Why do you need an MBA to decipher medical bills in the USA?

Hospitals bills and insurance EOBs in the USA are the equivalent of going to prison, surviving unharmed while there, getting released and being mugged and stabbed by ex-cons two months later.

I am always happy to get out of the hospital, but the real pain doesn’t come until a couple of months later when my wife and I open the mailbox.

The complexity and inaccuracy of medical bills bothers me, deeply bothers me, and makes me think we don’t live in what some consider to be the greatest country in the world.

undergear.com sells these for 9.97. BTW, that's me modeling them. I'm looking cut.

Either we have citizens who flunked basic math who are programming the billing systems, or we have creative geniuses inventing evil ways to delay and screw up payments so people just pay the bills because they don’t have the skills to figure them out.

So, we are either incompetent or immoral in this country when it comes to medical billing practices.

Example: Two months ago, we received a bill for my last hospital stay. We owed over $1,500 and the EOB matched up. Then for some unknown reason the hospital went back to the insurance company for seconds. The claim was readjusted. According to the EOB, our out of pocket is around $600 now and not $1,500.But the hospital is asking us for more money above the original $1,500.

What do you think the chances are we will get the refund we’re owed?

About the same as me never having to go back to the hospital again – unless I run in front of a bus wearing a suit made of EOBs and hospital bills (Our medical files are thick. I could make two or three suits if I knew how to sew paper).

Now starts the game we play to straighten it out. Well, my wife plays it. She has an MBA and works with numbers. It started with emailing 12 documents to the hospital, each with my wife’s handwritten notes, making them look like my junior high English papers.

If we ever get accurate and ethical medical billing in this country, I may start to believe we’re as good as we think we are. Until then, I’m hiding my Stars & Stripes lounge pants in my dresser drawer.

Anchors disguised as people

Have you ever worked with a person who has nothing to contribute to a situation or project? The type who lives to criticize work and never offers any constructive feedback? Who sits in meetings quietly and only speaks up to point out why action is a bad thing, why change brings risk, and why sitting on your ass doing nothing is always the best course of action?

People who “don’t” not “do”?

I hate these people.

I work with a lot of good people. And yet, I work with a few who the universe dropped on the planet with the sole purpose to point out flaws and imperfections, or  why something won’t work or isn’t right or who knows what. I like to call them “anchors” because they keep projects from moving forward by creating obstacles to dodge and hurdles to jump.

There's one of them now, hanging out, making life difficult. Creative Commons: Michael Wilson

I see this quality in many of our current politicians and the people who follow them.

They have no plans of their own and they hate everyone else’s plan.

Don’t give Americans the right to purchase healthcare, they say.

Then what should we do instead to solve the challenge of affordable healthcare for all?

Well anything but that plan?

Okay, what about this plan?

Well, not that plan either.

What’s your plan?

[silence]

So, you’re just going to say “no” to anything we come up with?

[silence]

Nothing is ever right with these people. It’s all wrong.

My daughter was like this when she was two-years old. I would build a tower with her blocks and she would come along and take a swipe at it like Godzilla walking the streets of Tokyo and down it would go. She’d laugh and it was quite a game we played. But then she grew up and understood it wasn’t so cool to destroy something someone took the time to build, especially if she was the builder.

Here’s my remodeling math: It took me a day to demolish my bathroom to the studs, and six months to rebuild it. So, anything politicians or others want to blow up, like Social Security, takes a long time to rebuild. It’s easy to remodel when you have some structure in place. From scratch is hard and takes a long time.

If we really want to “fix” this country, we have to stop listening to the people who tell us why we can’t do something before it has ever been tried, and who have no original ideas of their own. It doesn’t matter what party they’re from – they live in both.

If we don’t cover our ears to these Eeyores with half-empty glasses, we’re going to find ourselves peeing in a bucket asking when the bathroom is going to be finished while these knuckleheads debate the color of the tile.

Or, to borrow from Facebook: Done is better than perfect.

