Category Archives: Caregivers

Hot Sausage and Mustard………………

At a lovely dinner last night, my brother-in-law was telling me about his aunt who was required to go to assisted living this week. She was not happy to leave her home of 70 years, but was accepting that she needed help. The first thing my brother-in-law said when I asked him about the facility is: “Well, the food is good!”

This is ground-breaking. This should be their premiere and perhaps only marketing tool. They would have a waiting list for years.

Why does food in practically every institution have to be abominable?  I have been witness to or eater of food at 10 facilities or more….nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, independent living facilities and not one of them had consistently  good food. Sure, there was an occasional meal that was pretty darn good. One place I would go to had the best BLT’s I’ve ever had. But one cannot live on a great BLT.

My occasional unscientific survey of dining halls went something like this:

“So how do you like it here?”

“The food stinks.”

What you won't get in a nursing home
What you won’t get in a nursing home

If you can serve decent food at a banquet or a wedding, you can do it in a facility. Stop making this the first place to cut corners. Especially when these are the last years of your loved one’s life. For heaven’s sake, you all know how important food is.  It’s memories. It’s comfort. It’s a tiny bit of joy in your day.

Make it better. Maybe make it less. How much food waste is going on?  There is usually too much on their plate, anyway. How did humungous American portions become the definition of ‘good food’, especially in a senior center?

More is not more. Less is more. If less is more….that is, if less food is higher quality food, let’s try that.

There’s a reason Oliver sang a whole song about  “Food, glorious food……..”

If they want more pudding, give it to them, damn it. But make it the good stuff!””

“You Just have to Laugh……….”

© 2016 Cathy Sikorski

You might be a Caregiver….Part One

Just as I was sitting down to bring you the next installment of caregiving comedy, my computer decided the last laugh would be on me. Done, died, dead. With no warning, no goodbyes, no fond farewells, just dead.

These two weeks provided lots of time to come up with all the joys that caregivers experience. So in a huge nod to Jeff Foxworthy, I bring you the first installment of:

“You might be a Caregiver……”

  1. If you know Medicare’s phone number and website without Googling….You might be a Caregiver….
  2. If your search for an Assisted Living Community for your Mom starts to look like a nice vacation spot for you and your spouse….You might be a Caregiver
  3. If you cancel your dentist appointment to attend Ice Cream Social Wednesday at your Dad’s nursing home, because you want the ice cream….You might be a Caregiver
  4. If you know your parents’ Medicare number, AARP number, United Healthcare number but not your own cell phone number…You might be a Caregiver
  5. If you feel the need to correct WebMD about all the missed additional symptoms of a urinary tract infection….You might be a Caregiver
  6. If your iPhone calendar has words on it like ‘catheters’, ‘hearing aid’, ‘urologist’, or ‘dentures’…..You might be a Caregiver
  7. If going to the Emergency Room is like Cheers where they know your first name and how you take your coffee…..You might be a Caregiver
  8. If you took the black Sharpie to your husband’s underwear to mark it for the wash instead of your Mom’s for the nursing home…..You might be a Caregiver
  9. If you’ve had more knock-down, drag-out fights with Insurance Companies, Hospitals and Doctor’s office than Muhammad Ali…..You might be a Caregiver
  10. If everyone around you thinks you are speaking in tongues because you are constantly saying, PT, OT, UTI, or DME….You might be a Caregiver

And this is only the beginning, my friends. After all, this is a new computer, so there’s lots of room for humor here now!

“You Just have to Laugh……”

©Cathy Sikorski 2016

You talkin’ to me?

So these stories about medical insurance could go on endlessly, but they give me such good material.

My Mom called me a few days ago to tell me that she received eighteen EOBs (Explanation

What do you mean you're not Zsa Zsa?
What do you mean you’re not Zsa Zsa?

of Benefits forms) from her medical insurance. If you’re not an EOB counter, 18 is a Zsa Zsa galore. A normal amount might be 2 or 3 on a busy day.

