The mashed potatoes of medication

My friend Ken tells a story about stopping into a mediocre diner while traveling. When the waitress brought his order, she told him, “The potatoes aren’t very good today, so I gave you extra.”

“Just what I wanted,” he recounts. “Bad food and more of it.”

I couldn’t help thinking of this as I replayed my visit to my doctor, where we danced a salsa for my insurance company’s amusement.

Four weeks earlier, I had been given samples by the same doctor. Within a week, after adjusting to unpleasant side effects, I felt good. Pretty soon I was feeling great, better than I had in … I didn’t even know when.

When I exhausted the samples and went to pick up my prescription, though, the evaluators employed by my health insurance company stepped in.

You don’t have prior authorization, the pharmacist told me. Hogwash, I said. I knew about this requirement and had given the phone number to my doctor’s assistant.

Bwahaha. Silly me for thinking a simple phone call from my doctor’s office would mean anything. No, I was asking for a Tier 3 medication, at the top of the price chart and with no generic. My insurance company would pay for it … after I had tried two other medications and failed to get any results with them.

Are you freakin’ kidding me?

Understand, I long have been of the mind that insurance companies don’t tell you the kind of care you’re allowed to have; they tell you what they’re willing to PAY for. You can have anything you want. You just might not be able to get someone else to pony up for it.

My rational response was biting me in the ass.

Unfortunately, said drug was a whopping $186 a month. Still, I was toying with the notion. In the meantime, my doctor thought there was something else I could try, and I grudgingly agreed to jump through the hoops. By now I had gone four days with no medicine and not only felt the effects of not having it, but was going through the reverse on side effects and getting the stomach pain and insomnia back.

Drug #2 was … OK. I wasn’t miserable. I didn’t have side effects. But I didn’t feel like tackling the whole world, either, like I was starting to feel on drug #1.

I duly reported this to my doctor, thinking he would switch me because, to my way of thinking, I was telling him this was ineffective. His response? “Take twice as much.”

Bad food and more of it?

“Two capsules might not be enough,” he said. “Call me next week. Maybe you need three.”

So, day two of double dosing. I WANT to want to kick the world’s ass … I just need some help to get there.

Would token sympathy be too much to ask?

    My shirt smells minty.
    I’m not crazy about this, but I don’t want to drive home to change. Gas prices, you know.
    I stopped at the gas station by my office for a coffee and a cheese pastry. In putting on the lid, though, I spilled the coffee — onto my shirt, making a mess and burning my belly. I grabbed napkins but saw my shirt was worse than that, so I wiped the cup and headed into the bathroom.
    Cold water for the burn would have been nice. The automatic faucets only offered warm water. But there was a high-powered dryer, so I rinsed and dried and called it good.
    When I went back out, the coffee was gone. I asked the woman cleaning the coffee area about it, figuring it might have been tossed. Yes, she said; they thought it had been abandoned.
    Reasonable enough, I thought. “I spilled the coffee and burned myself, and I had to take care of that,” I said.
    Her reply? “Well, you might want to get another one. Other people were trying to get in here and it was in the way.”
    Well, if I’d just made a mess, I’d have cleaned it up myself. If I hadn’t had a burn to deal with, I’d have set the coffee aside, but I was in a small hurry. And I’ve told her what happened, and don’t get even a token “I’m sorry that happened to you.”
    So, I might want to get another coffee? No, I might want to get out of your store as quickly as possible.
    The cashier tells me on the way out to have a good day. “Not likely,” I say, unsatisfied with the words even as I speak them. I’d been having a great day up until I left my car, and the rest of it probably would be fine. What I meant was, “You people are so callous I’m never setting foot in here again.”
    I probably won’t go back there. But am I expecting too much?

Can the good one, please

I am done letting the phrase “Have a good one” slide by without comment.

Most people don’t mean any harm by it, I know, which is why I’ve kept quiet. But I must have heard it one too many times, and maybe what grates me is I don’t know why.

Have a good what? A good day? Then why not say that? “One” isn’t any shorter.

