Monday, September 26, 2016

For Jervas

Me and Jervas at the shop - 2002

Jervas found himself incarcerated at Sangamon County Animal Control when his owner found himself incarcerated at the Sangamon County Jail. It was there that my wife found him. He was thought to be between two and three years old. He appeared to be half chihuahua and half pug. We told folks he was a chug. The wife often volunteered at the center and adopted more animals over the years than I can count. Most were brought back to good health, and then a permanent home would be found. Jervas found himself in a home with cats, dogs, fish, and two teenagers. From the minute he crossed the threshold he made it clear; this would be his permanent home. He settled right in. He was smart and well behaved. He got along with every animal he was ever around. We had a shop dog that no one could get near but me and the wife. Anything in his area was fair game, and he made that apparent anytime he was challenged. Jervas was the exception from day one. No explanation to be found; it was Jervas. He was the same with people. He greeted each customer when they arrived at the shop. Each was greeted with a wagging tail and that goofy grin. His smile was undeniable. Jervas went everywhere that the wife did. He loved to ride in the car with her. A few blocks or a thousand miles, it didn't matter as long as he got to go. He spent his evenings in someone's lap and slept with me and the wife. He was a constant source of love and devotion.

He was with us for five or six years before moving to his last home. By this time Jervas was part of the family. We were not seeking a new home for him, but his services were needed elsewhere. My wife's parents, John and Carol, had recently lost their longtime companion. John had always liked Jervas, and when we offered him to them, they gladly accepted. Their last dog had really bonded with John, and Jervas was to help fill the hole that loss had caused. Jervas did a magnificent job in doing that, but Carol was his favorite. He settled in with them like he had always lived there. He also continued his insistence of going everywhere they did. This included wintering in Florida. John and Jervas visited with many neighbors and friends on their walks both at home and in Florida. Many kept treats handy for Jervas; their walks almost became a trick-or-treat route for him.

As the years passed he lost a few teeth and had to go on a special diet, but he continued to enjoy life. He began to lose his sight and hearing a couple of years ago. In the last year he lost both completely. He began to have a seizure every now and then this summer. At an estimated age of 16 - 18 years, he had lived a long, full life. He saw the doctor last month to confirm what we already knew in our hearts. His body was beginning to fail him, his time was drawing near.

This week the seizures have become more frequent and his organs are failing. There is nothing more to be done, but to help him pass pain free to the rest he has so greatly earned. Today is that day.

Thank you Jervas for your years of love and friendship. You touched more lives than most, and left each one better for it. See you at the Rainbow Bridge.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Affordable Care Act Part III - Endgame

Success has been achieved! My wife is the owner of a brand new shiny health insurance policy. In my last post I was waiting for the phone to ring in order to gain access to the website. Those that know me personally know how patient I am, so yes, I called them back yesterday. A real person answered the phone!

In working with her to solve the problems that kept me from logging into the website it became apparent that the people who are there to assist, really try very hard to do just that. She was pleasant and apologized repeatedly for the problems I was having. Several times during my time on the phone with her, she had to put me on hold while she worked through a problem. Each time she explained what she needed to do and apologized for putting me on hold. Every time she came back to the line, she thanked me for holding. We had been at this for about an hour when she told me she would put me on hold one more time, we were almost there. The hold music played about three notes before the line disconnected. To say I was unhappy would be a very large understatement.

I called back, and after a short wait I was explaining what had happened to a new person. I was hoping to get back to the woman who had been helping me; we were almost done. There is no way for that to be done. Worse yet, the computer system had crashed. I was asked to wait several hours and try calling back. I did learn one more piece of information during this call that helps me to understand just how difficult these representative's job is. The reason the phone disconnected is because the phone system is part of the same computer system used to enroll people in healthcare.

As I stated earlier, I am known for my patience. I called back after waiting about ten minutes. It seems my luck was changing. After explaining the problem yet again to another representative, she happily informed me that the computers were again in working order. No, she had no way of getting me back to representative one, but would be happy to help me finish getting the problems resolved. Within 15 minutes she had all of the concerns fixed and confirmed that I now had access to the website. She also generated a code that would allow me extra time to choose a policy and still have coverage on January first.