The reason she received 18 is because of the huge mix up created by her medical insurance 15 years ago. Fifteen years is a lot too–a whole teenage year of angst. Now, there are two insurance companies trying to figure out how to pay each other back for 15 years of screwing up.

Half of the EOBs indicate that Insurance Company B paid claims formerly paid by  Company A, and everyone is happy about that.

The other half of the envelopes  were filled with EOB’s and checks. Lots and lots of checks. All these checks are payable to my Mom for claims going back to 2007.  Insurance Company B has paid all that money that is supposed to go to various medical providers to my Mom.

So somehow my 87-year-old Mom is supposed to divvy up these checks, figure out who needs to be paid and how much and hope that the medical providers can properly credit her account, some going back 9 years. Really?

I got on the phone.

I have come to love you so much, my dear readers, that you won’t get every bit of every one of the 4 hour-long conversations I had with Insurance Companies A and B.  You know some of this is priceless.

“Hello, my name is John, thank you for calling Insurance Company B, how can I help you?”

“Hi, John, my name is Cathy, I’m calling for my Mom, who is sitting right here with me.”

I hand the phone to my Mom because I know that John needs to interrogate her. She also needs to give John permission to speak to me. After they complete that happy dance, Mom hands the phone back to me.

John asks me for my address.

“No, John, you can’t have my address. You can have my mother’s address, as she is your insured. I have called your insurance company thousands of times and no one has ever asked me for my address.”

“Oh,” said John, “I have to speak to my supervisor.” I’m pretty sure this is John’s first day of work.

He comes back five minutes later and tells me he can’t talk to me if I won’t give him my address. I am undaunted.

I hand the phone to my Mom. He asks for her address, birthdate and phone number. My Mom tells him everything he requests. Then she says,

“Now I want you to talk to my daughter because I have no idea how to deal with any of this.”

She hands me the phone. John and I have a long conversation about how to deal with this complicated problem. John cavalierly tells me that this happens less than one percent of the time. How he knows this from one day on the job, I have no idea. It is, however,  supposed to reassure me.

“John, just stop sending checks to my Mom.”

“I have no idea why that happened. They should be going directly to the provider. I have 458 claims here to be processed for your Mom over the last 10 years. But we could just start over. We could reclaim those checks and redo those claims. I don’t know……”

“NOOOOO, John, DO NOT DO THAT!” Yes, I meant to use capital letters, because it was a capital letter kind of response.

“But……,” said John…..”we……”

“No, John, just NO. Do not add insult to injury. Just stop doing what you’re doing.”

“Is there anything else, I can help you with , ma’am?”

“No, John.” I so wanted to say….”But you did talk to me without ever getting my address, didn’t you? ”

I win!

We all know I haven’t won…but

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©2016 Cathy Sikorski

 

 

And now, a Massage from the Swedish Prime Minister….Monty Python

As we were discussing our daughters’ fierce food requirements when they come to visit, my friend, Pat revealed that she feels the same way as I do about  the wonders of kale.

Pat’s daughter is a vegan and my daughter is very careful about her diet. When these girls  come to stay at our respective homes, we grocery shop for them, we cook for them and we try very hard not to make a mistake, insult their food, or give them any excuse to never return.

Each and everyone of you knows that kale is the Super Woman of super food. When you ingest kale, you are creating a vortex of health, wisdom, happiness, hale(ness?) and heartiness throughout your body. Kale will not be denied. It will make all things well in the world, especially in your colon, pancreas, pituitary gland and all those other internal organs you play like a fiddle.

I hate kale. I hate mean girls and I hate kale.

Do not give me recipes for kale. Do not tell me to eat kale chips, kale salad or kale smoothies. I tried. I hate it.

This is where Pat explained to me, that her daughter explained to her, that in order to release the power and joys of kale you need to massage it.