Maybe asking people “A good one what?” is too critical. Maybe just “I’m sorry?” as if I didn’t hear, in the hope they’ll think about what they say? Unlikely. The same parroted phrase likely will just pop out again.

Maybe if I brightly say “Have a good two!” some wheels will spin. Or not.

I didn’t think I’d be a curmudgeon at 44. Maybe the best thing to do is count myself fortunate this is what’s troubling me.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Merry Christmas

I don’t even remember what store I was in the other day when the clerk told me “Merry Christmas,” but it made me smile.

It also made me realize how rarely I hear it in casual conversation anymore. People might say “Happy holidays” or some variant. I listen to WSGW right now and hear the performer promos, and one – I think John Mayer, whose work I dislike anyway – says, “have a happy non-denominational holiday.” And I wonder, what is the point of that? In lumping together all the holidays, it makes them all meaningless.

I like the approach of a doctor I saw years ago, only once. When she first asked, “Do you celebrate Christmas?” I thought she was asking about my preparations, but I quickly realized she was checking to see what holiday I might mark. It was gentle, and when I said yes we talked about trees or something similar. If I’d said no, I’m sure she would have had some gracious followup.

I understand people not whipping “Merry Christmas” about as much because we’re better about realizing not everyone celebrates it. Still, I miss hearing it, and one of the treats of marking the season at church is its unabashed celebration.

My children have been adamant about making sure we get certain things done, some of which we let slide some years. Cutout cookies are on the list. I personally want lights outside.

Those are the secular trappings. One of the most important family traditions, though, is lighting the Advent wreath each week and taking a few moments to say what each of us is thankful for. Actually, it’s such a nice thing we should figure out how to carry it through the rest of the year.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

If you go out in the woods today

I was in the downtown Midland post office today and needed only one thing. The guy working the counter expressed mock dismay he wouldn’t be able to sell me anything else, so I had to point out that I missed being asked to buy bears.

If you frequented this post office up until a certain gentleman’s retirement, you know what I mean. He looked kind of like Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and rarely did I ever do business with him without being offered the chance to buy one of the Postal Service’s variety of small stuffed bears. When I went back to the office one day and mentioned that a local post office worker was retiring, the response was, “the bear guy?”

Not today. The younger guy said they did have some animals marked down, and pointed to a shaggy cow.

“That’s not a bear,” I protested.

“It’s an animal,” he replied.

“I wouldn’t mind meeting a COW in the woods,” I told him, and he laughed.

Do cows have picnics?

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Look at me when you’re talking to me

I am not much of a complainer in stores. I don’t throw fits, even when I think I’ve been wronged. But I do expect a certain standard of service, and it has been eroding for several years.

Mind you, when it’s just horrid – like when the waiter at a downtown restaurant stood behind me and spoke loudly over my head to a customer at the next table, then corrected me when I ordered chocolate mousse cake (“You mean the chocolate MOUSE cake?”) – I make sure someone who can fix things knows.

But little offenses, I don’t know what to do about.

I live by a Jack’s, so I frequent it, um, frequently. And usually the service there is pretty good.

But yesterday I found yet again, someone telling me, “Thanks, have a great day” … and looking 7 feet to my right.

This has happened in other stores, too, and I don’t get it. Sure, it’s good to keep an eye on the door and know who’s coming in. But why, why when you have to hand me a receipt anyway is it so hard to look at me while you tell me goodbye? I am tempted to stand there long enough to recapture attention, but I don’t think it would get my point across.

I know some of these jobs are tedious. Believe me, I had plenty of them.

But I don’t remember ever looking away while I was talking to a customer.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

The joy of heat, part II

For some reason standing at the stove, seasoning chicken for a later salad, prompted me to think of the nearby calendar and another note I needed to add to it.

