Tag Archives: Healthcare

Random Thoughts and Stem Cells

First off, I need to apologize for being so self absorbed the last month.

Second, I need to warn you that this is going to be a truly random blog.

Ready? Set! Go!

The world got a little bit crazier while I was on my mental health break. What in the world were members of Congress doing inciting violence? I tried to talk to a friend of mine about this and he just pushed it aside to discuss his feelings on the passage of the Healthcare Bill. All my friends have feelings – strong burning ones – and I feel a little like Switzerland.

I’ve been debating the veracity of the HPV inoculation, looking once again at the issue of water boarding and whether we should hold individuals accountable for operating under a set of rules we now find morally abhorrent, thinking about the nature of time (and coming up with a really cool new superpower), and wondering if our President understood what he was doing when he didn’t grandfather in the existing stem cell lines?   

Earlier this month I was all set to write a piece how the lifting of the stem cell ban had impacted science. Since no one I currently know is working with stem cells I was going to do some digging on the internet and see what I could find. After all – this had to be good news, right?

Oh, so wrong.

NPR did the first story I heard and it made me incredibly sad.  

Research science is a long process. You think government is slow, try research. For the last 8 years only a few stem cell lines have been approved for government funding in the United States. Last year’s lifting of the ban had a caveat – all stem cell lines have to be approved as “derived without creating a human embryo for research purposes or destroying, discarding, or subjecting to harm a human embryo or fetus.”

The problem is that for most of the last decade research on stem cells was restricted to only a few lines. These stem cell lines were not grandfathered into to the Executive Order and proving that they were derived “humanly” has become problematic. It is devastating for researchers. It’s like being a jockey, who at the eleventh hour, has to switch horses. All that work, training, building an understanding of your mount – it’s all gone and have you to start all over again.       

As much as I like observing complex systems our bureaucracy makes my head hurt.  

There are so many moving parts, and part within parts, that we can never “do no harm”. Even the things that we want – to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – to open up stem cell research so we can compete with the rest of the world – to have health care for all – become wrapped up in conflict and compromise. Every layer of bureaucracy that is added, even with the best of intent, makes the system more unstable.   

I wish I had answers rather than critiques. It is easy to criticize and so much harder to look at the whole problem and start chipping away towards a solution.

The funny thing is that we criticize no matter what happens because no solution makes everyone happy.

Take for example the stem cell issue. If the President had grandfathered in the Bush stem cell lines and it was discovered that one or more of the lines were not derived humanly we would be hearing all about that.

There is no winning in government today only awkward truces and tense compromises.

So, I keep being Switzerland.

Not because I back away from the fight, but because I can see the other perspectives.

~ Tess


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Tired of taking care of myself!

Last year, about this time, I simply got tired of taking care of myself.

I was seeing a Naturopath, an Acupuncturist, a Massage Therapist, a Chiropractor, and a Neurologist in an attempt to get my migraines under control. I wanted to have some level of quality of life. I also wanted to feel like I was “doing” something and not just giving into the migraines.

Those who know me well know that I fight.

So I fought.

Not only was I spending a small fortune on my healthcare providers I was also on drugs, supplements, and vitamins.

I started to wonder what was working and what was window dressing? But I had been in such bad shape and I wanted, so badly, to feel better. At the time I was keeping a migraine journal – the migraines, what I ate, the drugs/supplements/vitamins I took and when, and any exercise I was able to do.

I keep my appointments but I stopped writing in my journal. That was the first sign. I was exhausted. Taking care of myself had become a full time job.  

Then I was laid off – and anyone who has been surviving on unemployment insurance knows that there was no way I was going to continue my healthcare lifestyle on what I was receiving weekly.    

So I had to prioritize.

What was the most bang-for-the-buck and what was really required and what could go away. I don’t want to think about the money I’d been spending. Several of the things I was taking cost upwards of $90 a month. Trust me, I could do the math but it would make me cry.

