Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Adventures with The Sprinkler Guy

Two years ago, my sprinkler system kicked the bucket. In Florida, it's really mandatory to have a functional sprinkler. So naturally, I called the sprinkler repair guy.

He came out, told me what repairs needed to be made, and told me that one of the valves was very dicey and could explode at any time. Exploding valves are not on my list of Fun Things to Consider and as his schedule was booked for months, he simply turned the water off to the entire sprinkler system.

Time went by, and I forgot about the sprinkler guy.

But recently my brother, Seth, has been doing yard work and as he raked up oak tree leaves I was startled to realize that the only thing under those leaves in the back yard was dirt. Where had the grass gone? Oh yeah. I'd forgotten all about that sprinkler system.

So I called the sprinkler guy once more.

He came out today.

He walked around the property, turned the water back on, did an assessment and then called me out to chat about the logistics. I walked into the backyard, holding my little dog, Zach, so he wouldn't try to escape through the gate.

We stood near the valves as we talked about what had to be done, and he turned on the various zones and explained what was going wrong.

Suddenly, one of the valves exploded with the sound of a cork firing from a champagne bottle, the sound magnified ten times over.

In a split second I jumped, barged in one direction, clinging desperately to Zach so I wouldn't drop him and trample over him. The hapless sprinkler guy reached to help me, then I stumbled and reeled into the opposite direction, careening into a palm bush. I broke through the palm bush, staggered into the clearing, and stood there panting and disheveled.

Only Zach looked as if nothing had happened. He remained serene as I took stock of my scraped and bruised leg while the sprinkler guy anxiously asked if I was OK.

He was already quite bemused by my rather sarcastic sense of humor (and let's face it - what kind of weirdo forgets about her sprinkler system for almost two years)... and I think he couldn't quite figure out if I was insane or merely eccentric. Certainly my startling like a newborn colt and tearing into a nearby palm didn't help him.

He ended up apologizing profusely for what he had no control over.

Maybe he'll give me a discount.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Because of Winn Dixie: The Shingrix Vaccine

The newest shingles vaccine, Shingrix, is 90% effective. That's far superior to its competition, which is only at 50%. It was released last November to a standing ovation and, due to its reputation, has remained in short supply ever since.

So over the last couple of weeks, I've been calling various pharmacies both near me and where I work. Despite the Shingrix website's claims, no one had it.

Then the day before yesterday I called a Winn Dixie in Wesley Chapel and was told that the vaccine would probably arrive the next day. I was excited. I asked if I could come at noon and they cautioned me to call first, in case it was delayed.

I had high hopes.

At noon yesterday I placed the call. Another voice at the pharmacy answered and told me that yes, they had it in. I was ecstatic! Then the woman asked for my name and date of birth. I happily gave them to her and then added "Oh but you won't have me in your system. I haven't used a Winn Dixie pharmacy before."

There was a pause.

"What?" asked the woman sharply. "You haven't... oh, you're not one of our patients?!"

"Well no," I said, "but you're a pharmacy and..." I trailed off.

"Oh well," she said, "We only have one in stock and we prefer to reserve that vaccine for one of our patients that has already had the vaccine." It's a two-part vaccine, you see, which must be administered 2-6 months apart.

"Aren't both vaccines the same?" I asked. She admitted they were. "Well then," I said, "Can't I get it if I come today?"

"Well we can't turn you AWAY," the woman said grudgingly. "But I've called other customers who had their first shot and now need THIS one."

"Well yes," I said mildly, "but I need it also. If I came over now could you give it to me?"

"Well I can't stop you," she said somewhat ungraciously.

So I went. I flew over there, and raced through the doors, watching other customers coming and going and hoping that no one else had beat me to that precious vaccine.

I stood in line at the pharmacy, almost dancing in anticipation. I finally got to the window. "I'm the one that just called," I said. "For the Shingrix vaccine?"

