Posts Tagged ‘medicine’

Desperate pharmacy patients turn to desperate measures

November 1, 2011

News item: Rock Hill was hit by another pharmacy robbery Sunday when two suspects demanded pills at a CVS drugstore, then fled with police in hot pursuit. The incident follows a rash of similar stick-ups in the area.

Another news item: Workers signing up for annual enrollment in their employer’s health insurance plans are reporting sticker shock at a hefty increase in premiums, particularly for prescription coverage.

* * * * *

For those tired of an unceasing spate of bad news about health care costs, a new option is gaining popularity: robbing the local drugstore.

And it’s not just junkies, pillheads and career criminals looking for ways to juggle expenses that are committing the crimes. Increasingly, the elderly, the disabled, and just plain folk are threatening violence if they can’t get their meds at a reasonable cost.

“I have to have my flu shot. If I catch the flu, I’ll die,” said 62-year-old Sarah Johnson. “My insurance (company) says they’ll reimburse me for the $25 but there’s paperwork involved and it takes weeks. For me, it’s just easier to brandish a weapon and demand the shot. Bob is my regular pharmacist, and he knows I won’t shoot him. But obviously, he doesn’t want to take any chances.”

Johnson showed up at her neighborhood Walgreen’s to get the vaccine last week when the human resources director holding her company’s benefits meeting said it would be free. Told by store personnel it was free only as a reimbursement, Johnson became agitated and left, then returned later with a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol.

“I held that gun on them the whole time they were prepping and  injecting me,” Johnson said. “It was tough because I usually shoot with my right hand, but the chair I sat at required me to get the shot in my right arm. Good thing I didn’t have to shoot because I’m wild as hell with my left hand.”

Johnson said her pharmacist was understanding but terrified during the armed encounter.

“I’ve known Sarah for years,” said druggist Robert Henderson. “She’s a regular customer and a good friend, so I didn’t pull out the Luger I keep behind the counter and kill her.”

A 32-year-old mother of three trying a similar technique at the Rite Aid wasn’t quite so lucky.

Marianne Burns said her insurance plan used to cover the allergy medicine her triplet second-graders needed, but the formula became generic during the summer. The over-the-counter variety costs about three times as much as what her insurance used to cover, so she arrived at the pharmacy last Sunday carrying an AK-47 modified to discharge armor-piercing bullets.

“I thought I might be able to just shoplift it,” said the former teacher from York County Jail, where she’s being held on assorted terrorism charges. “But one of my girls started crying, which drew the attention of the security guard. That’s when I had to start shooting.”

Fortunately, no one was injured in the attack, which prompted Burns to say the attempt “was worth it.”

“There’s a lot less paperwork to fill out when you’re preparing a defense on federal charges than there would be if I used my flexible spending account,” she said.

John Leeman, a 76-year-old retiree, faced a particularly daunting challenge on his trip to pick up a prescription. He’s lucky enough to be covered by health insurance from his old union job, but he’s also tapping into some Medicare coverage. The conflicts and duplication between the two plans were certain to be problematic, he thought.

“I needed my diabetes medicine. I wanted the EpiPen with the measured insulin dose and I was afraid they’d make me take the bulk stuff,” Leeman said. “So I brought my sword along.”

Leeman had picked up the souvenir saber during his service in Korea in 1952. It sat unused in a closet for over half a century before he realized it could be used in an armed assault.

“Sure enough, that’s what they tried to do to me,” Leeman said. “So I pulled out my sword and ran the pharmacy tech right through. As his lifeblood poured from the gaping wound, he staggered to the shelf and got me the EpiPen.”

“It’s just a pharmacy tech. No big deal,” said head pharmacist Andy Wells. “Now if it had been a cashier, that would’ve been different. But I know John — he’s a good ol’ boy — and he was just doing what he thought needed to be done.”

Pharmacy robber presents his CVS ExtraCare card to receive extra discounts on his haul

Dentist claims that work is necessary

September 27, 2011

ROCK HILL, S.C. (Sept. 27) — In a stunning development, it was reported yesterday that I have several cavities, some of which will require a simple filling but others that could need a full root canal.

Officials at Iredell Dental Care (IDC) made the surprising announcement following a routine cleaning and exam Monday afternoon. Even though I had a clean bill of dental health at my previous visit six months ago, now the dentist claims I need work done that could cost thousands of dollars.

“Are you serious?” I asked following the 45-minute-long appointment. “How can there be such a big change in such a short period?”

“I’m not sure,” said Dr. Leena Jones, who performed an examination that included jabbing at suspicious areas with a pointy metal thing. “Sometimes, cavities can develop quite quickly.”

In a Proposed Treatment Plan issued by IDC, I reportedly need a “posterior composite – 2 surface” on tooth number 2, a “composite resin, 1 surface” on tooth number 26, and a “posterior composite – 1 surface” on several other teeth. These procedures run between $139 and $204 each.

In addition, there’s a need for a “crown, porc. fused to high nobl” as well as “endodontics, 1 canal” on teeth 3, 22 and 27. Estimates for this work range from $647 to $997.

“Let’s see what your insurance would cover,” said the helpful lady (I think her name is Jane) at the front desk. “Oh, I’m so sorry. You’ve used up your 2011 allotment already. It was only $1,000 anyway.”

I’m tempted to get a second opinion from another, more-senior doctor who works with the practice. The lady dentist who performed my exam was certainly cute and friendly enough, and I freely acknowledge she’d be welcome in another setting to put her hands in my mouth.

However, the firm’s founding dentist — a man who’s about my age, and was probably pulling teeth before young Dr. Leena was born — has the gravitas I need to confirm the extensive work will be necessary. I’ll talk to him when I get a chance.

“What, do they think I just have thousands of dollars laying around to be spent on dental work?” I asked myself following yesterday’s visit. “They don’t even hurt. Why can’t I just wait till they hurt?”

According to WebMD, a delay in treatment could cause teeth which otherwise might be fixed with fillings to instead require the more-expensive root canal.

“Maybe I could just check a different online source,” I proposed.

Unfortunately, both and a guy I play Farmville with confirm this likely scenario.

Dr. Leena did say that I might be able to prevent further cavities by improving my brushing stroke. She asked the dental hygienist to show me how to make a circular motion on the gum, then move the brush over the teeth “in the direction they grow.”

