Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mounting Frustrations and Stomach Aches

I keep looking for the good news in this set of circumstances which has been thrust upon me.
Let’s see: I have had four days of gastrointestinal distress, and it’s getting worse. Maybe I’ll lose weight.
I am discovering the kindness in people. A couple of bankers and an attorney of my acquaintance have shown mercy to me and provided services which typically would have a fee attached.

Here’s the thing, just to catch you up: A member of my family has abruptly fallen ill, doesn’t seem to be getting any better and the prognosis is poor. This doesn’t mean he’s dying. It appears he will just stay sick for a long, long time. Sick enough that he needs a lot of help making decisions. Sick enough that he can’t really leave his hospital room.

Oh, but he MUST leave his hospital room because his benefits are running out. So, somebody (me) has to find a place for him to go where his insurance will pay. The kinds of places we’re talking about are not the kinds of places people want to go. They’re the kinds of places where, if you go there, you will immediately think “holy crap, this is my last stop?(!)” It might not be. It could be, but if it were me, I’d be down for the count.

Knowing how emotionally difficult this move will be, I’m dreading even talking about it. But I must.
For some reason, I’m having a hard time truly accepting that people want to help. It turns out, I’m in conflict because at my core I’m a desperately needy person; but I really don’t want to bother anybody with my troubles. The exception is my wife, who continues to affirm my belief that she is just a gift from heaven itself.

I recently had the opportunity to spill my troubles onto the plate of an intelligent and insightful person I know. He said, “You seem to believe that your wife is the only person who accepts the imperfect you.” That is a disquietingly accurate observation.

I mean, this isn’t about ME, this is about the sick person…but the sick person’s troubles are dominating me and I can’t seem to shake loose of it all. For instance, I finally got the Power of Attorney I need to get some things rolling. Or so I thought. I went to Sick person’s bank and while the “personal banker” was very helpful, the legal department at Big Bank’s corporate office was not satisfied with the POA. This despite that I used one of the largest and most respected law firms in town to draw it up. It’s good enough for every other bank, but not for the legal geniuses of big Bank, wherever they are.
So, what has to happen? For the second time, we have to assemble in Sick Person’s room a Notary Public and two witnesses, get Sick person to sign another POA…reassemble all the papers again and try to satisfy Big Bank.

And this guy has some kind of unusual insurance mix. So, one or two doctors’ offices have declined the opportunity to see him because they can’t figure out how to get paid. But, if they just worked a little harder, they WOULD get paid. But, why work harder? So, to arrange for care & feeding, etc…I’m having to take three or four steps each instead of one. It’s killin’ me.

So now, I’m doing coping skills…trying to discipline myself to deal with the circumstances that are placed before me today and today only. Worry about tomorrow tomorrow, and all that. It’s not easy. Now, if you’ll excuse me…I gotta go to the bathroom.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

This Shouldn't Be So Hard

On behalf of anyone and everyone who might someday have the management and care of an incapacitated person thrust upon them, please heed what I say. As inconceivable as it might be to you, one day YOU may be unable to make decisions for yourself. Please, right away, go to a lawyer or LegalZoom or something and designate someone to make decisions for you: medical, legal, financial, whatever. Then tell people about it. Leave a note. Engrave a medallion. Scrawl it in Sharpie on the inside of a closet door. Do something so that people will know about it.

Our efforts to look out for the physical and financial well-being of a relative who has recently fallen ill have been thwarted by the fact that he neglected (refused) to make any such designation. Notoriously stubborn, he consented to the creation of a document which allows someone (me) to pull the plug on his life support should the need arise. But is there permission to make changes to his health insurance status or to pay his bills while he’s out of commission? No.

So, as I’ve waded through the alphabet soup-saturated (SSA, CMS, GEHA, HIPPA, IRS, etc.) murky bureaucratic waters trying to get his business straight, I find myself being dragged down by tentacles disguised as red tape and rules.
Time and again, I’ve asked a question something like this: “Okay, so I can’t speak for him or ask questions about him. He’s unmarried and has no children. I am his only living relative. If I can’t speak for him and he can’t speak for himself, what’s supposed to happen?” Each time, the response has been some version of “Sir, I hear what you’re saying but my hands are tied.” Tentacles.
Who can untie their hands? This pursuit is dominating me.

Somehow, my cell phone number has made it into his medical records. So, I have case managers, intake coordinators, billing clerks, insurance coordinators and God knows who else from various healthcare entities calling me asking me questions to which A) I don’t have the answers and B) I am not authorized to pursue.

Meantime, the clock is ticking on his current benefits in the facility where he is presently being cared for AND I CAN’T MAKE SUBSTANTIVE PROGRESS ON FIGURING OUT WHAT THE HELL IS NEXT. If he had just created the Power of Attorney like we asked….things would be so much easier.

So, I’m begging you: for the people you love…or even for the people you might not like so much who may have to deal with your stuff while you’re not able to do so: get that document done right away.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Constant Tension Headache

My head is heavy. I am tired. I am frustrated. This is really none of my business, but it turns out the business is being heaped upon me. I have a relative who by most measures is a senior citizen. In fact, he recently retired. In a cruel twist of fate, days before his retirement was official; he became significantly ill and has been confined to a hospital bed for more than three weeks.

Physically, his strength is on the decline. Cognitively and emotionally, he’s a fraction of the man he was less than a month ago. I don’t know when or if it will get better.

A set of circumstances which has evolved over decades has led us to a place where I have become the primary decision maker and fact-finder about his medical treatment and, of commensurate importance, how to pay for it all.
I’ve been on the phone with various government agencies. I’ve faxed, e-mailed, pleaded, sighed and have gotten basically nowhere. This could drive a guy to drink.
Meantime, I’m a frequent visitor to a hospital room in a facility that is not managed by the health system where I’m employed. This is inconvenient and often awkward.
All the while, the hospitalized one is frustrated on so many levels. He’s much too young to be this damn sick. He doesn’t know what’s next, because nobody does. He’s a prisoner in a bed with railings, as well as to a lesser degree in his own body. If he’s not sinking into the depths of depression, it’s nothing short of a miracle. This is yet another cruel twist of fate, because he has to have his head screwed on straight to be motivated to work hard enough to work himself back into shape.
The only ray of sunshine I can find in all of this is that we’re reconnecting with long-lost friends and a few relatives. This is because I’ve basically had to call in reinforcements. Fortunately, people are kind and loving and even some who haven’t seen him in years are stopping by to visit. Someone even drove in from Georgia and spent lots of time in that hospital room over a three-day weekend.
I’ve been calling people I remember but likely wouldn’t recognize if I passed them on the street, it’s been so long since I‘ve seen them.
And that was before I went to a Chinese buffet and got a fortune cookie with this inside:

I have nothing clever to say. I’m far too distracted for that right now. I just told my wife I’m trying to figure out what God’s plan is with all this. Maybe I’m supposed to reconnect with old friends. Maybe I will if I can ever come up for air.

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