Monthly Archives: July 2013


Aunt J, our 90 year-old Australian darling, came down with shingles about four months ago. Sadly, right as we were burying our dear, dear, dear, mom, mother-in-law, grandma, friend, aunt and all around great gal (that’s all one person, don’t panic.) Aunt J and Grandma had been sisters-in-law for almost 70 years. So I think the stress of losing her dear friend and companion, as well as just being 90, herself, sent her a bit over the edge.

As it happens, SOME people, not all people, but some very unfortunate few people, get something called post herpetic neuralgia  after the rash of shingles disappears. This is basically a continuing shooting, stabbing, painful discomfort associated with shingles that may last long after it seems you no longer have shingles, or a life or a mind.

Of course, at 90 years old, Aunt J has post herpetic neuralgiaUp until this point, she was only taking two medications. She had heart surgery back in the ’80’s (not her 80’s THE 80’s) and is by all accounts a pretty terrific old gal. She is amazingly charming, has that adorable accent, and has wonderful tales of her times in New York City and travelling.

So she was on her way to a grand ancient old age. But this shingles thing has changed the game and it’s disheartening, unfair and just plain crap. She does her best, most of the time to be a trooper. She will go out to lunch, go shopping, watch TV, fold laundry and participate in every way. But when there’s not much to do, or she has a day that just gets her down, the nasty pain that travels around from her back to her side to her front is frustrating for everyone. It becomes the topic of the day:

“I just don’t understand why this won’t go away, Mate ( I just added that so you wouldn’t forget the Aussie accent).

“Well, Aunt J, it’s just a nasty bugger that can last months, even though there is no rash”, I tell her, keeping to myself that this damn thing can last months and months or even years.

“But why did it go away and come back? I took all my medicine. I was a good girl!”, she whines.

“I know, I know, but the shingles don’t always work that way. They can just hang around as a painful reminder as long as they want. I’m really sorry. ”

“O dear, O dear, O dear, O dear. I don’t know what I’m going to do……” , she trails off with a wince of pain.

And this is where it just starts all over again. The same conversation, the same laments, and the same ineffective answers I have given her time and again. We have tried various other medications, but they have had nasty and dangerous side effects. So here we are.

“I know”, I say, “let’s go get ice cream!”

She looks at me with a jaded eye. We are both thinking the same thing. Can it be that easy?

“Okay!”, she says.

You just have to laugh……..

A long ago tale from Social Security

My sister is the beautiful age of 62! That is the magic number in Social Security. If you so desire, you can apply for your Social Security benefits at age 62. You will give up a certain amount by starting to take them early,but it’s a crap shoot. Who is going to live the longest, you or the Social Security Administration? My bet is on you. So, if your situation makes sense to take your benefits early, take your money and run. This is exactly what my beautiful 62 year-old sister attempted to do. Oh but little did she know this was shark-infested waters.

She trots herself off to the office of Social Security:

“Hello, beautiful 62 year-old sister! Can I help you?”

“Why  yes, I would like to apply for my Social Security benefits!”, she says with aplomb and great delight.

“Oh…sorry you can’t do that here.”

“Excuse me, is this not the sacred Social Security Administration office?”

“Why yes, yes it is..but you need an appointment. I don’t have an appointment here for “my beautiful 62 year-old sister”,but you can apply online from the comfort of your own home!”

“Well, I did not know that. I will go home and apply online, which I am CERTAIN will be easy and have absolutely no glitches! Yay government!”

You see it coming, don’t you? Well at least you THINK you do. In fact, she goes home and applies on line quite successfully. She even receives a  phone call from Social Security with a question about her place of birth, which is seemingly cleared up with no real problems. The representative says, “everything looks fine, it should process in a few months.”

Two days later, on a Saturday,( because I am absolutely convinced that all Social Security mail is purposely retained to be mailed for receipt on Saturday so that you can’t talk to anyone about it) she receives a letter at her childhood home in her maiden name, where our Mom still lives after 41 years, addressed to my beautiful 17 year-old sister, from 45 years ago, saying :

Since my sister has no recollection of ever receiving Social Security, hasn’t lived at that address for 40 years, and hasn’t even had that name for at least 24 years, this is a conundrum. Our best guess, since we can’t call anyone for at least two days,(and if you have EVER tried to call Social Security on a Monday morning, you know it will be three or four days before you can talk to anyone……because EVERYONE who got a crazy letter on Saturday is on that phone first thing Monday morning) is that when her mother died, her father was receiving Social Security benefits for her for about a year, and likely was overpaid by one month. But her father, my step-father died in 1998, and my mother, her step-mother has lived there since 1972 and never saw any Social Security letters addressed to my sister.