“You brush up for the bottom teeth and down for the top teeth,” said Angela Davis, hygienist and former vice-presidential candidate for the American Communist Party. “Like this. And make sure you do it every night before you go to bed.”

“What am I, some kind of child?” I wondered. “I know how to brush my own damn teeth.”

Dr. Leena also gave me a script for “prescription toothpaste,” marketed under the name “Prevident 5000.” Like I’m going to show up at some pharmacy and ask for prescription toothpaste.

“Maybe I can alter the script to get Vicodin,” I speculated.

IHC said I could study the Proposed Treatment Plan and get back to them about what I wanted to do. However, according to the fine print at the bottom of the page, “the above services and fees are valid for 90 days.”

“I don’t have $3,576 now, and I’m not likely to find it in the next three months,” I countered. “It’d be cheaper to hire someone to chew for me, then feed me like a baby bird.”

This could be me, unless I come up with thousands of dollars

Revisited Website Review:

July 15, 2011

No no no no no no no no no no,
no no no no no no no no no no no no no no
Nobody can do the shake like I do
Nobody can do the boogaloo like I do
–”Nobody But Me” by The Human Beinz (1968)

We’re at an awkward moment in the long history of humankind. We’ve mastered the land, inventing agriculture to free us from all that tedious hunting and gathering. We safely harvest critical resources from the sea (sort of). We fly through the air with the greatest of ease, the rocketpacks and balloons and zeppelins and superheroes nearly blotting out the sun at times.

And yet we still face this issue of unwanted hair. Fashion magazines have made it abundantly clear that hair is to exist only in a luxuriant and lustrous state flowing out of the top of our heads, and in smaller strips in and around the eye, on the brow and lash. Our ancestors from millennia past needed all kinds of body hair for protection from the elements, but now that we have condos and ballcaps and the cutest tops from TJ Maxx, the remaining fur is vestigial and has almost left our bodies entirely. Except for some embarrassing patches that we hope evolution will eventually get to, though frankly we have a date at 7 tonight and can’t wait much longer.

For these people, commerce has developed a number of caustic solutions and tiny gouging devices that will remove unwanted hair, if you don’t mind unbearable pain and a moderate fee. They work pretty well, as do most torture regimens eventually. However, the modern consumer longs for a more high-tech approach, i.e., one they can order over the internet.

So in today’s Website Review, I’m going to tell you about a product called the “no!no!’. Deliberately lower-cased to distinguish it from the industrial-strength “NO!NO!” being used at secret CIA rendition centers, the no!no! is a small machine offering “professional hair removal at home … finally, a pain-free long-term solution for hair removal!” Offering no hair and no pain, it virtually named itself.

Using the Thermicon™, a thermodynamic wire to transmit heat to each individual hair, the shaft becomes superheated, basically crystallizing the follicle. This both pulverizes the part of the hair that shows above the surface and cripples the cell communication below the skin that grew the hair in the first place. A buff, which comes “free” with your $284.40 purchase, then turns your skin from a bombed-out Dresden to a soft, barren desert. Self-tasering has never been so easy.

The home page of is packed with moving graphics, pink backgrounds and a spray of bullet points that would make an armed and disgruntled former employee proud. The “smart skin solutions” people at parent company Radiancy tout the no!no! as “•cordless and convenient,” “•cord-free operation,”  ”•removes embarrassing facial hair too!” and  ”•great for men and women.” It’s InStyle magazine’s 2008 beauty product of the year, and has also been seen in Vogue, Shape and Self magazines, because that’s what happens when you pay them money to run your ads. There’s also a tease of some of the other heartfelt testimonials to follow elsewhere in the site:

“As someone who struggled with unwanted hair, it is so wonderful to sit here proud and hairless,” writes one satisfied customer. “Thank you no!no! for coming into my life!”

Under the “How It Works” section, there are more details about the three distinct processes involved in permanently mutating your pores. During “First Contact” (not to be confused with the 1996 Star Trek movie), a super-heated wire separates the hair shaft at the point of contact. At the “Crystallization” stage, the uppermost part of the hair becomes coarse and prickly, and you can stop at this point if you’re into that. Most, though, want to proceed to the “Disruption” phase, where the actual “miscommunication between bulge and root” takes place, slowing future hair growth. A phase four, as-yet undiscovered but certain to be announced in the next year or so, gives you fatal melanoma.

The overly punctuated “Why no!no!?” pulldown uses an easy-to-read spreadsheet to dissect the problem women everywhere face about what methods to use on their face. Current techniques all have their shortcomings. Short-term solutions like razors, depilatory creams and electric shavers get a “no” in the pain column but a “daily” in the frequency column and all kinds of nasty stuff in the “side effects” column including razor burn, cuts, odor and allergic reactions. For mid-term remedies like “epilation (rotary)” and the tasty-sounding “wax-sugaring,” you can trade painlessness for bi-monthly convenience, though now you’re also looking at burn potential, a mess, and a lot of time and money. The long-term effects of the laser include pain, skin inflammation, odor and a costly, long-term commitment, but on the plus side you’ll be recognized by most grocery store bar-code scanners.

The no!no! option is not a miracle cure and does require commitment. For your effort, you’ll “make the dream of less unwanted hair a reality.” The simple and pain-free technique involves “no pulling, tearing or scraping, just a slow, smooth slide”. There is something called the “hot blade” involved but it’s encased in a cate little handheld device (comes in pink or silver) that you can take with you almost anywhere. And, that convenience means you can no!no! “at home or wherever,” sitting on the side of your bed, after a workout at the gym, or while running for statewide office in California.

There are some Testimonials included in one section. Frankly, they’re rather lackluster. “I will definitely recommend this to girlfriends with thick, stubborn hair,” says one woman, about to find herself seriously defriended on Facebook. “I first saw no!no! in a magazine, then heard rave reviews from a friend,” says Kennedy of Omaha. “I thought what the heck, I’ll give it a whirl. The no!no! did not disappoint. I love my no!no!” (Imagine this woman’s poor dog, trying to be a good boy but constantly hearing “no!no!”)