The svelte Scandinavian blond, an older woman with an improbable name tag of Margaret (I would have expected Heidi or Elle) informed me in clipped, accented tones that the vaccine was still available. And then she tried again to discourage me from getting it. I was The Interloper descending into her well-ordered kingdom and justice was in peril. I realized she was the same woman I'd just spoken with on the phone.

"You must understand," she said. "I really prefer to reserve this vaccine for our current customers. We are always running out of it, so I often am calling the pharmacies that don't use it as much. It's hard to get it."

She looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to fall on my sword and say "Oh, well if it's for the good of total strangers, by all means let me come down with shingles!"  But I merely smiled and passed her my drivers license and insurance card.

"Well, sometimes insurance doesn't cover it," Margaret said, with the weak hope of a woman near defeat. I smiled at her again and said nothing. I was attempting to be nice. It's scary to think that someone might mess with your vaccine in revenge, or give you a brutal experience with the sharp end of a needle. Margaret's name tag also said she was a pharmacy manager, whatever that meant. I knew it might mean she was also the person that did the jabbing.

She sniffed and walked away to run my information. After a time, she came back and reluctantly admitted my vaccine was covered under insurance. Honestly, I would have been willing to pay full price if I had to, and it wasn't cheap. With my a rather faulty immune system, and being the sole earner in a household of one, I couldn't afford to be out with a case of shingles.

Margaret had me fill out the paperwork and, after a wait, came out to administer the vaccine herself (I had been right). I smiled placatingly at her again and thanked her for her largesse. She was Lady Bountiful: Giver of the Shingrix Vaccine, and she was happy to let me know it.

Margaret once again went into the long tiresome explanation about how the vaccine really should have been reserved for someone else. I think up until that moment she still had the high hopes that I'd back out. But I didn't. I just smiled and thanked her for making me the exception.

And so, resignedly, she prepared to administer the vaccine. My blouse was long sleeved and the sleeves were very tight at the wrist, so I said I could always take it off, since I had an undershirt on. But because it was so loose around the neck, it was easy to pull down one shoulder, and that's what I did. As she prepped my shoulder with an alcohol wipe, she told me sharply to let go of the fabric. "I can do that," she snapped at me.

"Oh, OK," I said humbly, somewhat alarmed now that the needle was in close proximity and reminded that I was at her mercy. Then she put on a band-aid only partially and said, somewhat snottily, "There. It's done." I looked at her with a raised eyebrow and looked at the site where half the band-aid lay, with the other half still covered. I guess she would place the band-aid first, give the injection, and then pull the tab off the other portion of the band-aid to finish the assault. "Oh just kidding," she said, not smiling. "I bet I fooled YOU!"

"Heh heh," I agreed.

Finally the deed was done and I left in quiet triumph. I had vanquished Margaret and I had got the vaccine.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018


I'm training the new sales guy, and am sitting in on his second call out when someone answers the phone.
"Hello?" she says in almost a whisper.
"Hello Dr. Ferra," says the new sales guy and he launches into his pitch.
"Oh yes!" says the doctor. "I HAVE received your emails. But I'm not. in. a. position. to. act. on. that. now," she adds in a "do-you-understand-what-I'm-hinting-at" tone of voice.
The new sales guy looks at me, baffled. I shrug.
"Oh, uh, okay," he says hesitantly. "Do you want me to...?"
"You can keep sending me information," she says as mysteriously as if she was passing government secrets to the Russians.
"Well, OK, I will," he says, put off his stride at this point. "I, will, um, send you emails."
"Good," she breathes into the phone. "Until I'm in a different position, it will have to remain that way."
The sales guy gets off the phone and looks at me. "What was all THAT about?" he asks.

My nail tech indulges in soliloquies sometimes. Last night she began with a random one.
"So we were in Vegas last week," she began, "and our Uber driver's name was Lee Chong-Ho. And he said he chose Ho as his family name when he came to the states, instead of Chong.
And I asked him WHY? WHY would you choose Ho as your family name?
He said it was a dynasty. I said "What is wrong with the CHONG dynasty?"
She paused, inspected one of my nails, then continued.
""I come from a long line of Hos.
My parents were Hos.
My entire family is all Hos.
I'm a Ho."
See why that doesn't work?"

