Having a good ol’ aching, upchucking time in Houston

Just a quick missive from the nation’s 3rd largest city. Sandwiched between light flooding and goofy health issues I have tried my best to learn in our annual steward’s meeting. But the last 1 1/2 days were a bit daunting.

On Sunday, I did a stupid thing that could have ended with serious consequences. I was showering in my tub when my soap disappeared. I couldn’t actively grab it because I didn’t see it. Too late, I slipped on the bar of soap and went down like a big sack of Sakrete. As is the case with these types of injuries it is difficult to feel its full wrath until, usually, the next morning.

I drove to Houston on Monday even  though it was a very uncomfortable drive, to say the least. The next day I went to class and our head honcho, who appointed me as a steward as well as regional vice president and who lives pretty close to me, saw how I was hurting. He also knew my ongoing health issues, so he told me I should see somebody medical.

Since my home is almost 90 miles away, I went to the ER at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. I won’t waste time with the ridiculous conversation I had with a VA Police officer, except he needs more attention to the fact that people who come by themselves to the emergency room might just be sick or injured.

I was glad to find out I had no broken rib or fractured neck after an X-ray and Cat scans. I was given a shot of Toradol for pain, as well as Robaxin, and left the hospital wearing a light cervical collar.

This morning I felt a good bit better. I ordered a seemingly healthy, and well over-priced, breakfast. I had a poached egg white and tasso hash. I ordered some sausage which turned out to be four breakfast-type sausages. I didn’t care for any of it although I ate the egg, garnished with some type of greenery, and the sausage. I was running late, so I quickly signed the hotel guest ticket and walked to my class.

When I went to class I chatted with someone while drinking some cold water and waiting to get a cup of coffee. With no notice — well, I did have some mild nausea early — I began puking before there was anything I could do. I opened a door which I thought might quickly exit. In reality, it was the floor’s catering kitchen. I began upchucking every bit of my food this morning until way after there was nothing to vomit. It didn’t escape me that the cooks and waitstaff probably would have wanted me to hurl somewhere else. But they treated me with kindness, gave me a large waste container and some napkins,  as did a classmate who only stuck her hand from behind the door.

After resting an hour or so, in between some unpleasant stomach pain, I felt better. I don’t know if all of what happened is gone because I had some other digestive issues this afternoon. The problem could have been from medicine — both medicines I had orally and  had been injected at the VA hospital — both list nausea and diarrhea — and are listed as possible side effects of both drugs.

I may have had some bad food although I doubt the food I ate in the hotel this morning prompted my stomach problems because I had just finished eating 30 minutes before. The only other food that could have set me off was some fast food I had before leaving the VA. That would be quite ironic if that was the cause.

On returning to my hotel room I spotted a couple of the wait staff preparing to serve a dinner for some function. I felt kind of peevish seeing the ladies but I smiled broadly. One of the two Hispanic women asked me how I was feeling. I said “Fine.

“I’m sorry for barging in this morning,” and proceeded onward.

Hopefully, I will survive the next day and head home on Friday.


Just another day in America. Right?

This has been one of those extraordinary days in America.

Two presidents — one white and former president and one black who is the president — spoke on the same page praising work of the five Dallas police officers killed in an ambush following a protest march on July 7.

A former Democratic party presidential candidate and the presumptive Democratic candidate embraced in a showing of party unity.

Hey there, take a look at my neck it's a lot like your's. That is if your neck looks anything like mine.  (It actually is my MRI neck picture) MRI image. Copyright 2016. Dick at EFD
Old man take a look at my neck it’s a lot like your’s. That is if your neck looks anything like mine. (It actually is my MRI neck picture) MRI image. Copyright 2016. Dick at EFD. Oh, and Fair Use paraphrasing Neil Young’s “Old Man” which is a hell of a good song.

The U.S. attorney general was grilled by Republicans who demanded to know why she didn’t refer charges against the presumptive Democratic candidate in a politically-charged scandal over e-mails.

One of eight Supreme Court justices said she could not imagine a presidency under the presumptive Republican candidate.

All of this took place today as I sat in the Parkinson’s Disease clinic at the Houston VA waiting to see my neurologist. Oh, I don’t have Parkinson’s, at least I don’t think so.

I began reading an interesting article on one major problem I do have, that is maintaining balance. The article was in “Neurology Now,” a title I previously didn’t know. But this magazine had an attractive cover layout that pictured the former California first lady, who also was once an NBC television news correspondent, and a member of the famous Camelot clan from which came a murdered, young U.S. president. That lady shouldn’t be former anything and proves she isn’t by speaking out on Alzheimer’s Disease.

