Monday, May 31, 2010

A "one payer plan" would have been nice!

As a working woman with great benefits I had the extreme privilege (since 1971) of never having to think about doctor visits, paying for tests, health related bills, or doing anything more than plunking down my co-pay and leaving a physician's office. Magically everything happened as planned by the Empire Health Care Plan that New York State provided as a choice for teaching employees. I paid no annual deductible, no paper work to file, no screw-ups and over 30 years of great coverage. When I went for my retirement consultation and spoke with the people in the benefits office at Buffalo State College, I learned that my accumulated sick days would continue to cover the annual cost of my health care, minus a 375.00 yearly deductible which I would now pay out of pocket until I become eligible for Medicare at 65. That's reasonable. I could continue to use any of the physicians listed on the website for Empire Plan. But what I found out when consulting the web list for physicians subscribing to the Empire Plan in CA, specifically my county, is there are none! New York is the Empire state and the Empire Plan works really well in New York. OK, if I had a substance abuse or mental health issues(which I probably will have after trying to figure out the paperwork for my health care) I can choose from a reasonable number of physicians or approved counselors in Davis. But medical/surgical needs? Nadda One! Turns out the closest Empire Plan providers are in Walnut Creek, easily over a one hour drive from Davis. What I have learned after choosing a very nice family practice doctor in Davis, who is "out of network", as is everyone in Davis,is my health insurance will cover 80% of incurred expenses and, once I have paid my deductible and 1,033 the plan then picks up 100%.
None of this would be an issue except shortly after moving I discovered I needed outpatient surgery for what turned out to be a double hernia repair (too much lifting, pushing, shoving, rearranging furniture, and overdoing it during the move). Long story short I'm learning the ropes of navigating a cumbersome, multilayered, mega-papered, health care system and I clearly understand how confusing and frustrating it becomes for an average person. Here is just one example of what I learned through trial and error in my latest endeavor. Certain tests, like an MRI or PETSCAN require prenotification. I must call the "care core unit" at a certain number. How was I supposed to know that? OK, maybe by reading the 156 page book given to me when I retired? I admit I skimmed it....lightly. I didn't find the answer in the book but managed to talk to a real person. After several calls to various numbers I finally got this bit of advice: Once the cheerful automated message voice answers (and after having to call numerous times to get it right I wanted to slam my fist right down it's cheerful throat) I must press #8, after the 2nd automated message, press #1 after the 3rd press #3, and after the 4th, press #5. Then I can speak to someone about what test is being required. "Oh it's really easy to zip through that menu", said the real person I finally managed to speak with after numerous lost-leader calls. "Really easy once you are in control of the secret code I suggested politely".
Another day after an hour of phoning, downloading forms, and faxing documentation to united health care (for the 3rd time because it was "lost") my stomach was completely in a knot and I began to feel really sick. Get a grip I thought. You have a minor issue here to deal with and the process of dealing with the out-of-control health care systems is "sickening" you! I don't know exactly what snapped that day but since then I had an attitude adjustment and started riding the paper wave, joking with the occasional person I could get on the line to answer my questions, and in general started to have some fun when I absolutely had to deal with stuff. I'm happy to report it all seems to be working! The checks are starting to roll in for the blood work, tests, the surgery, doctor visits etc. One cautionary note. I'm not out of the woods yet. I've yet to get a bill!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Moving" to Find Me -

