April 12, 2017

LASIK: our unplanned expense

PiC’s eyes have been getting a little bit worse with every year.

It wasn’t that scary until we added up exactly how much vision he’s lost over the years. Then the thing that became apparent to us in all our emergency planning is that his eyeballs are a huge liability. Without his contacts, he’s effectively blind. He can make out the blob that is me, the blob that is Seamus, the streak that is JuggerBaby coming for his legs, if we’re within 2 feet of him, but he can’t do a darn thing about it.

Worse, a panicked or attempting-to-escape JuggerBaby flails wildly, dangerously. We know this because ze has already knocked his contacts out several times, leaving him half-blind.

On a less fraught daily basis, his day is much more frustrating when he has to stop and put in his contacts before he can do anything.

After getting some background info from Crystal, whose husband had it done, about the pricing and a few other friends who have had it done recently, we decided he should have a consultation with the recommended eye docs in our area to see if he’s a candidate. I wasn’t sure if he could do the classic procedure, or if he had to go with PRK, but I hoped he was a candidate for the standard procedure that’s been done many thousands of times.

The consultation was good. They were confident that they could improve his eyesight substantially and the results had a good prognosis for stability because of his age and gender. The one time being older pays off!

Now, to be clear, this is just about the worst timing possible for this on a financial basis considering the house thing. But we had committed to it before the house thing happened and JuggerBaby isn’t getting more coordinated. You’d think ze would be but ze is my kid so that’s not happening. He’s taken several more hits to the eyes since starting this post! It’s dangerous being a parent.

The quote for the LASIK procedure was $9250.

An additional benefit through his employer, the Vision Service Plan, netted us a 20% discount, taking that down to $7560. The referral from his regular eye doctor took another $300 off the bill, bringing that down to $7100.

They required a $1000 deposit before they’d book another appointment, so I jumped on the case.  I called them for a cash discount – boom, $300 off, bringing it to $6800.

And because I don’t stop until we run out of options, I asked if we could leave the $1000 on our credit card and pay off the balance in cash, which gets us a tiny 1% cash back ($10.00). They normally make you bring in the full cash amount and refund your card, but heck, why not ask?

That, my friends, totaled up our discounts to 27% off the huge original cost.

The timing is / was terrible of course.  We had some flexibility with our FSA but really, this wasn’t the right time to be paying so much more for essentially an elective procedure.

In many ways, this decision was more emotional than logical: for the first time, PiC felt vulnerable in a way he’d not felt before. As the consummate worrier and planner, I worried about an earthquake or fire or other emergency happening at night where you only have seconds to vacate, and certainly not enough time to stop to put in contacts! It was less worrisome when it was just the two of us plus dog. Seamus has pretty great vision.

On the logical side of the decision, we were looking at spending hundreds of dollars to replace his contacts thanks to the aforementioned knocking out incident and his glasses were woefully out of date as well. They both needed updating at the same time which usually costs near a thousand dollars when appointments and orders are said and done. I’ve never liked him being dependent on only one set of vision aid because it’s so easy to find yourself up Can’t See Creek and that’s not the place you want to get stuck.

We committed and I have never been more of a wreck worrying – what if something goes wrong? what if he sneezes? what if an earthquake hits during the procedure? This is San Francisco, it could happen.

Thankfully, the procedure seems to have gone well. The afternoon after the procedure was a bit fraught – it’s really hard to put in eye drops when post-surgical drops glued your eyelashes together! He hasn’t had any side effects like excessive itching or worse.

The clinic does day-after, 1 week after, 1 month after and 6 months after check-ups, and so far so good. We’ve had some close calls with JuggerBaby smacking him in his “special eyes” after the surgery which was horrifying but so far, he’s come through it ok. I’ll breathe easier when his last check-ups are done and he has a totally clean bill of eye health.

As for the bill, we’ll have them help us take it out of our FSA over the next few years so that particular pain is spread out.

:: Do you wear eyeglasses or contacts? How do you take care of your vision?

March 8, 2017

An ode to massages

When massage therapy is physical therapy and makes living possibleMost people get massages for relaxation and pampering. I used to, once upon a time. They were a treat to get me from one bad flare up to another. Over time, they became the only effective physical therapy left in my toolbox. I stay active, walking as much as I can every day, stretch, do deep breathing exercises to complement my medication regimen. But that’s not enough.

The gift of fibromyalgia is ever-present pain, waking or sleeping, forever. It might be localized to a couple of areas, or generalized to my entire body, or shift from area to area. The one thing it isn’t, is gone. This may mean radiating muscular pain, shooting pains up my back, or twangs in my shoulders so they permanently attach themselves to my ears. It could mean that on an otherwise pleasant walk with Seamus, my knee gives out with every third step, or that the ball and socket joint of my hip grinds bone against bone. It might also mean that my fingers and toes suddenly swell up, making typing more than awkward, and walking even more so.

