Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What About Bob?

A few years ago, when the company I'd worked with for 11 years went out of business, Sugar and I decided it was time for me to give the writing thing a spin. I'd dreamed of writing and sporadically tried to fit writing into our lives for years without much success. Now it was my turn.

I've been a voracious reader practically from the cradle. I'd write what I loved to read, I thought. What I didn't realize was that my eclectic reading habits were producing a schizophrenic manuscript. It wasn't sure whether it was romantic suspense, a mystery, or women's fiction. I needed a critique group.

My first critique group--and one I still attend when I can--was the Greenville chapter of South Carolina Writers' Workshop. This is a great group--tons of fun--and for the first time I had the chance to talk to other writers about writing. One of the first friends I made was Bob Strother.

Bob is very low key. In fact, he speaks so softly that you'll miss what he says if others are talking in the room. And you want to hear what Bob says, because he's a smart guy and a talented writer. What I didn't know until much later is that Bob is also an ex-Marine (yeah, I know, Marines are Marines for life and all) and he may be soft spoken, but he could kill any of us eight different ways if he took a notion. Bob's a master of critique in that he can tell you what you need to fix without burdening you with how he would write it if it were him.

I've lost track of how many short stories Bob has published, but I've read many of them in our group. Each is well-crafted, and it's fascinating to me how different they all are. Some make me laugh out loud. Others are so creepy they have prompted me to ask his wife, Vicki, how she sleeps next to him at night knowing what goes on in his head. One was nominated for the Small Press Pushcart Prize.

Main Street Rag is publishing a collection of Bob's stories, Scattered, Smothered, and Covered, which comes out in February. It's available for pre-order right now, and I've ordered my copy. You'll want one, too. Just click the title link and it can be yours.

Peace, out...


Friday, September 24, 2010

We've Got to Do Better Than This

Y'all might have heard me Twhining (whining on Twitter) about my nasty cold this week. Here's the rest of the story. It's, okay, a little self-indulgent, but stay with me. There's a point.

I have weird sinuses. A deviated septum and a hollow flat bone that's not supposed to be hollow or flat combine to make my sinuses drain poorly, or so says the ENT guy who did the CAT scan on them a few years back. (I know, TMI, right?) Because I also have chronic allergies, he wanted to perform surgery to correct the problem.

Oh nay nay. I don't believe in elective surgery. Even when it's not elective, those release forms you have to sign give me pause. After some trial and error, the ENT and I came up with a routine to manage my sinus woes. An important piece of this is a steroid spray, Nasacort AQ. I've tried other brands. For whatever reason, they don’t work for me. It's like squirting water up my nose, except they also give me a headache. For years, my primary care physician has been renewing my Nasacort AQ prescription.

Then, (as I understand it) because our current insurance company was going to raise premiums a substantial amount, Sugar's employer changed insurance providers from Insurance Company A to Insurance Company BCBS. This was August 1st.

On August 12, I went to get my Nasacort AQ refilled, and the pharmacy clerk at Walgreens told me that BCBS would not pay for it unless the doctor’s office filled out a pre-authorization form. (Excuse me, but when did writing a prescription stop being enough authorization from a doctor to give me medication? Used to, you only had to get pre-authorization for surgery.) She said she'd fax it to the doctor right then, but it might take a few days, did I want to pay the full amount for the prescription?

I was completely out, and knew from experience that letting the medication lapse during ragweed season was NOT a good idea, so I said okay. I nearly choked when she handed me the slip to sign. ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-EIGHT DOLLARS AND NINETY-NINE CENTS for a bottle of nasal spray. WTF?

But I paid it, because I needed it, and I thought SURELY by the time I went back to get my next refill, this would all be straightened out. Oh nay, nay.

A week or so later I got a call from my doctor's nurse. "Dr. (Redacted) would like you to try Flonase because your insurance company won’t pay for the Nasacort AQ." I asked her to please look at my chart and she would see that I had already tried Flonase and every other nasal steroid manufactured in our galaxy. She looked. She saw. She said she'd call me back. She didn't.

A week goes by, and I call the insurance company. They haven't received the faxed form from the doctor, but they'll be glad to fax another. I called the doctors office. They're having trouble getting Insurance Company A to pay for it...

I explained (without losing my temper) that I was no longer with Insurance Company A, but with BCBS. Okay, the nurse said, she'd try them. I never heard anything else from her, but I figured the SNAFU had been identified and corrected.

Oh nay nay.

When I went to pick up my prescription at Walgreens on September 12, the pharmacy clerk informed me that BCBS was still declining to pay for the Nasacort AQ, but did I want to pay full price?

Ha! I fell for that last month, thought I. I will call and straighten this out in the morning. So I did not get my prescription, even though we are still in ragweed season. I was living dangerously, but figured I could get this worked out quickly. Oh. Nay. Nay.

