It's all about health-care lately. Who pays for what. Where you can go. Who gets to "off" grandma and so forth. For the record, I'm a complete socialist in this fight. But enough about them. Let's talk about me, shall we?

After my divorce back in Feb/Mar, I needed to get health-care arranged for myself. I've been disabled since I was 15, and on Medicare since 1993, although I've never once used the benefit. I've always been covered by near-full-boat health insurance--either someone elses' or my own through an employer--so there was never really a need.

I remember going to the doctor as a kid, and never having to pay for anything out-of-pocket. I didn't know what a co-pay was until the 90's. My father's insurance was very comprehensive (being a supervisor in a massive Midwestern factory that had lots of work from the auto industry) . Oddly enough, a few months ago, a family member sent me an envelope full of all the bills and insurance paperwork from my diving accident and resulting hospitalization/recovery/therapy. In 1983/84, this bill was approximately $120,000 all said and done. Of that, it appears that my father paid roughly $2200 out of pocket. Today, using the Consumer Price Index, the bill would be roughly $260,000, with (an assumed minimum) doubling of out-of-pocket expenses equaling roughly $4400 or so. I'm certian that in this day and age of HMO cost-cutting and buck-passing, the out-of-pocket number would actually be much higher. Were we to have been under-insured like so many today, it could have easily destroyed our family financially. Thankfully, that wasn't the case.

Back to the now.

I don't have too many lingering health issues with regards to my disability. It'll be a limiting factor the rest of my life--true--but it's not like it requires much by way of medication or treatment. The chronic conditions I do need to be treated for are, unfortunately, of my own making. High blood pressure from being obese, arthritis and tendinitis aggravated by the same. The things I really need are simple maintenance and preventatives like any guy my age. Prostate check, annual physical, vaccinations, etc. Really boilerplate stuff. That and access to my psychotherapist. So I just didn't see the big whoop about starting out using my Medicare.

Man, was I wrong.

I started out trying to see my psychotherapist. She was helpful in suggesting that we do a "dry run" billing to see if Medicare would accept it, then if they did, I'd just come in and use the time already approved. Well, that very quickly failed. She was told that there was no ability to authorize me because I wasn't "in the system". I was a bit dumbfounded by this because the little card in my wallet said I'd been "in the system" since 1993. Many calls later, my level of frustration was at an apex. I was getting nowhere, and ran up a $60 overage on my cell-phone bill by sitting on hold talking to no one! I decided to go to a local volunteer organization that aids seniors and the disabled by helping them navigate Medicare and other social services. The following is an excerpt from the email I sent my therapist:

I met with a SHIBA representative yesterday, and while he was extraordinarily UNHELPFUL (the guy knew less than I did, and seems inordinately preoccupied with breathing through his mouth), he did have a secret number to a red phone somewhere in the Medicare bunker that got me to the friend of an uncle of a Medicare person who quickly explained that I needed to inform a small gnome hidden under the basement stairs of the annex of a derilect building Medicare no longer uses in a box marked "BEWARE OF PUMA" that I was no longer covered by [my former insurance plan]. It now looks like Medicare should cover at least 50% of the cost. They said wait 14 days from the call, so after the 1st should work. Let me know what the bastards say...
And we have yet to hear back. Seriously, I've gone through every stitch of literature that I could find--both in print and on-line--on starting this coverage, and nowhere does it say that you have to inform them that your old coverage is gone. I asked the representative referenced above about it, and they said "Oh, it's probably not available to you. It's just our policy..."

What the Effin' F?

Seriously. This level of bureaucracy just stuns me. You're expected to comply with some rule you've never heard of from an agency that won't tell you about it until you call a secret number that isn't actually listed anywhere?

Anyway, the short form of this is, it looks like my primary coverage by Medicare is actually starting up. I will still be paying for Medicaid (Supplemental Insurance) out of pocket, but that has hoops to be gone through. Actually, while writing this blog, I tried to apply for Medicaid and Oregon Health Plan, but two iterations of application attempts and botched PDF submissions later, their on-line system failed me, so I just called to have a hard-copy application mailed to me. Meanwhile, the decission on school is also in process, and will have its own blog post shortly...