When I was working full time exercise as a daily habit waxed and waned. I'd start very enthusiastically to do "the latest" form of keeping fit, join an athletic club, take a few yoga classes, sign on with a personal trainer for a few sessions, write out a daily schedule and stick to it approximately 2 weeks before POOF! - it all disappeared from my life, once again! I was pathetic....or was I? In composting the topic for this blog I really did some memory searching and have come up with some solid reasons for being pathetic.
As a kid, moving and being out of doors was my passion. I roller skated, in winter built snow houses, sledded and played endlessly in the snow, rode bikes and scooters with neighborhood friends, and hated to come inside and be still. I was punished for "not hearing" my mother call me in for lunch, and more than once stayed out past the magic time of coming in when the street lights came on. Gym classes in elementary school were torture in the 50's and high school athletics in the 60's placated women with one team sport called Intramurals. This was a combination of sports played by any the girls who admitted to liking sports and being physically active and didn't want to be cheerleaders. It was pretty much designed to kill any hopes of becoming proficient in one sport or help you fulfill your passion for any one particular game. Six weeks on basketball, six weeks on field hockey....I think you get the picture. In the end, at least in my high school, it was wishy washy whimpish "girl games" played lightly and politely.
What I do remember from my childhood was an intense love of the water. This resulted in going to the city park pool daily in the summer and challenging myself on the 7 and 9 foot diving boards to fly through the air and enter the water in all sorts of positions. I swam the hours away every afternoon and stayed from opening hour to closing hour most days. I adored the ocean where my family vacationed each year for one week. I rode the waves, went into water when it was brutally cold, and never came out unless forced by the adults. In was in junior high luckily we had a young, right out of college, physical education teacher named Gail Ship who empowered the girls by forming a swim team and participating in the elementary school swim meets. It was in the pool where I transformed all the energy of my childhood and channeled it into becoming the team overarm sidestroke queen for the relay race. It involved daily practice, discipline, listening to your coach, working hard, getting strong and taking criticism. These were all by products of the team effort at an age when my body was changing and hormones were screwing with everyone's brain functioning. The pool became a wonderful place of solace after my mother passed away quite suddenly. I could enter the water, swim as hard as I could for lap work, mute all my senses, and work out some of the pain in a very positive way. In high school the option for swimming (for women) was synchronized swimming. This was athletic but not something I remember gravitating toward. Music became my passion and throughout college in the late 60's and early 70's (a time when physical fitness hadn't quite grabbed the nation's attention), I continued to be twenty pounds overweight, carrying that through most of my life. Walking and hiking were always naturals for me but when I remember back to a feeling of being totally absolutely spent, it only happened for me after hours in water.
After retiring I determined I must make physical fitness the top priority of my day. If I didn't have easy mobility, good health, and a positive attitude in life I would be left without the ability to enjoy a time in my life that should be filled with the things I want to do for me! Since my track record for staying with physical exercise ranked pathetic, I knew I needed, like Stella, to get my Groove Back! A woman I met at a dinner in the neighborhood invited me to accompany her to the athletic club for a yoga class. Okay, I thought, here I go again dabbling in the world of clubs and classes. The yoga class was very nice but on my way out the door I picked up a blue sheet listing the Lap Pool (always 80 degrees and open year said at the top of the flyer) Schedule for something called Aqua Classes. There were classes with names like: Aqua Aerobics, Dynamic Deep, Making Waves, Early Morning Aqua, Cardio and Tone, Rebound and Suspend, Aqua Power. That was a Monday, I joined the club on Tuesday and was at my first water class Wednesday morning.
For those of you who don't know about water aerobics (and I really didn't) I'll describe it the way it feels to me. Imagine wearing a flotation device that keeps your head above water but your body is totally submerged and you are in the deepest part of the pool. The instructor calls out familiar aerobic and swimming moves, and you perform them with the sweet embrace of water cushioning and yet challenging your every move. You feel weightless, yet you are working so hard to do the simplest of moves. Then, once you get the moves down, you are really shaking your flab (and you can feel it moving every which way under water) BUT NO ONE CAN SEE IT JIGGLE!!!) Your heart is pumping, toning all the muscles, and yet you are moving fluidly through space in the water with no stress or weight on your joints. I thought I had found nirvana and returned to in utero!
I go to water aerobics 4 to 5 times a week for an hour class. At the end of each session I emerge from the pool and feel like a new born baby. My midsection feels sleek, my fingers, arms, and legs all toned, my limbs move effortless through the air instead of the water, and I feel light, free, and renewed! I feel spent in the way I felt spent in that junior high pool with Miss Ship yelling directions and demonstrating strokes, and getting in our faces when we were slackers or swimming like "girlie girls"! I feel so good, so spent, so ME! I feel that junior high girl emerging under the waves and have found a portal to a time in my youth when I was doing something that was establishing me, something that carved into my soul the essence of what I would need to cherish and honor and sing and dance to every day of the rest of my life. And so it was that Marionette Got her Moves Back!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Clearing a Space for Me