The article, which I have yet to finish, suggests Tai Chi and other methods can help older folks to maintain balance. You, the reader reading this blog, may read this article  before I do. I have had concerns over the last couple of years, since my balance had gone awry, that I might get stopped by police and asked me to perform a field sobriety test. I don’t drink and drive, anymore at least. Buy my balance is way out of whack and that would be the first thing I would tell police. Well, I would tell them right after saying: “No,” I would not perform any tests.

Before I finished the article my neurologist, a very nice lady who came from India to help veterans, gave me about 10 shots of Botox. The Botox shots — I have received about four or five sets — have been in my head, neck and face to attempt helping the great pain I suffer from my cervical spine and the osteoarthritis that has savaged my neck over the years.

The shots today were in the back of my neck in a peripheral area of my spine.

My neck felt better, for the first time since I have received the shots, although after the drive back from Houston the neck is back to its painful ways. My lower back has, in the interim, become much more painful among standing and walking. That has been attributed to the diagnosis I was given of a rare disease called “Arachnoiditis.” And as I must always point out, the disorder has nothing to do with spiders.

I will be checking in my self-examination mirror to determine if the Botox has made the back of my neck appear any younger. In the meantime, my doctor said she will say what, if anything, she will do about my lower back.

This was what happened in my day, another day in America.

The VA: Administrative medical malpractice?

It is a day off. Like so many days off I have had over the past year or two, I have to spend it somehow with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Last year it seemed as if I was going to a specialist at the Houston VA every off day I could take. This time, I am trying to fight what I call a grand instance of administrative medical malpractice.

I know medical malpractice is a serious charge. I also know the VA really gets its panties in a bunch when malpractice is alleged. Rightfully so for the VA go in to conniption fits over any kind misdeed. It seems so many problems have beset the nationally socialized medicine outfit that is supposed to help military veterans.

As I have written for many years, a great number of problems experienced by the VA are institutional. The funding from Congress is sporadic and with each presidential administration the Department often floats to hither and yon, often times in directions that just seem impossible to fathom. Likewise, when some big media expose on wrongdoing at the VA surfaces, the Department often trips over its own feet in what is essentially over-correcting screw-ups of its own doing.

All of this may have led to my case which involves what I call administrative medical malpractice. As is the case more times than not, in any situation, money is the root of the evil.

Since leaving my full-time job almost 11 years ago, the VA has been my only medical provider. Although, my pay has gone up over the years, I am still a part-time worker. My earnings per year aren’t particularly stellar despite my gross pay — not the amount you get after this deduct or the other — being about $2,000 over the threshold for a single person to avoid prescription co-pays. Over the years, with various medical problems my medical co-pays now run about $100 a month or more. But because my gross salary exceeded some magical amount, the VA told me out of the blue that I must now pay past co-payments on prescription drugs. Such news was a shock. This is because the VA basically said for the past four years or so that I need not take the so-called “means test” to determine one’s eligibility for VA health care. I asked several people at the VA if I should take a means test and they said, in essence, “Don’t worry about it.”

I was quite surprised when I got a bill a few months ago for nearly $3,000 in back co-payments. The bills I had seen during the recent years showed charges being written off. You would think written off would mean “you don’t have to pay it.”

More than $1,000 was eventually written off after I sent a waiver request. But I was told I still must pay about $1,200 plus the $100 a month for new charges. Although I have had a few thousand dollars in savings that I planned to use to purchase a cheap piece of land and a used, cheap, camping trailer, I make barely enough to do more than sit around the place where I reside, getting older. I have followed the VA’s prescribed methods to settle the charges, though waivers, request for charges to be written off, and finally I offered what I thought was a decent settlement.

I never heard from the VA until receiving another letter and bill saying that because I make too much in gross salary, I will now have to pay back co-payments for medical visits as well as those for future ones. In most cases over the last several years I have been seen  by physicians assistants instead of doctors or even specialists. Sometimes I would be seen by a nurse rather than a doctor and still be charged as if I was seeing a doctor. Finally, I decided last month to dispute my bill.

The “Notice of Dispute” was sent in to the Michael E. DeBakey Medical Center in Houston. I told them what had gone on over the years and that I now disputed the bills in total because I was never given any idea that I would have to pay those past bills. Had I known that, I would have sent in waiver applications each month as I once proposed to a billing person at the Houston VA. But they said I wouldn’t have to do that.