After shopping the various policies, my wife and I picked one that would allow my wife to retain her current doctors, without breaking the bank. Made that sound simple, didn't I. It can be very confusing to try and pick a policy based on coverage. What the website shows you is your deductibles and co-pays after any subsidy is applied. When you look at the plan benefits they don't match up. The plan benefits are shown at the retail prices. Not well versed in insurance plans made this a confusing journey for me.

I was directed to the insurance company website to pay the first month's premium for the chosen policy so coverage could begin on time. Upon completing the payment, I was emailed a receipt and the promise of a policy and an I.D. card arriving shortly in the mail. My wife was insured!

Four days of fighting the website, three phone conversations, three very helpful representatives, and I finally have insurance for my wife. My thoughts after this experience are mixed. The A.C.A. does make it possible for me to be able to have health insurance for my wife. Without the subsidy that would not be possible. The people who answer the phone must have halos. They spend their entire day trying to help people with a system so complex that lawyers do not understand it. They accomplish this task with a computer system that has done nothing but crash for more than a year, and yet all three people I dealt with were cheerful and polite.

I'll leave you today with this thought. You are the first representative I talked to. You have spent the better part of an hour fixing all the little glitches so that I can access the website. You are almost done, last step. The system crashes and the phones go dead. You have no way to reconnect with me and even if I call back, I cannot be reconnected to you. Let's be optimistic and assume this only happens twice a day. Could you remain cheerful and polite?

It would seem to me that as frustrating as this is for the consumer, it has to be a stress filled nightmare for those who deal with this every day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Affordable Care Act Part II

Another year has come and gone. Last year about this time I posted about my problems with trying to follow the law and sign up for the A.C.A. The end result last year was applying for an exemption due to the un-affordability for my family.

Here is this year's update. They have fixed some parts of the web-site. Creating an account went smoothly enough, although it refused to retain an address for my wife. After 5 attempts, I assumed that could be fixed at a later date. I completed the rest of the application without incident. The last step of the process is to review and electronically sign that you are providing true information.

Once this step completes, you find out what type of subsidy you qualify for, and begin to shop the available plans. I had done my research, discussed it with family and knew which plan we were hoping to afford. Was I disappointed or surprised? There is the question that cannot yet be answered. On more attempts than I can count, every time I reached the step that would provide the answer, the website displayed an error code. Same code, over and over. I'm two days into the process and stuck exactly where I was last year and the deadline was midnight yesterday. Now what?

Fear not! Displayed on the error code screen was an 800 number that is live 24/7 to help with this or any other problem. Just like last year, I could receive phone assistance. After last year's experience, I knew the hold time could be hours. I was prepared, a snack, fresh drink, and the phone fully charged.

This is where I can proudly tell you about yet another improvement to the service. You no longer need concern yourself with being on hold; it is no longer an option. Leave your name and number and someone will contact you in 5 to 7 days. By leaving the message you are meeting the midnight deadline.

Maybe I'm an optimist, but I would have thought given the problems that were apparent in the launch last year, and a year to get it fixed, it would actually work. The fact that it still does not work well enough to actually purchase insurance without support that is not available, has me wondering if it can be fixed. Maybe a better question is, should it?

If anyone needs me, I'll be waiting for my call for the next 5 to 7 days.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Random Thoughts

It’s been a long cold winter for most of us. The snow and temperatures have kept me from writing because my focus was absorbed in the pain this winter brought. Now that some semblance of warmth has begun to return, I find myself wanting to see if the fingers are willing to pound around the keyboard. The problem is what to address. There are so many things that can be talked about. So, tonight will just be random thoughts on what’s going on in the world.

In an earlier post I addressed the ACA and my experience with trying to get signed up. I finally logged on and found the policies that would fit our needs. The premium for a scaled down plan was $174.00 a month with a $12,500.00 deductible. How is this a better plan than no insurance? The whole idea was that no one should have to go bankrupt to have adequate health care. Am I the only one that would have to go bankrupt to meet that deductible? The ACA has some very good programs that would help those that need them, but the mandate that I buy insurance to prevent financial disaster, that in itself would cause the same disaster is ludicrous.