The chubby checkout guy at the grocery store readjusts his too-tight company shirt as he swaggers at his cash register. Until now, I'd never realized you could swagger while standing in one place, more or less.
"Well hello," he says.
"How are you," I say perfunctorily.
"I'm ALT-LEFT," he says, delighted to show off.
I don't smile. "Alt left?" I ask, feeling obligated.
"Oh well EVERYONE says they're all-RIGHT," he says. "So I want to be different. I'm ALT-LEFT, now."
"Ah," I say, my voice trailing off.
"Because it's not like everyone else says," he adds unhelpfully.
"Ah," I say again.
Michael Scott from The Office is reborn in a cashier at my local Winn Dixie.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Christian Mingle Date with The Confederate Soldier

I've had some terrible first dates that never turned into second dates. Someday I'll write about them all.

The worst men I've met are, sadly, through Christian Mingle. Christian Mingle doesn't really vet the men on there and it's quite obvious. I've often asked myself WHY these men are so much more...well... frankly, evil than the men that can be met on any other dating site.

I still don't have the answer. I suspect it may be for a couple reasons, however:

1. The man who is morally corrupt but wants a 'pure' woman.
2. The man who is self-medicating through religion, and isn't doing a very good job at it.

These men make up the far majority on Christian Mingle, which is finally why I gave up on the site.

One day I met a Confederate Soldier at Panerra for coffee.

"Oh," you say. "Wait a minute. Didn't the Civil War happen a very long time ago?"

Yes, it did. But there are still weirdos who identify so much with the culture of that time that it's almost crippling to them. They are only one asylum visit away from believing they are Robert E. Lee.

I've written about the problem of the misnamed "Confederate Flag" before. It's worth reading if you don't know the history of this obscure flag that's risen to red neck prominence. Go ahead and take a minute to read it, and then I'll continue.

Are you finished?


Strange how it ties into The Muppets, isn't it?

OK, that was just a test to see if you really read it or not. It had nothing to do with The Muppets, or else Miss Piggy could never carry on an inter-species relationship with Kermit.

So back to The Confederate Soldier. Let's call him "Lee" in honor of his idol.

I walked into Panera and Lee was already sitting there. I recognized him from his photo, which was refreshing, as I once had a 60 year old guy surprise me after posting his photos from twenty years before.

Lee was plain: Silver haired, ice blue eyes, and teeth spaced a little too widely apart for comfort. His lantern jaw was perpetually thrust out aggressively. I remember my grandmother used to say "If you keep making that face, someday it will freeze that way." Lee apparently never had a grandmother that issued such dire warnings.

I slid into my seat, and we chatted briefly. He was divorced, two kids in their tweens, and very involved in their lives. So that was a plus. He went to church weekly. Another plus.

"AND," he suddenly added, "I proudly fly the Confederate Flag."

Cue the screeching sound of brakes.

"You...wait, what?" I stammered. He repeated it. "Why?" I asked, faintly. I am not kidding, here. I was really shocked. After all, he had just told me that he was attending a very respectable Baptist church.

"Well I have the right to be proud of my heritage," he said with great confidence. I sensed a bit of childish glee in successfully throwing me such a curve. This was a man who took great pleasure in shocking others.

"So you have an ancestor who fought in the Civil War?" I asked.

"Nope," he said. "But I take pride in my Southern Roots." He said it in such a way that you could really sense the capitalization: Southern Roots.

"Uh, there are many things to be proud of in the south," I said. "But the Civil War? Aren't you offending others?"

"Well I don't care if I AM offending others," he answered, smugly.