I received a letter from the Houston VA the other day signed by the interim director of the facility, a Christopher R. Sandies, MBA, FACHE.

The letter acknowledged my letter of a month ago, which was actually the dispute notice. The letter told me the reason why I must pay a co-payment for prescriptions — but didn’t address the co-payments for medical visits. Nor was their any mention of my previous settlement offer. Then the missive listed a couple of the options I had: either pay or waive the balance, such measures which I had already tried ad nauseam. I was told I could talk to the facility billing manager who I’ve tried to contact for more than a month and still cannot reach.

In the meantime, I owe more than $2,600 which I suppose may be collected soon from my salary if I don’t do something quick. I am planning to file for disability soon and will likely have to reduce my working time to between 16 and 20 hours a week. I may need to stop working at all because of my disabilities. At least I will likely need not worry about paying for my VA care then.

I consider it ironic that some people are happy to get work just to acquire health benefits for their family. It seems I will have to leave work soon in order to obtain health care benefits.

(Oh, I also once filed a complaint about my problems with my local congressman Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Weber of Texas. My situation seemed to deteriorate as time marched on and I never heard anything from his office.  Thanks for nothing congressman!)

Want an eye lift or some other Botox procedure? No thanks!

Recently I thought about cosmetic surgery. It wasn’t that I planned or even considered having any kind of such procedure. Would I rather look like I did when I was 25 rather than 60? Well, yeah. But that’s not happening and, even if I was given the chance for such a makeover for free, I wouldn’t do it.

Some people whose looks might help extend their fiscal livelihoods, such as an actor or performing artist, I can understand why they might go the “plastic” route. Some folks just want to feel better about themselves and a cosmetic drydock is known to help. Other people are just, so vain. I bet they think I wrote this post about them.

Whatever buoys one’s vessel.

I know this lady who is perhaps a few years younger than I. She was very proud of the breast augmentation that she underwent and invited me to take them for a spin. Okay, I’m just employing a little hyperbole there. It was more a cursory examination than it was a full-on grope.

What concerned me more about this lady was the fact she would gladly entertain other types of surgery or procedures. The problem with that was surgery, no matter how minor, can potentially prove lethal. More so the case if one undergoes some type of general anesthetic. I guess what I am trying to convey here is: Would you rather die trying to look good or going happily just the way your are?

While I had nothing close to surgery today, I did undergo a series of some dozen or so Botox injections this afternoon. My neurologist suggested I try some of these shots, hoping that it might ease the chronic pain I suffer from cervical spine degeneration, a.k.a. osteoarthritis.

Botox is, of course, is the drug bacterium Clostridium botulinum. This is the same toxin from which the potentially-lethal food poisoning botulism originates. Now that explanation would make most thinking people wonder: “Hmm, they shoot botulism into you? Food poisoning? Lethal? Yes, yes and more yes.

This is how the National Institute of Health explains that Botox works:

“Botox injections work by weakening or paralyzing certain muscles or by blocking certain nerves. The effects last about three to twelve months, depending on what you are treating.”

While using Botox for cosmetic purposes, eyebrow lifts or removing certain wrinkles can be pretty enriching for some doctors, but other uses for the drug are found these days.

I first started injections back in December. My neurologist gave me about a dozen shots just under the skin on both sides of my neck. The general medical indication Botox is being used for in my case are migraine headaches.  I don’t have the normal “clinical presentations” of migraines. Instead, I have chronic pain that are triggered through neck muscles surrounding my cervical spine due to a partial stenosis. These problems have as a structural origin a bulging disc and some bone spurs in my neck. I have had two C-spine surgeries over the past 20 or so years. The most recent surgery, about 15 years ago, involved fusing a titanium plate and a piece of hip bone. It is mostly the limitation caused by the close proximity of these areas with each other that Department of Veterans Affairs doctors have been reluctant to operate. I have used methadone for pain for about ten years but the help from the drug isn’t as useful  in the same strength that it once was. Why not just increase the strength? Well, think about it. Methadone is a very potent drug and must be closely monitored to prevent an overdose.

During my first regimen of Botox, the shots were all in the posterior portion of my neck. Today, the injections were under my scalp, above the eyebrows, near the temples and about as close to the spine as I would care for on either side of my head. My neurologist did one side of my noggin while a resident who was sitting in, did the other. And boy howdy, some of those shots hurt like a son-of-a-bitch!

