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Is there someone who’s happy with the way our health care system works? It sure as hell doesn’t work for me.

I sign in at the front desk when I arrive for my doctors appointment. I notice as I sign in that there are 3 or 4 of us that share the same appointment time. I’m not sure why they schedule their appointments this way. The doctor can’t see 3 or 4 patients at once, so it seems foolish and counterproductive, but for some reason they instruct their staff to schedule their time this way. So I wait as patiently as I can for my turn. I feel much the same way that I do at the supermarket deli, waiting for them to call my number.

As I sit there waiting, I fondly recall a time when I would call my doctor’s office and get an appointment for the same day (or the next day, if he was really busy). At the scheduled time, I would arrive and check in at the front desk. I did not sign a sheet; I simply pressed the buzzer and the receptionist would slide the glass partition and greet me. I would then take a seat in the waiting room and read a magazine while I waited for the doctor. There would be perhaps 1 or 2 other patients waiting at the same time.

The nurse would call me after 10-15 minutes, and I would follow her as we exchanged pleasantries. When the doctor made his appearance, I would explain the reason for my visit. He would then examine/treat/advise me, and write a prescription if necessary. If lab work was needed, he would ask his nurse to draw some blood before I left. I felt like they really cared about me. I would leave knowing that if I had questions or concerns, I could call and either talk to the nurse or ask for the doctor to call me back. I would stop on the way out to pay my bill, which was a reasonable, manageable amount. On some occasions, I simply paid $25 for my office visit and we were done.

Today, I am a number. I no longer have a relationship with my doctor, and I must often wait weeks to get an appointment, even if I’m sick. There is no respect for doctor-patient confidentiality. There is an assumption that it extends to all office personnel. When I call to make the appointment, I must explain in detail the nature of the reason for my visit. If I’m not explicit or descriptive enough, the appointment-setter will demand more information until at last, they are satisfied and I am given an appointment time. I am told to arrive 10-15 minutes early.

When I arrive at the office, any illusion of privacy is gone. I sign in on a log sheet that is in full view. I can see the names of the other patients, and they can see mine. The receptionist expects me to discuss the reason for my appointment within earshot of everyone in the waiting room and becomes impatient if I demur. She then asks for my insurance card and hands me a clipboard with 3 or 4 sheets to fill out. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been there; they always need it to be “updated.” They don’t know me from a hole in the wall. After they’ve copied my insurance card and reviewed my updated forms, I am told to take a seat in the packed waiting room to await my turn. I will wait somewhere between 30 minutes to an hour before my name is called again. Once summoned to the inner sanctum, I will follow the person who called me. I have no idea who this person is; I have never seen her before and she doesn’t take the time to introduce herself. She will weigh me, take my blood pressure, and lead me to an examination room, where she tells me to remove all my garments and don a paper robe. She asks for more information about the reason for my visit. I’m not sure why she needs to know the details, because she disappears and I won’t see her for the remainder of my visit. Once the door closes, I follow her instructions and wait again. If I’m lucky, I will get 15 minutes of the doctor’s time. If lab work is needed, I am given a prescription and referred to another facility to have my blood drawn. (This is another nightmare in and of itself.)

When the visit is over, I dress and go to the checkout desk, where I pay what I owe and pick up a prescription if the doctor has written one. My copay is about what I used to pay for the office visit. My insurance company will kick in another $100 or so depending on the reason for my visit.

I hope all my questions have been asked and answered, because I don’t want to go through this again. I know that if I need to see the doctor for another 15 minutes, I have to go to the back of the line and take another number.

How could things have changed so much? Why has the practice of medicine become so impersonal?

I don’t mind being a number to the guy that sells me sliced turkey and cheese. I want more from my doctor and his staff.

The search for a caring health care provider continues.

Simple Gratitude

This is a day that makes me grateful for my home. It’s windy, rainy and cold outside. The temperature is dropping fast, and it’s wonderful to have a warm haven to come home to. I feel a brief pang as I realize that there are people who have nowhere to go tonight. But I pour a glass of chardonnay and sit in front of my fireplace with a good book (currently, David Baldacci’s Hell’s Corner), while I wait for my husband to arrive so I can begin preparing our meal. Tonight it will be chicken and yellow rice with steamed broccoli. We’ll catch up in the kitchen while I cook. He’ll tell me about his day and I’ll listen and comment while I season the chicken and stir the rice. When it’s ready, we’ll sit in front of the TV and watch the news or Two And A Half Men while we eat.