The best testimonial of all comes in a video format from “celebrity” Kassie DePaiva, a daytime TV star who loves her no!no! She prattles through about a dozen different 30-second clips showing her compensated enthusiasm for the product. “I’ve got a great body, it’s just the hair I don’t like,” she says. “I might’ve shaved in the morning but by 5 o’clock I’m doing a love scene and the actor says ‘gee, Kassie, do you ever shave your legs?’ I was mortified,” she confides. “It’s taken care of a huge issue in my life, a universal problem that people don’t want to talk about,” she adds. “The pain (before no!no!) stopped me from living,” she says. “I was tired of being the hairy girl I’ve been all my life.”

Finally, Kassie DePaiva has been liberated to pursue a Hollywood career that has her IMBD STARmeter rating up 22% in just the last week. After a long career on “One Life to Live,” she got her own show called “Knit & Crochet Today,” thanks in no small measure to her reduced bushiness. After being universally panned by critics — “she asks silly questions and makes comments I would expect from a ditsy teenager,” wrote one — she was canned, but not because wool-knit scarves and afghans didn’t glide smoothly across her skin.

The last piece I’ll cover is the standard “Frequently Asked Questions” section. “Does it really work?” is answered “Yes, it really works.” The question “Is the no!no! treatment safe?” brings the confusing but definitive response “Yes, no!no! is safe.” Someone asks “Can I use it with other hair removal products at the same time?” It seems you can throw the whole inventory of procedures at your upper lip if you want to — lasers, tweezers, waxes, acids, a make-out session with Zach Galifianakis — but these could interfere with no!no! benefits, so don’t come asking for your money back.

There’s a handy online order form for a deal that’s only available through June, so try to claw your way out of your hirsute prison and type on a computer if you can. They accept all major credit cards and you can make three easy payments. Obviously, certain billing information is also required but they’re polite enough to exclude a pulldown requiring you to categorize your hairiness on a scale that ranges from Alec Baldwin to Robin Williams to the Wolfman.

One final important point about the no!no! that’s contained in the fine print at the bottom of the website. “The no!no! is not recommended for use on the genitals.” I myself can’t imagine that possibility even entering my mind, though I understand that desperate people may consider desperate measures. My response to the thought, however, is much like those timeless words from the Human Beinz — “No no no no no no no no no no!”

Revisited Website Review:

July 12, 2011


I am taking my summer vacation this week. (Not really — I’ll explain more next week). Please enjoy this “best-of” series from my Website Reviews over the next four days.

“IN PAIN CALL TODAY” reads the unpunctuated sign outside Access Chiropractic Center, a small practice in my hometown of Rock Hill.

I’ve been in a few “pain calls” myself.

I remember the conference calls I used to have to join on a weekly basis as part of my membership in a company-wide “task force.” A group of us from several cities across the country were forced to tackle a variety of tasks in supposed betterment of corporate quality. One of these tasks was participation in an hour-long call each Wednesday.

Most of the session I’d sit there with the speakerphone on and a crossword puzzle in front of me, as the team leader prattled through an agenda of hare-brained but fortunately never-to-be-completed schemes. In some ways, it was not unlike working the night shift at a convenience store — long stretches of boredom relieved occasionally by the terror of being robbed or, in my case, having my name called for a response.

“Opera?” I’d reply, which was correct as a five-letter word for “musical play,” though not usually the answer the facilitator was looking for.

At best, I’d be able to transform the drudgery into a bit of amusement by turning the phone onto “mute” mode and making sarcastic remarks about the proceedings with a co-worker in the same room with me. That worked okay until one afternoon when we misread the “mute” indicator.

“So Davis, can you tell us all how me being a ‘raving lunatic’ will impact our project deadline?” Lana asked from her office in California.

Quickly I fixed the mute button and responded, “Maybe we’d finish faster if you were distracted by a shiny object?”

Or there was the time I was leading a call myself, with the object being to train a room full of Sri Lankans, listening from the other side of the world to my discourse on how to markup a financial document. They were a quiet, respectful group of students who rarely interrupted my monologue with any questions. Though it would’ve been nice if one of them had called back when the line went dead 15 minutes into my hour-long spiel.

I’m distracted into misreading Access Chiropractic’s sign as a way to pad this week’s Website Review of Dr. Jeffrey M. Muschik’s internet presence. It’s a site with only a few pages of pulldowns, which I’ll begin mocking in just a moment. I chose to include the sign in front of their Celanese Road storefront as part of their new-media promotional push just to flesh things out a little.

The home page for includes a nice picture of Dr. Muschik, a generic photo of him or somebody yanking on a small child’s hand under the heading “Affordable Family Care”, and some attractive credit card logos. (It’s not clear whether the hand-holding picture is meant to convey a general sense of caring, or represents an actual chiropractic manipulation). The introductory copy says the doctor provides Rock Hill residents with “safe, gentle and effective” chiropractic care, a revision of his earlier business plan for dangerous, rough and permanently paralyzing treatment that didn’t attract too many patients.

There’s a bulleted list of the services available from this office: neck pain, headaches, back pain, auto accidents, etc. Why anyone would want to contract for the acquisition of any of these afflictions is beyond me, but I’ve never been much of a believer in chiropractics anyway. In addition to decompression treatments, you can also obtain “pregnant patients, sports injuries and children” from this menu of products and services.

The backbone of the website is a page dedicated to details of the office operation. In addition to chiropractic treatment, the doctor also offers rehabilitation and massage. He keeps office hours Monday through Friday, which include a prolonged lunch break from noon to 3:30 p.m. during which I imagine Dr. Muschik goes home and lies down. Next to a photograph of the doctor rubbing the lower back of a prone but fully clothed man is the practice’s 11-point “no wait policy”. This has little to do with how long you’ll be leafing through Adjustments Today magazines in the waiting room. It’s more about automobile injuries, attorney referrals, car accidents and how close to the hospital the office is located (almost within walking distance – good for patients but not so great for the collision-obsessed doctor).

A biography of Dr. Muschik indicates that he’s a nice enough guy. He’s board-certified and licensed in South Carolina, a reassuring thing except for the South Carolina part. He was trained at the National University of Health Sciences in Illinois in the treatment and rehabilitation of physical injuries and advanced neurological diseases, as well as back and neck pain. He’s certified in CPR (in other words, he can press down on the front of your chest as well as on the back), he teaches youth coaches tactics in sports injury prevention, and is the official chiropractor for the Winthrop University soccer team. He is “consistently active within the community,” perhaps more than you can say about his hobbled patients whose activity levels are more subdued.