"The Bible makes it very clear that Christians are not supposed to be deliberately offensive to others," I said, almost pleadingly. It was a statement, but it was also a question. How could a Christian resolve such a dilemma within his heart?

"But then," said Lee, "whatever we could do could be seen as offensive. Where do we draw the line? I have the right to display what I'm proud of."

"Which is your southern heritage," I stated. He nodded.

I then got into the history of the flag (in the article I asked you to read - the one that tells you about how the Muppets were involved). It fell on deaf ears.

"I don't care," he replied, stubbornly. "This is what it means NOW."

"Doesn't it symbolize racism?!" I asked

"Not to ME," he answered.

"But to OTHERS," I stated.

"That's THEIR problem, and not mine," he said gloatingly. "In fact," he continued, "we have a black preacher. And I like him!" Well there you go. He has a black preacher that he likes. So he can't be racist. Case closed, his motives are pure.

"Well surely you are offending HIM?" I asked.

"Oh at first he was offended," said Lee. "But I set him straight. He preached a sermon about racism and how the Confederate Flag was a racist symbol, but I took him aside in God's love and explained to him how wrong he was. Now he sees the light."

I'm sure he did see the light, and it was a piercing spotlight on Lee's heart.

And thus ended our first and only date. Later, Lee texted me to tell me he didn't think we were a good fit. I had rather thought that went without saying.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Never-Ending Supposed Nursing Shortage in Hospitals

Last night I spent the night at the hospital. My mom had just undergone heart surgery and, as I always do with my family members, I stayed with her all night.

Throughout the night, other patients' family members would drift in and out of their rooms like silent ghosts, making forays into the nearby kitchen or in an attempt to get the attention of a nurse.

As usual, the hospital was understaffed. Hospitals always are. And it's not a particular hospital: It is every hospital I've been in in the last 15 years.

And yet, the cost of care hasn't declined.

Hospitals have discovered that they can use family members as assistant nursing staff.

To encourage this, they keep their staffing minimal. Woe to you if you don't have someone who can take care of you all through the night and part of the day, because you will only see your nurse at the beginning and end of her shift.

You may be told that you're not allowed to get out of bed, but you are treated as a nuisance if you page the nurse to help you in any way. Want water? Get an eye roll. Want to go to the bathroom? Get a resigned sigh.

Hospital rooms have become holding cells. Nurses are no longer there to help you in any real way.

I discovered this the hard way in 2005 when I made the mistake of going in for my neck fusion without any family members or friends on hand. I had assumed nursing care was of the same caliber it had been in the early 90s because, until then, I had been remarkably healthy.

When I woke from my surgery, I found that I could barely breathe. I knew how the problem could be easily solved, so I asked for Benadryl. That's all. Just Benadryl.

For two days, they withheld the antihistamine because it was not important to make sure I was comfortable. Every time I asked if they'd been able to get a release from the doctor to give me Benadryl for the swelling, they told me they hadn't heard back from him. No attempt was made to make it a priority, as I battled to breathe but I was too weak to make a fuss.

Occasionally someone would check on me and slap down a tray with a glass of gingerale onto the sticky table next to me. I'd gasp a request for Benadryl, and they'd disappear with insincere assurances.

I was told that I would not be released until I was better. So on the second day, I called a friend and told her to come get me. "Have they released you?" she asked. "They will or I'll walk out anyway," I wheezed.

A nurse asked me, suspiciously, if I really was feeling well enough to leave. "I'm great," I gasped enthusiastically. I won my release from prison, my friend retrieved me, I went home and took 2 Benadryl, and collapsed into bed. My last thought was that I would rather die at home and take my chances. I went to sleep with the full realization that I might not wake up again. But I woke up completely better. All I'd needed was the antihistamine.

After that, I vowed I'd never let anyone I care about go through the same thing.

Apparently, I'm not the only one. Last night proved it to me.

As is always the case these days, most nurses will say hello at the beginning and end of their shift. Other than that, I was the one to raid the kitchen for Mom when she was hungry. I was the one to help her get up to go to the bathroom. I was the one to get her water. I was the one to get her a new gown. I was the one to get up and get help because the nurses all but ignore the "call" button.

