Sunday, November 16

Confronting the past, facing the future

I know I've been a tad reticent. Here's why:

Wednesday night, Tim started complaining of a sore muscle in his chest. Apparently, it had been present for a couple days. But suddenly it was so bad, he felt like he couldn't breathe properly. And so off to the hospital we went. (Though, until he went into more detail, I was the kind of delightful caregiver that sneered he needed to take an ibuprofen and get in a hot shower. Sometimes my healthy skepticism is a little too robust. And, ironically, about the only thing in this marriage that actually is healthy.)

Anyway, we showed up at the ER around 11:30 p.m. and got out at 5 a.m. Delightful.

The past

An added fun element was that we were stuck going either to UW Medical Center (where I myself went and so have all sorts of fun Post Traumatic Stress associations) or Harborview (the hospital you go to when you don't have insurance, so the staff is jaded, the wait is long and it's generally awful).

We went to UWMC. Most of the time I was fine. But near 2 a.m. I ended up going out and pacing awhile, tearing up and just walking off some minor-level freak-out.

Tim was given three nebulizing treatments in a row (plus a steroid) to open up his lungs. The docs figured the crud we're both getting over had hit him harder. The extra coughing and extra gunk in his lungs had seriously strained some muscles to an extreme.

We went home and tried to sack out. (Tim's meds all have stimulant effects, so he was up pretty late.) The next day, I woke up at 3 p.m. and had just enough time to shower, get dressed and grab a quick bite. Then we were off to the much-anticipated preview for Quantum of Solace. It was awesome. I'm usually pretty wordy, but that truly is the word. Jam-packed with action, very no-nonsense. If you liked Casino Royale, you'll be very happy indeed.

All that excitement, plus the activity of the day before, meant my body decided enough was enough. We fell asleep somewhere after 2 a.m. (our schedules still off a bit) and I slept until 3:40 p.m. I think it's fair to say that I stressed my system out a wee bit.

The present

Anyway, as I'm finally approaching a normalized schedule again, I find myself staring down a lot of anxiety-causing things.

For example, Tim's check to the insurance company still hasn't cashed. Monday morning he has to call and make sure they got it. (The last thing we need is to find out that he wasn't covered. Obviously, we'll qualify for financial aid, but it's a huge hassle we really don't want to go through if possible.)

Even so, that ER visit will be at least $75, probably $100 in co-pay, plus whatever part of the deductible may apply ($500). Then, Saturday, Tim went and filled a prescription from his doctor for an expensive steroid medication. It is helping him use his current inhaler less. And, to be fair, it's making him feel better overall.

But imagine my extreme displeasure at the surprise: He had paid $200 for it. While I'm glad he's feeling better, he told me this after he had purchased it, so there was no recourse. I couldn't check into cheaper alternatives, samples or company-provided medication for low-income individuals. That's just $200 out the door. Or, more correctly, on the card.

And since his insurance hasn't gone through yet, we've already shelled out $73.99 for another prescription this month. We will have to apply to the insurance company to be reimbursed.

Then there's a certain amount of anger and resentment that stirred in me Saturday. We had a long (tense) talk about the state of the union, as it were. Apparently, Tim has been far more stressed than he let on about the Dept of Vocational Rehab. (Imagine that, a man not talking about his feelings!) It's bad enough for his sensibilities to be asking for help, but as a safety net he has to apply for disability. I think that was the proverbial straw.

All this stress meant he took up smoking again. Behind my back. So, he lied for three weeks and didn't talk to me about some pretty big issues. That creates some feelings of betrayal on my part. On the financial side, these actions are adding up even more:

  • He was coughing more because of the smoking.
  • The coughing led to the pain.
  • The pain led to the ER ($100 co-pay, minimum)
  • When he mentioned this and his using more than one inhaler a month (which he only does when smoking), the doctor urged him to give the new ($200) prescription a try.
  • The other $73.99 prescription was for Wellbutrin to help him quit smoking.

In other words, in addition to actual cigarette costs (around $50 for three weeks), Tim's falling off the wagon has cost us nearly $400.

I was not thrilled.

That said, I have been known to let things slip through the cracks when my depression takes over. Never quite to the scale we're looking at here. But I wasn't expecting perfection when I married. God knows, Tim wasn't expecting perfection. (I know this because he has yet to run screaming from the apartment.)

This is a tough time, but I look back at the terrifying time that I had when I was applying for disability. Until we lose it, most of us never realize how much of our identities are wrapped up in our ability to earn, to bring in a paycheck.

It's a basic issue of self-sufficiency. We know that, whatever happens, we can always work harder, take a second job, or something like that. And there's a sense, as you approach the dreaded term "disability," that you are only as valuable as your monetary contribution.