Okay, seriously, I’m done now.

I don’t even know what that  means…massage the kale. Do I need massage oil for that? Can instructions be found in the Kalema Sutra?

Looks pretty, but is it worth it?
Looks pretty, but is it worth it?

I’m not massaging my kale. I don’t even massage my husband.  If anyone’s getting a massage here it’s me. I will buy non-dairy yogurt, gluten free bread, only shredded Brussels sprouts for the healthy visitors in my house . But even if it makes kale taste like anything from Ben & Jerry’s, I refuse to massage the kale.

Yes, I’m far from perfect. Yes, I eat and drink things that are naughty. And in the interest of full disclosure, I snarfed up all the Easter Candy. left over wedding favors and the real Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in the freezer last night before our daughter came home for a lengthy visit. I say that as a point of pride, not shame (about the food, not my daughter). After all, I was creating a healthy food environment for my house guest, right? Oh, the things we do for company.

As for my personal constitution, all my grandparents lived well into their 90’s and I’m certain that not one of them ever massaged a leafy green vegetable. So I’m good.

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©2016 Cathy Sikorski

 

 

Fairy Tales Can Come True……………..

Last Wednesday I got the phone call every girl dreams of. Yes, George Clooney invited me to his lake house on the Amalfi Coast!

No, it was better than that. My Congressman, Ryan Costello of the 6th District of Pennsylvania, through  his amazing assistant, Lisa Reynolds called me to say my mother’s problems with the Veterans Administration are well on their way to being solved.

As a caregiver, we list this in the miracle column.

If you have followed my past few blogs about this journey wherein I am trying to get the VA to correct their mistake from 15 years ago and get my Mom back on to her proper medical insurance, you know it has been nothing less than a”clusterf#$%k.”   That quote, by the way, directly from a VA customer service rep who thought he had put me on hold, and that moment was ever so much better than any Muzak.

Since January 9, I have already spent countless hours on the phone and faxing, scanning, emailing and snail-mailing documents to various demons of the Veteran’s Administration and Department of Defense hoping against hope that I could stave off a medical insurance disaster before it happened.

In the interim, my husband suggested I call our Congressman. I was thinking about that very thing. Since my  husband gets Congressman Costello’s newsletter, he noticed that he has a position on the Veterans Administration Committee. So, what the heck! Ain’t that what we pay these guys for?

I spoke with the ever-so-kind Lisa Reynolds. I faxed her all the documentation that I was constantly sending out to the Federalis. And for some odd reason, I just let her do her thing and waited to hear from her, probably because I continued to inundate myself with phone calls and wild goose chases to the VA.

On Wednesday, Lisa called to say that the Congressman has gotten my  mother registered with the correct medical insurance back to 2002!! Hooray. Happiness, Joy, Exaltation.

Not so fast………………..

“That’s the good news,” she said. Uh oh.

“The only glitch is, your mother has to submit all those incorrectly paid bills, for the last 15 years, to the new insurance with in 180 days or it will not be covered and she will be responsible for those medical bills,”

Oh gee whiz, that sounds so easy, like , I don’t know, gathering all the pine cones in the forest for the last 15 years and then shoving them up their ………… sorry, I got distracted looking for a metaphor.

“But we have until August,” Lisa exclaimed.

Yay?

Yet, she most assuredly told me that she would assist me in getting all that information from the old insurance company to send to the new one. Mind you, these are both arms of  Veterans Administration insurance. It’s not like it’s Aetna and United Healthcare. They are both Veterans medical insurance.

But they are not allowed to talk to each other. Only we can talk to them and then transfer information back and forth. I found that out in my 10,000 phone calls between all these quasi-agencies.

But I can live with this. I can do it!

RYAN COSTELLOSo I want to right here, right now, give a formal thank you to my Congressman, Ryan Costello, who I did not vote for, but who has restored my faith just a bit in the system. He worked for his constituents, regardless of their party affiliation to solve a real problem in his District. I am grateful for his attention to this problem and for his associate, Lisa Reynolds for tackling this crazy issue in record time.

