Category Archives: Health

Got Milk?

This refers to an ad campaign in the U.S. showing various celebrities (and at least in one case, the Mona Lisa) with white “mustaches” from drinking milk. With gusto, you assume.
I am a milk freak and have been since I was a child. Had I been permitted to, I would have drunk (drank? drunken? drinked? Making it up as I go along here) milk with every meal and every snack. But I was only allowed to drink milk at breakfast. For lunch and dinner, my choices were sweetened iced tea and sweetened iced tea. For snacks, I could have Coca-Cola.
I still find this puzzling. My mother was a registered nurse and had to know that milk is much healthier than tea or Coke. The only thing I can come up with to explain it is that milk was more expensive.
I wasn’t permitted to drink coffee at all, ever, but that was mainly because my mother didn’t like it and we never had it in the house. She made it for my father, but once he moved out, that was the end of coffee in our house.
So I developed an addiction to Coca-Cola. My first semester in college, one day I realized I was drinking 6 Cokes a day. So, I just stopped. Don’t ask me how I managed to do that.
Then I developed an addiction to coffee. With cream and sugar. The only time I’d tasted it (from my father’s cup), it was black. It dawned on me that I didn’t live at home anymore so I could drink anything I liked! One day I was at work, and realized that I was using like 4 packets of sugar for a 6-ounce Styrofoam cup of coffee. I was making syrup. So I just stopped that too.
I wasn’t addicted to Cokes or coffee, I was addicted to sugar. I still drink coffee…two cups every morning, black…but almost no sodas at all. I might drink half a Coca-Cola once a year. The carbonation is strangely refreshing. I drink ginger ale about that often.
Back to milk. I still love it and drink it at every meal, unless I have to try to act elegant and drink wine instead. But it turns out, I’m a mutant. Only 70% of the world’s population continues to produce the enzyme lactase after childhood, and it’s required in order to digest milk, whether it comes from your mother or from a cow or a goat or a fill-in-the-blank. It also turns out that people with extreme Northern European ancestry (Scandinavia, the British Isles) are most likely to continue to produce lactase (90% probability). People of African or Asian descent have only a 10% probability.
I knew about lactose intolerance in cats, which I learned the hard way. I once rescued this little feral kitten from the streets of New Orleans (“Erin”), who wasn’t weaned and didn’t know how to eat solid food. So I added milk. He snarfed it up. Once he began eating the solid food, I quit adding milk. Later on, I decided to give him milk as a treat and he was the very definition of sudden projectile vomiting. It was very impressive. Halfway across the room.
But it isn’t just cats…it’s all mammals. I can think of a lot of good evolutionary reasons for this. For one thing, it encourages the baby mammals to become independent and start eating other things, and if necessary, to go out and hunt for them. (Mom will not always be there.) It lets the mother rest and build up reserves for the next baby.
I’d like to mention that I had another cat who got sick and I fed her baby food meats mixed with rice, on the advice of the vet. While I’ve never tried canned or dry cat food, baby food veal is really yummy stuff. I hope PETA isn’t reading.
But lucky me! I can still drink milk and eat ice cream to my heart’s content.