There’s a section about what to expect at your first appointment. After filling out some paperwork, your consultation with the doctor will begin. “In order to determine what your actual problem is, the doctor will ask you various questions related to your condition,” reads the page. I’m not sure if Dr. Muschik has shared this ground-breaking diagnostic innovation with others in the medical community, but I hope he can write a paper on the topic, perhaps during his extended lunch break. You may be given x-rays and you may receive same-day treatment, if the doctor can figure out which parts of your body to pummel, knead and squeeze. Prior to leaving, you’ll be given home-care instructions that may include ice or heat application and avoidance of certain activities.

Activities to be avoided do not include, not surprisingly, a follow-up appointment for another session. “Generally speaking, patients are seen again within 1-2 days” and, as I understand is the general pattern for chiropractic care, for every one to two weeks after that until the second coming of Christ. It’s easy to schedule another meeting with the doctor: “the fastest way is to contact our office,” advises the copywriter. I’m guessing he gave up doing this telepathically when the fortune teller that shared his duplex finally got that job with the census that she was angling for.

The only other feature worth noting on the website is a “limited time” coupon good for a free consultation. First-time patients can print this online offer to receive an evaluation “that’s a $50 value”. In our bargain-obsessed culture, I can understand showing up at the Bi-Lo grocery store with a “buy-one-get-one-free” offer on watermelons, or perhaps a dollar off the number 8 combo on Tuesdays only at Chick-fil-A (if your car has an cow-head antenna topper). But coming to the office of a medical professional with a coupon in hand just doesn’t seem quite right to me.

Lastly, I want to make an additional smart remark about the office sign in the photo at the top of this post. If you look closely in the upper left-hand corner, you’ll see the Access logo — a family of four that’s either very close to each other or else congenitally conjoined. I thought such a rare condition as the latter could only be repaired by 20-hour-long separation surgery, but if it’s something that chiropractics can take care of, I’m all in favor of the less-traumatic course of treatment.

Wonder if there’s a coupon for that. Buy one get three free, perhaps?

Revisited: Feeling a little pained today

April 9, 2011

Today, I got nothing.    

More accurately, I got a head full of Vicodin, courtesy of my personal physician, to treat my ailing spine. I’ve had another flare-up of lower back muscle spasming, just like I seem to have every six months or so. I recited the same symptoms I experienced from last October to Dr. Jackson as he helped me onto his exquisitely tissued examining table. He moved my legs up and down and pronounced the diagnosis. I could’ve done this myself (the pronouncing, not the leg-moving) but I don’t own a prescription pad with all the fancy DEA numbers he has. He threw in a side order of diclofenac sodium just to make sure I’d be sufficiently immobilized. A few days of rest, he predicts, and I’ll be back on my feet again.    

Here’s a link to the post I wrote last time this happened, if you’re really that interested in the details:    

In the meantime, I’m having trouble focusing, which doesn’t hinder blog production in most people, but is giving me some trouble. Still, I haven’t failed for over a year now to produce an original piece each and every weekday, and I’m not about to allow a little blinding agony stop me. It’s just that I may be a little scattered. Just like that Rolling Stones song: “I’ve been scattered … What does it matter? … Scattered.”    

I also like that song by Paul Young, from the eighties, I think it was: “Every time you go away/You take a piece of meat with you.”    

Some day soon I’m going to write a piece about how much I enjoy typing. I’m pretty fast, pretty accurate, and have always gotten a thrill all out of proportion to the routine act as I bang away at keys on a computer keyboard. My favorite word to type is “management.” Something about how you have to use fingers from alternate hands for just about each letter. Management. Management. The last half I do really fast. You should see me. I need to learn how to embed video into a blog post some day. Management.    

Several observations about my trip to the doctor’s office. They’ve installed one of those palm-reading devices at the reception desk, not the scarf-bedecked dark-haired mystic with the mole on her cheek, but a high-tech machine to prove you are who you say you are. They don’t want just anyone walking in off the street and picking up their diclofenac sodium. This isn’t a Burger King, you know. That’s next door.    

Anyway, I noticed that they now ask patients if they mind having their privacy invaded by letting a scanner look at their hand whorls. This being South Carolina, I imagine a few of the older folks are afraid that Obama wants the information so he can send the black helicopter to pick you up and take you to the internment camp as soon as you’re done dropping off your stool sample. Once, the guy in front of me expressed concern the mechanism would mess with his pacemaker. Me, I’ll show my hand to anybody who’s interested. It looks sort of like this (Ψ) but I have five fingers instead of three.    

Why does every medical office I’ve been to lately have the Home and Garden Channel showing on the television? “DO NOT CHANGE THE CHANNEL” warns the sign, so we all comply meekly and admire the two-story fixer-upper a young couple much healthier than any of us is considering in the San Fernando Valley. I guess it’s the most innocuous network offering out there. News channels might provoke fistfights and heated debates, soap operas on the major networks at this time of day are too depressing (people sicker than us yet inexplicably much better looking) and animated kids’ programs might provoke fistfights and heated debates.    

When you approach the front desk to sign in, they always asks “how are you?” and everybody automatically responds “fine,” even though you know they’re not or why else would they be at the doctor? I too say I’m fine, but I mean it in the sense that I’m extremely physically attractive. “He’s so fine,” say my friends. They’re right.    

At the checkout, there’s a “WOW!” card, which allows you to officially recognize employees of the Carolinas Health System for caring, commitment, integrity, teamwork, communication, safety or service recovery. I think I officially recognize one of the physician assistants from the YMCA, though there’s no box for that. A nice lady said words in my direction as I was being weighed. I’d count that as an attempt at communication if I knew her name.    

My son asked me to stop at the Sonic drive-in restaurant on the way home to get him french toast sticks. Sonic is one of those old-timey franchises where roller-skate-wearing carhops bring your meal on a tray and attach it to your car window. As I pulled into a parking space, one of the workers had her back to me, standing halfway in the parking space and engaged in earnest conversation with what look liked a manager. She was near tears as I edged closer and closer, trying to keep my rear-end out of traffic. I think I almost touched her as I finally settled tightly into the space. Would a mere nudge from my bumper constitute hitting her with my car? They are called carhops, you know.    