See, people it can be done. People who don’t agree on everything can help one another and get things done. Wow, what a concept.

And it never hurts to laugh while helping….And dream of George Clooney’s House on the Amalfi Coast….

“You Just have to Laugh………….”

©Cathy Sikorski 2016

 

Frost and a Sweat………..

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I took both of them…

I was sitting around in my workout clothes, pretending to think about going to the gym. But I thought a tougher work out would really build my stamina.

I decided to try and tackle Medicare and the VA on the same day.  See tackling is a form of exercise.

First stop, the VA. Truthfully, after examining my own guns, I knew it was time to call in the big guns and went right to my U.S. Representative in Congress to get help. I was done pussy-footing around. I called my Rep’s local office and was met with immediate efficiency and comprehension.

Like an innocent child, who has a learning curve the size of the Earth’s parabola (I don’t even know if that’s a ‘thing’ but it sounded really big to me) I believed that help was on the way quickly, and all my problems would be solved post-haste. And by using Ye Olde English terms like ‘post-haste,’ I would surely be drinking celebratory sherry in the drawing room at the end of the day!

But before these kind people could step in, they asked me to call the local VA office. See, the Rep had friends in high places. He is actually on the Congressional committee that deals with the VA. I was instructed to call the VA office in town, speak to the director there and immediately call back the Congressional Aide to let her know the result.  This was the result.

“Oh, dear, I’m so sorry your mother is having a problem with her medical insurance. That’s terrible,” said the kind woman who answered the VA phone. “I will have the director call you as soon as he is available.”

I must admit, not 10 minutes later, the kind woman who answered the phone called back.

“The ( cowardly, okay she didn’t say that but the tremor in her voice said it all)director says he wouldn’t know where to begin to help you. This problem is too complicated and he’s never seen it before. So you need to call your Congressman right back to help you.”

This from the director of the local Veteran’s Administration Office. My workout was quickly becoming the use of one finger……the dialing finger. Why, which finger were you thinking?

Meanwhile back at the ranch, thinking it would take a while for the VA to return my call, I hopped on another line (hopping is also exercise) and landed on infinite ‘hold’ for Medicare.

After following their instructions three weeks ago by filing Executor papers at the Social Security Office, and calling each week to see if they ‘received’ the papers that were scanned into the computer right before my eyes, I am now told that I must follow a completely different procedure before they will talk to me about unpaid medical claims for my deceased brother-in-law.

By the way, not one person I spoke to at Medicare or Social Security both on the phone and in person….and there were dozens of these people………..actually knows what an Executor is or does. So that was fun to explain. Explaining can cause sweating and does require mental exercise.

There were more phone calls and more paperwork created as you can see:

Medicare Papers

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood (yellow..for cowards?)

….and I took both the difficult ones….. ’cause, you know, that’s where all the fun and cardio begins!

“You Just Have to  Laugh………….”

©2016 Cathy Sikorski

I see….no wait, I don’t see……

Last week I took my friend, Lisa, to the eye doctor. This is the Scheie Eye Institute, a very prestigious hospital dedicated to eye care.

We’ve been there many times over the last five years. Our last visit was six months ago and now we were back for a follow-up visit. But something was new.

When we arrived at the Institute, as usual, we went to the front desk.  In the past, the front desk checked you in and then you waited to go to an attendant at a numbered station to confirm your insurance, appointment time and any other preliminary questions.

As we approached the front desk on this day, we were told to immediately go over to the standing computer terminals and check ourselves in.

Now the average age of the patients in this rather expansive waiting room seemed to be about 79 years old. I have no doubt that the senior community has many computer savvy members, but not everyone can adjust to any computer that is thrown in front of them.  As one who continues to discover that ‘user friendly’ and ‘intuitive’ are really just adjectives for “get me a 12 year-old over here, stat!”, I was certain that many of these patients were struggling with this new set-up.