Let’s move to money for a minute. It now costs more than 2 cents to produce a penny, and a dime to produce a nickel. I’m not talking profit margins; I’m talking to actually mint them. We are spending twice the face value of the coin to produce it. This would seem an easy problem to solve and save millions of dollars a year. Why can none of our elected officials recognize and fix such an obvious waste of money?

It would appear that Russia is no longer the ally we thought. I don’t know about you, but I’m shocked; Not. When the US discontinued its space program and announced we would depend on Russia for transportation to and from the ISS, I believed it to be a huge mistake. If Putin pushes further into the Ukraine and we impose the sanctions that are being discussed, we as a country will no longer have a way to reach the ISS and Russia will control the space station we built. How could that be bad? I do not think it is in the best interests of our country to try and police what Putin is doing. This has to be a problem that our European allies address. It’s their backyard, it should be their lead.

Then there is that corrupt president we put in power in Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai. He was willing to play along with democracy until his term limit approached. He has had years with us backing him, while he focused on making himself powerful and wealthy. He has avoided signing a continuing agreement with the US, while at the same time eagerly coming to terms with Iran and the Taliban. He now wants all US troops out of the country by years end. I have no problem with that. As we are leaving we can use unused munitions to destroy anything we built that may be of use to him. I believe that we should also warn him that we will not tolerate, but obliterate anything within his borders that would support terrorism. We do not need boots on the ground to do that. Let's make that our policy for all countries that harbor terrorists.

A quick note about our continuing agreement with Afghanistan; the tribal councils and leaders of Afghanistan met and ratified this agreement in ONE weekend. Karzai has refused to sign it. The point I’m making is that this group of leaders who primarily live in what can only be described as just above Stone Age conditions, discussed it, made compromises, and agreed to it in a weekend. Our representatives in Washington should be ashamed. The Afghan representatives put their country before their personal wants or needs and moved forward in the best interests for the people, something our representatives have forgotten how to do.

It would seem the Middle East is in complete turmoil again. We took out a brutal dictator in Iraq, occupied the country so they could form a government and learn to protect themselves, and then left. The result is worse than before we went in. Afghanistan seems to be heading the same direction quickly. Did I mention that Libya finds itself in the same predicament? How many times do we as a country have to repeat the same mistakes before we figure out that some of these populations require a dictator to control all the factions within the country? Are they typically brutal? Yes. Is there a better way? Apparently not. Until the people of these countries rise up and gain their own freedom, they’ll not have it. We as a country need to understand that you cannot give or enforce freedom for a people that are not willing to fight for it.

The Malaysians seem to have misplaced a very large airplane, its passengers, and cargo. After days, they now believe it to have been hijacked by someone with a vast knowledge of that airplane. We've all seen the many theories that are discussed endlessly on the news networks. The latest baffles me somewhat. Agreeing with the assumption that it was hijacked, I am stumped as to why officials think it was flown south, only to crash into the ocean. Why commit a terrorist act by hijacking the plane and then fly it into the ocean where no one will know it happened? If it was flown north it could easily have reached a Middle East destination. I would think that route would be the most scrutinized for obvious reasons. I hope the officials are correct. I shudder to think of the many ways a plane the size of a 777 could be used as a weapon in the right hands. If terrorists have indeed pulled this off, they already have the right hands to weaponize the plane.

I’ll finish with a positive note. It was reported today the Fred Phelps Sr. is on the edge of death. As founder of the Westboro Baptist Church and its endless hate campaigns, his eminent demise can only bring a smile to my face. Sadly, I also have to report the he was excommunicated by his own church last fall which leads me to believe the church’s hate campaigns will continue. It has been repeatedly stated by folks commenting that his funeral and burial receive the same type of protest that he and his church gave to our honored dead. I hope that no one stoops down to the same level as the Westboro group. It is my hope that his death does not make news anywhere. It won’t happen, the news organizations will be all over it. Wouldn't it be nice if they just refused to report it, thus giving his death and the church the amount the amount of attention they truly deserve?

Rant Over!   

