Sunday, January 29, 2012

Adventures in Breast Health - Random Update

I had my interval breast MRI in December, kids, and all is well. I'm all clear and have no appointments until my annual mammogram in July. The MRI itself was as pleasant as those things can be. Fairly quick, painless, and I didn't even notice when they started the contrast material (gadolinium) in the IV this time. I asked the tech about that, and she said it's possible that a different suspension liquid was used in the IV at the radiology facility that did my previous breast MRIs. Seems like a reasonable explanation. At any rate, I was just happy that I didn't get that weird sensation of warmth spreading through my veins. (The first time I had a breast MRI, I thought I had peed my pants when they started the gadolinium drip!)

I gotta tell ya... I really like the breast center I've been going to since I was referred to my breast specialist. They've been remodeling, and aside from the procedures performed there, it's almost like going to the spa. They've made it pretty (though in that medical facility kind of way), comfortable, and the waiting rooms are even stocked with assorted tea bags, water and packages of crackers and such. The morning I was there, as I was lying on the MRI table and the tech was prepping me, she asked if I could see the picture on the wall. (They have the MRI table rigged up with mirrors so you can look at the wall instead of the floor while you're lying there face down.) They had just put it up the afternoon before, so I guess I was the guinea pig that got to approve the positioning. Pretty much dead center in the mirror. Spot on, like the rest of my experiences there. So glad my "girls" are being taken care of in a place that makes an effort to make things as comfortable and pleasant as possible.

In related news, I appealed my insurance company's denial of my annual mammogram as preventive. (For those who may have missed that part of the story, some insurance companies will only cover "screening" mammograms as preventive (they pay 100% with no out-of-pocket or deductibles), and don't consider diagnostic mammograms as screening. In my appeal, I wrote that for many women, a diagnostic mammogram IS their annual screening mammogram. I also pointed out that nowhere in the plan documentation and summary of benefits that I was given, nor in any of the plan info available online, does it say that they make such a distinction. I requested that they reverse their decision and cover my diagnostic mammogram as preventive based on those facts.

And I WON!! They reversed their decision and paid for the mammogram! Score one for the consumer! So ladies... if you require a diagnostic annual mammogram and find that your insurance company denies preventive coverage for it (leaving YOU to pay for it if you haven't met your deductible), file an appeal! Maybe if enough of us do that, insurance companies will abolish that ridiculous policy and stop making a distinction between yearly "screening" and "diagnostic" mammograms.

I am now, however, dealing with a frustrating complication of that reversal of decision. The hospital refused to hold my account during the appeal process with the insurance company, and was threatening to send me to collections for their lousy $412.54, so I went ahead and paid it with my Medical Expense Reimbursement Plan (MERP) card. (The card is for the second half of the $5,000 deductible, which my employer generously covers.) So now that insurance company has also paid for it, the hospital has been paid twice. This wouldn't be a big deal if I didn't have to deal with the third party benefits administrator that manages the portion of deductible covered by my employer.

It STILL shouldn't be an issue, as the breast MRI put me over the deductible anyway, but evidently the third party benefits administrator can't add worth a damn. She's telling me I owe $435.94 to the plan. I asked her how that's possible, since my last EOB states that I have indeed met the deductible, and she has a copy of all the EOBs available to me online. (I know she has them, because I had pull them and e-mail them to her, at her request.) She said, "I might have missed something. Take a couple days, look it over, and then let me know if I've missed anything." SERIOUSLY???  Now I have to do YOUR job?? WTF??? I was about ready to stab someone in the eye.

At any rate, I've been ignoring the whole mess for a few days now. I know I don't owe "the plan" any money, and I haven't received all the bills from the hospital for the MRI yet anyway. Adding to the SNAFU is the fact that insurance company also has one charge from the radiologists listed as out-of-network.... this is the same provider that they've already paid several claims for this year as in-network! After a phone call from me, they are now reprocessing that claim.

Thanks again, funbags, for providing me with so many hours of "entertainment". Then again, I can't really blame the "girls" for the current BS issues I'm dealing with. Those honors go to our fabulous healthcare industry. Or maybe just to the talented employees at the insurance company and the benefits administrator.

Luckily, I'll be going on Mr. Remarkable Monkey's healthcare plan effective February 1st. His new plan has no deductible (just reasonable co-pays), no third party benefits administrator, and no distinction between "screening" and "diagnostic" for annual mammograms. Totally worth the extra $39 it will cost me per month in premiums. At least I think so.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy New Year - Chinese Style

Today (Monday, January 23, 2012) is the Chinese New Year. 2012 is the Year of the Dragon in the Chinese zodiac. My dad sent me this beautiful dragon charm to commemorate it. He says that an old Chinese custom is to carry the charm in my purse all year for good luck. I've had the charms he's sent to me for the past few years on my purse, and no major catastrophes have befallen me, so maybe they work. Even if they don't, they look cool!

