No place like home

1977

The AmeriNZ guy Arthur wrote about No place like home. A core paragraph: “For 24 years, my home wasn’t really a physical place—after all, Nigel and I lived in five different houses in three completely different areas in New Zealand. Instead, for me, ‘home’ was wherever Nigel and our furbabies were. That began to unravel when Nigel died.”

This got me thinking. I’ve lived in 30+ different places. How many of them were actually home? I’m leaving off a few places where I stayed anywhere from four days to two months except one.

5 Gaines Street, Binghamton, NY: the home I grew up in. Even though my room was defined by a partition, the ceiling was a painting of the solar system I commissioned my father to create. HOME.

Scudder Hall, New Paltz, NY (1971-72). A dorm is NOT HOME, though it was a pleasant enough experience. 29 Ackley Avenue, Johnson City, NY (1972). My parents moved there during my freshman year. NOT HOME.

New Paltz

The roach-infested place the Okie and I lived for two months in Kingston, NY (1972), assuredly NOT HOME. Colonial Arms, New Paltz (1972-1974). The Okie and I had people over. My neighbor Debi and I went grocery shopping together. On the other hand, the Okie, without my knowledge, let alone consent, invited people to crash with us for extended periods. HOME-ISH.

13 Maple Street, Binghamton, NY (1975). My grandma’s house, where I had no heat: NOT HOME. Three or four places in New Paltz (1975-76): NOT HOME.

The 1977 sojourn: my parents’ home in Charlotte, NC; my sister’s apartment in Queens, NY; Candid Yam’s sofa in New Paltz; my friend’s place in Schenectady. NOT HOME. The place on Eastern Parkway, Schenectady (1978-79), with two roomies. It may have been Sheila’s home, but for me, NOT HOME.

Albany, NY

First apartments in Albany (1978-80). It had a great sunken living room. But then the house was sold, and we had to move upstairs. NOT HOME.

223 Lancaster Street, Albany (1981-1983). I was working at FantaCo, a short distance away. My hangouts were Washington Park and Lark Street. My neighbors were great, including my friend Jessica and a couple of octogenarians, who gave me their 78s. At least a few times, I threw parties. HOME.

Madison Ave. I moved in because the Lancaster landlord threw everyone out to refurbish it. NOT HOME. 264 Western Ave. with the gospel writers Mark and John. HOME-ISH. The now-boarded-up 437 Second Street I wrote about; that, and the next place, HOME. The first time on Hudson Avenue and Hackett Blvd.: we could not have many guests for reasons. NOT HOME.

Home stretch

I especially liked the second time on Hudson Avenue, where I stayed for over four years. I actually carried petitions for my local city council person and worked the polls. My church and the YMCA, where I played racquetball, were within easy walking distance. Work was easy to get to. And my late friend Raoul had lived in the identical building next door until he died in 1983. HOME.

340 Manning Blvd. This is where my wife and I lived when we first got married. It had been her place before that. One of the rare, valuable things our pastor told us was that we ought to get a place that was ours. I always felt that my stuff, and therefore I, was being squeezed into that place. NOT HOME. Fortunately, I was there for only one year.

My current abode, since 2000. we took months to find a place we liked and could afford. It’s convenient. On ZOOM calls, you only see a small portion of the built-in bookcases. And, of course, our daughter was raised here. Fer sure, HOME.

My wife in the hospital

What’s the diagnosis?

in the hospitalMy wife said that her being in the hospital was easier for me than taking care of her when she was home. I don’t think that was necessarily true.

For while I was helping her with many tasks she normally did on her own, as well as doing most of the household chores, coming to the hospital daily had its own challenges.

Friday, October 14: I went to the hospital and gave my wife my charger because hers got lost in her various moves, and it was the only way I knew how to keep in touch with her. I brought her some magazines and stayed about three hours, which was about my norm on Saturday through Monday.

She was getting a four-hour IV drip for antibiotics, plus others for hydration and other meds.

