by j-a

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July 2011


My father used to tell me, "Alex, there is nothing wrong with being scared . . . as long as you don't let it affect you until the danger is over. Being hysterical is okay, too . . . afterwards and in private. Tears are not unmanly . . . in the bathroom with the door locked. The difference between being a coward and a brave man is mostly a matter of timing.
Robert Heinlein, Job: A Comedy of Justice
The next problem I had to deal with was my teeth. I think I complained to your before about my dentist. If not, then I'll tell you more about him later. I don't know if I told you I finally got an appointment at the Pitt dental school, after worrying for a long while whether I should find a new dentist locally. But every time I tried to get a local appointment, either I couldn't get through to the offices or, if I checked them out on the internet, I'd find a lot of complaints about them. I figured that at least at Pitt I would be able to rely on them telling me the truth about the condition of my teeth and not get a lot of hype or lies about what kind of treatment I needed. [More about that later too.]

So, I got ready to go out into society again. (After all of the "socializing" with Roy and then with Royce and Kim, I'd been at home "recovering" and writing in the morning and trying to catch up on my yard work in the afternoon.) Then, a few days before my dental appointment, I got a letter from the VA. It was a complete surprise. Despite the error message, my application did get through. Even though I had decided to apply, I figured I would either be turned down or be given such a high co-pay rate that it wouldn't be worth it; but instead I was approved with a zero co-pay. Apparently, net worth means very little, probably especially since most of it is retirement money.

Royce had told me much earlier that, if I applied, I should lie and tell them I had no savings because that's what he did. I told him they'd probably check, but he said they didn't check him. So that was one of my worries: Should I lie or not? But I didn't. I reported my entire net worth; and, apparently, what's most important to the VA is not net worth, but income, and I have practically none since my certificates of deposit are all used up and the only interest I have is either in IRAs or savings bonds that don't count as income until they're cashed in. Of course, each year I will be reassessed for income and the co-pay could change if I have significantly more, which I will if I take social security at age 66. But, if I don't, then I would have a considerable expense paying for Medicare until I do. Catch 22. Either I'll have to pay one way or another.

So, as I begin to worry about that little bugaboo, I head on down to Pitt and, since I'm going to be in Oakland anyway, I figure I might as well stop in at the VA because the letter I got said that I had to have my picture taken for my photo ID. So I made a day out of it and went to the VA in the morning and the dental school in the afternoon. I was anxious about them both, but they both turned out great. When Royce said that the people at the VA were great, I assumed that he was just overly enthusiastic because of all the problems he had, that any kind of attention at all would have seemed great to him by comparison with what he was getting at home. But he was right. They are great. They're nothing at all like the old horror stories I used to hear about VA hospitals. Which makes me wonder: Why can't the miserable turds at the post office be taught to act as courteously and respectfully? What? Military veterans are great people, deserving of the utmost respect from our governmental organizations, but ordinary citizens are the scum of the earth?

And the Pitt dental school was even better. My student dentist, a short little Chinese-American, was great; and so was his student assistant, Sandra. When I told Kim on July 4th that I had an appointment at the dental school, she said she went there once and would never go back, that they made her wait for two-and-a-half hours and it wasn't any better than going to a regular dentist. I should have known she wouldn't like it; they probably didn't kiss her ass because she's a nurse. I liked them because, being new at dentistry, they took their time, ponderously so, which probably drove manic Kim crazy. And they explained everything as they went along, unlike my dentist who, I discovered as I found out about the true condition of my teeth, is an mf-ing liar.

I kind of already knew this when he told me about how he didn't deal with certain discount plans because they wanted him to raise his rates with their members to compensate for the discount and then I checked on the internet and found out that he actually did take patients with those discount plans. He told me that I needed to have all my fillings replaced, and that on one of them the discoloration was actually decay that should be taken care of immediately. The resident instructor at Pitt told me that old silver fillings sometimes discolor and that as long as I didn't mind the discoloration, it was a good filling and didn't need to be replaced. And, of all the other fillings, only two need to be replaced because they have slight gaps between them and the tooth.

I also conclude that my (former) dentist didn't have to drill out the molar that he did and put a crown on it; and he certainly wouldn't have had to do a root canal, which was the other alternative. The Pitt instructor said that as long as the pain from hot or cold foods went away immediately and didn't linger, that it would be okay, and I should pay attention to it and if the pain started to get worse and lingered to where I no longer felt comfortable with it, then I probably would have to get a root canal done. He tested my other teeth that sometimes hurt from hot and cold with a cold pack, and each time the pain took a long time to come on and went away immediately as soon as he removed the cold. The X-rays showed that I had no cavities at all, not even in the tooth with the new crown. My dentist had implied that any tooth sensitive to hot and cold would probably need to be drilled out and re-filled. But, apparently, tooth sensitivity is not necessarily a sign of decay. My dentist could have made me understand this, but then he wouldn't have made as much money off of me, the greedy bastard.

So, I come back home from the dental school much relieved, and the next problem I have to deal with is Medicare part B. I was confused, wondering if I should or should not keep it. I'm covered better with the VA benefits than I am with Medicare because with Medicare there's a co-pay, even with part A. So for the next few days I worried about whether I should cancel part B or not; and the first payment of $345 (for 3 months) is due on July 25th. Then I get a second (ridiculously enormous) packet in the mail from Blue Cross (because I never responded to the first one) telling me that my time is running out to choose their Medicare healthcare plan, and suddenly I understand what I should have realized all along: they're trying way too hard; this enormous, highly professional looking package of insurance hype is big-time overkill. Combined with all of the other offers from insurance companies I've been getting in the mail since I signed up for Medicare, it finally hits me that Medicare part B is just another insurance scam; like its successor part D, it's a conspiracy between the government and the insurance industry to milk the public for all it can get.

But, being so thoroughly indoctrinated into this (particular form of) society over the years, I was still a little doubtful that I should cancel it; so I called social security. The lady explained the disadvantages of canceling, that I would have to pay more if I wanted it later, etc. But I said I still wanted to cancel. She asked my why and when I told her I had VA benefits, she said, oh, okay. No further questions. That confirmed in my mind that VA benefits were far better than social security. Rather than have her send me a form to fill out and mail back, I went out to the social security office and the guy there made the change immediately on the computer. So now I have part A only, at no cost.

I have another appointment next week at Pitt, and I'm actually looking forward to it, and I always hated going to my dentist, not because of the treatment, but because I always felt I was being ripped off (even back when I didn't know that's what I felt). At Pitt, I feel like I'm getting what I pay for and nothing I don't actually need.

Well, I guess that's all of my problems for a while. (Oh, except that I have to go and get the car inspected and it needs a whole new back wheel assembly, cost: $500.00.) Over the past few months, I've felt like I was supposed to be enjoying my free time, especially since it's summer, but I've been feeling overwhelmed with worry about all the things I had to get done. But now I think I'm just about free to enjoy my "retirement"--again. Now I can go out and do the yard work in peace.

Afterwards, Joachin thinks, he has no problem. None at all. And not during either, when caught up in human interaction. It's always beforehand that the anxiety threatens to become incapacitating, and when paranoia, if it goes that far, suggests alternative explanations, some portion of which is eventually proven to be true.