (which was actually done on a balky touch-screen computer at the DMV) and an eye test which, thanks to studying the bleeping manual for two days, I passed well enough to have the eyeglasses requirement removed from my license. This, in turn, cleared my way to getting a new Social Security card. So I was feeling optimistic about life when the bank threw one last hurdle at me. The appraisal for the loan turned up several problems with the condition of my house. For reasons passing understanding, they required me to install two new CO2/Smoke detectors outside the bedrooms in my upstairs hallway despite the fact that there was one already installed in reasonable proximity. I handled that chore in stride, but the big job was repairing (essentially replacing) a small exterior balcony located above my back door. Arranging the financing and hiring someone to do the work was a chore, and it took four weeks, but I got it done. Thus, finally, at 5PM on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the Notary Public came to my house with a ream of papers for me to sign and initial in about 600 different places. At long last, I would finally be getting my life back to something resempling normality. No more borrowing thousands of dollars from my sister, no more juggling bills, no more dodging nagging phone calls from creditors, and no more living from week-to-week on the leftovers from the meals my sister Donna made for me every blessed Sunday when I’d come to visit. It felt like an enormous weight had been lifted from my brain.
In fact, it was the very next Sunday when my “plan” completely exploded. I was over at Donna’s house that afternoon, as usual. Sunday visits were a tradition we’d started after our mother died in 2007. I’d go over to her house in Falcon Heights on Sunday to watch TV with Donna and her husband Jim. Sadly, Jim died in November 2015, but we’ve maintained this tradition happily. We were watching TV in the den as usual. I was enjoying myself and relaxing, but I started to feel some pressure in my chest. After a while, the pressure went from mild discomfort to being downright painful. I got up out of the La-Z Boy I had been sitting in, and stretched out on the couch in Donna’s living room to see if I had just sat in a bad position for too long. I waited for several minutes, but the pain persisted, so I told Donna about the pain and that I thought I needed to go to the doctor – like now! She’d had a heart attack herself about ten years ago, so she knew which closeby hospital in St. Paul had the best cardiac care – Regions. Following a hair-raising ten-minute drive, she dropped me off at the entrance to Regions’ Emergency Room and left to park the car. So I stroll into the Emergency Room and tell the admitting nurse about my symptoms. She directs me to a young male nurse who proceeds to interview me at length about my health history and all sorts of things that seemed to take forever, leaving me increasingly frustrated that I wasn’t being seen immediately by a doctor. And then… Well, the next thing I remember is waking up the following Tuesday afternoon lying in a hospital bed with a breathing tube down my throat, IVs in both arms, and surrounded by medical staff and my sister. I’d no recollection of the horrendous battery of tests and ominous diagnosis, nor the ordeal of going into surgery knowing I was in serious trouble.
The next few days were an endless series of blood pressure tests, blood sugar tests, and reciting my name and date of birth every couple of hours when they’d administer more meds. Although my brain was still foggy from the anesthesia, I was somehow able to summon that information immediately on request. I surprised the nurses every time they needed to prick my finger for the blood sugar tests because I never hesitated to offer my hand. They can get painful with repetition, but the reason I never minded them was simple enough: God knows why, but both my hands and feet were extremely numb following the surgery and didn’t feel a thing. As I expected from years of television shows, they had me up and walking by Thursday. What did come as a surprise was that nobody had put any restrictions on the meals I could order from the hospital kitchen. The menu included all sorts of fatty heart-hazards. I was generally cautious in my selections, but I did indulge myself a couple of times by ordering a flatbread pizza for dinner, even though my appetite was essentially nil. I stayed in the hospital until the following Saturday when I was transferred to a Temporary Care Facility where they gave me more extensive physical therapy for a couple of hours every morning along with some additional doctor visits. I spent a week there, and then spent another week at Donna’s. So it wasn’t until December 23rd, the Saturday before Christmas, that I was finally back home on my own, suddenly facing the prospect of closing out another year when I had a box of Christmas cards unsent. So much for my “plan”.
So, here I am approaching my dotage with resignation. I’m getting Social Security. I’m about 9 months from Medicare. And I’ve even joined AARP! I’ve finally been shuttled into the realm of senior health care, including bi-weekly doctor appointments and a daily regimen of a dozen different pills that are apparently vital to my continued survival, even though only one of them is a narcotic, and it doesn’t even begin to give me even the slightest buzz. To add insult to injury, my scar is crooked. The good news is that I’m feeling pretty good, my endurance is almost normal (for me), and I’ve got a pair of reading glasses that lets me work at the computer again without getting a headache. Huzzah!
Yeah, good-bye 2017. You never will be missed – at least by me.