Maybe this is the day I finally turn to the Bible to find solace and direction for my life. I lift the heavy volume from the shelf in our library — forsaken too long in my search for earthly delights — and turn to a random passage. “For then the king of Babylon’s army besieged Jerusalem, and Jeremiah was shut up in the court of the prison, which was in the king of Judah’s house.” Sorry, can’t relate to that one. Let’s try another. “Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica. And all who dwelt in the house of Ziba were servants of Mephibosheth.” (Lots of housing references here. Wonder if they had the Home and Garden Channel back then.)    

Okay, one more try, then it’s back to agnosticism: “And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.” Now we’re getting somewhere.    

I’ll finish up today’s post with a few photographs from my family collection, and apologize again for the questionable unity of this post.    

Some relatives on my wife’s side, I think


My niece, and a house.


Me, standing next to some kind of pagoda thing, in Sri Lanka

I’m “going” — to get rich

March 17, 2011

At a time when many people are happy to have one job, I have two. My primary career is a typical 9-to-5 office job, consisting mostly of financial document analysis with a little online Scrabble and tardiness thrown in for laughs. My newer vocation began about two years ago, when boredom with the daily grind and a desire for a little extra cash spurred me to become a large lab animal.  

A local medical research outfit was looking for volunteers in a study it was doing. There was a vaccine already in widespread use among patients age 60 and older, and research was being done to see if it would be equally effective for a slightly younger population. At age 55, I was intrigued by the opportunity to be considered “slightly younger” at anything, and by the token payment that would be made to participants. I had to show up at their office in south Charlotte for a brief exam and interview, receive a next-to-painless injection, and for my effort I’d be compensated $120, and an additional $10 a month for answering a series of follow-up questions on the phone.  

I forget now what the disease was that I’d be vaccinated against. I think it was “Shingles” or “Pringles” or something like that. If I received the real medicine, which went to only half the participants in the double-blind study, I’d likely avoid developing either a painful skin rash, or breath that reaked of “pizzalicious” flavor and fingers stained with grease.  

During that first interview, I was careful to ask several probing questions, including whether I’d be probed, and whether ”double-blind” meant that I’d be losing sight in both eyes (I wouldn’t, which was good; that’d be worth way more than $180). In return, they quizzed me about my health history, whether I’d ever had any headaches and for how long I’ve been having them. I said I thought everybody had headaches at least occasionally, and I’ve been having them for as long as I could remember, which didn’t sound good, but they took me anyway.  

The rest of the test was pretty uneventful. I never experienced any negative side-effects, except one time when the automated phone-in system malfunctioned and called me a “loser”. I received a cool ten-spot every month for six months, which I unwisely invested in the subprime mortgage derivatives market, and never got any “ingle”-related symptoms.  

Then, a few days ago, I got an e-mail at my work asking if I might be interested in participating in a new study for the same research firm. “Dear Davis,” it read, ”we just wanted to let you know that we have a new study for nocturia, which is waking at least two times a night to go to the bathroom. If you’re interested in more information, please call.”  

Though the e-mail warned that this investigation would be more labor-intensive, requiring ten visits over three months and a long-term follow-up, I figured I’d easily qualify. I was indeed an over-50 non-smoker without diabetes and I did indeed sometimes need to “go” during the night, often to the bathroom though occasionally to a play.  

I sent a copy of the correspondence to the printer next to my desk which, to my horror, began spitting out obviously unrelated pages as soon as I pressed the “print” button. Two co-workers had picked this inopportune time to actually do some work, and now my shameful case of “nocturia” would be mixed in with the management compensation summaries they needed to read. It’s outrageous enough to learn that the CEO of Comcast pulled down $15 million in stock options alone in 2009, but to then learn that he also had to pee in his sleep would be simply too much information.  

I quickly jumped up and huddled menacingly over the printer, successfully screening off the ladies waiting to retrieve their report. I’m already widely regarded as the weird guy in the office, and I didn’t need any confirming documentation going into widespread release.  

A few days later I called the number to learn some of the details. I said I was a little concerned about having to make that many on-site visits considering that I’m working some long hours during our current busy season. When she heard that I worked at a real job, unlike most other 50-somethings who were long ago down-sized and now urinate for a living, she agreed that this might not be the test for me.  

“You’d have to collect all your urine for a 48-hour period to begin the study,” she said. “I’m not sure how that’d work in your office.”  

I, on the other hand, am quite sure how that would work, and it would be not well. I thanked her for her time and asked her to keep me in mind for future research, preferably any projects that didn’t involve the collection of secretions or emissions.  

After the call, though, I wondered if there might’ve been a way to make this work. Is it possible to collect all your liquid waste in a discreet vessel and, at the same time, effectively determine the opening price of an initial public offering? Or is urinating into a discarded two-liter Mountain Dew bottle while standing at your desk not what they mean by “public offering”?  

I consulted with a fellow middle-aged male who helped me bat around some ideas for how we could do our job and do our business at the same time. He suggested employing the little-used blue recycling bins that everyone has under their desks after a well-intended “green initiative” the company started a few years back. While it’s true that blue and yellow do combine to make green, I’m not sure that’s quite the kind of recycling our corporate masters had in mind. Though it might be possible to eliminate while remaining seated at your work station, the slightly distracted, blissed-out look on your face would reveal to any onlookers that you were enjoying a discussion of shareholder proposals way too much.  

I wondered about using a thermos. Andy said that’d be too small for 48 hours’ worth and, besides, I don’t think you’d really want to keep it warm. How about if you wore a non-descript backpack throughout the day, and filled it with balloons? “I figured for Casual Friday, I’d dress like I used to look back in high school,” you could say. Or maybe doing something blatantly obvious would be counter-intuitive — like one of those “beer hats” with jars attached to a construction helmet and tubes running down into your groin. I guess you’d need a pump, though, to get the liquid uphill. I’d have to run that plan by a fluid dynamics engineer.  

In the end, we agreed that none of these options were likely practical, and finally gave up hope of getting a vaccine that would guarantee we’d never pee again.  