After dinner, we’ll clean up the kitchen and watch something together on TV. Or maybe I’ll read some more Baldacci and play Words With Friends with Jeanie. Either way, I’ll be content.

I am so lucky. I love my life.

I unlock my front door with a sigh of relief at the end of a stressful commute preceded by a busy day. I am greeted by two grinning faces with lolling tongues who are thrilled to see me. Cries of joy and frantically wagging tails say, “Welcome home!” What a wonderful gift – an energetic display of love for doing nothing more deserving than simply coming home.

I don’t know how people without dogs manage. During the few dog-less times in my life, I came home to a dark and silent house. There was no welcoming committee to celebrate my homecoming. Now, with my 2 best friends to greet me, I look forward to my arrival home each night.

Ahhhh…unconditional love. Is there anything better?

I am a middle-class American who has become completely disgusted with both the Democratic and Republican parties. I am probably not the only one. Despite their protestations of genuine ideological differences, it’s clear that their self-serving refusal to do what’s right for the country is destroying the livelihood of millions of Americans.

The constant political tug-of-war between the two parties for control of the government is decimating this country. They are so obsessed with “being in control” that everything else (including the actual responsibility that comes with “being in control”) is forgotten. Was it always this way? It seems to be getting worse. More than ever before in my lifetime, I feel as if we are at a crossroads and the road we choose should be about what’s best for us as a nation, not what’s best for these two political parties. And by “us as a nation,” I mean the vast majority of us. You know — just like in a real democracy.

While the American government is playing political football, China is eating our lunch when it comes to renewable energy. They are way out in front with manufacturing of solar panels and batteries. The Chinese government has made domination of this field a priority and has put the full resources of the government behind the initiative. Their citizens are hard at work (at real, paying jobs) to make it happen. As a result, China will prosper. They will maintain their position of supremacy in the world economy. They will enjoy improved national security as a result of their independence from foreign oil. Their environment will be cleaner. There is no downside for them. It’s all good.

Back in America, the political football game continues unabated. The Democrats (who are in power at the moment) are trying to appease a segment of the population that is now very angry over the deficit. It’s hard to believe, but of all the issues facing this country, the deficit seems to be getting a disproportionate amount of attention. So the Democrats (who are now more worried about staying in power than anything else) are cutting back instead of investing in our future. Deficit reduction does not produce jobs, nor does it move us closer to energy independence or position us to regain our dominance in the world economy. This is a course destined for failure.

The Republicans, of course, are thrilled about this. They are not in power at the moment, but are hoping to regain control of the legislature (the White House won’t be in play until 2012). They know that reduced spending will not produce jobs and as long as unemployment is high, the public will continue to be angry at the Democrats, improving their chances come election time. They are dutifully repeating their talking points about how we are passing this huge burden on to our children. Of course, our children will have a depressed economy and dismal job opportunities to look forward to, and they will continue to pay obscene sums of money for foreign oil from countries who are hell-bent on our destruction, but those huge burdens don’t warrant a mention. All that matters is that they recover their lost majorities and regain power.

The newest player in American politics, and one that’s never been in power but ardently wishes to be, is the Tea Party. As far as I can tell, the Tea Party is apparently angry about taxes and the deficit. They are demonizing the president and decrying “Obama-the-Socialist’s Big-Government Agenda.” They fear that government is getting too big and will become too intrusive into their private lives. Their concern seems to be centered around the fear that their second amendment rights will be usurped. There is no evidence that this is happening, but that doesn’t comfort them at all. Strangely, they don’t seem to be worried about protection from the ultimate government intrusion – into their bodies in the form of personal reproductive decisions or what substances they ingest. Their opposition about big government and taxes is puzzling, too, considering how many of them are receiving Medicare and Social Security benefits and unemployment compensation.

Sadly, none of these groups is demanding an obvious solution to so many of our problems at once. Investment, both public and private, in the future of this country as a whole…in America as a nation. Private sector investment in solar and wind technology to generate power, combined with government investment in infrastructure to deliver the power, would instantly create thousands (or millions?) of well-paying, permanent jobs. Investment into research for new and different kinds of energy technologies that show real potential could open the doors to all manner of new markets for our businesses. This kind of investment would do the same things for America that it’s doing for China. America would prosper. We would recover our position of supremacy in the world economy. We would enjoy improved national security as a result of our independence from foreign oil. Our environment would be cleaner. There would be no downside.