Here's some information he sent with the charm:

The Year of the Dragon 2012
01/23/2012 - 02/09/2013 (Water)

The year 2012 is the Year of the Dragon, which begins on January 23, 2012 and ends on February 9, 2013. The Dragon is a creature of myth and legend. In ancient China, the celestial Dragon represents en emperor and power. Today, it is the ultimate auspicious symbol signifying success and happiness. May the celestial Dragon bring great good luck to everyone.

If you'd like to learn more about the Chinese New Year, click on this link, or this one to see some photos from this year's celebrations around the world. Or Google it for yourself. And hey... why not join in the festivities by cooking up some Chinese dishes or grabbing some take-away?

Happy Chinese New Year!
Gong Xi Fa Ca!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Just Let It Go

One of my former bosses passed away recently, after a long battle with cancer. I had trouble deciding if I should go to her memorial service. After all, I hadn't seen or spoken to her in almost ten years, since the day she fired me. While struggling with my decision, I asked some friends and relatives for their input. Most of them basically said, "Screw it... you don't owe her anything."

But here's the thing... the only beef I had with her was how she handled the situation in which I was fired. To this day, I'm still not sure exactly what happened. I have a theory or two though, and I believe my supervisor at the time was mostly responsible. As far as I knew, things were fine. Eight or nine months before my termination, another employee was let go. That poor girl never saw it coming, and when the subject was brought up in a staff meeting, I had said that if my job was ever in jeopardy, I hoped someone would let me know so I could stop or start doing whatever I needed to before it came to that. Later that day, my boss made a point of coming to my office to talk to me. She told me I was doing a great job and assured me that if I was ever in danger of losing my job, she would let me know so I could get back on track.

Well, that didn't happen. Several months later, exactly two weeks after my three-year annual review with my immediate supervisor, I was being called into the supervisor's office for a chat with her and my boss. That's when I was handed my walking papers. Out of the blue. No heads up, no warning, no explanation. My guess is that, during my annual review, my supervisor didn't appreciate me asking to take on more of the tasks that she usually farmed out to her freelancing pals, or maybe it was because I asked for a salary increase since I didn't get one with a promotion a few months earlier. Granted, my review had taken place the afternoon I had been rear-ended in an auto accident on my lunch hour, and I know I wasn't feeling as diplomatic as I should have been. I'm not good at ass kissing, and I have a really low tolerance for bullshit, and when I tried to argue my points with my supervisor, she clearly got her feathers ruffled, but said she'd talk to the boss about it.

At any rate, over the next two weeks, I didn't hear anything about my requests for more responsibility and a modest pay increase. I had planned to talk to my boss directly, but she was out of the office a lot those two weeks, and really busy when she was there. I remember telling my mom on my last Friday there that she was in the office that day, and that I was going to make sure I got five minutes with her. I never got that chance. All I got was the boot, though at least it came with a small severance package. I was devastated.

So that's why my friends and family wondered why in the hell I would even think about attending her service. That's also why I struggled with the decision. I never got a straight answer about why I was fired, and my boss didn't keep her word about warning me if losing my job was ever a possibility. To this day, I still don't know what I did to cause (or justify) my termination.

Aside from that, though, I really enjoyed my time in her employ, and had the opportunity to do some really great (and award-winning) work. When I first heard she was sick a few years ago, I hoped for her recovery, and tried hard to let go of any grudges. I had a lot of respect for her... she was a mover and a shaker in our city, and an innovator in our field. For that reason, I decided to attend her service. I just felt that I should be there to honor all the qualities I admired in her, and to pay my last respects despite the circumstances in which we parted ways.

There were tons of people there... so many that the main sanctuary of the church was full. I ended up in the fellowship hall with the overflow crowd. Not many overflow folks when I arrived, but even that hall filled up eventually. I picked a spot in the back row, and viewed the service on the big screen they had set up. It was a really nice service, with a few laughs and a few tears. It reinforced a lot of the fond memories I had of my former boss, and so I'm really glad I went. She was a phenomenal woman and she will be missed.

There was one part in the service where someone was saying that no one could ever question her integrity. That's when a petty thought flickered through my mind: "Well, I can." And even though that may be true from my perspective, I still feel a little bad about thinking it. That's not what I was there for and that callous thought surprised even me. I guess I haven't completely let go of that grudge. But I'm trying.