Lucky for the beautiful 62 year-old, the letter was sent to our Mom after 45 years, SINCE IT HAD HER SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER PLASTERED ALL OVER IT. Is it whistle-blowing to call these idiots out as they are randomly sending out letters with Social Security numbers likely to people who have moved, are dead, or maybe even in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Would one have to move to Russia to bring this to the world’s attention a la Mr. Snowden?

So we do call Social Security on Monday afternoon and hardly wait at all for that annoying MUZAK to stop. We speak to a delightful young lady who informs us that a new law has just been passed foregoing any previous statutes of limitations on the Social Security Office’s right to collect on overpayments. Ever. Forever. Ad inifinitum. So they sent out letters to everyone they could come up with to whatever address they had to see if they could collect this lost money. And each and every letter has the alleged recipient’s name AND FULL SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER.

In my sister’s case, the nice lady said that since her claim number on the letter had the letter “C” in it, it means she received money as a child and they want it back. And even though, admittedly, she probably never saw that money or even knew it was coming to her. She had to pay it back. And if she didn’t pay it back, as the letter sent to her address of 45 years ago clearly states, any income tax refund she may be entitled to in the future will be taken to absolve her of this debt.

Soooooooooooooo, not only are they generously giving out Social Security numbers to random strangers for the identity-theft taking, they will likely take your income tax return money and you won’t have a clue as to what the hell is going on.


Yay government!

Perhaps someone at Social Security should read the Forbes Article below!


Cathy Sikorski

A case for joint bank accounts

I may have sealed my own fate by allowing myself to be a lawyer and a caregiver. People really like that stuff. One way or another, they are going to find a use for me. My sister is now in the process of settling her aunt’s estate and she needs a lawyer who understands estates and the legal ramifications of former caregiving. She took care of this Aunt for many years. Both because she’s her Aunt and because the Aunt successfully alienated every single person in her life. My sister is now left with a miniscule estate to administer to pay back the state where her aunt had nursing home assistance and get all her other bills taken care of. Sounds easy, right? Nope, this Aunt left “everything” to my sister AND four other nieces and nephews in a foreign country. Swell. Thanks. Because NOW, rather than wrap this up easily, which a joint bank account would have accomplished, it will require a small mountain of paper work to satisfy the bank, and the state, that no one is getting anything except those who are owed. But Aunt pain-in-the- neck didn’t want a joint bank account, which of course, is absolutely her right. But oh the trouble that now creates.  And of course, corresponding with those in the foreign country that they are getting nothing and would they please acknowledge that so that we can all go on with our lives. Hmmmm.  Wonder how that will work out?

How to ask for help

I haven’t really mastered the fine art of asking for help, which is probably why so many people keep ASKING ME FOR HELP.  After a luscious week of time with my daughters both home from far away, and lots of time with visiting family over the 4th of July holiday, I was pleasantly exhausted and ready for the messy structure of my life. My 90  year old Aunt came to stay with us while all the family was here, and my sainted 84 year-old mother kept Aunt J at her house until I had more room. During that time Aunt J developed an indeterminate pain to go along with the continuing pain from her shingles that I discovered on her last visit three months ago. Ultimately, my Mom determined that a walker was in order, and it seems to have done the trick to keep Aunt J upright, balanced, and less whiney(also wine seems to help). We did a mani-pedi day for all the ladies as a treat, and now I pay the price. This morning, as I try to get back to work, laundry, phone calls, grocery shopping, appointment-making, etc., Aunt J comes downstairs with a finger the size of a sausage. WHAT??? The only thing we can think of is that she got nicked at the salon and has an infection. She was treating it herself, apparently, with Band-Aids and Neosporin. So off to the clinic we go, the walker, the Aunt, and the sausage finger. The very sweet doctor(who happened to be the shingles doctor as well) lances her finger, squeezes out all “the badness” as Aunt J calls it, and puts on a Band-Aid and Neosporin and gives us a prescription for antibiotics. But wait my cell phone is ringing and the number is eerily familiar……




“This is your brother-in-law’s caregiver. We are pretty sure he has a urinary tract infection”,

Yup…. you just gotta laugh.