(Wait — how about using a Pringles can?!)  

The sign says “Color Paper Only,” but surely a little urine won’t hurt

Revisited: The nose knows

March 5, 2011

The human nose is a magnificent creation. It helps us appreciate our environment by allowing us to smell it. It filters out toxins and humidifies the incoming air. It tells us who’s beautiful (the pert-nosed), who’s ugly (the big-nosed) and who owns a chimp (those who’ve had their noses ripped off).

What we do with our noses has entered the common lingo as an indicator of how well we’re interacting with others. Keeping your “nose to the grindstone” means you work hard, as shown by the abrasions on your upper lip and cheeks. Being a “brown-noser” is one who kisses certain nether regions in hopes of pleasing bosses or other connoisseurs of posterior worship. Those who “powder their nose” go to the bathroom to snort cocaine.

“Keeping your nose clean” has more to do with being on good behavior than it does with any maintenance of nasal hygiene, though there are cleaning processes that have to be done. Because it sticks out so far from our face, there’s little we need to do to keep the outer surface shiny and unsoiled. It tends to be naturally cleansed by the rain. At most, you have to buff it with a shammy.

The inside of the nose is another matter. We’ve developed several techniques as a species to scour the interior regions, supposedly way evolved beyond what our primate brothers do by inserting sticks into their faces.

A build-up of congestion in the sinuses is easily cleared with a firm honk into a dainty, monogrammed handkerchief, making it one of the most civilized expulsions of bodily fluids we’ve devised. Why such a practice is freely done in polite company still escapes me. I’ve always tended to side with the young children who typically misinterpret the instruction from their parents as being a noisy inhalation instead. They know innately that it’s wrong to unleash their mucus into the public sector, and that it would make more sense to suck it farther into the skull for eventual removal by surgery, which can be done in private.

The more involuntary ejection of nasal debris is what we call the “sneeze,” and it is truly a blessed event. Though I’ve always tended to suppress mine, others revel in the opportunity to draw attention to themselves. The various grunts, groans and shouts that accompany the sneeze serve no real purpose in more efficiently expelling the irritant, and yet people do it anyway. My theory is that they’re trying hard for the notice that escaped them as a baby, when their parents (understandably) put them into storage for hours at a time without so much as a “gesundheit.” Now that they’re free and working in the cubicle next to me, it’s time to put on a Shamu Show every time there’s a little nose tickle, roaring out a tumultuous explosion that elicits blessings, sympathy and requests for ponchos from their neighbors.

Certain types of nasal rubble can’t be easily expelled with compressed air, and for these we have a whole different set of societal rules. As the mucus moves from a plasma to a more solid state, it can be maneuvered into the outside world with a series of snorts and spurts, but these rarely work. And when they do, the exhaled matter tends to end up on your shirt pocket looking like some kind of primitive coat-of-arms. When all else fails, we need to sneak off to a stairwell, a bathroom, or the southbound lane of the interstate doing 80 m.p.h. to pursue our excavation tasks.

I had hoped there was a more technical term for this act than “nose picking,” which doesn’t capture how elegant the booger selection process really is. Wikipedia wasn’t much help, offering only the term “rhinotillexomania” to describe the psychiatric condition of extreme nose-picking. (Seems that at a certain point even the craziest psychopath would realize there’s nothing left to pick, short of burrowing into their cortex, but who can account for the actions of the insane?) I did learn that nose-picking is a “common, mildly taboo habit” and that, confirming what my mother always told me, can lead to the spread of infections, nosebleeds and self-induced perforation of the septum.

As for it being “mildly taboo,” I think we’d all disagree with that. Something that can’t be done by the Queen of England at a state dinner is mildly taboo, though for some reason if she’s up to her elbows in her purse instead of her nose, that’s okay. Nose-picking instead crosses over into the realm of a horrific abomination, qualifying for banishment to the nearest atoll. Rubbing, stroking or pulling at your nose is fine, but once that fingernail disappears from view, you better start packing your Hawaiian shirt. And, please, for the benefit of the airport security guy who’ll go through your luggage, wash your hands first.

If you think about it, you realize that this practice is one of the last shameful public displays we have left in these liberated modern times. It’s perfectly acceptable to comb your hair, kill someone, or pee in the public square, yet any exploration into the center of your face is strictly verboten.

I think it’s time to change some of these puritanical attitudes, and I think, like everything else today, we need to turn to science for a solution. I’m imagining a device that incorporates microcircuity and other aspects of nanotechnology into a probe the size of a pen. On the tip, you have a video camera, a light, a scraper, a suction mechanism and a trimmer. If there’s any room left, include a GPS unit that will bounce the tip’s position off a satellite and allow you to navigate with precision. Then, with all this data at your fingertips, you can conduct self-surgery with complete confidence.

I hereby offer my proposal for the NEED: the Nasal Electronic Excavation Device. (Slogan: ** YOU NEED THE NEED **)

It’s the very sexiness of this tool that will finally bring nose-picking out of its ignominy and into the bright sunshine of public acceptance. Remember, it was only a few short years ago that hanging a large piece of electronics from your ear would’ve labeled you as old and deaf, and now you’re considered Bluetooth-enabled. With iPhones and Blackberrys and netbooks everywhere you look, why should a whirring wand inserted into your nose be seen as anything less than fashionable? Especially if someone can come up with a strong enough battery so that I can eliminate the 30-foot-long electrical cord from my preliminary designs.

I’m not much of an engineer, so I’m offering my idea here on the Internet and asking all the technophiles out there to make the NEED a reality. Slobs and misfits can be easily transformed into with-it hipsters. Mouth-breathers can close their stinking maws and once again enjoy the feeling of a fresh breeze coursing through their nostrils. Everyone — young and old, male and female, big-nosed and small-nosed — can be freed of the shame of being caught in mid-irrigation, and can instead be proud of their efforts to create a cleaner world right in front of their eyes.


My plans for a new hospital

February 25, 2011

I’ve been thinking about building a new hospital in my home town. Rock Hill is a fast-growing area with an aging population and a lot of younger people with bad health habits, so it seems like the effort might be successful, even though we already have one major medical center in the county.