Rest in peace, Boss.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Monkey at the Theatre

Another quick review here... I recently had the opportunity and good fortune to attend a showing of the Broadway musical "Million Dollar Quartet" when the tour came through our city. (Thanks to my bro-in-law for the tickets!) If you didn't know, the show is a fictionalized account of an actual event: the night of December 4th, 1956, when Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis all got together in the studio at Sun Records in Memphis.

I don't know what it was REALLY like that day at Sun Records, but the Broadway version is fantastic! The actors were pretty much spot on in their portrayals of the four legends, and very entertaining. They are also all actual musicians, and their immense talent made the show that much more enjoyable. The fellow who played Jerry Lee Lewis nearly stole the show, his character every bit as flamboyant as Jerry Lee "The Killer" Lewis was rumored to be. (He's the last of the four still currently living, and is probably not overly flamboyant these days.)

The Million Dollar Quartet in 1956
(L-R: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash)

The story (which again, is fictionalized) weaves around the characters, touching on some what was happening with them at the time. It's peppered throughout with some of these legends' biggest hits, and also includes one or two of the gospel songs that the foursome actually played during that jam session back in 1956.

If you live near New York, Chicago or London, or if the touring company makes a stop near your town, it's definitely worth checking out. It's truly a rockin' good time!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Monkey at the Movies: Young Adult

Despite losing the AMC gift card intended for Mr. Remarkable Monkey, we ventured out to the cinema on Monday to see "Young Adult". (Before noon, of course, when it's only $6. That's how we roll.)

Written by Diablo Cody ("Juno") and directed by Jason Reitman ("Juno", "Up In the Air"), the film is darkly humorous. A ghost writer for a young adult book series, Mavis Gary (played by Charlize Theron) is struggling  with her personal demons. A former high school cheerleader, she is now divorced, her teen book series is coming to an end, and she's having a difficult time meeting deadlines for the last installment of the collection. When she receives a birth announcement from her old high school sweetheart, Buddy (played by Patrick Wilson), Mavis begins a slow spiral into the depths of desperation. She decides to visit her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota, with a plan to steal her former beau from his wife and new baby, thinking that somehow that will magically make her life "perfect" again.
While in Mercury, she develops an unlikely friendship with former classmate Matt Freehauf (played by Patton Oswalt), who has demons of his own. Theirs is truly a dysfunctional relationship, though it seems EVERY relationship Mavis has is dysfunctional. She is a seriously unlikable character, totally self-absorbed and lacking in social morality, though it becomes evident that this is partly because she is so damaged. Her breathtaking beauty belies the repulsive mess inside. Charlize Theron plays her to perfection, almost eliciting sympathy... you can see the pain and self-doubt just behind the narcissism and pettiness. In the scene with Buddy's wife's band, you can almost feel her heart breaking. (Watch it yourself and you'll see what I mean.)

As she spins further and further out of control, you wonder if she'll ever get herself together. No spoilers here... you'll have to watch the movie to find out.

I will say this: It struck me that this film is a great example of what can happen when one gets stuck dwelling on the past and former glory. It ain't pretty. Keep moving forward, friends... happiness doesn't live in the past.

Monkey at the Movies rating: It's broodingly amusing, and fun to see Charlize Theron play someone so deliciously flawed. I'll give it 3.5 out of 5 bananas.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2012 Already?

Is it just me, or did the last half of December fly by like a rocket? It felt like I got lost in a whirlwind of activity as the month hurtled toward the holidays and on through the end of the year. The shopping, the parties, the baking, the cooking, the cleaning, the packing, the decorating.... I'm not sure I even caught my breath until we sat down for Christmas dinner. Last week was spent recuperating... I took some vacation time and had the whole week off, which I spent extremely unproductively for a change. (I also got a lecture from my mom because I didn't spend any of that time reading, aside from the Sunday paper. Way to harsh my couch-potato mellow, Mom!)

Some holiday highlights:

  • Mr. Remarkable Monkey's company holiday dinner, where we enjoyed a fabulous meal at Ocean Prime. We'd never had the opportunity to dine there before... it's a bit out of our budget except for very special occasions... so it was a real treat with the boss picking up the tab. I also finally got to meet most of Mr. RM's coworkers. A pretty nice bunch of folks. Best thing I ate that night? Well, everything was delicious, but the crab cakes were the best I've ever had! Mostly crab, very little breading, and with a light and crispy panko crust. Mmmm! We'll definitely go back when we can.
  • I managed to get almost all my packages in the mail by the mailing deadlines, thought admittedly I was scrambling to beat the last-minute rush. Two casualties: a package to my brother STILL remains to be sent, and I didn't finish knitting a blanket for a relative with a new baby. Oh well... that's what cold weather in January is for, right?
  • Speaking of cold weather, we had very little of that in December here. Most days, the high temperatures were well above normal. Some folks don't like it, and complain that it doesn't feel like Christmas. It sure feels like Christmas to me... like Christmas in the wonderfully subtropical state I chose to live in! If you insist that it has to be cold at Christmas, you probably shouldn't live in Florida. I loved the warm weather! We're having record cold temps tonight... not really diggin' it, but it will help me appreciate the 70 degree temps we'll have by the end of the week even more. 
  • Made three batches of buckeyes (peanut butter balls). That's 300 buckeyes... and it's a bit of a chore to make them. I don't even eat them myself... they're too sweet for me... but lots of friends and family clamor for them every year, so...
  • Scored a ridiculous deal at HoneyBaked Ham. We went in to pick up a ham for our Christmas Even open house, and asked for one about nine pounds or so. (Mr. RM wanted me to get a big one so we could freeze some of it for later.) The lady behind the counter came out with a huge ham, and said, "Here's what we're gonna do... we've got way too many 11-pound hams, so we'll sell you an 11-pound ham at the 9-pound price if you'll take it." Oh hell yeah!! Can't pass up a deal like that! I'll be honest, though... right now, I am sick to death of ham. It may a while before I'm ready to thaw out some of that deliciousness.
  • I lost a $30 AMC gift card that I purchased as a gift for Mr. RM. I have no idea where it is. It either got accidentally thrown out with some bags when I was gift wrapping stuff, or I put it in a "safe place" somewhere, and it may never been seen again. On the bright side, while I was tearing the house apart looking for it, I DID find a Target gift card in an old birthday card from my bro-in-law!
  • Though my sister-in-law wanted to host Christmas Day dinner at her house, she didn't want to cook the turkey. So Mr. RM and I cooked up a 23 pounder Christmas morning, and with some advice from a wise coworker, we figured out how to pack it in a big cooler and transport it across town. That was an adventure in itself, and quite comical trying to maneuver a hot turkey into a cooler! It looked great when it came out of our oven, and we managed to pack it up unscathed. Unfortunately, my parents-in-law got behind schedule, and arrived about an hour and half late to dinner. The turkey had to go into the oven to maintain a safe temperature while we waited for them, and got a bit dried out by the time we sat down to eat. Oh well... we had already opened a few bottles of wine, so most of us were half in the bag and didn't mind so much. That's what gravy is for!
  • Had to laugh when, while I was reheating casseroles for the delayed Christmas Dinner, the marshmallows on the sweet potato casserole puffed up, hit the heating element, and caught on fire. After I pulled out the pan and blew the flames out (hey... some people LIKE their toasted marshmallows flambeed!), Mr. RM made the following declaration: "You know how people say a man marries his mother? Well, Mrs. RM lost a Christmas gift and burned dinner... yep! Just like Mom!" I would have been mad it if hadn't been so funny. Or maybe it was just the wine.
  • Watched "Casablanca" on TCM for the jillionth time the Tuesday after Christmas. I love that movie. I could watch it a jillion more times. It was actually a little chillly that day, so I curled up on the sofa with the dog, a lunch of leftover party food from our Christmas Eve open house, and a plethora of holiday cookies. Heaven.  (One of my favorite bits... love Claude Rains in this!)
  • I got to have lunch with Mr. RM at our favorite restaurant, Red Mesa, two Fridays in a row! We were both off on the Friday before Christmas, and stopped on the way to the ham store. I was off the Friday before New Year's, and Mr. RM was able to leave work at noon, which presented another opportunity to indulge. Since he started his new job last spring, we rarely get to have lunch together anymore due to inhibitive geography, so it was a nice treat. If you're ever in the Tampa Bay area, I can highly recommend Red Mesa. I've never had anything there that wasn't delicious. Try the sangria, too!
  • Had a low-key New Year's Eve at home with Mr. RM. I had intended to drop by and visit with a couple former coworkers (one from out of town) at an open house, then get home early so we could have a nice dinner and Mr. RM could watch the hockey game. Unfortunately, I didn't realize the hockey game started at 5:00 and not 7:30 as I had thought. So I didn't make it over to see my pals. And then Mr. RM got a little pissy because he put our big fat ribeye on the grill without realizing I had turned on the back burner to finish of the potatoes, and the steak got a little charred on one side. (I thought it was still delicious.)
  • We started the year by sharing a big ol' pot of black eyed peas and a mess of collard greens with some friends. I gotta say... I DO make some damn tasty collard greens. No burned marshmallows!
Now, if only I could find that dang AMC gift card......