Add to that,these computers were at standing stations. I would say at least in an unscientific review of the crowd…. and by that I mean looking at them,  half of the patients were in wheelchairs or using canes or walkers. Standing at a computer terminal would be, at the very least, uncomfortable, at most, impossible.

One more thing.

You may recall this is the Scheie Eye Institute. So……this is a place where people go who are having trouble seeing.  You know, eye patches, eye surgery, eye pain, eye problems.

Based on my knowledge of the scientific method, which I learned from my kids when they had to study fourth grade science, this new system may experience a few glitches.

Hmm. Something's Fishy!
Hmm. Something’s Fishy!

I will say this, Lisa and I were laughing hysterically for hours, even on the way home when we just kept saying but it’s the Scheie Eye Institute!

That’s all it took to make us giggle, ’cause………….

“You Just Have to Laugh…….”

©2016 Cathy Sikorski

Don’t Worry…..We Will Take Care of You……

Last Friday my Mom called me, practically in tears.

“Roberta was so mean to me,” she said.

I’m thinking, “who the hell is Roberta?”.

“She’s from my medical insurance carrier. I called to ask her why a bill wasn’t paid and she said I should never have been given this insurance and I’m going to have to pay back every penny from the last 15 years.”

“And,” she went on with a worried tone, “you told me to NEVER pay a medical bill. So I don’t know what to do.”

“Calm down, Mom. We will get this worked out. It will be okay.”

My first reaction was this:

I did tell my Mom never t pay a medical bill because her insurance covers everything.

My mom has Tricare For Life Medical Insurance. This insurance is for Veterans and their families, spouses, widows, children. My Dad died in a helicopter crash as an Army pilot on October 10, 1961. My mother had five children all under the age of 10 and was pregnant with her sixth child. So I kind of think my Mom is entitled to this insurance.

The thing is, Mom never claimed this insurance until my step-father passed away in 1998. She didn’t even ask for it. She already had Medicare and AARP. But when she applied for her widows benefits after my step-father passed away, the Veteran’s Administration made her jump through all kinds of hoops with documentation and then gave her this insurance.

My mom is a Virgo.

Why does that matter? She has kept every single piece of paper that has ever come into her life. So she has every piece of documentation that transpired fifteen years ago with the Veteran’s Administration. She sent them her marriage certificate to my step-father and his death certificate.

Then, they put her on the wrong insurance.

And now they are threatening an 87 year-old widow, who raised her family of six children without a father, who never even made it to 30 years old.

After talking to seven different people at seven different government administrative places which most people never even heard of, we refiled all the documentation from 15 years ago.

Now we wait.

I know from the last 25 years of caregiving and jumping through administrative hoops that this story will not have an easy ending. There’s going to be reams of paperwork. There will likely be boatloads of nastiness. There may be a lawsuit. But in my best, Scarlett O’Hara voice: “As God is my witness….my mother will never pay one dime to fix this problem.”

It helps that I’m a lawyer.

I know you don’t think there could possibly be a laugh in here in any way. But as I was looking at some of the documents from her insurance company, I saw this:

Fun things to do while fighting with Insurance
Fun things to do while fighting with Insurance

Really?

Hmmmm…..

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©2016 Cathy Sikorski

Play Your Cards Right…….

Old people, sick people and those who take care of them are often faced with seemingly insurmountable tasks during the day. What may appear simple or an easy fix to others can be too overwhelming when dealing with chronic illness or infirmity.

My friend, Terri and I have been the go-to caregivers for our friend, Lisa for the past six years, since Lisa had a traumatic brain injury from a  fall down a flight of stairs. Lisa has had a miraculous recovery. But there will always be issues to handle to make her life easier. So Terri and I take care of her financial matters, and many of the medical paper work issues that haunt the chronically ill.