The Nanny State

In the U.S., our government (federal, state, or local) is often determined to outlaw things for our own good.
Today’s rant is about the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), The FDA is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that food and drugs sold to the public are safe. Good idea. How are they doing? Not so well. My guess is they aren’t funded well enough to do the job right. Nobody even remembers who they are until there is some scare, like contaminated spinach. And then who gets blamed? The FDA! Not the growers. The FDA is in a Catch-22 world.
During the recent 16 day government shutdown, all their inspectors were suspended because their jobs were considered “non-essential”. Really?
In any case, the FDA announced about two weeks ago that they are going to start cracking down on Schedule III drugs. Let’s talk about the schedules. Schedule I drugs are those with a very high potential for abuse, have no accepted medical use in the US, and a lack of accepted safety even under medical supervision. This includes things like heroin and LSD, but also marijuana, which is pretty funny since at the state level, marijuana is legal in many states. So the Feds still consider it illegal, but there seems to be a hands-off policy when it comes to prosecuting people in states where it’s been legalized.
There are five schedules, each of which has a declining level of potential abuse, do have accepted medical uses, and have been tested for safety.
Schedule II includes drugs like cocaine, morphine (which is derived from opium) and various synthetic versions of morphine, including the heavy-duty pain killers Percocet, Oxycontin (considered the really big bad boy of the list), Percodan, Dilaudid and Demerol.
Schedule III includes such things as anabolic steroids and Hydrocodone, as long as it’s combined with an NSAID like ibuprofen or acetaminophen (Lortab, Vicodin, Vicoprofen).
Schedules IV and V aren’t worth mentioning.
So supposedly there’s a new epidemic of abuse of Schedule II drugs. Nonsense. It isn’t new. Thirty-five years ago I worked in a methadone clinic. I never met one person who was addicted to heroin. Apparently, heroin was pretty hard to come by. They were addicted to Dilaudid. How did they get it? In some cases, doctor shopping, going from doctor to doctor with phony complaints and getting prescriptions from each doctor. In some cases, from sympathetic doctors who knew they were addicts but didn’t want them to suffer. In some cases by breaking into or outright robbing pharmacies. And let me tell you, these people led miserable lives. Going from getting high to going into withdrawal. Always worried about where the next pill was coming from. Even if they didn’t rob pharmacies, they burglarized homes and fenced the take, to get the money to buy drugs. I knew a guy who bought a van, had signs painted on the side that said “Acme Movers” or something like that. He would back the van up to a house where he knew the people weren’t home, and clean it out, in broad daylight.
So the “new” epidemic has been around for a while, and the “cracking down” on Schedule II drugs has also been around, to the point where many doctors are afraid to prescribe them at all. Why? Because if you’re determined by the government to be over-prescribing them, they can revoke your medical license. Never mind if you’re an oncologist or an anesthesiologist (who typically run pain clinics for people with chronic pain) or an orthopedist.
The “cracking down” on Schedule III drugs will now remove the last effective alternative for treatment of pain, in my opinion. Pretty soon, if you, say, break your ankle, the doctor will put it in a cast, tell you to take two aspirin and call him or her in the morning. Not because they don’t think you need it, but because they will be scared.
Recently, the Florida Attorney General has been touting her success at closing down “pill mills”. The amount of Oxycontin prescribed in Florida is down by 20%. In a related story, heroin overdoses are up by 20%. What does that tell you? I seriously fear that this approach will not reduce addiction and overdoses, but will make it much more difficult for people who really need pain drugs for legitimate reasons to get them. A woman on NPR (National Public Radio) last week said she got a prescription for a pain drug, but couldn’t find a pharmacy that would fill it.
When will we ever give up on this ineffective “war on drugs”?
NPR also did a story about the issue, here’s a quote. “The US has about 4% of the world’s population, and we’re consuming more than 80% of the world’s oxycodone supply. We’re also consuming more than 99% of the world’s hydrocodone”. What a misleading statistic. What percentage of the world population has no access to medical care of any kind? What other countries have more lenient laws about drugs, and thus less crime associated with it?
You would think we (the US) would have learned when alcohol was banned in 1920 with the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. In 1933, the 18th was repealed by the 21st Amendment. Prohibition did not work then, and it doesn’t work now.

Fakename on Health Care in America

I finally, in my mind, managed to crystallize the three main objections to the PPAHCA today. That’s the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, aka, Obamacare.
Objection #1: It’s Obamacare. I hate Obama. Nothing he is for can be good. Mainly because he is (check all that apply) a socialist, Communist, Nazi, Muslim, sleeper terrorist, black.
Objection #2: I still can’t afford it. This is the part that sadly may be true. Because the Republicans gutted the law before it was passed, keeping it unaffordable. Not to mention the Tea Party, the Libertarians, and the Anarchists, who don’t believe that health care is a right. Everyone should lift themselves up by their bootstraps and be able to purchase healthcare as a privilege. The only time you have a right to life is if you’re a fetus.
Objection #3: I should not be forced to buy a product I don’t want, even if I CAN afford to. Because I’m an American! I’m free as a bird! This is the objection I find most ridiculous. I think you most certainly should be forced. Because unless you do, as a person who has insurance–I’m paying for your healthcare. I want to stop. Or at least I’d like it to be cheaper for me to help pay for your health care. I’m not convinced that PPAHCA will make it cheaper for me, but this is at least an attempt.
Unless you’re living in a cave, you know that the U.S. government is partially shut down. I picture people in other developed countries, who resolved the issue of health care long ago, asking what the hell is wrong with us? Good question.
The only good thing is that by partially shutting down the government, Republicans are committing suicide. I just don’t understand how they don’t get that. I say, keep it up. It’s a snake eating its own tail.