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare

The goal was admirable, but like much of what our government tells us, it is not as advertised. I have no intention of getting into the specifics of whose fault this mess is, or all of the half-truths and misrepresentations that were used to get this law passed. The talking heads have been pointing fingers and placing blame ad nauseum for months. What I would like to share is my experience with trying to abide by this new law.

Like many of you, I found trying to access the website in the early days impossible. I tried several times in the first few weeks, but the site just did not work. It was a never ending loop back to where you started because the site kept crashing. From the news reports it was clear that the site was not ready and never should have been launched.

After it was announced that the site was repaired, I tried several times to get through the first step; registration. After several attempts it became obvious that the government’s definition of repaired must be different from mine. Same loop as before, but they had added error messages. I assume the repair crew must be the same crack staff that designed the site to begin with.

So, with one day left to try and get this done, the wife and out set out to navigate this labyrinth and make one more attempt to comply with the new law. Great news! Things have improved. After only an hour and several website crashes, we succeeded in getting an account set up. Things were looking better! Now it’s time to log in and find out what types of coverage’s are available. After completing the account set up page we were automatically redirected to the log in page. The big moment was here; entered in the login information and clicked login. Oh good, yet another error message. An account that was just created was somehow locked and/or disabled. Two options; live chat or call the 800 number.

I started with the 800 number. No surprise that it is all automated. It first will tell you that they are experiencing a high volume of calls and wait times could be long. To reinforce this it goes on to tell you that if you are on a cell phone, make sure it is fully charged. They should also tell you to pack a sack lunch. I gave up after more than an hour on hold.

I decided to go ahead and waste the rest of my day with trying the live chat option. I actually prefer it as most of the time it is the quickest option on a competently built site. This is much like calling the 800 number. You receive a greeting message telling you they are experiencing a lot of traffic, but someone would be willing to help me shortly. After waiting for someone to chat with for exactly 81 minutes, I again through in the towel and closed the chat window. How did I know I waited 81 minutes? The chat window logs what time you requested help and then sends you a message every 90 to 93 seconds asking you to be patient while they are helping others. I’m assuming the clock is one of the repairs they are so proud of, as it seems to be the only thing on the entire fucking site that works.

According to the HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “We the People” have spent 319 million dollars through the end of October 2013 and are obligated to spend a total of 677 million dollars to build this website. I assume this had to be a no bid contract that apparently required no proof of competency to get. If the company was properly vetted you would think the legacy of poor work would have shown up. Maybe someone should send those in power a link to Angie’s list, or better yet Go Daddy. How about a conversation with a successful web operator like Amazon? I know these are simple suggestions, but I find you get the best information from those who have proven experience, not political connections.

The other question I keep asking myself is this; how can a website that cost so much and works so poorly not have cost someone their job? I can’t think of one private sector job where you could spend 319 million dollars on a project that is a complete and utter failure, and still keep your job. Is no one accountable for what is done with the people’s money?

I’ll close with this; if you are going to force the American people to buy a product they do not want, the least you could do is make the website they have to use work, especially as you have spent millions of “our” dollars to build this site.

In the meantime, I’ll be spending the day on hold, hoping that a Christmas miracle will occur and someone will answer the phone or the live chat.  


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

For Bob

Shortly after receiving my driver’s license I took a job driving a tow truck at Ernie Schmidt Standard. The man assigned to train me was named Bob Shirley. Despite the difference in age we became fast friends. We had many good times working together, but as time passed, we both moved on to other things. Over the next couple of decades we kept in touch; sometimes just through his brothers Kim and Jay, but that connection remained.

During this time, I became a Corvette expert and Bob fell in love with Corvettes. The first one he showed up with was a race car with headlights. A 3rd generation Corvette is not easy to get in and out of, nor does it offer much in creature comforts. Bob didn't care, it was loud and fast. My job was to keep it maintained and/or repaired. As we began to see more of each other, the friendship continued to grow.

He bought a 96 Corvette when he sold the beast. Still not easy to enter or exit, but creature comforts it had. Bob had all the accessories and enjoyed taking it on the Hot Rod Power Tour several times. As before, I maintained and repaired it for him. It also became a winter resident in my garage to ease parking at his home. Bob became a good friend to my grandson Kael when the car started wintering in the garage. Kael made a deal with Bob to keep the wheels clean, for which Bob paid him $5. When Bob showed up Kael could not wait to tell him of his latest adventures, and Bob would patiently listen as Kael rambled on.