Bye bye, Tooth. Hello Happiness – I think I’m gonna cry

It’s gone. Lost forever. Pulled out by an oral surgeon who went to medical school to learn how to do it without a hammer and chisel, or string and doorknob. Or black magic. Thank the universe for good, old-fashioned science.

This is the same type of x-ray they took for my tooth extraction. Scary looking. It reminds me of the alien Predator. Creative commons.

It wasn’t as bad I thought it would be. I tapered off the blood thinner to avoid a small gusher when he pulled it, but it wasn’t as bad as the root canals I’ve had, which last a couple of hours.

Five minutes of tugging on it while I was loaded up on a full dose of Xanax and listening to Mumford & Sons’ “The Cave” and life was good again with a piece of gauze to bite down on for an hour.

I was so happy when it was over I think the dentist thought me to be a wee bit mad, as in “Mad Hatter” mad.

It’s just that the stress of the decision to get it removed while stabbing myself with generic Lovenox twice a day worked me over in the head for a few weeks. I had visions of bad things happening, something I’m sure a mere dentist couldn’t understand.

And when I lived, I was so damn happy, I must have confused him by acting like a lottery winner who was happy to lose a tooth because he still had a million bucks in the bank.

I’ve alive. How do you like those apples?

Pulling my big fat tooth, which cracked thanks to the stressors of life causing me to grind my teeth, didn’t kill me – yet. I survived another medical procedure, one of hundreds, which I’m experiencing like restaurants on a “Best of” list.

The dental assistant told me it would take 45 minutes, which meant from the time I got in the chair and received the many Novocaine shots, including one into my infected gum that brought tears to my eyes.

“That area was a little sensitive, huh?” the dentist said, which makes me think it would be hard to lie to dentist, as they’re probably good at reading minute changes in facial expressions, and could have second careers working for the CIA ferreting out lying informants, thus bringing down the need to waterboard every enemy in Iraq.

So, I drove home, carefully, but happy I didn’t transform into a Bellagio Fountain of blood and that it didn’t take 60 minutes of chipping away and drilling to dig the tooth out. Pull, pull, pull – it’s out, go home. Yay.

But I do miss my tooth because, slowly, life is chipping away at me one piece at a time, most of which I cannot see, but feel.

But I can see the bloody socket where the tooth was and work at it with my tongue.  I have a feeling of loss, along with memories of drinking 8 16-oz bottles of Coca-Cola a day when I was younger. And letting the sticky soda work its magic on my teeth for hours at a time.

It all catches up to us at some point down the road, they say. And they would be right, whoever they are, #&$#@*s who want to be right all the time. Well, they are.

The two Hells of cystic fibrosis

There are two Hells of having cystic fibrosis.

There’s the first one, which includes all of the torture that comes from having the disease – the coughing up of blood, collapsed lungs, hospitalizations, sinuses filled with polyps, breathing treatments, and anything else directly related to the disease. It’s a long list and longer than I want to capture here.

And then there is a second hell, which is one created from the pain and suffering from ailments caused by being in the churn of the medical system and/or medical devices. Or, indirectly caused by CF. For example: Blood clots. That’s a good one. Cystic fibrosis didn’t cause my newest clot, a medical device I needed to fight CF did. Welcome to Hell 2.0.

Fox thought these shots were called "Love a Fox" and stole them from me. Had to break it to him that they were generic "Lovenox." Silly Fox.

And what about the gut buster known as C-diff? It’s a beauty caused by taking too many antibiotics and/or being in the hospital.  How many times have I come home from the hospital feeling all shiny and new only to have C-Diff spoil my party? Still in Hell 2.0.

There are other side effects of being caught up in the medical grinder. Burned kidneys from the tobra, different strains of bacteria, nurses that slide into bed with you at night while you’re sleeping.  You name it, anything goes in Hell 2.0.

And what about medical bills? Don’t they deserve a hell of their own? Nothing like phone calls to insurance companies and hospital billing departments. Ah, the empathy and understanding of a customer service rep when a claim has been miscoded or rejected. Collection agencies? Devil’s spawn. This is Hell 3.0.

We’re fighting on more than one front here. How many Hells do I have so far?