Happy New Year…Or Not!

Saturday, December 29th (my birthday, by the way!), I traveled to St. George Island for the New Year’s holiday with my two friends Brenda and Pat.  We were there for fun in general, with the high point being the bonfire on the beach on New Year’s Eve.  The first order of business on the first evening was to go to the Blue Parrot for oysters.  We set out at about 7:00 P.M., when it’s quite dark this time of year.

Like almost every house on the island except the very old ones, the house is on stilts to protect it from flooding during hurricanes or tropical storms, so it has to be accessed via stairs.  From the door, there is one set of steps leading to a landing.  From the landing, the steps split into two “wings” leading to one side of the house or the other.  While descending that first set of steps from the door, I missed the last step.  Just. One. Step. I fell in a heap onto the landing, twisting as I went.  This all happened so fast I wasn’t even sure, really, what had happened.  It was like, one minute I was walking down the stairs, the next minute I was sitting on the landing holding my ankle, going Ow! Ow! Ow!

If I’d had any sense (which clearly, I don’t), I would have turned right around and gone back into the house.  But I proceeded down the steps, with Pat’s help, and went for oysters.  It’s the perfect time of year and the perfect temperature for the world-famous Apalachicola Bay oysters.  Eating those dozen raw oysters was my last happy moment of 2012.

Again with Pat’s help, or maybe Brenda’s, I had to climb back up the whole set of stairs into the house.  At least at that point, I did the right thing.  I elevated my leg and put ice on it.  My ankle, by that time, was swollen like a balloon.

I’ve never broken a bone before so I didn’t really know what to look for.  But by the next morning, which was Sunday, I had a very strong feeling that my ankle was broken rather than just sprained.  The pain was excruciating and I couldn’t walk at all.  I could barely stand up.  I knew I had to go to the Emergency Room.  The question was, how to get out of the house?

So we did the only thing possible…we called 911.  The St. George Island Volunteer Fire Department came and carried me down the steps in a special chair built for that purpose.  I have a picture, but WordPress does not seem to want me to share it for some reason.  I’ll have to investigate that later.

The only person on duty that morning was the Fire Chief, Jay, and he called in another volunteer to help–primarily because the chair was in her vehicle.  Jay came again two more times, once to get me back into the house after visiting the ER, and a final time to get me out of the house to come back to Tallahassee.  Unfortunately, these last two times, he came alone, so that poor Pat had to do rescue duty without having volunteered for it.

So after being carried from the house, Brenda, Pat, and I piled into Brenda’s SUV, or well, I didn’t exactly pile.  Can I tell you how hard it is to get into a Ford Expedition with an injured leg?  I’m short, so it’s a challenge for me even normally.   We headed to the nearest town with an ER, namely, Apalachicola itself.  The county seat of Franklin County, Florida.  Population as of 2000–2,234.  This was not going to be high tech medical treatment.  But the only alternative was to go back to Tallahassee, which I refused to do.  And not just for stubborn reasons.

Apalachicola is about 9 miles from St. George Island.  Tallahassee is 80.  If I had gone back to Tallahassee I would have been alone, without Pat and Brenda and the Volunteer Fire Department to help me.  Worse, if Brenda took me back she would likely have gone on to return home herself to Jacksonville.  Therefore missing the main purpose of our visit–the bonfire.  I didn’t see why their vacation should be ruined too.  It would have made me feel worse than I already did.