Now don’t think that anyone was taking advantage of me – they weren’t. I made all the decisions with my eyes open. Granted the decision was to throw everything at the migraines, but that was my decision, and it did help.

It also helped knowing that they cared and wanted to help. I have great doctors!

But now I was facing financial disaster at the same time as I was becoming tired of working so hard just to make it through another day.

My decision was very unscientific. I kept taking everything until the supply ran out. Then if I got worse I put it back in and if I didn’t notice it was gone I left it. As the months went by the migraines ebbed and flowed with no real rhyme or reason. Except, as the months passed, the daily ones became less severe and the sever ones less frequent.

For years one of my doctor’s was of the opinion that my job was killing me.

I think she was right.

The farther I got away from the job, the more I went back to my old habits of scrimping and saving. The more control I had over my life, my time. Going back to working hard only for myself rather than being a tiny cog in the huge mechanism that is business in the US the better I felt.

I still have migraines. But I’m getting better at controlling them through diet and exercise.

I still take drugs and supplements – but I’ve pared them down to the essentials and got lucky. Two of the drugs I’ve been on in the last 12 months have gone generic.

And I wonder…

One of the things that has always bothered me is when I take a drug and it has an unacceptable side effect, so I take another drug for the side effect.

What if the root of my problem was the job, the migraine was the side effect, and the drugs I was taking to control the side effect?

We so rarely look at our lifestyle.

All of our lifestyle.

Just before the migraines hit my exercise program started to fall apart. It was a gradual thing but as my exercise decreased my migraines increased. As long as I had the migraines on a daily basis I couldn’t exercise.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this ramble.

Today I woke up without a migraine. It’s happening more and more often.

I’m grateful for everything my doctors did for me – they kept me sane and productive when my world was falling apart.

I think my doctor who said my job was killing me was right. I’m not really built to work in corporate America.

I’m even more grateful to the recession since it caused my company to have to shrink by 10% – and so glad I was one of the causalities. As brave as I usually am I was terrified to lose the paycheck.

I’m exercising more, my migraines are less, I am productive and I’m content.   

~ Tess

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I was thinking about the migraine that’s been sitting behind my left eye all day. It made me remember last year when I had a migraine that lasted 31 days (yes DAYS not hours).

That made me think about Healthcare.

You see, I’d never really thought about healthcare until I needed to get help for my migraines. Real help! The kind where you know that you can’t keep going if you don’t get some assistance. Nothing I was trying was working and I needed a specialist. Plus I was concerned that if I didn’t get better I would lose my job.

I did get better – then I got laid off. It could have been worse.

But while I was suffering through the maze of healthcare and HR I realized that it was the most inefficient system I had ever seen in my life. My friends and former co-workers know that I don’t do well with convoluted systems – and from what I can tell my experiences were mild compared to most – but the system is broken. But fixing it… that is all about change and as much as we may rail about the system, it is our system, we are used to it, and on some level it works.

I don’t think the Healthcare debate is really about Healthcare. I think it is about change – and it is rare for people to embrace change. We may also have used up our ability to handle change after voting in President Obama. That was change on a grand scale – and it took unprecedented visionary leadership – and guts. Guts for all of us to believe that change was possible.

We are the only industrialized nation without universal healthcare. You can read all the stats on who’s covered, who isn’t, all the horror stories of healthcare gone wrong, all the stories of waste and malfeasance. But none of those are going to make you change your mind… because for a lot of us, what we have works for us and we are afraid that by moving to a different system we will have less.

Fear is what keeps us here. Fear of change.

Isn’t the first thing you do when your company changes healthcare providers is check to see if your doctors are on the list? Or when you change jobs? Who wants to change? To walk into the unknown? Even though change is usually… what?

When something changes… how often is the change bad, good, or just more of the same? And the corollary – where do we have to be before we actively pursue change?

I like that… where do we have to be before we actively pursue change?