So now on the Thursday before Memorial Day – because I work a double shift on Friday and doubt many errands will get done – is the notation, “buy box fans.” This morning, as the furnace generated heat but couldn’t blow it around the house, we lamented having two or three box fans, all with broken blades or other dysfunctions that made them unhelpful. I knew the nearby Walgreens wasn’t stocking box fans recently, and doubted the hardware store would be of any help, either. Even if I wanted to schlep across town to Home Depot – which I didn’t – I likely wouldn’t have been successful. (I have grown smart enough that I would have telephoned first, though.)

In a shortly later flash of brilliance, it occurred to me the neighbors might have a working fan, and I sent a child to check it out. They replied as I sometimes would have: Sure we do, and you’re welcome to it, just as soon as we find it. Which is how my child came home empty-handed and my neighbor appeared 10 minutes later, lugging two fans and sympathy for our heatless situation.

A FOOTNOTE to earlier this week: I did get a battery from AutoZone, and they even put it in for me (yay!). The person at the counter offered without even asking, then she asked the guy at the other end to do it for her.

It got funny. He refused. Another woman offered to check out my car, said she could handle it and rolled the cart out to do so. She explained she really didn’t want to ask the guy to do it, because he had done four already that day, and it was the coldest day this week.

Before she agreed, though, the guy looked at the woman who professed helplessness and asked, “Why do I employ you?” She had no answer.

Understand, I would have done it if I had to. At the price I was paying, though, including $10 to get rid of the old one, I was happy for the offer. I had the same question, though: If you can’t change a battery, how did you get a job at an auto parts store?

She must have been interviewed by the same people who hire for the sporting goods department at a certain very large department store. My advice: Get your hunting licenses at Ace Hardware.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

How you look at it

I was in Kmart yesterday and saw an employee putting together a lighted Christmas tree. I don’t like to see Christmas displays before Halloween, but I wasn’t going to say anything.

Another shopper called him on it, though. She said, “Please tell me you feel bad putting up Christmas stuff now.”

He shook his head and replied, “No, it means there’s 26 weeks until spring.”

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Can you do that?

    So I’m at 7-Eleven getting a Traverse City cherry vanilla cappuccino and assorted sport drinks, and decide to throw a dollar in the street on a lottery ticket. I only buy them about once a month so I never know which drawing is when, and just asked for an easy pick for tonight’s drawing.

    The clerk asks if I want the Mega Millions or the Classic Lotto 47, because the Mega Millions drawing was last night.

    Why would I ask to buy a ticket for last night’s drawing?

    An easy pick, anyway. I could see checking the numbers first, then asking for a ticket with THOSE numbers on it. But somehow, I don’t think the machine would have let her do that.

    This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

This is customer service?

    I got a reminder in the mail from a local dealer that my little car was due for its 115,000-mile checkup. The same dealer also loves its contracted service line, so I wasn’t surprised when I got a phone call noting I hadn’t followed up on the letter, and would I like to schedule an appointment?

    A brief back-and-forth ensued. I didn’t want an appointment during my kids’ spring break. The following week might work, because my work schedule is flexible, but I couldn’t pick a day until I found out how long the work would take, because the children leave school at 5 p.m. some days but 3 p.m. others.

    The person on the other end cheerily replied that she didn’t know, but we could set the appointment and someone from the service department would contact me a few days ahead and could answer any questions about cost and time.

    Well, I hadn’t even asked about cost. I know about what it costs to swap out fluids on my car, and I know that it’s getting up there in miles, so occasional expenses will crop up, like that nifty tie rod I got to buy last month.

    But the time thing was a deal breaker. I considered it a waste of time to schedule an appointment I might not be able to keep and said so, and told the caller I would just contact the dealership directly myself.

    I haven’t. If I do, I will tell them it is ridiculous to give their calling service only part of the information. They already know my car’s make, model, year and approximate mileage. They already know it needs a certain checkup. Why not just let the calling service know, for example, that if all goes according to plan it will take two hours and cost $150?

     I know there might be delays and I know all too well that surprises appear mid-inspection, but without even a guesstimate I’m not stepping foot in the door. If the point of making those calls is to get me back to their shop, they’re missing a very simple step, and at this point it’s costing them my business.

    This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.