I now see that this post must be done in installments.  Next epis0de:  the Emergency Room.


The State of Medicine in the U.S.

Which is pretty sorry.  Let me tell you a story.  Last Thursday afternoon, I went to the pharmacy for a refill on one of the two medications I take for hypertension, and found out the prescription had expired.  I asked for a small supply to get through the next few days until I could get the prescription refilled, and they said they couldn’t do that, because it’s a “controlled substance”.  What?

It used to be you could call your doctor and ask for a refill, but now they (at least the clinic where I go) requires the pharmacy to do that.  Which the pharmacy does by sending a fax.

On Friday, I went to the pharmacy, but the prescription had not been filled yet.  They hadn’t heard from the doctor.  My clinic is closed on weekends, but I hoped they had called it in late Friday.  So I called the pharmacy.  No luck.

I waited until Monday, which was Christmas Eve, and called the clinic.  They were closed.  I got a recording which said, “If this is an emergency, please hang up and call 911 or go to the Emergency Room”.  Well no.  I’m not going to the Emergency Room (an $800 minimum charge) for a $10 generic prescription. So I called one of their sister clinics–there are seven in the area–and they said, “We can’t help you. We don’t have access to your records. But if is this is an emergency…”

One of the initiatives of the President’s health care plan is moving toward electronic records, so that any caregiver has access to your history.  I confess I was somewhat leery of that, but now I get it.

The thing is, while I wouldn’t go to the ER, it was becoming something of an emergency.  Saturday, after missing a day and a half of the medication, I had a massive headache, which I knew meant my blood pressure was up.  I chose to try to be very quiet and still and wait.  And hope I didn’t have a stroke in the meantime.  The headache never went away, and plus, I felt sick.  The kind of “sick” that you are when your blood pressure is high is not easily described.

It was no use calling either the clinic or the pharmacy on Tuesday.  It was Christmas Day, and both were closed.  On Wednesday, I called the pharmacy.  Still no prescription.  I called the clinic.  They said, “Yes, we do have the fax from the pharmacy, but the thing is, it’s still on the doctor’s desk. She’s been the only doctor here today and has had to see all the patients”.

On Thursday I called the pharmacy back.  Still no prescription.  On Friday I called again.  They had it, and it was ready.  By this time, I’m very, very sick, and was having trouble contemplating the idea of moving from the couch.

So here are a few things that are wrong:  no electronic record.  Not enough doctors.  The fact that doctors in the U.S. expect to be rich.  Which is understandable, since the cost of medical school is astronomical.  Assuming you ever make it out of that debt in your lifetime, then you’re faced with malpractice insurance, which is equally astronomical. The cost of going to the Emergency Room–which is the primary source of medical care for those without health insurance. So if you do have it, then you are paying for all those who don’t.  (Thus the $800 minimum.) So wouldn’t it be better if everyone had it?

Having said all that, I’d say that in order to have a good medical professional, you also have to be a good patient.  For instance, don’t fail to notice that a critical prescription is expiring just before the Christmas holidays.

The Perils of Aging…and Folic Acid

Aging has many perils and I don’t like any of them.  Just so you know.

I recently had bloodwork drawn, and week before last, the doctor’s office called and said I had low blood sodium and the doctor said to eat more salt.  What?  Did I hear this right?  This must be the first time in history that a doctor said to eat more salt rather than less.  So I said, well I guess that won’t be hard to do!  The nurse said, I hear you.  I spend all my time trying to eat less salt.  I wish someone would tell ME to eat more salt.

But guess what?  It IS hard to do.  Once I thought about it, I realized it wasn’t going to be that easy.  I already use salt on my food.  If I added more, it would be inedible. So I did a little informal survey on Facebook, and got two interesting suggestions.  One was, take salt pills. I thought that was a little extreme, but it may be the route I have to take.  The other suggestion was, eat a lot of potato chips.   Well, I don’t hate potato chips, but I don’t like them that much either. How could I eat them every day? So, so far, I’m not doing anything about that advice.  Which is not really a good idea.  Limited research on my part tells me that normal blood sodium is a very good thing to have.