I have one more. There’s the hell when my wife comes in and lets me know she has an early meeting in two weeks and asks if I can bring our daughter to camp.

Then the asterisk leaves her gentle mouth – “if you’re around.” Not as in “if you’re alive” but rather “if you’re not in the hospital with a blood thinner enema running 24/7.” Ouch, that hurts. Planning two weeks ahead can be impossible in . . . Hell 4.0.

That’s it. End of rant. No fancy ending. Just the simple feeling I’ll never be able to communicate the complexity of this disease to anyone, even my close friends. But I’m grateful there are people out there who get it and donate their time and money to the fight. They’ll be going to nice cushy cloud palaces in the sky when they pass. Me? I’ll be frying in Real Hell where I have to do three treatments a day and stick blood thinner shots in my stomach and . . . hold it. Bloody hell, that sounds like what I have to do now. NO, I’m already there. Where’s the elevator outta this place?

[p.s. I do know things can always be worse. I’m just venting some steam, letting it out. It’s all good. This too shall pass.]

Tasty dishes and my day as a racehorse

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I need two turkey thermometers, please. Send to my attention at 666 Hospital Hell Dr. Hades, CA 90000.

Oh, and I need someone to jab one in each of my kidneys, if you don’t mind. I don’t. I need to see if the hospital has completely cooked them or not. They’re not sure.

And nothing makes for better eats than kidney, mashed potatoes and gravy. Yum. It’s a classic dish in hell, eating your own kidneys.

When I was shy of 216 pounds Thursday night, which meant a weight gain of over 5 pounds in one day, I should have known something was up. But when I went out for my late night joy ride of the nurse’s station, or how to walk in circles and like it, I knew I was hosed. I couldn’t make it to the end of the hallway without being short of breath.

I had transformed into the Puffy Water Boy, a cartoon character that never made it big because he fought crime and fires by peeing on both, making him a bad role model and one parents hated when they had to clean up after their kids.

I was full of water. My feet, my ankles, my calves, my chest. Is my creatinine high, Doctor? Oops, they forget to measure this week. Patient oversight – I forgot to tell them what to do.

Time for emergency measures. Who has a spigot? Stick it in my butt cheek and let’s flood the hospital gardens. We must be green at all times and I am a valuable source of H2O. Love me, hold me, tap me.

I spent Friday peeing in a measuring bottle. And pee I did. Almost 7 liters, or approximately 14 of the small Arrowhead bottles. How do I know this? Because the doctors on Saturday couldn’t hold back their admiration of my day as a racehorse. I promised to fill the trash can for them as my next trick. Get your tickets now. Standing room only. Puffy Water Boy promises to put on the urinary extravaganza of a lifetime.

They scanned my kidneys today, and I’m supposed to go home tomorrow. But the hospital, she’s crying and doesn’t want me to leave. And she’s doing everything to keep me here. Who knows what the latest test will reveal? So, I’ll believe it when I’m in my car and driving home. I wouldn’t be surprised if a piece of parking garage concrete breaks off and crushes me to death.

Would I be upset if it did? Not really. Make it quick, please. I don’t want to spend another day of my life in this place.

Power Port Rangers Unite!

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I am upset with the Women of CF who have ports. Yes, yes I am. After reading their wonderful blogs over the past year and their posts about ports and how fantastic they are and all of that, I had mine installed yesterday.

And I expected the same experience. There is only one problem. I am not a woman. I am a big cry baby. Ladies, couldn’t you have just pretended it was hard? Please, for those of us in the weaker sex?

F**k me, this thing hurts.

It feels like they shoved a big jagged piece of amethyst under my chest. It burns. It itches. It aches. And when we infuse, it feels like it’s spraying fire into my chest.

I have the nervous system of a Labrador. I feel everything. Ouch, boo boo to my chest. Someone give me a garden trowel to dig it out.

The doctor’s reaction to why it hurts when it infuses: “Odd.”

“My picture is next to that word in the medical dictionary,” I told him. He didn’t argue with me.