I know I wondered who would ever love and accept someone who might never be able to earn a steady paycheck. I also wondered who I was, if I was someone who didn't work. It's a major identity crisis.

And all this angst was without the added strain of macho-BS that pervades our culture: Men must bring in a paycheck. Women can choose whether to work, but any man not working is automatically a drain or a mooch.

So, as I get angry and as I see the bills mounting, I have to remember just how badly I dealt with all these issues myself. I had just sold my house so that I could pay off my student loans. I wasn't working, I was applying for disability, and, at age 25, I was living with (and being supported by) my mother.

Suffice to say, I burned through a couple hundred dollars pretty quickly before I yanked myself back to reality. I had been going out, drinking (cheaply, but still self-medication is not a good idea) and just avoiding the very unpleasant reality that my idealized life was shattered, lying on the floor in front of me.

It was up to me to roll up my sleeves, grab a broom and dustpan and take care of the mess. And that only happened slowly over time and with a lot of therapy and even more support from friends and family.

So, in and among my anger at him, I do understand Tim's actions. He's been going out and playing Magic or talking about Magic. He's always got energy to go out, but not to get basic things done, like researching ADD coping skills. He basically withdrew from the ugly bits of life. And who can blame him?

But I can call him on it, which I did.

I told him his actions were understandable. But I was angry and hurt and tired. He is a married man now, and however unpleasant and scary some of these things are, he can't just pick and choose reality.

He hadn't even realized he'd been doing it. (Do we ever? Some things are only diagnosable in retrospect.)

Moreover, I was crying and just so angry overall. I told him about how much time and energy I've spent trying to sell things and otherwise bring in money. Yet even with the extra funds, we're barely making a dent on the credit cards.

Every time we turn around, we're confronted by more unexpected expenses. It's exhausting and discouraging.

Two weeks ago, I made an $800 payment on a card. But the total debt was only $100 less than the last time we made a payment. (Tim's realignment had to be done before his dental insurance ran out; I buy my medication in 3 month increments. Between the two, almost $700 went on the cards.)

This week, a $426 payment brought the total down by less than $100.

And this is while we are trying to pay for more items with cash!

The future

So what are we going to do?

Well, there's only so much we can do. Until time travel is perfected, we can't stop him from having smoked and all the fallout from that.

What we can do is look toward the future.

Since Tim and I have very disparate financial styles, we've been trying to work individually on change, with moral support coming from the other. Clearly this isn't working all that efficiently.

Instead, we've decided to think of it as presenting a united front. That means that our spending goals have to be the same. In the past, in deference to his spender-ways, I've allowed Tim a little more latitude than I give myself. In addition, I've become a tad lax.

Now I have to hold both of us to the same standard. We have to work together to keep each other on the straight and narrow, which, until now, we've often been too distracted to do.

Tim has to call me on my excuse-making for the occasional indulgence. I have to remind Tim that even little expenses like an Auntie Anne's pretzel is too much (especially when you add in two cheeses and a soda!). Essentially, we have to find a positive form of nagging each other. It will probably sound a lot more positive when I find a word other than "nagging."

One thing I'm suggesting is that Tim make things into challenges. I think this will appeal to his sensibilities more than strict, unending edicts. He's considering the idea. I told him we can start small: one "no spending" day, and if that's successful, go for two next; or try for a solid week of eating only at home. Anything that makes it more a test of will (he, like me, is very stubborn) than straight-up deprivation.

We bought two Rachel Ray cookbooks at Sam's club (yes, I know, spending to save seems so ironic!) which should give us less excuse to eat anything besides what's in our cupboards. We're going to severely pare down the groceries. I told Tim we will be sticking to lists when we go to grocery stores. We'd been moving toward it, but he's very impulsive and will often not know what he wants until he sees it.

The new deal is one special item each per week. Today at Sam's Club he got a package of 3 beef jerky bags for $9. I got 3 bags of crispy mint M&Ms (my latest addiction) at Grocery Outlet. Those have to be it for the week. We stick to no-nonsense groceries and only those.

In addition, we're going to make more simple, cheap foods rather than trying to be too interesting and new. Right now, we need to view food as nourishment, not entertainment. It'll be healthier for my wallet and my body.

Part of what has been standing in our way there is Tim's stomach. It's more sensitive than anyone I've ever known, except for one guy with Chrone's disease. Just trying to eat something he's not interested in can make him retch. I finally convinced him that's not normal. He and his doctor are taking some steps to figure out whether it's something in his diet.

Tim has redoubled his efforts to find ways to cope with his ADD symptoms. One avenue we're currently pursuing is using an electronic organizer. This should help him be less forgetful.

Until recently, he was using his Razr, but we think that may be why a big chunk of data randomly disappeared from the phone.

