We are all capable or more than we realize. I fought for my own survival, and so can you. Everyone has a piece of the puzzle. Blogging makes mine ours. Joy is possible even in dire circumstances. You're welcome to travel down the the road with me a piece.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Food Stamps

My neighborhood is a poor one. No matter what your station in life, it never hurts to kiss up to the cook.
Food pantries distribute donated food to anyone who wants it; you don't need to show an ID or give your name. The people who volunteer their time there are among the finest folks you'll ever have the pleasure of meeting.
The food is toxic. Real food is displayed for sale until it starts to turn and then is thrown away and written off for tax purposes.
The available at a food pantry items are processed products nearing expiration date. They are mostly chemicals engineered to resemble baked goods. Produce is scarce. The proteins are hallucinations of nutrition; extruded paste formed into canned or frozen servings containing less than 50% meat.
The prepared food is more appealing, but nourishes the soul more then the body. When I couldn't navigate the serving line on my cane, Keith's staff of volunteers served me as if I were a paying customer. I can not overstate the significance of this dignifying gesture.
I couldn't get well on a glycemic diet of pastry and pasta. I needed to apply for food stamps, like one of those people. This was a nightmare.
The Massachusetts Department of Transitional assistance (DTA) is a huge stinking mess. I got off the elevator to a sea of people. The line was the length of a city block and twice as wide. Ragged, drunk and crazy people from every continent in an un-airconditioned lobby with water from over-flowing toilets seeping across the carpet. I witnessed violence that afternoon: child abuse, elder abuse and spousal abuse. Waiting.
After a few hours of moving slowly down the hallway. I realized it was set up like a deli. You had to go to the front of the line to get a number on a ticket, then go back to the end of the line and wait to be called. I was in the line, but had no ticket to speak with a DTA receptionist. I had squandered my visit there.
At that time, I was only out of bed for several hours a day, and needed to leave and go home.
I knew the lay of the land now and would return the next day with a book and a snack.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ghetto Optometrist (part two)

Once again, I thought the argument was settled. Once again, I was wrong!
I had picked a pair of frames and the optometrist had ordered them for my "larger than average head". In a few weeks, I'd have new spectacles.
When they didn't arrive, I was dissapointed but not surprised. I called the Optometrist's ticket-scratching office manager.
"Oh, I've been calling and calling!" she lied "I've left you about a billion messages". The chances she left a billion messages that I never got on either of two phones is even less then that of winning the lottery.
"The root beer frames don't come in your size"
"You said they did, that's why you ordered them for me"
"Well, they used to, but now they only come in black with silver hardware"
I'm a "fall" for Christ's sake, silver is to cool for me, but even I get tired of arguing (sometimes), so I said OK. Another 4-6 weeks was added to my wait.
Considering the appointment with my primary care physician to get a referral to an ophthalmologist, then taking the prescription for glasses to the ghetto optometrist, then missing "billions" of messages, I was already into this single pair of spectacles for over four months. I could conjure a spectacle of hell faster than that.
I stopped by the office every once in awhile to check on the status of my order. Never calling a public health insurance patient is a way to discourage poverty clients from seeking services. Smart? Yes. Nice? No.
When my black frames with silver hardware came in I went to pick them up. The office manager had them in a box and in a shopping bag. I sat down to try them on uninvited. There was much unpacking to do.
Although she assured me the glasses looked great, they were too small. She had ordered the other color in the wrong size.
The arms of the frames reached the top of my ear, but not behind, so the frames tilted forward at the end of my nose dra-ma-tically. The office manager gambled that I might be talked into them.
"Well, this is exactly what you ordered" now she was using a tone.
I turned to face the audience in the waiting room. Without a word a young couple laughed out loud at my Jerry Lewis visage. In a universal gesture of good humor, the young mother waved "hello" with her baby's tiny arm. I was ridiculous in these.
"OK, have it your way, I ordered these; The sign says "glasses fitted", you and a licensed doctor directed me to use my voucher on these, and are you going to let me, or any patient from Mass Health out of the office with glasses that make babies laugh. Is that your position?" To this blurry eyed consumer, it seemed they were responsible for this either way.
"I can fix this" she said. "Mass Health gives you two pair, I'll just put in for the other..."
"Wait," I said, "You won't double bill Mass Health"
At this point, the big optometrist, the Dr that owns the practice interrupted her fitting with another client to jump up and say:
"Mass Health didn't pay me the first time, what makes me think they would pay me again!"
"Are you trying to intimidate me?" I asked.
"No, I'm trying to explain Mass health doesn't pay very much"
"Which is it? They don't pay you very much or they didn't pay you the first time?" I knew I was winning. The truth is easy.
"Everyone Quiet!" shouted the office manager "Please everyone calm down"
The fat doctor sat back down and apologized to her other clients for her outburst, "it's just that I get so mad" she said.
My handler was apologizing to me also, like I cared. I wasn't there for human interaction, I was there for glasses. I prefer reading.
"you're attempt to defraud Mass. health is bad enough. That voucher is for me to have two pair of glasses, not to cover your mistakes, but now the fat doctor has humiliated me in front of the staff, the other clients and my neighbors, this is a HIPAA violation at least. I'd wager more than one crime has been committed here today." There. I said it.
"Listen" she whispered.
"No" I said, "I'm too angry to listen, I'm calling 911 for an incident report and taking an ambulance (I still couldn't walk) to another optometrist, you shouldn't have rolled the dice this time."
"I'M SORRY" shrieked fatty, all sweaty now. She hustled the others out of the frame gallery.
I said I was leaving and that I did not want to be alone with her, but she moved faster than I did. The slat walls of frames slid on tracks. Open, they connected the lobby and waiting area to the exam bays, closed they made a too small room for just the two us. All over a friggin' pair of readers.
"Look, why should I pay for your glasses?" she demanded.
"Because you are responsible for the mistakes of you gambling employee and hungover assistant."
"Who's gambling, who's hungover?"
"You don't have time to notice laundering drug money and all"
She shrieked a syllable I can not spell.
"The people of Chelsea don't need you taking vouchers for $50.00 and then another $350.00 in cash for frames. You are part of the problem."
She lied "I came to Chelsea to help people!"
"You inherited this practice from your father" I corrected.
She looked confused and frightened. How could anyone know what was clearly printed on the sign out front?
"I want a pair of glasses" I said "and soon, I've been without for almost six months because of your failures here."
"I can't do it on a rush, I don't grind the lenses here"
"Then turn in a favor and get 'em done, I don't want to be ever again, but I'll come everyday if you want..."
"No, no please don't, I'll get them"
And she did!
I've left out much of the back and forth, I was outnumbered and it was arduous. At times they had me confused, but the whole thing is a hustle. If you want free glasses from public health care they treat you like crap until you go away. And it always works and it worked with me, but at least I left with a pair of glasses. 8-)