When my health problems began, Bob was constantly checking in. I can’t remember a period in the last three years that he didn't call or drop by to check on me. The last couple of years he was always trying to get me to go out; lunch, a car show, anywhere. Last fall I had a 2010 Corvette in the garage and Bob fell in love with it. The owner decided to sell it, and the asking price was right. I called Bob and he ended up with the Corvette of his dreams.

When the weather broke in the spring, it was time for Bob to get his new Vette out. He wanted me to follow him home so he could have the Vette and his truck at home. I agreed assuming I'd be in the truck. Nope, he wanted me to follow him in the Vette. I assumed he’d drive me back home. No again. He had me drive the Vette and explain how things worked. Typical Bob, he left plates and insurance on the 96 and left it at my disposal. When I had a good enough day to get in and out of it, it was mine to drive.

It was about this time that Bob noticed my roof was in poor shape and asked me about it. I had the shingles, but I was no longer capable of putting them on. He said he’d take care of it; he had a nephew that did roofs. About a month later Brian and friend show up to do my roof; Brian is also a longtime friend and a past employee. They made short work of it, did a great job, and their labor was taken care of by uncle Bob. Bob just shrugged off my thanks as no big deal, but to me and my family it was a very big deal.

As summer began to come to a close, Bob was still doing his best to get me to a car show. He knew I missed going from the many conversations we had. He found out through a chance meeting with my wife at the gas station that the reason I did not go to shows was because I could no longer walk the distances most required. By the time I parked and walked to the show, I was spent.

About a week later Bob showed up and announced he was taking both Vettes to the Mother Road Festival, and that I would be attending. Before I could raise an argument, he announced that he had rented a mobility scooter for me. He would meet me where I parked to help me load and unload the scooter. He left no room for an excuse. Bob asked Kael what he was doing with all of that wheel cleaning money. Kael told him he was saving for a skateboard. Kael also explained at length why he needed one as Bob patiently listened.

I met Bob and Carol at the show on my rented scooter. I had not been to a show in four years; I had a blast. I thoroughly enjoyed the day scooting around looking at the cars and talking with Bob and Carol. I couldn't thank him enough. We all had a good time.

The week after the show, Bob started looking for a scooter to buy. He sent link after link for me to look at. Some of them were more than 5 hours away, but he didn't care. I told him to be patient, a deal would turn up and I wouldn't need it until next show season. I also told him he did not need to buy me a scooter. 

Bob dropped by to see Kael. He had bought him a skateboard and all of the knee and elbow pads that were recommended. I can still see his smile as he watched Kael ride the skateboard. If I had to guess whose smile was bigger that day, Kael or Bob’s, it would be Bob.

We found a scooter the following week that was a really good deal. Bob came by and picked me up so that we could go get it. It was in great shape and made for outside use. Bob had me try it out and then he bought it. We hauled it home that night and talked about the car shows I could now attend. We planned to go to Bloomington Gold and several other shows next season now that I had “wheels”.

I spoke with him last week about getting the Vettes parked for the winter. We made plans to get them put up last Sunday. Typically Bob would call to confirm plans when he got back to town on Thursday nights. I still had not heard from him by Sunday night, nor was he returning my calls. None of this was in character for him. Something must be wrong.

I learned that Bob passed away November 1st. He had a massive stroke the Thursday he was to call. I was devastated. Bob had become one of my closest friends in the last couple of years. A friendship that felt more like family than just friendship. I've spent the last few days grieving for Bob and his family’s loss, but I have found peace in several things.

Bob was home when he had his stroke, not on the road in his 18 wheeler hundreds of miles from home. He was surrounded by those he loved most in his last days. His suffering was not long. He had a great summer in the Corvette of his dreams, doing the things he loved with the love of his life.   

I will miss you my friend. Your visits and our conversations helped me through a really rough time. I will attend the shows we planned to attend together next year without you, but because of you. Every time I sit on that scooter I will be reminded of your kindness, compassion, generosity, and most importantly, your friendship.