I come away from the doctor wondering why my head doesn’t look like a pin cushion. Fortunately, no problems. Although, so far, no real help. I agreed to try four rounds of these injections. If the injections help a little, it might just be worth the temporary pain this afternoon. But I know that after today, there is no way in hell I would have Botox shots for looks. That just isn’t happening.

You ask why I write about the Super Bowl? I tell you.

It seems as if I have written quite a bit here over the past 15 years about the Super Bowl and Peyton Manning. My justification(s) is that the Super Bowl is an event — something akin to an American holiday — worldwide. The number of television viewers alone for tomorrow’s game is a lock for an all-time high. The over/under for viewers, who knew that they had one, is 117 million-to-114.4.

The match-up of the teams in Super Bowl 50 seems destined to be one of the great championships since Super Bowl I. The No. 1 offense and No.1 defense in the NFL will tangle. Two great quarterbacks will also meet on the field, Carolina’s Cam Newton and Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos. When I talk about destiny, I am not saying that this 2011 post I wrote was something of foreordination. Coincidence was the theme. You read this past post and you can decide whether this game was happenstance or was if it was in the stars. That is, if the piece doesn’t first drive you insane before you reach a conclusion.

Peyton's last game? We will wait and see. Photo by Capt. Darin Overstreet, Colorado National Guard via Wikimedia Commons.
Peyton’s last game? We will wait and see. Photo by Capt. Darin Overstreet, Colorado National Guard via Wikimedia Commons.

The linked blog post shows my admiration for Manning partly out of empathy because he has had a history cervical spine problems, as does his oldest brother, Cooper. I don’t know about brother Eli Manning’s neck. I think he might have had neck problems. Eli Manning, of course, is the New York Giants QB who twice led the Giants to Super Bowl wins. That is one more than is one more than Peyton can claim. Cooper Manning, the eldest of the Manning boys, was recruited as a high school wide receiver by Ole Miss but had to sit out of football the for the rest of his life due to spinal stenosis. I underwent surgery for a stenosis and currently have one though my doctors at the VA hospital say surgery on this one (which would be my third) could hurt more than help. Peyton has had four neck surgeries. I didn’t think he should have returned after his last operation, but he did and now he’s playing with a chance for his second Super Bowl championship.

Another reason I write this about Sunday’s big game is that this first one for some time in which the game interests me as well as the “Super Bowl” for TV advertising.

As well I wish well for the head coach and defensive coordinator for Denver. Gary Kubiak was fired after seven seasons with my team, the Houston Texans. His firing came after his earlier leaving the field on a stretcher for what was later determined as a blood clot. Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips took over as head coach the rest of the season. Both of these coaches eventually reprised their roles as head coach and defensive coach when hired by Denver. Both of these coaches had histories with the Broncos. Kubiak played as a backup quarterback for the Broncos, playing second-fiddle to QB John Elway. The Hall of Famed member Elway is now general manager and executive vice president of the Broncos. As for Phillips, one should ask where this native Southeast Texan hasn’t coach. He was defensive coordinator some 25 years ago in Denver and head coach for about a year. You would have to check Wikipedia to see whether all three, Kubiak, Phillips and Elway, were together at what was known as Mile High Stadium. This this link contains an entertaining article about Phillips. He is not as outspoken as his storied Dad, coach Bum Phillips who coached the then-Houston Oilers. The late coach is a beloved folk figure in Texas. Both father and son graduated and coached in the area where I live. So they are beloved figures here in Southeast Texas.

Finally, I am writing about the big game on Sunday because I can. Plain and simple, I don’t have to check with an editor who wants me to work on a weather story. I’m not being paid to write this, so I think that allows me to write whatever the hell I want. ¿Comprende?

I would like Manning, Kubiak and Phillips to win this Super Bowl. There is speculation that Manning, 39, might retire after this game. One wonders how much longer Phillips, at 69, will go on as a defensive wizard. He did express interest a couple of years ago in head coaching, but not in an interim role as he did at more than a couple of NFL teams.

I have yet to speak of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who led his team to almost a perfect season last year. He’s exciting say some. Excitable say others. He likes to dance, in the end zone and even after running for a first down. A lot has been made of his race, as he is an elite group of black quarterbacks. Many wish he wouldn’t dance. I don’t know if that will happen. The question is, how many times will he dance?

If Denver can pull off the upset win one might just see Peyton and Wade cutting a rug.