So, to the Women of CF, respect. You are tough. I never hear you complain. And it will be all I can do not to write a post a day on how much this piece of medical plastic hurts and bothers me.

If there is a plus of my new Power Port, it has full Bluetooth capabilities and I can stream music directly into my body without anyone else hearing. And it has a purple light that glows under my skin like ET. I use it as a nightlight.

But why can’t I beam back to the Enterprise? Scotty? Are you there? Major Tom?

When I went to have this piece of shit inserted, I was calm. Then one of the young doctors told me what they were about to do. It sounded like they were going to bury a large spider in my chest. And I had a panic attack. One shot. No good. Two shots. Nothing. Three shots. No buzz. Shot four. Okay, maybe the spider won’t eat me from the inside today.

When they wheeled me out of recovery, I passed a doctor and she gave me a big, long grin, like she knew me. I half smiled back, feeling uncomfortable from her huge smile. It’s hard to describe it – kind of like she was in on the joke, but I wasn’t.

Then it hit me: she must have been the doctor who operated on me. And I remember her telling me to shut up and not move. And I remember rambling and babbling. I wonder what I said? Whatever it was, she couldn’t help the huge grin, which is better than me getting a slap to the face.

When a nurse comes in my cell, I raise my left fist to the port, salute with the right hand, and say “Power Port Rangers unite.” Now you know why they draw straws each shift and the nurse with the short one gets stuck with me.

Power Port Ranger Zero out.

Prisoner Zero? No, Puppet Zero

Hospitals are like ships in the middle of the ocean turning in circles, unable to choose a direction. This way, doctor. No that way, doctor. Read the map, doctor. I did, doctor. You read it incorrectly, doctor. Can we get a consensus here? Who is Captain today?

Port, starboard, all engines stop. We are dead in the water.

The decision was made to start IV heparin. And when did they start it? 11:30 at night. Brilliant. That is the best hour because there are so many doctors around to help should something go wrong. And thanks to the spirit of the hospital, nothing did. She showed me some mercy.

I did my night of heparin and woke to discover we had changed course. No to heparin. Yes, to letting the clots go away on their own, which means no Lovenox shots. Another win.

I feel like I am improving but I have had a small relapse tonight. A slight back slide. I hope tomorrow is better.

Work is tough. I went on short-term disability today. But I have so much work, I am working in the background. This flu hit at the end of a major project and I made some mistakes. It was hard to get stuff done last week face down. Any time at work now is bonus time. I am going to go as long as I can, but I know everything comes to an end. It is more difficult by the day to keep it up.

My wife and daughter surprised me with a visit this afternoon. My wife must have been worried about me and the beating I took this weekend. Usually, they stay home during the week. It was nice and I got outside the prison walls for 30 minutes. The building watched me.

Oh, the title of the post. I almost forgot. I have IVs in each hand now. I am tethered to the machine much of the day and feel like a puppet. I reach for objects and whoa, stop. I cannot reach them with my puppet hands. If only they could add them to my feet. Then they could really make me dance.

Puppet One out.

My solar face and the quest for rock-hard buns

My arms are covered in tape residue, and scabbed with sealed IV marks and needle pin-holes. Blown veins spark when bumped. My back aches. I ache. A constant wheeze vibrates my right lung.

A crescent moon scab has formed on my forearm where I tore a piece of tape off and took too many layers of skin. Empty Arrowhead water bottles litter my room. Blue gloves I was too lazy to walk to the trash can decorate the floor.

I throw a lot of stuff on the floor. Its easier than doing the IV ballet dance across the room, twisting, turning, cord, IV line tug, and back again.

I spend a lot of time looking at the floor. All the nurses wear Sketchers tush-toning shoes, though none will admit they work when I ask them if they do. “My posture is better.” “My feet are less tired.” I am looking for the first honest nurse to say, “my ass is moon-round, rock-hard now. Feel.” And I will.

After 9 days of fevers, I have a bad attitude.

My PFTs were down 30 to 40 percent today, depending on the number.