I promised myself I would go one full year before committing myself to anything where I was scheduled to "show-up" anywhere for any reason. That sounds pretty easy and even enjoyable right? This was not a piece of cake, to go from being over scheduled to absolutely no schedule. I found myself pretty busy and occupied with settling the house and unpacking. But after the first 3 months I watched myself noticing all the opportunities in the local paper to "volunteer" "help" or "donate" myself to a cause. I began to envision myself tutoring in the adult literacy program, volunteering at a childcare center, or teaching a college course. These were all comfortable ways I knew I could easily legitimize myself as a contributing human being and ease the rising discomfort I had begun to feel about what I thought were my empty and unproductive days. But every time I was tempted to pick up the phone to take action, I stopped myself, remembering the firm promise I made to give myself one full year. So one day, nearly 8 months after the move, there came a transformative moment! Sometime between when I lay on a lawn chair in the sun and during a 3 hour walk with the dog, I decided I was being driven by guilt to think I wasn't a valuable person unless I was "helping" others. But the TRUTH behind this guilty feeling was the immensely discomforting feeling that I was certainly a worthless human being unless I opted to continue to help others or do what I had done for over 30 years. There it was....I knew this was my truth because I felt a huge relief once I found myself breathing into that thought. Could I now begin to live my life in a way that made sense to me? I noticed that all the things I planned I'd do after I retired didn't really interest me that much. Perhaps they might at another point in time but I now knew I didn't want to be engaged in anything that involved planning too far ahead, was organized, required a daily commitment to complete. or involved too many interactions with too many people. I wanted to wake up, let the day unfold without the nagging guilty feeling that I should be doing this or that or something with my life. I didn't want to own that guilt anymore and it's been an important discovery of a personal truth for me. I feel like I'm beginning to attend to my life, in this moment, and feeling the compounded blessings of "volunteering" to compassionately help me become more of me! This is my joy now and it feels wonderful!!!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Less is More

The opportunity to simplify our lives came in the move across country. Five years earlier we sold the home where we raised our kids and moved into the city of Buffalo. We bought a 1920 brick house that was the kind of home George always dreamed of owning. It had cool features like leaded glass windows and an elaborate oak bar in the basement. It also had very cool walls (no insulation), nice in warm summers but brutally cold in the dead of a Buffalo winter. Now we were relocating to a city where the building boom happened in the late 50's and early 60's. Unless we bought a a "newer ugly build" in the suburbs of Davis, or wanted to live in Sacramento and commute (which we did not want to do) we were looking at California ranch houses that were mostly 2,000 square feet or less and built in the early 70's. Our house was built in 1974 and is exactly 2,000 square feet! The Buffalo home was 2,300 square feet NOT counting our finished basement or 3rd floor which had a full bath and 2 good sized rooms!
George says you spend the first 30 years of married life accumulating "stuff" and the next couple decades giving it away. I had always been a "keeper of the goods" as my relatives passed along furniture, dishes, household stuff and mementos. In our 30 years of married life we accumulated furniture, records, books,plants and artwork from George's mom and dad, my dad (who remarried and moved to a new home), and still more of my grandparent's and aunt's stuff!
We staged a huge garage sale, set our son up in an apartment and still managed to fill a moving van with the contents of our home and our two professional offices. The van left Buffalo on July 3rd. We arrived at our new empty home on July 6th. Here is the interesting thing. Somehow we had packed in our small Volvo sedan exactly all that we needed to begin life in Davis and survive until the moving van arrived on July 12th. We purchased one thing, a blow-up mattress which we inflated with the vacuum cleaner I had packed in the trunk in case we needed to clean before the movers arrived. We had one light blanket, a fitted sheet which we had put over the back seats for the dog, a small cooler from the trip, our clothes, a few towels, and one pillow.
I remember lying awake on the blow-up mattress thinking about all the stuff in the moving van. Yet here I was, perfectly content with all my needs met for shelter, water, and food. What did I need more of? If the van never arrived or met an unfortunate fate, what would I miss? What was in the van that I could not live without? Life seemed complete lying on an air mattress with my life partner at my side, dog at my feet, and the bonus of a few beers in the cooler. During the next 5 days I lived life without stuff and experienced "less is more". My needs never seemed to increase, my level of comfort remained constant, and it seemed much easier to live in the moment because nothing drew me away from it. No TV or computers. We walked and explored the neighborhoods, studied the gardens and flowers, listened for new bird songs, met and talked with people, ate at the farmers' markets or the Nugget (our grocery store), explored the downtown stores, walked in the arboretum on campus, and read books during the hottest hours of the day. By the end of the 3rd day I began to dread the arrival of the moving van and by the time it pulled up in front of the house I was in a panic which seemed to escalate with every box that was unloaded.
Life did calm down with most of the "stuff" finding suitable places. I confess to having large give-away piles in the new garage and often pick up stuff while cleaning and wonder what the heck made me bring this thing?? Moving can be an incredible opportunity to evaluate your attachment to objects, to make a conscious decision to cherish or reject familial things as necessary or not, to simplify your life which in turn quiets the mind. To live with less created much more in my life!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Running Into Retirement