“Bring the lavender top”

Saturday, October 15: She didn’t have to wear the hospital gown, but she did need me to bring her clothes. I had no idea how she organized her apparel, and why would I? But now I know more than I thought I needed to know. Also, I brought her laptop.

When I was home alone, the house seemed unsettled, with every noise the cats made seemingly amplified. Also, I received many calls, emails, and texts checking in on my wife.

Sunday, October 16: We did Facetime for the very first time, as I used it to show her armoire so that she could pick out her apparel. At the hospital, she beat me at Boggle, which is not unusual.

Monday, October 17: She thought she would come home today but nope, not until tomorrow. I watched as the nurse showed me how to treat the wounds on her leg. The infection started on her left ankle, but the area on her lower shin “blistered,” as they called it. It was… well, if you ever saw the climatic scene in the movie Alien…

Another twofer

Tuesday, October 18: I had breakfast with my friend Karen at the Madison Cafe. More correctly, she ate, but I got something to go because I was not allowed to eat in anticipation of another test at St. Peter’s. It was a CT ANGIO CHEST WO AND/OR W CONTRAST; got that?

I went to the hospital and got the test. As the notes indicate, “Images were repeated due to motion artifact,” the motion being my need to cough once. Note that I had not only eaten anything but drank nothing as well. I’m wearing a mask. To avoid wrecking a second test, I strained to send saliva down my throat.

My wife was going to be discharged. I was supposed to get hands-on training in treating her leg wounds, but because my procedure took longer, my opportunity passed. The nurse said, “So you finally got here.” My wife thought the nurse was joking with me; maybe.

My BIL Dan took us home. Getting up the four steps to our porch on crutches was a challenge for my wife. Later on, hopping up and down our stairwell was an exhausting chore. So for the next few days, she’d make only one trip downstairs and then one return trip per day. Per the suggestion of our daughter, crawling up proved to be the optimal method.

Improving

Over the next week, she slowly improved. While her leg was elevated while she was sitting on the sofa or the bed, she made efforts to walk at least a little. Gradually, her swollen foot started shrinking so that she could wear one of my shoes on her left foot; this would probably go viral had I recorded it. A few days later, had her own shoes.

I treated her wound nearly daily, except when she went to the doctor. The task got easier once I commandeered one of her empty dresser drawers to keep the gauze and abdominal pads et al. Her leg got less red and far less… unappealing. The actual diagnosis is cellulitis, but it’s not vascular, and it may take a month before she sees a specialist who might give a clearer assessment.

As for my situation: the status quo is the way to go. More tests in six months.

Two hospital visits on the same day

transthoracic echocardiogram

hospitalHow I had two hospital visits on the same day. Well, of a sort.

Monday, October 10: Leslie and I return to Albany, stopping to pick up a lot of Italian food. My wife also wanted us to pick up her prescription pain medication, but it wasn’t there. Her doctor’s office had failed to send the info either that day or the following morning. She increasingly needed pain relief, particularly from the inflammation of her left foot. Finally, it was filled, and I retrieved it.

Moreover, in addition to the infection of her ankle, a blister developed on her left shin. When I think of a blister, I think of a tiny, though irritated, area. This was considerably larger. As my wife later suggested, it was also appropriate for the holiday season because it like as though it was from a zombie.

Leslie and I saw my daughter before she left the next morning with about a third of the food, which was fine.

Tuesday, October 11: We were going to go to a timeshare in the Berkshires, but my wife couldn’t stand the pain of being in the car for an hour. Plan B:  After we put the one cat in the basement, Leslie came over and washed the dishes while I attempted to straighten up the house and tend to my wife.

Wednesday, October 12: Leslie and I went to the rental car place to return the vehicle. She Ubered to the airport, and I took the bus home. I certainly didn’t mind taking care of my wife, but it ate into most of my time for food prep and just helping her to get from one point to another.

The day without end

Thursday, October 13: My wife and I had separate medical visits. I went to the cardio section of St. Peter’s Hospital to get a transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE). What is THAT? It is “a test that uses ultrasound (sound waves) to create images of your heart. TTE can determine how well your heart is functioning and identify causes of cardiac-related symptoms.”