There’s an abandoned Blockbuster Video store not far from here that I bet I could rent for next to nothing. I’ve browsed in what was their music/comedy section and think it would convert nicely to an emergency room. I looked in the window and they still have the display racks for candy and popcorn, which could serve as a nice head start on the cafeteria. And I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a nurse, so I might have a leg up on hiring staff.

Unfortunately, the meddling, bloated government and its job-killing regulations are keeping me from fulfilling this dream I’ve had since last Tuesday, or maybe it was Wednesday. There’s something called a “certificate-of-need” law that requires would-be entrepreneurs like myself to receive approval from the Department of Health and Environmental Control before they can just go off and build hospitals on every other street corner.

In fact, there are three other outfits looking to do the same thing as me. The owner of the one hospital we already have, as well as two other large healthcare networks from adjacent counties, have been battling since 2004 for the right to build a new hospital just north of town. All three are now involved in a heavy media blitz, advertising in newspapers, and on TV and billboards to convince citizens to show their support for their particular effort. Apparently, if enough letters are received by the bureaucrat in charge, one of them will be awarded the right to build the hospital.

They’re making a strong pitch to convince people that their plan is best. “A growing county deserves choice … and that’s what Novant Health offers us,” reads one full-page ad. Carolinas Medical Center used its ad to reprint one of the letters it’s already received, a note from Sherry W. saying that CMC is “kind” and “always ready to help solve your medical problems.” Tenet Healthcare Corp. warns that if it doesn’t win, “the healthcare you trust is in danger.”

I can’t afford to compete with huge corporations such as these. Even if I could somehow fund the public relations campaign that’s apparently required, I don’t have the $76.2 million Novant would spend on a 64-bed facility, much less the $126 million Tenet would use on its proposed 100-bed location. And it’s a shame, because we all know how competition is the lifeblood of a free-market economy, and that if I could just have the opportunity to make my own innovative pitch, then the people of York County would be flocking to the Blockbuster site in numbers unlike anything seen since 1987, when Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold was one of America’s top rentals.

All I have is this modest little blog to make my case for what would be a hospital like no other hospital. So I’m listing here some features I would include that would capture the imagination of the hospital-going public and make confinement there a lot more enjoyable.

Stuff I would offer if I could be awarded the certificate of need to build my own hospital:

Free Chick-fil-A sandwich with every outpatient surgery

Commemorative DVD of your balloon angioplasty procedure, complete with a “blooper reel” and commentary from your surgeon, your anesthesiologist, and South Carolina’s “favorite daughter” Vanna White

Certification from the Department of Health that all food served in the hospital cafeteria does not contain meat surgically removed from humans

Half-off all aspirins dispensed in the chest pain clinic

Nurses from Hooters

A chapel not just for Christians but also one for believers in evolutionary theory (Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” will be displayed under a spotlight on an ornate easel at the front of the room)

A “fun” way of notifying colonoscopy patients of the results of their procedures: chocolate Tootsie Pop presented at checkout for clean results; cherry Tootsie Pop presented to those who show a small amount of blood in their stools; lemon-lime Tootsie Pop given to those who are told to call their physicians immediately

Olive Garden-style beepers given to patients waiting to be seen in the emergency room, with a free order of breadsticks offered to anyone who has to wait more than four hours

Emergency transport system includes not only conventional ambulance vehicles and a helicopter on call, but also Segways, jet-packs and pneumatic tubes leading from local doctors’ offices to the hospital. Parachuting patients from low-flying plane will also be offered to the more adventurous and/or desperately ill.

In-room video poker to replace conventional entertainment, complete with a $100 stake

Unique gift shop offering items left behind by patients who didn’t survive their hospital visit

Dads have the option of coaching their laboring wives via a closed-circuit video feed from a separate wing of the hospital where they can’t be slapped or choked by the new mom

Prescriptions dispensed from a vending machine

Community charity care will take the form of offering random procedures to the poor.

Hospital bills will be handwritten by a trained calligrapher

Ally and Alli looking to become allies

February 22, 2011

In a move that had many analysts shaking their heads, it was announced yesterday that a merger-of-equals will take place between Ally Bank, an Internet financial institution based in Utah, and the makers of Alli, a leading anti-obesity drug.

The new firm, to be called “Alliy Consolidated,” will attempt to achieve a unique corporate synergy by bringing together two companies that seemingly have little in common. Ally Financial is the former banking arm of GMAC, involved primarily in automobile loans but trying now to attract savers by offering simple banking products at competitive interest rates. Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline distributes Alli, the medication known generically as tetrahydrolipstatin, which uses fecal incontinence in conjunction with a reduced-calorie diet to promote weight loss.

“This is a great day for our customers interested in saving for retirement while looking to trim down in time for bathing-suit season,” said Joseph Crouse, who will become president of the combined firm. “We’ll be using economies of scale and the power of two well-known brands to stake out an innovative niche in two growing markets. Alliy will offer one-stop shopping for tubby clients interested in leveraging the convenience of online banking with the inconvenience of steatorrhea, a condition characterized by oily, loose stools and excessive flatus.”

The similarity of the two companies’ names had long confused many potential customers. People who logged onto in search of urgent or frequent bowel movements instead found themselves reading about no-penalty certificates of deposit (CDs) and money market accounts. Meanwhile, those looking for modern financial products offered over the Internet were encountering information about controversial aversion therapy techniques that associated eating fat with unpleasant “treatment effects.”

“We’re taking the negatives associated with that confusion and turning them into a positive,” Crouse said. “Now, people will have time to be constantly in and out of the bathroom because they are spending less time and effort managing their personal finances.”

Crouse said the new business, which he called the “first bankaceutical,” will hit the ground running once federal regulators approve the merger later this spring. He said a management team is already in place that “will use that same sense of urgency that Alli consumers feel on a daily basis and apply it to the creation of the world’s greatest online depository institution.”

“We’re redefining the whole concept of ‘making a deposit,'” Crouse told reporters.

Observers of the mergers and acquisitions market expressed reservations that the new company could succeed. They cited the well-known failure last year of an effort by the makers of Flomax, who tried to pick up remnants of the collapsed investment bank Lehman Brothers. Despite a lavishly financed marketing campaign featuring the tag line “Piss Your Money Worries Away,” that attempt was abandoned in the wake of the recession.