Running into Retirement
Lately I've had many thoughts about this whole retirement process. I decided to start writing about what I've been feeling and experiencing. Since many of my closest friends are still working full throttle and full time, I thought writing about the next chapter in life from my perspective and sharing a few insights, might be interesting to some who are considering a major life change within the next decade.

I went to a New York State Teachers' Retirement Seminar in March of 2008 to begin to collect information and ideas about what might happen when I finally decided to leave teaching. At that point I had no plans to stop working, at least not for five years. What I remember from that day was advice about not changing everything in your life immediately after you retire. You shouldn't pick-up and move away from your friends. You should keep some of your routines the same at least for the first several years. People do well in retirement by staying near their networks, their friends and family if possible. They have time to act on life long interests and passions. They give time to worthy causes. They volunteer. They may work part-time. They spend more time with family. They keep active mentally. Those are the "sound bites" I remember from that day long seminar. It all made good sense.

But what happens when your circumstances cause you to run full speed ahead into retirement? I found out in December we would be moving 3,000 miles across the country. My husband needed to begin work July 1st. I continued all my professional obligations and even taught a summer school class up until 3 days before the moving van came. I had worked full time, teaching children and college students since 1971 with only a 5 month hiatus when I had my first child. There was no prolonged mental preparation for the shift that was about to happen in my life. My husband would begin a new academic position (more of the same for him with different players) but I would "retire". What does that mean? How do you "retire"? From what do we retire? To where? For how long? I would discover many different meanings for the word retire. I had officially written my letter of intent to "retire". I legally "retired" by filling out all the paperwork with the state. I "retired" from my office space by giving many things away and clearing out file drawers. But in the last few weeks before the move there were far too many details to attend to, loose ends to tie up, and no time to comprehend the emotional impact of retiring from all the beautiful friends and people I had come to know, and to whom I was now hurriedly and unconsciously saying good-bye. I think I stayed only moderately sane by pretending I'd see everyone again soon. That is what I do when loss threatens to unravel me ......I pretend.

At 7:30 AM on June 30th, 2009, I got into the car in Buffalo New York and we (husband and dog) headed for Davis California. The sky was thunderously gray, dark, dreary, ominous and threatening. It began to rain hard, thunder, and lightening. We drove in silence. We left New York and entered Pennsylvania and somewhere on the highway near Warren Pennsylvania, the crack in my damn gave away. My husband pulled into a rest stop because I was out of control with wailing sounds and physically racking sobs. It poured both outside and inside the car. So many intense emotions had been stuffed down, tucked away, unexpressed....with no time given to feel the sadness or acknowledge the enormous changes that were underway. I left the car and walked, very slowly, in the pouring rain, to the bathroom. I didn't care who saw my crying face. I didn't care what they thought or imagined. I didn't care if I stayed in the restroom for hours! I was "retiring" from the life I had known for 38 years and I had no idea about what kind of life I could create or who I would encounter. What I knew was it felt great to give in to this intense sadness, to break apart the stoic automatic life of movement and detailed action I'd been living for the last few months. It felt great to wash my hot face with cold water and to look into the mirror and see tenderness returning to my eyes. After 30 minutes of uncontrollable sobbing, I did not care about what would come next. After years of running my life with checklists, endless planning, keeping on a schedule, meeting deadlines, planning a year in advance, setting and accomplishing goals, it was over. I was, at this moment, living in it! I remember smiling into the mirror and watched the concerned look of the woman next to me melt away. I "retired" back to our car and the journey continued.