I’m getting this test because of this. I used to get one annually, but then my cardiologist retired, and no one in the office followed up. So I had to get my primary care physician (PCP) to contact another practice in Schenectady, who I had seen a couple of weeks earlier. BTW, the Ellis Hospital main phone line sucks. I was in phone hell for ten minutes before abandoning it, Googling the directish number I needed, and calling that.

Part 2

So after the test, I went home, ate lunch, and watched a recorded episode of JEOPARDY. But before I could finish it, my wife called and said that HER PCP was displeased with the progress of her leg. The antibiotics should have done more. She should go to the emergency room and be admitted. I was to meet there, at St. Peter’s, where I had just come from.

We both arrived around 2:30 p.m.; she’d gotten a ride from the church friend who had taken her to the doctor. After two hours, she was called to the triage office, which involved her using her crutches to hobble there. Yes, the nurse there said my wife should be admitted. She finally got a wheelchair.

Around 6, I went home to take the trash to the curb, feed the cats, and, most importantly, make my wife a sandwich. The selection of graham crackers, saltine crackers, and Lorna Doones has dissipated over time. The bottled water is gone, with just some ginger ale cans.

Finally, my wife gets to go to a bed attached to the ER. I go in about a half hour later as it becomes obvious that she won’t see anyone for a while. At about 11 pm, I go home.

Admitted

Friday, October 14: She tells me that several medical folks saw her overnight, some of which involved doctors waking her in the middle of the night. Around noon, she’s on the fifth floor. But she doesn’t have a room yet. And she hasn’t eaten or even drunk water since 8 pm the night before because the vascular surgeon was supposed to see her.

I arrive on the 5th floor at about 1:45 pm and find my wife, who doesn’t yet have a room. She’s on the floor, with some partitions providing a modicum of privacy. Then I got a call maybe 10 minutes after I arrived. It was my MIL wanting to know how her daughter was doing; I hadn’t spoken to her since we were still in the ER.

Finally, at about 2 pm, my wife gets a room. More importantly, since it was established that the vascular guy WOULDN’T see her that day, she got some food!

I was very distressed by all of this. It was my impression that her PCP could call the hospital and bypass the hours of waiting. I figured it would be like my last ER visit in August. Of course, that was a perceived heart thing in a less busy hospital. One of the medical professionals we spoke with subsequently said that’s just how health care is, especially in the last three years.

Insurance stress: CDPHP, St. Peter’s

health insurance

CDPHPI am experiencing some insurance stress based on two pieces of mail my wife and daughter received the same day last week. If you want to write a blues song after reading this, feel free.

The letter was from St. Peter’s Health Partners. It runs most of the city’s hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices that aren’t part of the Albany Medical Center. All of our primary care physicians are part of SPHP.

“Our records show that at the time of your last visit…, you… receive your health through a CDPHP commercial health plan.” CDPHP is the Capital District Community Health Plan. “Please be aware that [SPHP] has engaged in negotiations with CDPHP for a more equitable agreement to ensure we can continue to deliver high-quality, community-based care.”

Didn’t we do this dance a few years ago, which got resolved at the 11th hour?

In bold: “Our current agreement is set to expire effective January 1, 2023; meaning some patients may have increased financial responsibility when seeking care from [SPHP] in 2023 because CDPHP no longer includes the following facilities in its network.” Over a dozen facilities, including St. Peter’s Hospital, Samaritan Hospital, and five Eddy facilities, are on the list. Interestingly, no related mail from CDPHP has arrived.

On the coverage

Meanwhile, my wife and my daughter also received a Benefits Bulletin from my former employer, the Research Foundation for The State University of New York, or SUNY RF. “If you are a retiree or an eligible dependent of a retiree and you are not eligible for Medicare, your current RF benefits will continue for 2023 unless you make changes during open enrollment.” That window is November 1-30.

Just in case we need to make a change, I went to the SUNY RF portal to see if I could find the forms to change their coverage, but none of them seemed appropriate. Some were for the retiree (me), while some were for the retiree and dependents. I am on a different plan for administrative reasons.