At the same time we had the sodium discussion, the nurse informed me I also had a low red blood cell count, though not enough to count as anemia, and they would get back to me.  The doctor had ordered more tests, fortunately on the same blood.  Because pigs would fly before I went back to give them another sample.

So last week they called to give me the results of the further testing, which revealed that I have low folic acid.  Really?  What the hell is folic acid?  The only bell it rang for me is that I remembered pregnant women are supposed to have a lot of it.  But whatever it is, the doctor wants me to take 1 mg. a day.

So of course, I looked it up.  It turns out folic acid (aka B9) helps in the production of red blood cells.  Aha.  Among many other good things it does.  So I decided this was advice I would take. (Actually, I would take the advice about sodium too, but I just don’t know how much is “more”.)

So  on Friday, I get to the pharmacy section in my home-away-from-home, Publix grocery, and the only size folic acid they have is 400 mcg.

So I take it to the counter, and I lucked up and got the little spiky-haired, Buddy Holly glasses-wearing, never-smiling pharmacy technician named Josh.  Josh is a technician because he is a pharmacist-in-training. He gets to wear a blue lab coat like the real pharmacists.

So why, you may ask, was this lucky?  Because I like him.  Behind that wry, stoic exterior is a guy with a great sense of humor who is trying to stifle it in the interest of being serious and professional.  I recognize a kindred spirit when I see one.

Once I went there to pick up a prescription and Josh said, Hi, Ms. Fakename, what can I do for you?  I said, NOOOO.  This is really bad when the pharmacist recognizes you.  He said, Really?  Why?  I said, it means I’m here too often, and must be taking too many medications.  Actually I only take three, but they all seem to expire at different times so I feel like I should get frequent flyer miles for the number of times I’m at the Publix pharmacy counter.

On Friday, I said, Josh, I’m here to pick up a prescription, and also, I need a math lesson.  He ALMOST, almost smiled.  Setting the bottle of folic acid on the counter, I said, how much of a milligram is 400 mcg?

He said, 0.4 mg.  So you need 2 1/2 of these.  Do you have a pill splitter?  (Good little salesman.)  I do, I said, but it basically sucks.  So he showed me the model they for some reason hide behind the counter.  (Razor blades!  Danger Danger!  But the ones they have on the customer side of the counter have razor blades too.  They all do.  I don’t get it.)  So I bought one, but by the time I left the store I regretted it.  I had already decided I was only taking two of the pills a day (800 mcg.)  That is just going to have to do.

I’m just not anxious to add to that three-medication total. But it’s inevitable that I will have to.  There is only so much I can remember and pay attention to.  And I absolutely draw the line at one of those pill boxes where you put all your medications for a day.  The day I can’t remember what I’m supposed to be taking and when is the day I give up and join the zombies.  I am not ready to be a zombie.


Depression…Or Not

I pretty much earned the Girl Scout badge for depression, although it was a long time ago.  But because of it (and lots of therapy), I can say that I recognize the signs very well.  And this week, I was headed toward depression, which culminated last night.  Fortunately, this is very rare, in fact so rare, I barely recognized it.  Because I had to learn to change so much, to perceive things differently.

But depression FEELS different.  It isn’t the same as being sad.  It isn’t the same as having a bad week.  I’ve been both for at least a week.  And as always, it’s a combination of things.

I can remember having a conversation with the psychiatrist about the kinds of things that made me depressed, and I would say, but that can’t be it.  It’s just too minor to make me feel this way.  And he would say, Yes, but what about Y and Z?  Couldn’t X, Y, and Z together make you feel this bad?  When I said, surely not, he would say Why not?  Hmmm.  So we would (or I would) painstakingly pick apart X, Y, and Z, and put them back together in a new configuration.  A way that wasn’t as scary and made just as much sense as my old way.  He was a genius, although I had to do the work.