Instead, we're going to try to find something designed more for his needs: a calendar, complete with alarms, a to-do list and a place to write notes and memos to himself.

Unfortunately, electronic organizers are not all that common, and PDAs are giving way to smart phones. Both cost hundreds. And to get a smart phone down to an affordable price, we would have to sign a 2-year contract somewhere. I'm not eager to jump back into a commitment, plus it's no longer my decision. It's my mom's account, now.

We have a few tricks left up our sleeves: ink cartridge trade-ins could give us substantial credit at Staples/Office Depot/Office Max, and MyPoints offers gift cards to a few good stores. to several PDA-selling stores, including Amazon). Still, I think a solution is going to be at least a month in coming.

The really big change, though, is that Tim's agreed to try a therapist. This way, he'll be able to talk to someone about his doubts and fears regarding disability. I can prattle until I'm blue in the face that I love him and, regardless of work-status, he's a person worthy of respect and love. But it's kind of like your mom telling you you're cool.

This lady can help him see -- just like my therapist did -- that disability isn't a life sentence. It's just another adjective. It's an unpleasant one to be sure. But it's just another way to categorize yourself. It doesn't have to define you or your career (which is what he most fears).

Well, it's far too late. I need to get myself into a shower and into bed. I am trying to set up a more normal schedule.

I hope this post wasn't too long, but I had some catching up to do.

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Blogger DogAteMyFinances said...

You can make a calendar with all kinds of alerts in Outlook. It also has to do lists, and things like that. I believe Google Calendar has the same functionality. Maybe not a perfect solution but it's free.

I watched my grandmother smoke herself to death in the final stages of emphysema. I would have been much less understanding.

November 17, 2008 at 6:44 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The term "nagging" has such a negative connotation. I tell my boyfriend that I don't nag him...I simply give him "gentle reminders". ;)

November 17, 2008 at 9:15 AM

Blogger Abby said...

Tee hee! I'll remember that one!

November 17, 2008 at 12:19 PM

Blogger Abby said...


Yes, as a non-smoker I'm completely at a loss for its allure. But I do know that addiction is a nasty thing to kick.

Tim has promised to work (actively) on creating new coping mechanisms. That way, he won't keep turning to smoking when things get rough.

As for understanding, well... It's more resigned than understanding. I made it clear how much it pissed me off that he lied. And before his last quitting attempt, I made it clear that I couldn't stand around while he killed himself slowly.

But yelling only accomplishes so much. Really, it's another form of guilt and stress, which is what he seeks to assuage through smoking. You see the problem there.

So, I'm angry; but I'm also trying to remember that there are other ways to go than screaming.

November 17, 2008 at 2:28 PM

Blogger Shevy said...

Wow, such a meaty post that I almost don't know where to start (and if I get going I could probably write a comment to rival the length of your post).

First, I think you're very brave to write a post like this, one that takes a very clear look at a tough situation.

I can relate to a lot of it, mostly from your POV but also from Tim's where it relates to his breathing. I was once nebulized twice in a row following a severe asthma attack and still remember how shaky I was afterward and how my heart was racing. I can't imagine it after 3.

I feel your frustration over the smoking. My father died in his early 50s from cancer of the esophagus and stomach, caused by smoking (even though he had quit a number of years previously). My hubby is still smoking (about a pack every 3 days, down from a pack a day) even though he fully intended to quit when I was pregnant with our 5 year old. It really freaks me out. I've already raised 3 kids as a single parent. I don't want to be in the position of having to do this again if (G-d forbid) something bad happens. But he can't or won't quit.

The money issues are also very familiar to me (as anyone who has read my blog over the past couple of weeks can attest). At least you're seeing *some* downward motion in the amount of your debt. Ours has been going up along with my frustration level.

I guess I really empathize with you and I just want you to know that I truly "get" what you're going through.

Oh, and I'd call it "encouraging each other" rather than nagging.

November 17, 2008 at 9:39 PM

Blogger Jenna said...

Sorry things have been going kinda crappy lately, I'm really hoping it all shakes out quickly for you. As a newly married nearly 30 with health issue gal myself, I can say - it does get better. Honest. The spendy ones DO come around.

On a side note, regarding the inhalors and other meds? After a lot of research, my husband and I found an online source for all his asthma meds (emergency inhalor and his one a day advair) that has us buying them without insurance for less than a $100... for a years supply.

I'm not going to post the info here (not shilling for a company) but if you are interested in the info, drop me a line anytime and I'll send you what we use. My email is on my blog - which should link up here.

Otherwise, hope he's feeling better - because as soon as his lungs are up for it, he's earned at least ONE smack upside the head!

November 18, 2008 at 7:40 PM


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