My face burns like the sun. The nurses use it to tan their faces. It only takes 30 seconds for a Saint-Tropez bronze to die for. Googling “burning face” and “fire face” yield all the wrong information, and are useless for an accurate diagnosis.

I have avoided peak flow devices in the hospital because I have always said they was worthless, and dangerous, for CF. The peak flow showed a 10 percent drop. I told them it was more. I was right, though I wish I had been wrong. Tomorrow, I may shove a peak flow meter down a doctor’s throat, or up his ass, whichever he prefers. Peak flow this.

After 9 days of fevers, my “blacks crackle and drag,” which is still my favorite line of poetry ever, thanks to Sylvia Plath.

I find it amazing how life can be moving along, I can be working hard to stay healthy, and one virus derails it all. My life is made of beach sand.

I tell my daughter, life isn’t fair. Don’t ever think it is. And don’t worry that it’s not. You’ll be happier. But some days, I wish it was and CF didn’t exist.

(Here’s a photo of my makeshift cooler-seat dining area. Now all I need is a camping tent to complete the look.)

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Prisoner Zero

After eight days of fighting, CF plucked me from my life and deposited me like a piece of trash into the hospital.

“There you will stay,” CF said, “until I am done playing with you and torturing you and making you experience the most unpleasant of situations. Let’s see what you can withstand this time.”

And so begins the latest game of bacteria and mouse with my deadly adversary, prick that it is. My days of needles and blood gases and x-rays started with all three.

CF’s first punch: an 80-year-old blind woman to draw my blood. Touché, CF. Nice touch, which she didn’t have.

In with the needle. A miss. Move it around. Explore a bit. A jab to find the lost target. Another miss. Blame the vein. “It moved.” It’s “stab the snake” time. I cry Uncle first.

New needle. She brings out the iron butterfly. Clearly, the 16-gauge was more gun than she could fire. However, she’s the master of this baby needle. What damage can she possibly cause with it? Guided by CF, she finds a way to make it feel larger, taking the long way through the layers of skin. But there is blood return. Winner, winner, hospital dinner.

Apologies for missing. All is forgiven.

If there is a victory today, it’s technology’s – Apple’s FaceTime. It makes this stretch more bearable hearing and seeing my wife and daughter. FUCF.

Reporting from a jail designed in HGTV hell, Prisoner Zero out.

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When life attacks

I spent yesterday afternoon in the ER – as a visitor. My wife went there because she had the panic attack of all panic attacks and her blood pressure skyrocketed. I wished I could have changed places with her.

I felt terrible that life had overflowed her bucket with lice, my hemoptysis, her crazy workload, and upcoming trip. I realized I was seeing a version of me when I go through anxiety attacks. It scared me because she’s been bulletproof up till now.

What’s kind of nutty is that I had to take a Xanax when she went to the ER because I had a panic attack. It was amusing when the doctor gave her a dose, too, as I was there to drive her home. I smiled because my little pill had kicked in for my pharmaceutical joy ride to the heavens. Sure, Doc, I’ll drive her home. My rocket ship is parked outside and ready to blast off. Maybe we’ll stop at a bar on Mars and knock down a couple of Xanax chasers.

It’s amazing how life and work become so overwhelming and hard to keep up with some days. My sincere thanks to the corporations for ratcheting up worker productivity the last few years. Companies may be right that high productivity is profitable, but they fail to factor in the cost of increased health care expenses. Even my healthy co-workers have problems dealing with the load. Some of them make secret ER visits and numerous doctor visits for their possible stress-related illnesses.

Tomorrow, my wife leaves on a business trip.  I want her to go because it will be good for her. But I don’t want her to go because if I cough up a lot of blood, it’s going to be one crazy time taking care of my daughter. She’ll have to stay with friends or hang out with me in the hospital. “Daddy, let’s go over your symptoms again. From what I can tell you’re experiencing what’s known as a panic attack. Now get over it so I can go back to playing Pokemon?” Okay, I will for you, bossy little princess.

The next three days are going to be like walking around with wet dynamite in my chest, hoping I don’t jostle it. Wish me luck.