At 4:30-5 in the morning two of the nurses stood outside Mom's room to complain bitterly about the hospital, their pay and their benefits. I was so exhausted I slept through it but it woke Mom up, and she went to the door and politely asked them to move off. After that, she couldn't get back to sleep. We were up for the duration.

When we found out that the hospital wasn't going to be serving food until 8AM, I went down to the Dunkin' Donuts franchise on the floor of the hospital and got us food and coffee. When you've been awake for 3 hours already, and neither of you had eaten much the night before, you get hungry.

No one could get my Mom's meds right. Despite a complete list of her meds that was entered into the computer at the beginning, and despite repeated requests, we were given the endless runaround again. We were also told the hospital pharmacy was completely out of one of her meds. Having thrown out all the expired stock some time ago, they never replenished it. And despite knowing she was on that particular medication, no one thought to check to see if the pharmacy even had it until it was too late.

My father almost died due to a hospital's usual neglect.

Years ago I was with my dad overnight at the hospital. He is a quiet, gentle man and very stoic. When he began to tell me he was in pain, I knew it was serious. At first I kept hitting the 'call' button. But, as usual, we were ignored or a bored voice would come over the tinny speaker asking what was wrong and assuring us that someone would eventually get to us.

After some time of watching my father in agony, I flew out into the hall, flounced up to the nurses station, and had a complete meltdown. An aggravated nurse then accompanied me, reprimanding me all the way, telling me that pain was to be expected.

But when she got in the room and pulled back the sheets, she stopped talking. Then she hit a button and called a Code Blue.

Dad was bleeding out.

Because I was there, Dad was spared that night. That doesn't make me a hero, but it still makes me very, very angry.

Every time I've complained about one of these instances, the answer is always the same. It's a one-time nursing shortage. This "one-time nursing shortage" has been going on a very long time. It is no more genuine than a politician.

All those silent family members last night proved that we've all received the message, loud and clear. Like a good Marine, you leave no one behind. And like a battlefield, there is too much that can go wrong in hospitals now. The only one that cares enough to make sure your loved one is taken care of is you.

We must pity people without a social network.

If there ever is a large-scale health emergency, we're all doomed to die slow and agonizing deaths, stacked like cordwood in our local hospitals.

There will be no one to help, due to that "one-time nursing shortage."

Monday, October 23, 2017

The NEW Media Pinata: Opioids

I am so sickened by the media's new idée fixe: Opioids. The think they have all the answers.
If it were up to them, people in the end stages of cancer wouldn't be given opioids because they might become addicted. People who are in excruciating pain and doomed to live with it could also be addicted. From their viewpoint it's so much more noble to suffer than live a life worth living.
I have twice been in the kind of pain that, if it had continued, I would have welcomed death. I understand pain. I'm blessed I don't have it to that degree, but I get it.
However, many of these anti-opioid crusaders are enjoying the latest hysteria without considering the cost to others.
And in the midst of all this obscene rabble-raising comes an interesting new angle: Look over here! This obscenely wealthy family is making a ...wait for it... PROFIT on opioids! Maybe we can gin up the masses on THIS new factoid.
And so Esquire now has an article out on the Sackler family out of Brooklyn. It's pretty interesting reading, actually. But the appeal is an obvious one. Since most of the media has socialistic leanings, they see the wealthy elite as boogeymen. They would, in fact, be very surprised to discover you may not. But just in case, they will attempt to manipulate you through envy, if you're not merely aghast at the concept of someone having more money than you.
The real issue is appallingly simple: Do we allow doctors to make decisions on our well-being and medications, or do we give that power to others? CVS has already make a power grab, here. They are now going to be overriding your doctor and allowing you only so many opioids per week in many cases. 
Insurance companies are meeting over the so-called 'opioid crisis' also, seeing this as a great excuse to deny payment in this category. And as we all know, insurance companies only have our very best interests at heart. 
They say Americans consume the majority of opiates, and that may be true. But there are 323 million people here, as opposed to only 65.6 million in the UK, and 67 million in France. So even if the percentage of the population using opiates remains the same, the US will outdistance most other countries. Anyone who's taken statistics knows to dig into figures like this.
This is manipulation.
This is unethical.
This is ginning up the masses, and it has consequences.
Many who are in pain and denied opiates are turning to heroin. I knew a Vietnam vet who had to take morphine daily. He's passed on now, but he had every reason to need it. He'd lost a leg in the war, and his severed, mutilated nerves were never at peace.
We need to stop non-medical interference with opiate prescriptions. 
The answer is to leave this up to the medical professionals. Not their hospital administrators. Not the insurance companies. And not the pharmacies.
Some day the tables will turn. Some day the American public will say they are tired of Big Brother.
Some day the pinata will get tired of being the punching bag.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Close-mindedness of the Modern Conservative