Sorry for leaving this all hanging here. Just a brief blurb to say that things here are much better. She and I worked a lot of it out, and are trying again, this time with much more understanding of what each of us did that contributed to make such small issues appear so huge. It never ceases to amaze me just how much you miss when you stop listening and just react.

There is a great misconception regarding Zen and things like action. Everybody knows the beat-to-death addage of the Zen master, the chopsticks and the fly. First off, I call bull-sh!t Secondly, nearly no-one ever gets this story right. C) Whatever. Point is, people have this idea that by "being all 'zen' n' stuff" you can simply react as if there is no thought needed, as if instinct alone will guide your body (or your mouth).

Uh. No.

We are constantly thinking. Constantly. Even when us Zen-types are trying our damnedest not to, the gears are grinding away between the ears, trying like hell to keep the machine going. Part of this is a good thing. Stopping all thought tends to lead to things like a permanent case of "death". But when strife or tumult happens--say, an argument--what happens with the brain and reaction?

When you stop listening, everything crashes. Every time. You start reacting from your own place of fear and insecurity. Why? Because you're no longer dealing with the other person. You've purposefully disconnected from them, and ergo, from the whole dynamic. You now have no ability to understand any further, because you don't know what's actually being said, and from that point on, you are acting unilaterally. You may think you're picking flies out of the air with chopsticks--reacting effortlessly from "instinct"--but in actuality, what you're doing is setting yourself up for much more grief than you'd have by being wholly present and dealing with the person by listening to what they're saying, even if you don't agree with them.

One of the key techniques/practices of Zen is "inquiry". Here's a tip: you can't "not think" and "inquire" at the same time. Apparently, thinking is important after all. Being able to inquire of yourself while strife and stress are happening in real time is damn handy. And it would have been really handy were I to have actually done any of it while dealing with this issue with my partner. Inquiries like "Who is feeling this frustration?" "Who is reacting?" "Where is the fear?" "What is my body feeling?" etc, can actually keep you more present, and defuse a lot of the "instinct" to react, because honestly, the human instinct in situations like that is almost always sure to be good-old "fight or flight". That is human instinct. And that is never helpful when it comes to understanding.

By the bye, in the chopstick story? The monk gets decapitated.




And by all means, keep your head.

I hurt someone the other day. Badly. I tried my best to minimize the pain, but as is often the case, it didn't work out that way. What happens when you just realize that it's not right? What do you do?

When my marriage was struggling, I tried very hard to allow for the fact that what I was reacting to was the fear of change. I wanted very badly for things to stay the way they were. But I saw that the special person I loved so much needed to be allowed to change into who they needed to be. She needed to be authentic, and I needed to allow that. As painful as it was (and at times still is), it really was for the best. I tried to simply be with the change and accept it as one more turn in the wheel inside the machine that is the Universe. At least we still talk.

The person I hurt a few days ago is also a very special person. She is many things I wanted to be with, but in the end, I suddenly realized that--for a number of reasons--it wasn't right. A number of these reasons were about me and what I was either bringing, or not bringing, to the relationship. But unfortunately, I blind-sided her with my decision. I truly wish I could have done things differently, but it suddenly burst from me. I feel terrible about it. She lashed out with some very venomous word-attacks, and no matter how much they hurt me, I simply let them hit me. I had to. She has a right to feel that hurt.

My teacher says that when this happens, the karma is mostly decided by the intent behind the action. That's no real comfort to me right now. This woman has been openly criticizing me as a Buddhist, and the path in general. I can't really do anything about that, but it still bothers me. I know that I would not have been able to fulfill her needs, nor she mine. I want her to find the person that can be wholly and totally what she needs, and sooner rather than later. I didn't want to be wasting her time anymore. Not that my time with her was a waste (contrary to what she accused me of) but at the same time, working on something you know won't work is by definition a waste of time, and she deserves better than that.

Me? I think being alone is what I need right now. Not in that pathetic sort-of way. More along the lines of "chop wood, carry water".

I just wish I hadn't cut someone in the process...