There are a lot of words pinging around in that space inside my head -- sometimes they come together and make some kind of sense. When they do, I put them here, to make room for more.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Little Boy Growing

My son is trying to grow up.

He’s almost twelve, and he is spending his summer staring over the precipice of his teen years, trying to figure out just how to make that leap into adulthood. Deciding what to bring with him, and what to leave behind.

Yesterday he spent the day cleaning out his room, something I can tell you he never, ever does, working hard to turn it into a “bachelor pad”. His words. Into the pile of discards went the oodles of webkinz obsessively collected for their keys to the internet, the stuffed animals he bought with his own money and which then crowded his bed at night, the electronic toys he begged for at Christmas and birthday time and maybe played with half a dozen times. Bits and pieces of his little-boy self, filling bags to be taken – where? Who takes this stuff anymore?

And in their place he set up the mini pinball machine, the dartboard, the basketball hoop. He got rid of the magician’s kit but kept a deck of cards. If he had his way, there’d be a mini fridge and an ice cream maker there, too, but I had to draw the line somewhere.

When they’re babies, everyone tells you to “cherish every moment; it goes by so fast”, but honestly, that time just crawls by. Minutes tick into hours, and days fold into weeks, and still they’re just babies. Every day seems like an endless cycle of feeding, naps and diaper changes, no end in sight. At least, it did to me.

But now time is like a train, gathering speed as it goes, and I can’t make it slow down, no matter how hard I try.

I can see him daily waffling between his little boy self and this older, taller version, navigating emotions he doesn’t understand, wanting to be cool but still needing the reassurance of an occasional hug. He carefully combs down his hair every morning, rebuffs my morning kiss, but still sleeps with one stuffed animal. He pays attention to what other kids are wearing and loads up his iPod with tunes from Ke$ha. But this morning he hesitated next to the big bag of discarded webkinz, and asked if it would be ok if he kept a couple. Just as mementos, he told me.

He is standing at that precipice, and it looks a little scary, and it helps to have a few friends.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Reading the obits

Ok, so one of my guilty pasttimes (can’t really call it a “pleasure”) is reading the obituaries. It’s a little sick, I know, but I also know I’m not the only one (you know who you are out there.) And I don’t know what it is that fascinates me so: is it finding the cause of death and thinking, phew, I don’t have that (yet)? Or consoling myself with the fact that they were really old and lived a good, happy life? Or maybe it’s seeing their list of accomplishments, measuring myself against that, and wondering how many more years I have to have fulfilled as much.

Whatever it is, I keep doing it, and I’m particularly drawn to the younger people, the ones who got less than what I think should have been their full share of life on this earth. Although my wise friend Michele once told me that “we don’t all get eighty years; for some of us, a far shorter time is still a full life.”

So of course a few days ago I read about a 40-year-old woman who “died suddenly, by accident, on Martha’s Vineyard”, and had to find out the rest of the story. It was awful, and tragic, and it happened as she was doing something we all could be doing: riding her bike with her family on a beautiful vacation day. A freak accident, where she lost control while riding on a sidewalk, and a tractor-trailer just happened to be right there, and she hit it and was killed instantly. Talk about bad timing, which of course sounds flippant, but what are the odds, really? And am I the only one who plays out these gruesome scenarios in her head when going about my mundane life? Planning for the tragedy that may never occur, but is always lurking there, as it was for this poor woman.

And then I also think about what she left behind: a devastated family and co-workers, people who adored her, who said she brought a smile to their faces, who described her as loving and vivacious. And, being narcissistic, it makes me wonder what people would say about me if the same were to happen. “She was nice, but kinda selfish.” “I think she yelled at her kids a lot.” “She was very impatient, especially while driving.”

I thought about this a few weeks ago when a friend called me because a coworker of hers was killed accidentally. The woman had been rushing to work, crossing the street, NOT in the crosswalk, when she was hit by a car. A mother of two who had a few hours before that, I have no doubt, been spreading peanut butter on bread, brushing hair into a pony tail, taking chicken out to defrost. I imagine her kissing her husband good-bye, while racing out the door to drop the kids at daycare, impatient to unload them so she could address the work issues awaiting her. Which, of course, she never got to address.

And as unsettling as that whole scenario was, it wasn’t the thing that so undid my friend. When she read the obituary, it was clear this woman had been a paragon of virtue: not just because she volunteered in all the little ways many of us women do, but she had gone so far as to implement a program in her local hospital. She had taken an idea and fleshed it out and given it life, and now her community was a better place.

“She has a legacy!” my friend moaned. “If I were to die tomorrow, what would they say about me?? That I showed up for work every day??”

Which is really what it comes down to for me: am I living a life I would be happy to see written up in an obituary? Because you just never know when the grim reaper could come for you.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The cost of a good deed

I recently did something I thought was a good deed: I registered my bone marrow. I had been meaning to do it for awhile, and was walking through the mall when I saw a table, with nice people collecting cheek samples. So convenient, and so simple, really. Especially since they can now do it with saliva, instead of the far less enticing blood sample.

Did you know only 30% of people needing bone marrow can find a match from among their relatives? That leaves a whopping 70% to look to the rest of us for their chance at life. So it really did seem like something I ought to do.

The nice-looking young woman behind the counter had me fill out some forms, then instructed me on the correct way to swab the cells from inside my cheek, and in a matter of minutes I was done. And for my trouble they gave me a lovely synthetic tote bag with the obligatory t-shirt inside. I left feeling I had done a good thing.

But a few weeks later I received an email from this particular bone marrow registry, informing me that "if a testing laboratory has billed your insurance company for the testing of your sample you may receive an Explanation of Benefits advising you of these charges." And the following day, I did indeed receive an EOB, and found to my surprise that the amount they charged for tissue-typing my cheek swab was a whopping $4000.

Shocking, especially when you consider that the average cost for this type of test is $52. I wonder what the other $3948 went to?

When I called the bone marrow registry to express my astonishment, they rushed to assure me that this wouldn't actually cost ME anything, and if it did, they would cover those costs for me. They apparently have donations for that. And they claimed they had told me they would be charging my insurance company, and it turned out they were accurate here: they had placed a postcard in the bottom of that "gift" bag. However, nowhere on that card does it say $4000, or, in fact, ANY amount they might be charging. And as I informed them, I don't generally spend $4000 without knowing about it, and without at least enjoying the experience.

What the postcard did tell me was that "legislators in several states...have passed laws that make it mandatory for most insurance cover HLA testing costs for its members who volunteer to join a national donor panel...The insurance company will reimburse the laboratory at a contracted rate." A contracted rate. I find it hard to believe that my insurance company, so quick to discount any other medical service I receive by half or more, would pay almost 90 times the cost of simple tissue typing. It just doesn't add up.

And while I know that, right now, I didn't have to take a dollar out of my own wallet to pay for this, it's exactly this kind of inflated pricing that makes all of our insurance rates go up. And that's what really gets me. They like to say "this won't cost you a thing", as if there's a mountain somewhere with a big pile of money in it, and they're just making sure they get their piece of it. But that big pile of money comes, of course, from you and me, and when someone else takes more than their share, that is less for the rest of us, and we all have to pay more to replace it.

This bone marrow donor registry raped my insurance company, and me, and has now left me with a really bad taste in my mouth. And sadly, I will now think twice before doing another good deed.