The title is just scraping the top of the archaeological dig. If I had time, I'd dig down to the history of conservatives in the USA. How the conservatives were behind the original Black Lives Matter of the 1800s. How conservatives were conservative in the system they followed but were never closed to ideas.

I am blessed to still know some true intellectual conservatives, but many of them are falling to the wayside of emotions. Irrational, emotional thinking is what the majority of us despise in the modern liberal but now it's their turn to do exactly the same thing.

I am a conservative-leaning moderate. I sympathize. I want to offer advice to these friends the very best way I know how: Through reason.

We've all seen parents give in to a screaming child. But we also know that grown adults shouldn't behave the same way. But we've also seen that government officials sometimes give in to interest groups if their tantrums are loud enough.
We all know the shoulds and shouldn'ts. We shouldn't carry grudges. We shouldn't direct hatred of an idea to the hatred of the person who mentioned it. We shouldn't try to be louder than the next guy: If our ideas are good enough, we should win the argument. In other words, we should try very hard to not be the people we despise.

And when it comes to healthy adulting, we should not allow ourselves to take an issue so personally that it brings us to tears...unless that issue directly affects us. For instance: If you hear of a white kid shot by a black cop and it's obviously an injustice, do you:
  • A) Write to government officials and news outlets demanding accountability
  • B) Go on to Facebook and get into heated arguments with others, start crying, and unfriend everyone
  • C) Do as Obama did and, before all the facts are in, declare that the white kid could be your son
We all know which answer we should choose. But do we choose that? Are we striving to be the people we should be?

I see self-styled conservatives saying and posting things that are - well, there is no other word for it - foul. They post memes that are inappropriate, disgusting, and hate-filled. Those of us who are Christians distance ourselves from such people when we should confront them with kindness, and I am guilty of that just as everyone else is.

The question is: Can you be a true conservative if you are an extremist who loves the fight more than justice? Are ideas no longer important? Is it now only a question of who the biggest bully is? You might eat someone's lunch, but in the court of public opinion... you've lost.

I was recently unfriended and blocked by a Christian who writes for The American Spectator. I had truly admired him. It saddens me, because he is still friends with the people who post garbage memes like this:

But I was never given a chance, never told how I offended the man. I had just been in a discussion of how the recent racially-charged Dove ad was offensive to myself and so many others, and I suppose that must have triggered him, even though I tried to keep it civil as my friends duked it out online.

According to Christian standards, he was very wrong. He should have discussed this with me and we could have rectified the situation. Or at least so I hope. I have another Christian friend who is black and a liberal-leaning moderate. There are times she has to unfollow me because my friends get on her nerves. The Dove discussion also enraged her. I get that. But she always tells me with love and gives me the courtesy of an explanation.

Recently a couple of friends had a dust-up and my friend Todd reached out to his combatant and invited him out for drinks. That is how a true conservative should behave. 

That is how we all should behave.