Very recently Terri was diagnosed with cancer. This woman is one of the bravest, most self-sacrificing people I know. And she is treating this journey like it’s just another dilemma to contend with on a day-to-day basis. There is no drama.

In addition to having her own bills, medical appointments and now the same run around and frustrations that invariably seem to accompany ‘getting healthy’, Terri has been responsible to write the checks for Lisa’s rent.

This is what happened:

Lisa: “Hey Terri, I just got a call from the landlord. They want the checks written out to a different party since they have new management.”

Terri: “Let me call them.”

Terri to Unsuspecting Rental Agent: ” Hello, this is Terri, I write the checks for Lisa’s rent.”

Unsuspecting Rental Agent: “Yes, hi Terri.  You need to write us a new check and bring it here today. Otherwise, you will be late with the rent and there is an exhorbitant and ridiculous  late fee that will seem worse punishment than the fires of hell.” (okay she just said “late fee” but we all know that she wanted to say the rest of that).

Terri: “You have my permission to change the name on the check. Just change it as you need it. ”

Unsuspecting Rental Agent: ” Oh, no we can’t do that. ”

Terri: “Yes you can and you will and I’m going to tell you why.  I have cancer. I am in the midst of chemotherapy and I cannot and will not drive to your offices to bring you another check. And there will be no late fee. That’s why you’re going to do this for me.”

Unsuspecting Rental Agent:  Long silent pause

Unsuspecting Rental Agent: “okay.”

Terri then called me laughing hysterically. Not because she didn’t believe what she said but because she was so proud of herself:

Terri: “I pulled the cancer card!!!”

Now that’s the way to deal with cancer….and unsuspecting rental assholes….agents, I mean agents.

“You Just have to Laugh…”

©2016 Cathy Sikorski

A Christmas Story……….

 

On Sat, Dec 19, 2015 at 4:30 PM ( MY NEPHEW Wrote)

Dearest Aunt,

Could you find it in your heart to take a few minutes out of your busy day and send me the mailing address of the ( my brother and his son)? It would be most helpful of you and I would owe you my gratitude.

Yours,
Mr. J Doodles ( A NAME WE ALL CALLED HIM WHEN HE WAS A TODDLER)

 

On Dec 19, 2015, at 9:48 PM, Cathy Sikorski <cathy.sikorski@gmail.com> wrote:

Dear Mr. J Doodles,

Here is the requested information: (Info redacted to protect those unsuspecting relatives)

I will be sure and keep the ‘chit’ you owe me for this great burden and use it in the future when I find it  most necessary!

By the way, love our thermometer, except it’s broken . I debated telling you. I don’t want you to go to any additional expense but thought you’d want to know. Hope you all have a wonderful Merry Merry Christmas. We will try and call  you on Christmas day before we go to your other aunt’s for dinner. Love you all! So excited that you’re coming to  thewedding!!! Love A. Cathy

Cathleen S. Sikorski, Esq.

My Darling Aunt,

I am so sorry to hear about the damage incurred by the United States Postal Service. I was quite concerned about the thermometer making the arduous northern trek unmolested, as it is such a fragile thing. Thank you for telling me about this calamity and rest assured this wrong shall be righted.

Thank you for the addresses. It makes physical correspondence with the New Jersey relatives much more convenient. You have made the impossible, possible. You can add that to your long resume of assisting others with their most dire needs. And as for the ‘chit’, you deserve it, as I am sure you have a huge pile of chit from your years of caring for those who need it. Every time I see your face I think of all of the great things that you have done for me and my family and all of the chits that face has garnered. So in my eyes, you are always chit-faced.

Thank you again, and may your holidays be filled with friends, health, and good cheer,

– Mr. J Doodles

Wormed out of my Apple

See….it’s genetic..

“You Just Have to Laugh…..”

©2015 Cathy Sikorski