When properly motivated, America can mobilize massive forces, win wars, move mountains, send human beings to the moon. Why won’t we do this for ourselves and our children?

What is adequate restitution for the loss of something that cannot be replaced – lost time?

In March of this year, the Sun Sentinel ran a story about the overturned rape and murder conviction of a 41-year-old Florida man who spent nearly 26 years in prison paying for a crime he didn’t commit. 26 years! He went in as a child and emerged as a middle-aged man. A judge threw out his conviction based on DNA evidence that exonerated him but failed to identify the person responsible for committing the crime. The guilty party is presumed to be at large, meaning justice has not been served for either the slain woman or the falsely incarcerated man.

According to the Sun-Sentinel report, in 1983 Anthony Caravella was a mentally challenged 15-year-old with an IQ of 67 when he was arrested and was allegedly coerced by police to confess. The police have denied the allegations of coercion. Armed with the confession, the prosecutor succeeded in first getting an indictment, then a conviction followed by a life sentence. DNA testing (and thus, the exculpatory evidence) was unavailable at the time.

Now, 26 years later under the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Act, he may be entitled to collect $50,000 for each year that he was locked up. But is $1.3 million enough?

This story is not unique. Thanks to the Innocence Project, http://www.innocenceproject.org/ there have been 254 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States, 17 of which were people serving time on death row. According to their website, there are seven common causes of wrongful convictions: Eyewitness Misidentification, Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science, False Confessions/Admissions, Government Misconduct, Informants or Snitches, and Bad Lawyering. Each of these causes must be addressed in order to identify the flaws in our criminal justice system and fix them.

Mr. Caravella was deprived of so many things that money cannot buy. Although 41 is by no means over the hill, most people have launched their careers and started their families before the age of 40. He will have to learn to live independently long after he otherwise would have done so. He will have to learn to drive a car, manage a bank account and negotiate a health care system that can be confusing even to those of us with practice. He has not experienced the events that have so profoundly impacted our culture. Computers and the internet have drastically changed our way of life. When he entered prison, terrorist attacks by suicide bombers were virtually unheard of and the economy was strong. As he attempts to reclaim his life, he is facing an economy on the ropes, with record unemployment and job prospects that are nil. Worse, he has missed out on countless birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and funerals, holidays and vacations – the shared memories that are the fabric of our relationships with our families and friends. After all, our lives are the sum of our memories, not the material goods we collect along the way. These memories are unquantifiable; how can we possibly determine a value for them?

I cannot imagine the nightmare of those innocent people who have spent time in prison paying for crimes they didn’t commit. I don’t know how much is enough to compensate them – but for me, $50,000 a year doesn’t even come close.

Ambushed by the Nook

As I entered my local Barnes & Noble yesterday, I discovered an imposing new addition to the store. Awaiting shoppers just inside the entry, creating an obstacle that was impossible to ignore, stood the new display of the Nook. As I began to negotiate my way around the unmanned desk to the main aisle beyond, a smiling young clerk approached. He asked if I knew about the Nook and without waiting for an answer, suggested that I “play around with it,”  handing me one as he made the suggestion.

Up to now, I have had almost no interest in electronic reading devices. I’ve seen them advertised and have read the occasional review, but I’ve never seriously considered buying one. It’s not that I object to the idea of e-readers. It’s simply that I’ve loved books all my life, and the e-readers initially struck me as cold, impersonal gadgets lacking the character of the real thing. Growing up, some of my best friends were books. I have many fond memories of idle afternoons spent curled up with a mystery or adventure. The hours passed unnoticed until my mother called me to dinner. Late at night, she would come to my room and remind me to turn off the light and go to sleep, because I became so engrossed in the stories that I couldn’t put them down. I love the smell of a new book; the crisp, clean pages, and the tactile satisfaction of turning each page as the story unfolds. I love the dog-eared pages of my well-loved favorites; they are a delight no matter how many times I read them.