It definitely means that whatever twinges, shrieks, and burns, the rest of my body tenses up in response to the assault.

This produces a less than salubrious effect on the rest of my body, transmitting panic and trauma down the spinal cord, sending fight or flight messages to overworked and confused neurons which respond by clenching my jaw tighter than a vise in shop class, my neck muscles lose elasticity and become like steel braided rope. This repeats over and over with every muscle down to my tippy toes, and no amount of stretching will release the tension. Pain breeds stress which breeds tension which breeds pain. It’s a cycle that only a massage therapist can break.

Applying the kind of pressure that could double for an MMA submission hold, my therapist bears down on stubbornly wound-tight muscles, bringing tears to my eyes. I breathe through it as best as I can, until she moves on to the next one, and the next one. An hour feels like three, as the pain I chose forces out the aftereffects of the pain I didn’t choose. By the time it’s over, I’m nearly gasping with relief that it’s stopped. A true bargain!

I pride myself on not actually crying, which would stop the therapist in her tracks, because after it’s over, and I’m laying there, endorphins I can no longer summon through a good hard workout flood my body. And for a few hours or days, I can turn my head, turn at the waist, bend my knees (carefully) and not send a freight train of pain screeching through myself.

The money part

Because there’s always a money part. I could once claim back the cost of the massages from our FSA, with a doctor’s note, but our FSA account is overcommitted now so that’s a savings route we can’t take.

My other way to make them more affordable is to buy SpaFinder gift cards at a 10% discount. Or it was, anyway. My spa stopped accepting them without warning this year, after many years of taking them. I found myself mournfully holding a $250 gift card for the year that I couldn’t use. Thankfully, though it took several days, I finagled a refund.

This means getting fewer massages since only a few therapists can do the kind of bodywork that I need without injuring me – I learned this lesson the very hard and painful way.

With any luck, this should still be better than last year when I was so sick for most of the year that I couldn’t get any massages at all! Savings: not worth it.

:: We all need something to make it through the day, week or month. What do you do for yourself to reduce stress and live better? 

March 1, 2017

A bit of self care (and community love)

When it's time to take a break, take a break! After this saddish but mostly bucking up post, I decided Mrs BITA was right.

After a long day on little sleep, instead of forcing another two hours of work as usual, I traded them for an hour of house hunting on Zillow and an hour of The View from the Cheap Seats. It’s been a long while since my last reading of a new thing by Neil Gaiman and it felt almost like that was punishment for not being productive enough. That’s hardly fair, is it? Just because my to do list was digested and horked up by Tribbles, doomed to forever respawn as a zillion Tribbles, I’m hardly being irresponsible in just managing to stay abreast of the troubling Tribbles.

I’ve slipped on a ring gifted to me as part of my “inheritance” by a dear friend. She has family by adoption via mentorship, having chosen never to raise biological children, instead mentoring, supporting, and teaching scores of them. That’s after having two long and successful careers. I suspect -no, I know- her way has touched and positively influenced the lives of now countless people. The ring doesn’t quite fit me, but I love it anyway. It slips and slides, reminding me of a friendship, unlooked for and cherished all the more for the surprise, and reminding me to keep a finger on the pulse of all the people I care most about. By text, by email, by handwritten letter, it doesn’t matter how, so long as they know they’re in my heart and not just when I’m asked to remember them in a eulogy or obituary. Hm, that took a dark turn.

Still, we do all have an expiration date. It may sound morbid but it’s true. We know we don’t know what time we have left, or how good that time will be. Rather than leaning in, or out, or whichever way, I’m standing up straight and stretching, reaching as far as I can to make a difference in the small ways that are most important.

I haven’t dropped anything, just taking a little breather. My responsibilities are still all here, but I’m pacing myself with things that aren’t work.

The next two weeks will be focused on taking care of our health: a massage for my several-weeks-long backache, long overdue exams with my doctors to see if there’s anything we can do about this new rib and chest pain, a check up for Seamus, more gym time for PiC.

And completely out of the blue, I received the most unexpected email from our friends over at the Rockstar Community Fund. J. Money started off with “please say yes!”, sharing that some lovely bloggers nominated me for an RCF award, and worked hard at persuading me that I really needed to say yes. As I read his email, complete with an abandoned plot to sneak the money to me so I couldn’t turn it down, it was embarrassingly clear that my stubborn streak has preceded me.

This was not just a lesson in how amazing the people are in our community, though they are.