If it is our health – is it the X year class reunion, when your doctor says you are going to die of a heart attack in 2 years if you don’t, a major milestone of a birthday, or something else. What tips you into changing your behaviors?

If it is the Presidency – did we really have to go into freefall before the country woke up and said “No More!”

If it is your Healthcare – how bad would it have to get or how good would the option have to be to get you to change? And are you looking at this from a personal standpoint or from what is right for the Nation as a whole?

I could quote you more statistics here but as Benjamin Disraeli said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Although 1+1=2 in stats numbers are a lot like words, and words can say whatever you want them too.  

The question is what do you want? If we could find the top three things that defined a vision of Healthcare that spoke to everyone – could we then change? Right now we are bandaging the scrape on the knee when the leg is broken. This is a fix. What we need is a reimagining of the whole system. Something that I’m not sure we are capable of.

Our Founding Fathers did a great job making sure that any changes of a momentous nature to our country were slow. The system, with all its checks and balances and division of powers, is meant to make sure that all aspects of a problem are weighed. I don’t think they ever imagined how huge and convoluted our government would become. All systems do this – they build complexity until they drown in it.

No one can wave a magic wand and make this work and without a clear vision we don’t know where we are going – and that scares us.

It took me two months of daily migraines to get a referral to the Neurologist that finally helped me. Would I have gotten in to see him sooner if the system changed or would I have been left waiting for months? Migraines are rarely life threatening so I’m not so sure where I would be on the importance scale.

The thing is – I’m ready to face the change, even if it causes inconvenience for me in the short term because I believe it is where we have to go. We need everyone to have access to Healthcare – everyone to have access to preventive care – well baby checkup – screenings for breast cancer/colon cancer/diabetes/heart disease – whatever you are at risk for. Then we can catch things early – save money on late stage care – and start providing preventive rather than reactionary care. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Healthcare system was about keeping you healthy rather than just fixing you when you’re broken?    

So yes, I want change. It won’t be easy, it won’t be pain free. Hell, we may go backwards before we go forwards – but where we are will just collapse in on itself costing us more and providing us less.  

 ~ Tess

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Preventive Healthcare

needlesI haven’t been dealing with life as well as I would like lately. It seems it takes less to wear me down, upset me, and make me defensive. I’m coming out of it, but it’s been a long process. For the first time in my life I was thinking about therapy. You won’t believe what stopped me. The idea of calling my insurance provider and having someone ask why I needed therapy. With all the things going wrong with people my difficultly processing the changes in my life over the last seven months seemed minor.

It wasn’t like I was dealing with drug addiction, the death of a loved one, mental illness, or anything. I was just having difficulty processing the changes in my life. And for some reason that didn’t rate the phone call to the insurance company to get preapproved for therapy.

I’ve since been wondering why preventive care is such an issue in our culture. We seem to like fixing what is broken and not interested in looking for signs of the breakdown.

We go to the doctor when we are sick, to the hospital when we are injured, to the therapist when we have hit bottom – but not before. I truly believe that I was healthier when I was taking care of myself – massages, acupuncture, supplements proscribed by my Naturopath, and proactively managing my health and my stress. But it was a costly exercise and I no longer have the income stream to support elaborate self care.

Which brings me to my next realization.

If I’d still been making good money I would be in therapy. I would have simply paid for it out of pocket.

So what was it about using my insurance that bothered me? And why, when I did an informal poll of my friends, did they all nod their heads in understanding? Isn’t that what insurance if for? Why we pay the big bucks? I’m on COBRA right now so the dollar amount is high. Was it because big brother is watching and wanting mental health assistance is considered weak or not something I want on my record as a preexisting condition like my migraines, allergies or asthma?

Why did I spend so much time on preventive care when I could do it out of pocket and no longer do now that I’m making less? Why are we a reactive society rather than a proactive one where our health is concerned?

I don’t have any answers, even my own behavior is a mystery, but I’ll keep thinking about it because I think it is important.

~ Tess

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