I have carefully transported my childhood favorites with me as I’ve moved from place to place, and they’ve always had their place of honor on my bookshelf. As the years passed, I added to my favorites and my library is now quite eclectic. In fact, recently I’ve had to whittle my bursting-at-the-seams collection down to 2 bookcases. I’ve run out of space and it seemed a more realistic solution than adding a new room just to hold my books, though I was sorry to see some of them go. Sadly, I’ve had to put a moratorium on the purchase of new books.

But now there’s a device that holds over a thousand books and fits in the top drawer of my nightstand! I cautiously took the Nook from the helpful clerk’s hands, fully expecting not to like it, and was immediately struck by the appearance of the display. It isn’t backlit, like I had expected. Instead, it looks very much like a printed page. You can change the font to one that’s easy on your eyes, and make the point size larger or smaller to suit yourself. You can highlight text, and it has both a page count and status bar, which is very handy if you need to make notes and refer back later. It’s about the size of a paperback, and not too heavy. There is a huge list of downloadable books from a variety of sources, including classics and new best-sellers. Oh, and there are memory cards available if you run out of space and want to unload some books and make room for more.

The Nook certainly has some desirable features. There are other e-readers out there, and I will probably take a look at them, too. E-readers will never replace “real” books in my heart, but I can certainly see their appeal. Now I see the Nook as an addition to my library; not a replacement for it.

Ballast Away

Ballast is usually gravel, sand, iron or lead (see above) but to me it can also represent emotional baggage that weighs us down. Fear is a great example of emotional ballast. Self-doubt is another. I’ve decided to jettison some ballast and begin posting to this blog.

As the recession continues, the future looks bleak for many of us. Some have already lost their jobs and some are afraid the ax is getting ready to fall. Some have found entry-level jobs in new careers or have used the opportunity occasioned by their unemployment to reinvent themselves as something they always wanted to be. I think I fit somewhere in between.

I haven’t lost my job (yet), but my position is tenuous. I work at a very small business that is downsizing staff. For five and a half years, I enjoyed a management position there that was well suited to my temperament and skill-set. Unfortunately, in this economic climate only the fittest and most energetic companies survive, and the owners have become complacent over the years. Feeble efforts were made at marketing the company and no sales staff was hired. As the off-season came and business went, I was moved to a different position. Now I am doing a job I really don’t like, and any hope for a future with this company is nonexistent. I go to work each day, thankful that I am still getting a paycheck but biding my time and waiting for the pay cut or pink slip to come.

That’s where this blog comes in. In the scheme of things a lost job or changed career is not life or death. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows that. It is, however, an emotional (and financial) trial. It’s hard not to be afraid about what the future holds but I hope to make the transition to this next phase of my life with as much grace and humor as possible. I would love to hear from others who have reinvented themselves and emerged happy. Or maybe not exactly happy but working through it.

Ballast away, my friends. Let’s fly.

Lately on the news, I’ve seen “patriots” standing on street corners or at rallies waving signs calling for less of this or more of that. Less government. More jobs. You get the picture. They are angry at the government and they want to “take their country back.” Then they stop at WalMart on the way home to pick up something they want, and they end up buying goods made with cheap overseas labor so they can “save money and live better.” Does that mean China is “their” country? Because they’re undermining the United States and their fellow Americans every time money moves from their wallet to China. If they really wanted to do something to “take their country back,” they could start spending their money in ways that benefit their local economy.

For most of my adult life, I shopped without really looking at the country of origin of the items I bought. Then I started paying attention. And I realized that almost all of them are imported from China. Sure, there are some that are made in Honduras or Vietnam, among other places. But you have to put in a little more effort to find American products, and sometimes you really have to search hard to find something that was made in the United States.

I am a middle-class American, with a household budget like most middle-class Americans. I started buying American about 3 years ago. If there is a choice between a product made in America and one made elsewhere, I always buy the American product. I have only so many dollars to spend, and if I have to purchase fewer items in order to buy American, then I prioritize and do without things I don’t absolutely need. I buy one pair of shoes instead of 2 or 3, but I think my country is worth it.

It’s time we start moving onward & upward as a country by supporting our own economy. I don’t have anything against China or other countries, but I really want my fellow Americans to have jobs and pay taxes. American products are out there. Try http://www.americansworking.com/ for starters. Or http://www.madeinusa.org/. Need more resources? Go to Google and type in “American made products” for a whole bunch more.

Ballast away, my friends. Let’s fly.

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