It’s also my reminder to accept the goodness of others with grace and openness. That’s tough to do when you’ve internalized a script of independence, where helping others is a worthy cause, but you’re on your own. But how can I be part of a community if I don’t allow it to be a two-way street? Are we part of the ecosystem when it’s ok to give, but not receive?

Less philosophically, ‘twould be churlish to refuse the help. And so I did, with a most grateful heart again for Internet-born friendships and friends out there who care.

:: How are you taking care of yourself this season?


January 11, 2017

JuggerBaby’s clean bill of health

The cast is off! JuggerBaby seems to have healed up quite well, and aside from some minor anxiety about going to the doctor at all, isn’t the worse for wear after zir ordeal.

The day of judgment came a lot faster than we expected but I’m sure that was because each day after Day 1 of Cast Days was full of accommodations and learning how to do new and/or odd things.

Things we learned

Getting dressed was a weird amalgamation of summer clothes topped with a pom pom hat and puffer vest. Odd-looking, but it did the job. They just need to be safe and warm (or cool) as the weather might call for.

We were told that a sponge bath was perfectly fine for a toddler but they’ve never met a child as willing and able to become perfectly filthy in the course of a normal day as JuggerBaby. Besides, we’re softies – bathtime is zir favorite time, it didn’t seem like too much to ask to wrap it tightly in a towel, then wrap it with a plastic bag, then tie it off with a tight but not too tight rubber band so that ze could enjoy 15 minutes of Splash Zone every night.

We learned how to hold zir still for x-rays: gentle coaxing to imitate our hand placement, stickers to look at while positioning hands, reminding zir that it’s just a special kind of picture. It helps that ze and PiC have a habit of taking pictures together everywhere they go.

The post-cast limb smells TERRIBLE. It was awful, I nearly went overboard swabbing zir arm with alcohol swabs to remove the stench. The cast technician reminded me that the skin was still delicate before I gave zir another problem to heal from. Whew. Also the cast removal was full of bawling and screaming but it was physically painless for zir, and relatively fast.

Kaiser Pediatric is awesome about getting kids in and out of their appointments quickly and smoothly, they have an abundance of bribery stickers, and what could have been a much more painful experience was made as easy as possible. I’ve never been so happy to have an HMO.

Random people are full of sympathy for a kid with a cast on. They stop and tell you funny stories about the foul things they did when they had a cast, and commiserate with the child who fails to milk the sympathy situation.

:: Have you ever broken a limb or had a cast? What’s the worst injury you’ve had to deal with (either yourself or someone you cared for)? 

December 21, 2016

Eyeballing unusual 2016 and 2017 expenses

2016 was terrible for unplanned expenses, to the tune of $20,000, and I soothed myself with hopes for recouping losses and building wealth in 2017.

Now? I’m twitchy.

We only have the one FSA account between us since my company discontinued theirs so our family is only eligible for $2600 in tax-free medical expenses each year. This is usually not a problem. We can manage my therapy-massages, medications, and their odds and ends of medical supplies or visits well under that amount but this year we are looking at another set of unusual expenses and I’m antsy.

Usually I don’t stress (much) about unusual one-time expenses, but we’ve had them three years in a row now and that constitutes a pattern for which I have to budget.

In 2014, we got pregnant and traveled internationally. The former was unplanned insofar as you can’t ever know when or if you’re going to be able to conceive, the latter was planned without the kind of notice I prefer for a big trip (2 years because I’m a Type A planner) so it felt unplanned.

In 2015, I paid legal fees to organize our estate and trust (which only took a YEAR to complete), and I started my life insurance policy. Total, $6000 over budget.

In 2016, tax issues, car problems, and something else I can’t remember right this second racked up $20,000 in bills and losses.

Now we’re looking at a very expensive procedure for PiC, and a TBD amount for my teeth that are being diagnosed with something potentially serious. The bill for PiC lands in 2016, thus continuing the “2016 is not awesome for my country and my finances” theme, while my dental mystery won’t be diagnosed until January.

None of this, the bills or the realization, does an iota to induce the good holiday cheer I was determined to ring the new year in with.

I had been considering some orthodontia for a couple of teeth that are misaligned and bothering me, but with these expenses, that’ll have to wait.

I’m trying hard not to be pessimistic about it all but these super-sized expenses turned me into Grumpy. Even while I’m working hard at reducing our everyday expenses, and generated extra income, that savings is just being eaten up and therefore isn’t savings at all! And that’s intensely frustrating.

:: Have you had any trouble with unexpected medical expenses lately?

This website and its content are copyright of A Gai Shan Life  | © A Gai Shan Life 2017. All rights reserved.

Site design by 801red