I spent the next week going back and forth between the doctor's office and the insurance company, who are apparently plagued by sunspot interference on faxes that travel between the two places. Both report having no trouble sending or receiving faxes with anyone else.

Then, last Saturday, we went to my sister's house for a cookout. Someone there was a carrier for a cold virus. I'm not pointing fingers, but my niece had a runny nose, and my brother complained of "allergies." All I know is that Sugar and I both came down with heinous colds in less than 24 hours.

Monday morning at 5 a.m., poor Sugar had to get on a plane, regardless. I stayed home and by Monday afternoon, I was feeling good enough to go to Jazzercise. Big mistake. By Tuesday morning, I was much sicker than I had been to begin with. There was a perfect storm in my sinuses. Ragweed, cold, no Nasacort AQ.

By this morning (Friday) I had green gunk in my head and my chest, and I was coughing so much my throat felt like it had been carved up with razor blades.

I called the insurance company yet again this morning, but they were having system problems, and the recording advised me to call back after 11a.m.

I called the doctors office and made an appointment ($35 co-pay). He must have thought I looked and sounded rough, because the antibiotic prescription he gave me ($60 co-pay) is, according to the leaflet written in 3 point font that they give you with all drugs now, ALSO USED TO TREAT ANTHRAX. I am not making that up.

When I explained my Nasacort situation, he regaled me with stories of having received faxes from insurance companies at 3:15 a.m., with a refusal to pay coming in at 3:30 a.m. because forms had not been submitted in a timely manner. I do not doubt him.

As I left the doctor's office, on the way to Walgreens to pick up my prescription, I called BCBS back. Their system was up. And no, they had not received the fax from the doctor on the Nasacort. I called the doctor's office back. The clerk said, "Wait a minute, you were just here? Why didn't you talk to the doctor about it?" I explained. (I did not yell at her.) She told me to come on back by and talk to the nurse. When I finished at Walgreens, I did just that.

My regular doctor (not the guy on call today who I'd seen earlier) came out, apologized, said the form was on her desk. They'd just gotten it two days ago, she said. Today, they faxed it back.

But, no one at BCBS can confirm receipt due to the volume of faxes they receive. I had the Nasacort filled. I paid the $138.99. Again.


What about all the poor souls who have prescriptions for life-threatening illnesses who have to go through all this crap? The ones who can't afford to pay exorbitant amounts for their medications? The antibiotic, by the way, would have been $193 had I not had insurance. I asked.

What about the ones with cardiovascular conditions who would have had a stroke from the stress?

I'm sorry, but WE HAVE GOT TO DO BETTER THAN THIS. For the love of sunshine and blue skies, we've got smart people in this country. Some of them are doctors and insurance executives. Some work for pharmaceutical companies. Heck, some of them are even in the government. Surely, someone can figure out a better way.

I know legislation has been passed. I still don't know what's in it. Does anyone? I'm not saying it's good or bad. I'm saying I don't have a clue what the impact to me or anyone else will be or when we can expect to see it, and I'm not sure anyone else knows either.

Here's what I do know. If memory serves, Sugar's company pays his portion of the insurance and part of mine as well. But the part we pay ourselves (however it's divided) went from $412 per month to $465 per month when we changed to BCBS, but that was less of an increase than if we'd stayed with Insurance Company A. Our co-pays also went up.

So far, the only change I can see that was caused by the recent legislation is that beginning January 1, we will have to have a prescription for over the counter drugs if we want to use our health savings account to pay for them. And we can no longer use the Visa card attached to our health savings account, even if we get a prescription for aspirin, cough syrup, or Alka-Seltzer. I will have to fax receipts to the HSA manager and wait for reimbursement from our own account.

More paperwork for my doctor, more paperwork for me, and more paperwork for the folks that manage our health savings account. But so far, nothing is cheaper.

Is this really the best we can do? Really?! I hope like hell it's not.

Peace, out....


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Managing the Voices in My Head

I love novels--so much that I may need an intervention, or possibly a support group. I typically read books that fall into the mystery, suspense, or thriller genres, though I do enjoy the occasional women's fiction or romance novel. And I sometimes pick up a mainstream or literary read, especially if it's a Southern novel. (I love everything Joshilyn Jackson has ever written.)

Recently I was reading a very well-written Southern mystery, something I would ordinarily be incapable of putting down. But I struggled to stay engaged in the book. It's written from three different rotating characters' perspectives, and they get roughly equal stage-time. There isn't a clear main character. This made it difficult for me to become invested in any of the three candidates. I understand that this is purely a subjective preference. Certainly, other authors write this way, and other readers enjoy these books.