So I called the SUNY RF number on Monday and then a different one on Wednesday. I was offered the same form to make changes, even though it didn’t make sense to me. If I change my wife and daughter to a Blue Cross program, I hope SUNY RF does not muck it up.

CVS

Meanwhile, a good friend of mine writes on Facebook: “We’ve…just been notified by [CDPHP] that CVS will no longer take our prescription insurance effective 1/1/2023… This is very upsetting because CVS is very convenient to where we live, has a drive-through, and the closest to our house is one of the only 24-hour pharmacies in the Capital District.” We got no such letter from CDPHP.

I called my local CVS pharmacist. They said that CVS has declined to take the CDPHP price schedule, so it may very well cost more to fill prescriptions there, but they won’t really know until they start filling them next year.

This issue will be a primary concern of mine this month because I can’t wait until the CDPHP/SPHP issue gets resolved in December if, in fact, it does.

To travel, or not to travel

Coming from California

travelI’m writing this more than two weeks after the fact, which is suboptimal. This continuation: To travel, or not to travel.

Tuesday, October 4: My usual Bible guys meeting at 9 a.m. I believe I’m the youngest member of the group, which used to meet in person before COVID. But once we started on ZOOM, we stayed on ZOOM. Unlike most meetings, a Bible study with four to seven guys is manageable.

Conversely, the weekly book review at the Washington Avenue branch always wants to be in person. There were some furtive attempts at offering it online, but it’s just better face-to-face.

I went home, and my wife and I started a largely futile attempt to clean the house.

Wednesday, October 5: My wife and I drove to the Albany International Airport. It’s “international” because it services trips to and from a few Canadian cities. I went to the luggage area and met my sister Leslie, who had flown in from SoCal. She was going to go to her high school reunion that weekend. I had agreed to be her Plus One.

My wife suggested going to the Iron Gate Cafe, where we had eaten only a few weeks earlier. But her ankle was now extremely sore, and she begged off but dropped us off there. My sister loved it, as my wife knew she would.

My wife drove Leslie to the Avis/Budget car rental in Colonie Center, near the former Sears; I had no idea it was there. We all went home, with me navigating for my sister; she could have used her phone, but why when she had me?

Medical

My wife was on the phone with her doctor’s office, but from my end of the conversation, it didn’t sound as though her pain or possible infection was being taken seriously. Moreover, the redness of her ankle and above was very concerning to me.

This was because, in 1979, two days before I started my first attempt at grad school, I got a little cut on my baby toe. Increasingly, it hurt tremendously. I hobbled through registration, then limped to the infirmary. The doctor immediately put me on bed rest AT THE INFIRMARY for six days. He feared that the infection, traveling up a blood vessel in my leg, would head for my heart and kill me. I started classes late and never did catch up.

My wife and I put Leslie up in a hotel so she wouldn’t have to put up with our demented cat.

Thursday, October 5: I called my wife’s doctor’s office at 6:10 a.m. Of course, I got the service, but I gave the person great detail about the swelling and what appeared to be spreading infection. To my amazement, her doctor called back at 6:30 and promised a slot as soon as the scheduler came in. At 7:40, the office called, and my wife had a 10:30 appointment, which my sister drove her to. My wife got doses of antibiotics. After lunch, Leslie drove us so my wife could get an ultrasound. The good news: no blood clots.

The reserves

Leslie and I were going to Binghamton that afternoon in her rental vehicle. To travel, or not to travel, that was the question. I would have felt uncomfortable leaving my wife but for one thing. Unrelated to the medical issues, my daughter had decided to come home from college for the long weekend. SHE would take care of her mother! This was a bit of serendipity

And from the reporting of the patient, when Leslie and I came back on Monday, she had done a fabulous job. This is not a surprise, based on a story my daughter told my wife. Someone at college had accidentally cut themselves, and another student tried to patch them up, but they didn’t do it correctly. Clean the wound, pat it dry, and then put the ointment on the bandage, not the wound. My wife had shown this method to my daughter, and the message took. Can you hear the maternal beam of joy?

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