On Being a Blessing

There was an invisible pall hanging over the banquet hall.

An annual feel-good celebration of a cherished cause, the room was filled with friends and supporters of the San Francisco Free Clinic. The Clinic offers medical care for the uninsured; the pall had to do with the new President-Elect’s pledge to increase the ranks of those uninsured by unknown millions by immediately repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act.

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For 23 years, SFFC supporters have filled the same banquet hall. The annual event, initiated by the late San Francisco investor/philanthropist Warren Hellman and his wife Chris, generates the entire budget for SFFC’s operation. Not coincidentally, the San Francisco Free Clinic was founded 23 years ago by the Hellmans’ daughter and son-in-law, Tricia and Richard Gibbs, two young physicians who decided to throw over the prospects of their lucrative medical practices in favor of starting a free clinic for the growing ranks of uninsured in need of quality medical care.

(Full proud disclosure, this writer and her husband have been supporters of the Free Clinic since its opening day.)

A highlight of the annual event has always been brief closing remarks from the host, and after Hellman’s death, this task fell to the Drs. Gibbs. This year, Richard Gibbs said a few words and then turned the podium over to his wife.piggy-bank-w-stethoscope

“One thing I have now learned,” she said, “is never to write a speech the day before an election.” She went on to explain how the Free Clinic has made incremental progress in its mission every year since its founding, and she had prepared remarks about that narrative with the expectation that this would continue. With the election of Donald Trump, though, comes the realization that the story of ongoing progress – Clinic staff not only provide care, they regularly guide clients into finding affordable insurance – will encounter a speedbump. Acknowledging that many in the room probably voted for Mr. Trump, and that politics would be inappropriate to the event, Gibbs said she still had wanted to find a way her remarks could be relative and upbeat.

So she turned to the story of Abraham. Gibbs is a serious student of the Torah, and would not have had to spend extra time on recalling that story. She noted that Abraham’s narrative was not incrementally always upward, but had its own speedbumps.be-a-blessing

“God told Abraham to be a blessing,” she said. “And I realize that’s what we can do. You are all a blessing to (the Free Clinic.) We can all go out and be a blessing.”

For election week in California, it was a reassuring thought.

 

Illness, Wellness and Procrastination

gumby & stethoscopeYou may have had an experience like this: some nagging health issue not quite bad enough to take the time to tackle. Or with a solution that seems too painful, too bothersome… so you let the issue keep on nagging, usually getting worse.

For me, it was a minor foot issue – okay, an inelegant ingrown toenail. My good pedicurist, alternating with a private podiatrist (my healthcare provider does not provider for regular foot care,) kept the darned thing at bay for the past four or five years. It was a pain in the foot, but on the scale of one to ten it peaked to eight only rarely. Almost a year ago, my podiatrist reached the limit of his patience.

“Look,” he said (while I tried not to look,) “I’ve nursed this thing along for months, maybe years longer than need be. Go for the surgery.” He drew a few lines to show where a slice of toenail would be cut off. “Kaiser has some excellent podiatrists. It’s done with local anesthesia and only takes a few minutes. Three or four weeks of soaking etc, keeping it clean, you’ll be fine.”

Those were the words he spoke. What I heard was: Local anesthesia! Sticking needles in between my toes! Three or four weeks with one foot in a pan? A month without walking along the admittedly dirty park trails? It took me another six months to screw up my courage. Months of anticipated agonies one could hardly wrap the mind around, months of despair over a lengthy recuperation…

Toe 8.7.15Finally I took a deep breath and scheduled the surgery. Instead of (or before; I still wasn’t looking) the shot in the toe there was a freezing action the doctor said would “feel like ice pouring over the area” which was, in fact, breathtakingly painful for about 15 seconds. And that was it. A few minutes later I was handed a sheet of instructions for “after a nail procedure,” fitted out with a Velcro’d boot, and sent off to drive home. It was all I could do to remain pitiful enough for a few hours’ sympathy. The next day, the fancy bandage came off. Recovery boiled down to Band-Aids and a little pother of three-times-a-day soaking for 5 minutes. Probably the most difficult part of this long-feared episode was being confined to home for two days, soaking, elevating (not critical, but perhaps helpful) and feeling pitiful. By the end of the second day I was going stir crazy. So I suited up in socks and Birkenstocks and went to a jazz service.