Maybe I've always been this way, but I've only recently noticed that I prefer books with only one narrator. The occasional, brief chapter in the villain’s (or love interest's) point of view doesn't bother me, but I want to experience most of the story through the eyes of one main character

Maybe this is a response to an increasingly complex world, but I want my reading entertainment to be focused. I don't mean I want it delivered on a fifth-grade level. But I like slipping into a character's skin and experiencing her/his world. It's harder for me to stay in character if I have to keep switching roles.

Or maybe I just need to keep the number of voices in my head at a manageable level.

Peace, out...


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why I Love Minor League Baseball

Last night was the last home game of the season for the Greenville Drive, the local class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. You might be wondering what kind of name The Drive is for a sports team, but I couldn't tell you. Lots of people in Greenville wanted to name the team the Greenville Joes in honor of Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was from the Greenville area, but whoever is in charge of such things at MLB wouldn't hear of it. The controversy, et cetera. I digress.

The total experience of watching a Drive game at Fluor Field in the West End of downtown Greenville is sublime. The field itself is only five years old, and it's modeled after Fenway, with its own Green Monster and everything. From the bar-top tables at the 500 Club, where we like to eat dinner, you can see not only the ballgame, but the Greenville skyline and Paris Mountain. Okay, the 500 Club makes most excellent fried pickles, just so you know.

When the weather is right, as it was last night--not too hot or humid--the evening air is soft on your skin. Greenville supports its team, so, even on a Tuesday night, there was a respectable crowd. The mascot is a big green frog named Reedy Rip'It (in honor of the Reedy River, which flows through downtown), and he along with a few cheerleaders kept the fans entertained and engaged. Okay, I love singing Sweet Caroline with a stadium full of people.

There was a bench-clearing altercation at the bottom of the fifth due to some unfortunate comments made regarding a play at home plate. This led to led to chest-bumping, then a full-fledged brawl. No one was hurt, but two players on each team were ejected, and the game was delayed for fifteen minutes while the officials sorted out who was getting tossed. We were sitting just to the left of home plate, and had ringside seats.

Anyway, the whole package is just fun. Big League games are fun, too, of course. But something about the scale of a single A game is just more accessible to me--more intimate. And at $9 a pop for box seats, we can go whenever we feel like it. We sang, and cheered ourselves hoarse. It was a blast.

Despite all the singing and cheering--not to mention a bottom of the ninth war party, complete with an aboriginal war dance by one of the pep team members in a grass skirt--The Drive lost last night. The South Atlantic League Championship series is tied at one game each, and moves to Lakewood New Jersey for games 3-5.

But it was a fun way to spend the evening.

Peace, out...


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

In Which Sugar Hatches a Devious Plot

I am a book lover. We have many, many books in our home, and shelves measured in miles, not feet. I have on many occasions proclaimed to family, friends, and random strangers that I will NEVER own an e-reader, because I love the feel of a book in my hands, the smell of paper, the flap copy, for heaven's sake!

Sugar has always nodded like he understood, and never once argued the point. He had no dog in that fight.

But then I mentioned how we needed another set of bookshelves, perhaps a row in the not-yet-completed family room downstairs. I'm working my way through my to-be-read stack (which has its own bookshelf), and as I add books to existing home-library shelves, they are becoming overstuffed. I don't have room to work in more books by my favorite authors. Clearly, action must be taken.

But Sugar's vision for the downstairs room is more "Jimbo's Tiki Bar" than family room. He did not welcome the suggestion that yet more bookcases might be part of the decor. Still, he didn't press the point.

Now, next to my books, Sugar knows I love my iPhone. He's a smart man, and one day he comes home from a company meeting with an iPad. I don't doubt his story that this is business equipment, necessary for presentations, etc. BUT, I'll say this: He's been waving that thing under my nose every chance he gets, showing me one cool app after another.

Then, he started downloading books. He's already got most of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series on that gadget. "Look, it's back-lit," he says. "I don't even need a book light."

For the first few days he had it, he'd demonstrate the fabulosity of the toy, but wouldn't let me play with it. When he had me in a mad frenzy to try it out, he let me read a few pages. Okay, it had me at "browse, download, read." I love books, but I'm an instant gratification junkie.

Thinking I would have to talk him into this pricey new toy, I casually said, "You better stop showing that thing off, or you'll have to buy me one."

Here's where he made his mistake. He didn't protest quite enough. He worked up a weak, "We'll have to see about that."

And I knew. I looked at my true love square in the eyes and saw the truth. He had done the math. The iPad was less expensive than more bookshelves. And it would not interfere with his plans for a man cave downstairs.

I have been had. But, hey, I'm getting a new toy. Everybody's happy at Chez Boyer.

Peace, out...