So this week, here’s what happened.  I read a book that left me feeling very unsettled.  My sister’s dog died.  My boss sent me a snarky email.  (Okay, that one was easier to get over, but it just added to the general downward spiral.)  My bookkeeper and my assistant manager at work did a couple of really stupid things and I had to have a word with them.  (It IS my job, but I still hated it.  They are both marvelous, admirable people.) I found out that my neighbor’s dogs had been seized by Animal Control and one of them was euthanized.  Since I reported the neighbors in the first place, this is of course all my fault.  (Not.)  I’m having trouble with my computer.

I’ve been having trouble sleeping.  I always have very vivid dreams that I can remember, but I’ve been having nightmares that wake me up.  Yesterday the newspaper posted the videos of interviews they did with breast cancer survivors, which I participated in.  And that was the last straw.  All I could think about was how old I looked, and to a lesser degree, how I should have worn something different.

Last night I couldn’t even go to sleep, much less stay asleep.

Spiraling into depression is hard to describe.  It’s like falling down a well.  I had forgotten.  So what you have to do is refuse to fall all the way.  You have to grab onto the bricks on the way down and cling, even if your fingernails break. You have to dig your toes into the cracks between the bricks, like a rock climber, and cling.

The mental equivalent is that you have to force yourself to focus on the good things you saw or experienced lately, because they are there if you can find them.  A friend (that I didn’t think was speaking to me) unexpectedly dropped by my office and took me to lunch.  While reading at my picnic table this week, some sort of little black waspy thing that was annoying me captured some sort of very fat white larva.  It was apparently so heavy that the black waspy thing couldn’t fly.  So when I tried to wave it away, it would just waddle to another part of the table, because letting go of the prize was not an option.  I was so amused I was practically in tears.  But there is a serious lesson there…it might seem like a small thing.  It might seem like too small a thing to counteract the bad things, but it is, if you will let it be.  Plus, never let go of the bricks.

Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I was surfing TV channels. First I watched a little of Discovery ID (No.  Women killing people.)  Then NatGeo Wild.  (Okay better.  Wild cats killing food.) But the next program was about spiders.  No.  No spiders.  I finally ended up at the Cooking Channel where Alton Brown was doing eggplant dishes, followed by bananas.

I fell asleep somehere around Bananas Foster.  Today I feel cured.  Who knew that all it would take was eggplant?

Go Pink!

It’s that time of year again–October, which is breast cancer awareness month.  So I get to experience, once again, my ambivalence toward the whole Pink Stuff issue.  Like, aren’t we “aware” enough already?  Why must they keep beating us over the head with it?  Plus, there are so many other cancers which don’t get nearly the same amount of attention, but are equally deserving of attention and research money.  And not to mention other diseases, like CFIDS, which don’t even rate in terms of money and publicity.  This makes me cringe.

But, I kind of understand it.  Because it was not that long ago that it was impolite to mention the word “breast” or the word “cancer” in public, and the two together were like unthinkable.

But I think I know why and how that changed.  It was the book Our Bodies, Ourselves.  First published in 1971.  It’s now in its 9th edition (published in 2011) and its focus has changed somewhat.  In 1971, it was revolutionary, and was open warfare on doctors by women.

At that time, the standard of care for a diagnosis of breast cancer was radical mastectomy:  removal of the breast, the muscles of the chest wall underneath that breast  and most of the lymph nodes under the arm.  This was a case where the treatment was nearly as bad as the disease.

And even then it seems, the state of knowledge was that that probably wasn’t necessary.  But the authors of the book said, practicing doctors (who were mostly men) don’t really care.  After all, it’s only women, so who cares?  The whole point of the book really was for women to advocate for themselves and to stop buying everything doctors told them.  They succeeded.

Which falls into the category of “Be careful what you wish for”.  For the most part though, it worked.  The standard of care now is:  radical mastectomies are never done at all.  And a “modified” radical is: remove all the above except the muscles of the chest wall.  And it is now the last choice, not the first.  The downside is that women who may actually need that are more reluctant to do so.  Plus you get Pink Overload every October.

And yet.  I have relaxed a bit about the issue now.  Even if breast cancer hogs all the attention and a lot of the money, a rising tide lifts all boats.