There I met an old friend who left San Francisco several years ago. “I guess you hadn’t heard about Bob’s surgery,” she said, when I asked how long they’d been in town. “They found a tumor on his kidney. He was at the VA, and they took out one kidney, his urethra, a lot of other stuff. They say he’s fine now. We got an apartment here so he could recuperate.” About that time her recovering husband walked up for a hug.

“Well,” I said, “I was going to complain about my toenail.”

 

 

Hobby Lobby, 1 – Women, 0

(This first appeared on Huffington Post)

It is hard not to despair.

A woman entering a clinic for personal healthcare now must wade through potential hordes of obnoxious strangers getting in her face with stuff – often angry stuff, often misinformed and always unrequested. Where is the right to privacy, to lead one’s own life without the interference of obnoxious strangers?

And now, a woman working for Hobby Lobby, or for that matter any other corporation headed by a religious fanatic who believes his employees must submit to his beliefs, can be denied healthcare coverage for the most basic, most personal reasons: the need to control her own body, to make her own reproductive choices and family decisions.

Following the Supreme Court these days is hazardous to one’s health.

But let’s hear it for Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ginsburg read the riot act to the five men – surprise, surprise, all of them were men – who dealt this latest blow to the women of America.

Saying that religious freedom demands “accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith,” Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, is likely to wreak havoc. The havoc is only beginning. And only a small part of it will be the suffering of Hobby Lobby employees. No contraceptive coverage, no abortion coverage, no options, and – because we are not talking about rich people here – no justice.

One wonders. Are mandatory burqas next? Stranger things have happened than corporate CEOs whose religious sensibilities are offended by women’s uncovered heads. There are serious concerns that the ruling could lead to other corporations denying coverage for things that bother other religious groups – blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christians Scientists), psychiatric treatment (Scientologists) for example.

Freedom of religion? Bah, humbug, Ginsburg says in so many words. “(Y)our right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.” She might more properly have said, “where the woman’s uterus begins;” because indeed the religion-guarding gentlemen are swinging directly at women’s guts.

Call it what you will – religious freedom, protecting the unborn, freedom of expression, social conservatism – the denial of women’s rights will always, eventually run up against the voices of women who will not be denied.

Thanks, Justice Ginsburg

If Obamacare goes, women lose

Lots of us were disappointed with the healthcare bill: I wanted single payer (but never held my breath about that,) the “death panel” fiasco cost us a critical piece of coverage… but here we are. At least we got a bill.

And “Obamacare” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, has been a boon to women. It’ll be even more so, if the Supreme Court doesn’t send us back to square one. Jessica Arons outlines just a few of the ways the act has benefited women in a recent article for the Center for American Progress.

“Thanks to Obamacare,” Arons writes, “more than 45 million women have already taken advantage of recommended preventive services, including mammograms, pap smears, prenatal care, well-baby care, and well-child care with no cost sharing such as co-pays and deductibles. Starting this August, millions more will be able to obtain contraception,
annual well-woman care (a visit with a gynecologist), screening for gestational diabetes, breastfeeding counseling and supplies, and screening for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and the Human papillomavirus—again at no extra cost.”

Add to these the millions of women now (or soon to be)  avoiding discrimination over things like pre-existing conditions, including the condition of having been born female.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t strike it down, Republicans swear they’ll do it. The war on women is no illusion.

The curious world of cyberspace

Disappearing from cyberspace is a little like being a tree that falls in the forest. A very small tree. Having disappeared from cyberspace myself for a couple of weeks, I am comforted by the fact that the forest is very large.

It’s not that this space disappeared, just that Boomers and Beyond disappeared. Boomers and Beyond is a blog primarily about issues critical to over-50 generations, and it came to pass on  True/Slant.com a couple of years ago. It dealt with health care and fitness and housing choices and brain exercises and driving safety, and often diverted into rants about gay rights and abortion rights and gun control and other miscellany — because the True/Slant folks were a free-wheeling bunch and why should anybody quit worrying about rights and justice when they turn 50? All those profound words are archived in this nifty blog (this WordPress one right here) created by incredible friend-of-B&B-&-this space Mary Trigiani, so that if anyone stumbles into the forest and wants to study a small bush those twigs — OK, enough with the metaphor — are there to be read.

True/Slant didn’t actually disappear; it got bought by Forbes, and is gradually reappearing (as a New And Improved Forbes blogsite) there. Boomers & Beyond is reportedly going to reappear thereon, as soon as a contract appears. In the interim, it is just sitting there inert, and after several watchful readers noticed its inertia (posting anything new isn’t an option at True/Slant any more) I decided to venture once more into cyberspace.