“I’m just not sure they can make it work,” said Eric Royster, an analyst from Bank of America. “Their offer of transparent financial products may or may not be successful with a customer base that is constantly shitting itself.”

Crouse said he hoped the new name will blur negative memories some may have of Alli. In 2007, the consumer group Prescription Access Litigation awarded the medicine its “Bitter Pill Award,” asking the question “with allies like this, who needs enemas?”

“Our attorneys are already working with the FDA to include new safety information on our packaging about the risk of severe liver injury,” Crouse said. “We think that’s a small price to pay for no-fee ATMs.”

Crouse said the new Alliy will continue to offer FDIC insurance for deposits up to $10,000, while limiting its customers to “no more than five withdrawals per day.”

“Ally Financial has long been known for its liquidity, even during the height of the 2008 banking crisis,” Crouse said. “I think this merger will take that reputation to the next level.”

Meanwhile, speculation grew that yet another company could be snatched up in this current round of merger mania in corporate America. The makers of All laundry detergent were said to be in preliminary discussions with the new Alliy. That combination would result in the biggest player yet in the lucrative field of firms whose names start with “All”.

“There’s more synergy there than one might think at first glance,” said a financial reporter from The Wall Street Journal. “It may seem counterintuitive, but loose, oily stools can actually be processed into a very effective cleanser. It’s an all-natural alternative to the processed phosphates that All is using now. If they get the go-ahead from regulators, I see the board at Alliy being so flushed with success that they just may try to make this play.”

Revisited: It’s time to leak the truth

January 23, 2011

In 1979, there was an accident at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania called Three Mile Island (TMI). Initial reports indicated there was a small explosion and perhaps some minor injuries. It wasn’t until later in the first day that it became known there was a significant leak of radioactive materials, into both the air and the ground.

As details unfolded in the week that followed, the public learned that we had narrowly avoided a so-called “China Syndrome,” in which the core of the reactor would melt deep into the earth. Groundwater could’ve been contaminated and the air could’ve been filled with poisonous gases. Pennsylvania could’ve become even more inhabitable than it already was. Fear gripped the nation as more and more details were released and we imagined what might have been.

Ever since this near-catastrophe, whenever anyone is given too much information about something fearsome and repulsive, we call it “TMI”.

The following post may contain TMI. Sensitive readers should — wait, this is the Internet; sensitive readers shouldn’t be a problem.

+   +   +

I didn’t do a real good job this year of coming up with worthy New Year’s resolutions. In the past, I’ve promised myself I’d lose weight or be more thrifty, and generally did a good job of follow-through all the way into February. I’ve put the ambitious agendas aside this year, and decided instead to work on smaller, more achievable goals.

The main improvement initiative I’m undertaking currently is to pick up things that have fallen on the ground. I’m still okay with stuff that’s supposed to be down there — pebbles, earthworms, the drunken homeless — but I’m trying to put forth a real effort to make my world a better place with the simple act of bending down and retrieving discarded litter. Some people have chosen to help earthquake victims; I’m thinking that charity begins at home, in an approximately three-foot radius of where I’m standing.

Pride is picking up

The real fact of the matter is that I’m contributing a lot of this debris on my own. Maybe I shouldn’t be so self-congratulatory for picking up after myself, and yet it still gives me a warm feeling to know I’m working to clean up our environment. Just because the trash is of my own making shouldn’t discount the substantial effort it takes for someone my age to squat.

It’s because of these “warm feelings” that I’ve been creating such a mess in my wake. You see, I have a problem that confronts many men in their 50s, and I’ve been using small wads of paper stuffed into my shorts to address it. I have a problem with dribbling.

In my younger days, I enjoyed many an afternoon in a robust workout on the basketball court. I’ve never had much of a vertical leap and my three-point shot rarely found the hole, but I’ve always been a good ball handler, even perfecting a behind-the-back crossover that frequently left me open for a layup. What’s been hurting my game in the gym lately is that the floor tends to get a little slippery when I have to splash through a puddle of my own urine.

Really, that’s an exaggeration. My touch of incontinence doesn’t result in the kind of fashionable gushers we’ve recently seen in concert from a certain female singer for the Black Eyed Pees (spelling?). The difficulty I have isn’t the uncontrollable release that wetted Fergie in the midst of all her booming and powing; rather, what I’ve experienced is the drop or two trickle that lies in wait until I’m all zipped up and heading back to my desk. It’s not outwardly noticeable, and I don’t think it’s causing any kind of hazardous spill that could injure or sicken my co-workers. It’s just that warm, then cold, moistness that suddenly shocks your upper thigh and reminds you a little too vividly of what it was like to be young. Very young.

Fellow incontinent Fergie

My solution to this embarrassment is to wad up a piece of bathroom tissue, forming a hood that contains the tiny spill. My slacks hold this cap in place just long enough to catch any fleeting beads, until the wad gradually works its way down my leg and I can pull it out and deposit it in the can. It’s a pretty good system, as long as you can subtly pivot at every turn to check your tracks and make sure you’re not depositing a trail of crumbs like some latter-day Hansel and Gretel.

So that’s how I’ve gotten into the habit of stooping down to pick up debris. If I’m doing it often enough that people who witness the act think I’m just being a conscientious employee concerned about the appearance of the office, then they won’t be suspicious if they happen to notice the tile comet sliding down my ankle. Only once has anyone commented on the emergent hat, and I was able to laugh that off by claiming it was a dryer sheet.

Well, I’m tired of laughing at myself over a situation that plagues so many otherwise hygienic people. “No matter how you shake and dance, the last drop’s always on your pants” makes for a playful adolescent rhyme, but I’m sick of having it ringing in my ears every 90 minutes like some particularly bizarre ABBA tune. For too long, the slightly incontinent have hidden in the shadows, peeing themselves in shame, paralyzed by the ever-present fear that someone will shine a light into that shadow and scare us into a lethal blockage. I say enough is enough. It’s time I was praised for my ingenuity instead of disgraced for a thoroughly natural glitch in my plumbing.

If we’re going to leak, let us leak with pride. Let’s take the steps we must in order to preserve a sanitary home and workplace, yet let us not feel as guilty as if we were responsible for some awful catastrophe.

It’s not as though the leak were radioactive.