Rest in Peace Bob. You've earned it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

My Colonoscopy at Springfield Clinic

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have had some health problems in recent years that have left me disabled. In that post I spoke very highly of the care I have recieved from my doctors, but failed to mention them or the institution they are affiliated with. I would like to correct that error and share my recent experience.

My relationship with Springfield Clinic began in 1959 under the care of Dr. Eveloff. He was the only doctor I saw until the age of 18. I was a healthy child, so most visits were for routine check-ups. Then as today, the staff were always friendly and helpful. Dr. Eveloff and Springfield Clinic had earned my trust through the quality of care that was consistently delivered at every visit.

I met the man who would become my primary physician when he was a resident at SIU family practice. Dr. James Stegeman has been my primary physician for my entire adult life. I will admit that we hit it off the first time we met, and over the years we've become friends. He knows my quirks and has always been willing to help despite them. My trust in him is implicit. His support staff is top notch in every aspect from the receptionist to the nurses.

I went in for my annual wellness visit last month which is discussed in an earlier post. Two days after my visit I received a call from one of Dr. Stegeman's support staff; if I had not yet had a colonoscopy, one needed to be scheduled. These were the words I had been dreading.

I was sent to see Dr.Brad Paris for a consultation. The consultation was short, but very thorough. My first impression was very good. If you have to have this done, the least you could expect is a likeable doctor. Dr. Paris was this and more.

The day before the procedure I started the cleansing process. I had heard all the nightmare stories of having to drink a gallon of the worst tasting liquid ever invented and spending all day and night on the toilet; this has changed. Dr. Paris had prescribed SUPREP, two 6 ounce bottles of fluid taken with water. The first bottle was mixed with water at 10:00 AM and consumed. It had to be followed by two additional glasses of water in the next hour. By 1:00 PM it had done its job, and I no longer worried about my distance from the toilet. A liquid diet for the day; a list of permissible fluids was provided at the consultation. At 8:00 PM the process is repeated. By 10:00 PM the cleansing was complete. Nothing by mouth after midnight. Not a pleasant day, but not nearly as bad as it had been described by others.

My wife and I arrived at the clinic at 5:45 AM the next day. I am not a morning person by any definition, but the clinic is full of them. Happy smiling faces greeted us at every turn. The check-in was painless; the wife was provided a pager so that she did not have to sit in the waiting room. They would notify her when I was in recovery.

After a short wait we were called back to a prep room. Much to my surprise there was a large recliner with a blanket for me to sit in and a TV (remote included) to watch. The nurse went through a few questions to make sure all my information was current. She then provided a gown for me to put on as well as socks. As you know, you wear nothing under this gown. When the wife helped me to put it on, I was surprised to find it was almost as thick as flannel. We cracked the door to let her know I was dressed and in minutes she was in the room with warm blankets. She started an IV and attached the patch to my back that would monitor my vital signs. The anesthesiologist was in to visit and ask a few questions. Dr. Paris then stopped in to make sure we had no further questions before we got started.

A few minutes later the nurse was in to walk me down to where the procedure would be performed. The dreaded walk down the hall with your backside exposed and cold, but wait! As soon as I stood, another nurse was there with a warm blanket which she held over my backside for the walk. They helped me onto the bed, and you guessed it, another freshly warmed blanket. The nurse chatted with me during the short wait for Dr. Paris. When he arrived she told me she was going to start the anesthesia. I watched her push the plunger, and the next thing I know, I'm looking at my wife wondering when they would start. The recovery nurse was waiting with cookies and a soft drink for me while we waited to see Dr. Paris. He was in promptly to explain what was found and to recommend a boost in my fiber intake. My visit ended with a gentle ride in a wheelchair to my car.

The care I received at the clinic for this procedure would rival a first class resort/spa. The staff are friendly people who go above and beyond to make your experience as pleasant as possible. The doctors go out of their way to make sure you understand, and are comfortable with the procedures being performed.

I received a call the next day from Dr. Paris's nurse to check on how I was doing, and to make sure I had no further questions.

I'm not sure when I'll have to go back, but when I do I can rest assured that I will receive the best care available in Central Illinois. Thank you to all involved for making my experience a pleasant one.

Ron Kane