It’s pleasant to meet you here. I hope we’ll meet again soon.

Facing Up to Dental Terrors

The only thing worse than toothache/jaw pain, to be cruelly specific, is toothache/jaw pain without insurance. Most of us are without such insurance. It has not even been on the radar of health reform advocates, which is just as well — if you add dental terrorism to abortion and public options we won’t see reform for another few decades.

Nevertheless, tooth reform, euphemistically referred to as full mouth restoration in some circles, is ahead for increasing numbers of Americans sooner or later. It comes down roughly to a choice between fixing the mouth or buying a yacht, but if your jaw aches, you forgo the yacht.

New York Times health writer Jane Brody traced the new path of dental repair journeys in a thoughtful article yesterday, explaining her own costly route from tooth decay to bridges to implants, and throwing out an estimate of approximately $3,500 to $4,000 per tooth for the now-preferred latter. Multiply this by at least three or four times if you have other issues, which most of us do once things start going south in the mouth, needing attention. That would be gum problems, repair to surrounding teeth or necessary attention to bone.

I write with authority. Some years ago, facing all of the above, I visited an assortment of dentists with an assortment of solutions that frequently had me in tears when contemplating the time, details (one would have had screws in my jawbone which I would tighten every few days for months as it rebuilt itself) and costs. Like Brody, I grew up before the days of fluoridated water and have had more repair work since childhood than the Bay Bridge. It was a mess in there.

Finally my husband, whose best wives have been born in 1933 but with bad teeth, said, “Just do it all. Don’t be going patch-patch-patch; do it all.” I proceeded to choose the most sympathetic and understandable (most of them were, except for the screws-in-the-jaw guy) dental professionals, assembled a team and went to work. Or rather, I scrinched my eyes shut while they went to work. Some 18 months and $40,000 later we were free at last.

(Out of this experience, during which I was doing a great deal of entertaining just to keep us happy and sane, came one of my finer unpublished books, Cooking for the Dentally Impaired: Recipes and Menu Suggestions for the Impaired and Unimpaired in Difficult Times. I think it’s a book whose time has come; my agent disagrees.)

Brody’s article is a must-read for anyone stewing over this issue. The following are abbreviated tips for anyone with teeth and plans to keep them:

1 – Consider early-decision. The sooner things like gum surgery, crowns, implants-v-bridges or bone issues are dealt with, the likelier all can be made well and kept that way.

2 – Get second opinions. You may even choose the screw-in-the-jaw route, but there are many different procedures and it is good to find one suited to your temperament and bank account.

3 – Ask questions. I asked so many that I was fired by one team; a polite letter said they did not believe they should take my case. It’s just as well. Those I wound up with answered my questions and seemed happy to do so.

4 – Ask for references. Brody suggests this, and I agree. Because I already knew several people who had been patients of the dentists with whom I eventually invested all that time and money, talking with them about their experiences helped keep me from any surprises.

5 – Talk finances. Several friends of mine have had major dental expenses that were far outside their budget, but worked out payment schedules with their dentists so that necessary work could be done sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile: floss.

Doctors oppose abortion cuts in health bill

The San Francisco Medical Society has come out in opposition to removal of abortion coverage in the health reform bill, pointing out the potential danger to women’s lives if they are denied access to such care. Charles Wibbelsman, MD, President of SFMS, writes in today’s San Francisco Chronicle that the board of directors will urge congressional representatives to find a compromise.

It is a shame that such a complex issue as health care reform has been hijacked in the form of the Stupak amendment, which would ban all public funding for abortion (“Amendment to House bill reignites abortion debate,” Nov. 10).

Experience has shown that denying coverage of abortion does not stop or even curtail it, but rather shifts the costs elsewhere, and threatens to delay a woman in seeking and obtaining this medical procedure, thus potentially endangering her.

The San Francisco Medical Society’s board of directors has voted to urge our elected officials, particularly Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, to find a compromise that will not ban such funding and keep women with unwanted pregnancies safe.

Women’s lives should not be held hostage to politics.

At last, a ray of sanity from the medical community. I, for one, am proud of SFMS for standing up for the uncounted thousands of women, most of them poor and disadvantaged, who will suffer harm from denial of access to care should the conservatives and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops win the day on this matter.

via Stupak amendment hijacks health care reform.