This month, the local newspaper is sponsoring Go Pink!  An awareness effort that other cities are apparently participating in also.  It kicked off on Thursday, October 4th.  That day, driving to work, pink was everywhere. I have never seen an entire city do something like this.  Eventually I had to suspend my embarassment and cynicism about it, and just be amazed.  It made me cry.  A rising tide lifts all boats.

A pictorial history:

 From my drive into work.  The FastSigns store next door to the T-Mobile store.

The pink Poinsettias at Publix Grocery.

The next photos are from the newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat.

Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.

The (Tallahassee) Leon County Courthouse.

The State Capitol.

The New York Times, And Newspapers In General

I subscribe to the New York Times Premium Puzzles, and it isn’t free, but it isn’t expensive either.  I do their puzzles every day, which you can do for free as long as it’s the same day.  Premium allows you to access previous days’ puzzles, plus access to what they call their Second Sunday puzzle, which includes the Acrostics.  I am addicted to Acrostics!  It also allows you access to Play With A Friend, so you can interactively solve the puzzle with another person or more than one person.  My sister and I do this together every Saturday (Saturday being the hardest puzzle and requiring two brains), so it’s very important to me to be able to access it.  My sister and I use it as our weekly catch-up time.

I remember a friend who used to call his mother every weekend, and he dreaded it.  This is never a dreaded contact, I look forward to it.  If we have nothing to say beyond doing the puzzle together, that’s fine too.  We don’t have to scramble to find a topic if there really isn’t one.   We touched base.  We had fun.  We know we are each okay.  Mission accomplished.

It’s a fixed appointment.  If either of us did not show up without prior notice, we would know something was wrong.

So this week…it would not allow me to type in either the Acrostic or Play With A Friend.  I discovered that Friday night and did everything I could do on my end to try to fix it.  Logged off the NYT and logged back on (about a hundred times).  Restarted the computer (about a hundred times).  Emptied the cache.  Cleared everything I know how to clear.  And it still didn’t work.

So, in desperation, I contacted the NY Times Help.  And…Arrgh. I’ve done this before, and should have remembered.  I got back an automated response suggesting I do all the things I’d already done.  I just wanted to scream.  I am so frustrated!  But what can I do?  Well, I replied, I already did that.  Could a real person look into this?

It does make me a little sad, because I’m well aware of the issues that newpapers are going through.  (Like, death.)  But if I have a problem with my Kindle or with my cell phone, I can get customer service help 24 hours a day from Amazon or Sprint. (Of course they will be from India or Uzbekistan, but…that’s another discussion.)  Sometimes while I’m searching for the answer to my problem, someone will pop up on chat and offer to help.  Or I can choose the chat option to begin with.

Not so with the NYT.  Apparently their people work Monday through Friday and have pre-set automated responses for when they are not there.  This seems like a scheduling problem to me.  You could have shifts that go from Tuesday through Saturday, or Wednesday through Sunday.  That way you would cover every day of the week….even if they were all 8 to 5 shifts.  Inquiries after that time would be answered the next day.  They need a manager.

I am sad about newspapers though.  Every weekday, I read the paper and ink version of my local paper.  I won’t subscribe to the online version, because the fees are more than the fees for the New York Times, which just seems wrong to me.  And the NYT lets you read 10 articles a month for free.  But I don’t see that lasting long.  I like newspapers.  I like real books.  I like libraries, and the smell of old paper.

And yet, as I mentioned, I have a Kindle, a cell phone, a Bluetooth.  I have Windows 7 and more than one email address (some of which I have to remember to check.)  I have a foot in both worlds, so to speak.  I know people who are steadfast in refusing to give up the “old ways”.  For instance.  I’m on the Board of an organization and there are various ways to notify us of meetings.  When that task falls to the former president of the organization, he calls you on the phone.  You will never get me that way.  He has an email address, but he doesn’t like it and doesn’t trust it.  Sad.   If you don’t change with the times, you will become very isolated.  I don’t know what he’ll do if they ever stop publishing the paper and ink version of the local newspaper.   Which has happened in other cities (Seattle).

However, it can also get out of hand.  I, for example, don’t have and never will have a Twitter account.  I think the whole concept is laughable and useless.  That said, apologies to Twitter fans. I once said a similar thing to a blogger friend and he was highly insulted.  I’ll leave it at, this is a bit too much connectivity for me.  The best thing about technology for me is that it has allowed me to become more disconnected, rather than less.  I need lots of down time.  To read in the back yard.  To contemplate how annoying and yet clever squirrels are.  To get stung by fire ants (or some other unknown critter)and take myself to the ER.  I don’t think sending a Tweet about it would be helpful.

Having said this about newspapers, next month I will be a somewhat reluctant “star” in the local newspaper.  They are participating in a campaign called Go Pink! Which is apparently a national endeavor by newspapers. Each day they are highlighting one local woman who has survived breast cancer.  I have very mixed feelings about the whole pink stuff thing.  But overall, I think this is a good idea.  This is the face of cancer:  someone who is your neighbor or co-worker.  And there were things I wanted to say.  When the article comes out, I will let you know, and provide a link to the online video of the interview (which I will probably have to pay for, Ha!)  The reporter did the video using an iPhone!  I am still amazed!

I love newspapers and I am prematurely mourning their deaths.  But I also love new ways to communicate too.  Like iPhones.

To Hell in a Handbasket

Judging from the hysteria of my conservative friends, we are already there.  Only they noticed the gradual drop of the handbasket.  The rest of us were blissfully ignorant.

I am of course referring to the confirmation by the Supreme Court of the Allordable Health Care Act.  Of course, what is lost in the hysteria is what the Supreme Court actually ruled.  They didn’t say it was a good idea (although I think it is, in a flawed sort of way).  They said Congress had the power to pass the law under their powers of taxation.

Which is very, very interesting.  I always understood it to be a tax.  But I was surprised to learn that Congress went out of its way to avoid the word “tax”.  The Supreme Court said the govenment’s argument that Congress had the power to enact the law under the Commerce Act did not hold water.  I completely understand that.  The Commerce Act enables the federal government to regulate interstate commerce, not to force people to buy a product.

In what seems like a hair-splitting move, the Supreme Court said Congress can’t force you to buy a product, but they can tax you if you don’t.  What’s the difference?  Congress called this tax a penalty–but it’s paid to the IRS and is based on income.  Chief Justice John Roberts said, if it walks like a tax and quacks like a tax, it’s a tax.

What stuns me is the lack of understanding about what the law is supposed to do.  Perhaps particularly that those who need it and could benefit from it the most are the people who hate it most.  Immediately after the Supreme Court decision, one of my Facebook friends posted “Bend over America.”  One of my employees said, “They will just have to take me to jail, because I can’t afford insurance”.  You have to hand it to the Republicans.  They’ve done an excellent job of mixing up the ideas of personal freedom and patriotism with the idea of personal benefit.

Remember when it used to be a “government takeover of healthcare”? Last week on TV, John Boehner said it’s a “government takeover of the insurance industry”. (Like that would be a bad thing?)  Of course, he’s still wrong.  It’s regulation of the insurance industry.  It amazes me that Republicans have been able to convince people with no insurance to rally around the insurance industry, in the name of personal freedom and patriotism.  Neat trick.  Government and regulation are four-letter words.  First they will go after the insurance companies.  Next step:  they will be at your door trying to take away your guns.  Please.

It’s hard to even have a semi-logical conversation about this.  I didn’t even try until yesterday, and it fairly quickly devolved into “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” (From him to me.)

To some extent, both sides start with a philosophy.  His is: whatever you get takes away from what I get.  I talked myself blue in the face about how he is already paying for other people’s health care, and this is at least an attempt to even it out.

Back to the employee who said they would have to take her to jail. So, my take on that is that as far as she’s concerned, things are just fine the way they are.  She does get health care.  It’s just that I’m paying for it.

I’m not entirely a bleeding heart liberal on this.  Because it slays me that rather than pay a miniscule amount to contribute to her own health care, she is willing for me to keep paying for it.  How fair is that?

And I am rapidly approaching the inability to pay for both of us.

I don’t know if the AHCA is the answer.  But something has to change.