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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Blogger ate my post tonight. The short of it is that Linda fell and cut her head tonight, but it wasn't too bad. We'll just have to ice it and watch to make sure she doesn't show any serious symptoms.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Well today felt like Friday.

Like everyone, I'm swamped with work, including insurance. I talked to Linda's new case worker today while Linda did therapy. Somehow, the case worker thing doesn't seem to work as well as it did a few months ago. She referred me to the insurance company. They referred me back to the case worker.

I exaggerate by omission slightly there. I called about 3 different claims. One claim they both said was probably nothing, and I likely wouldn't even see a ($1400) bill about it. One claim the case worker will probably be able to just straighten out ($100) and that is what the insurance told me. The last one, I'll have to appeal in writing ($475), but I'm pretty optimistic about it, and the case worker gave me no reason to despair about it yet.

I also called doctors. Linda should go to the dentist--about her least favorite thing in the world and more complicated now than ever. When her cardiologist from Boone hospital learned that she didn't die, he said she should schedule a heart follow-up. It doesn't sound like we'll be able to get an appointment this year (it is basically December already). That's too bad, I've spent my money for the year long ago.

Well, at least there will be an end to the grading soon. That will be nice.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Home for the holiday

We hadn't really planned to travel for Thanksgiving; at least I hadn't. Some time last week, Linda suggested going to see her folks. It's about the same distance as my sister's house, and we had done fine with that.

It does mark the first time that we have stayed overnight somewhere without the handicap support that we have at home. No grab bars in the shower, next to the toilet, etc. At least the house is all on one floor. Linda hadn't really thought of it. I mentioned it to her a day or two before we left, and she had a moment of thought but decided things would be fine.

She did well. The trickiest thing was the shower. She can get by adequately without her shower bench now, but our shower still has at least one solid place to hold on to. The shower at her parents doesn't have anything like that (there are handles on the sliding door, but they ... slide). She didn't fall, but I'm glad we're not there every day.

She did a pretty good job of keeping up her energy. After the accessibility stuff, that's the most challenging part of visiting. I did pretty well too. It was a bit more tiring for me than usual, because in the past we divided the driving. Ellie, at least, attached herself to her grandparents so there was some respite from dealing with her.

Wet manuscript

Last night Ellie spilled water on the short story that Linda is writing. Unfortunately it was still in her laptop computer. Right now, the Esc, G, H, and Up keys don't work, and I think one of the Alt keys too. That was pretty frustrating to Linda who was really looking forward to working on it. She went to bed crying (mostly from being too tired).

It still isn't working this morning, so I copied her file to my computer (without using any broken keys) and told her to work there. This afternoon, I removed all of the keycaps and propped her laptop upside down behind the dehumidifier. I figure that is the driest place in the house. Usually water won't hurt a keyboard permanently, but you do have to get it dry.

If you are curious about what she is writing, she took a break from her book (although there is a think printout of it laying next to the couch). She is writing Zorro stories at the moment. It's just junk fiction. She writes it for fun. You can find some (old) examples at http://vh224401.truman.edu/~lbindner/zorro/. I haven't converted all of her stories for the web yet, just these few. I think she'll have around 8 stories when I get them all up.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Blood is (usually) thicker than water

Today was a big day of errands. I helped with a Linux install this morning (yea, free software). After lunch, I had to go to the store and get lightbulbs and a few other odds and ends. Afterwords, I suggested that we stop at the doctor's office and get Linda's blood tested.

The blood test is a simple thing. They prick her finger, place a few drops on a slide, and a little device measures how long it takes to clot. There is a little LCD screen where it gives you the results as a number. Linda is supposed to keep her number between 2 and 3. Lower numbers are thicker, so, to prevent unhealthy clots, she wants her results to be above 2. However, higher numbers can be bad, because you might start bleeding internally. That's how warfarin (the drug) works when they put it in rat poison.

Linda has been above 3 a few times. Sometimes, just a bit over 3. We didn't make any medication changes, we just ate a few more green things like broccoli or spinach. Vitamin K is an essential nutrient for clotting (warfarin works be depleting your body of it), and these foods have it. She almost never gets anywhere near 4.

Notice how I'm not telling you what her number was today?

A few weeks ago, her number was something like 5.2, much higher than it had ever been before. We skipped a dose of medication to bring it down, ate some green stuff, and checked it soon after. Everything was fine, back between 2 and 3.

Today, Linda set a new personal record, 6.1. We're skipping a dose tonight, and the doctor had me fill a less potent prescription (it comes in lots of different strenths, all color coded) to start tomorrow.

In much less drammatic news, I set a new personal record, too. The scale had me at 148 [correction: 248] pounds, the most ever.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Why stop with a trim?

Ellie didn't seem to think her hair was short enough because tonight she took the scissors to it again. We had a little talk after that and I put her scissors up high. She really has a lot less curls now. Oh well. They'll grow back.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

She of the beautiful curls

I made Ellie lay down and take a nap this afternoon. She was tired from playing with friends this morning. After about "the right amount" of time, I started to hear shouts from her bedroom, "Dad! Dad!"

When I went to get her, I thought she looked sort of different. Before I could puzzle it out, she said, "Isn't my hair beautiful? I cut it with my scissors." And just this morning, Linda and I were saying that we should have her portrait taken.

It was so funny that I couldn't even be upset. I just smiled and said, "Let's go show Mom your hair." For about 10 minutes, Linda kept breaking out in the giggles. I thought today should be remembered, so I grabbed my digital camera to record the moment. Ellie was really good about posing each side so I could really get it on film. One side toward the back looks sort of like a cat after it's had surgery.

"See! It's not in my eyes any more!"

Minor miracle

The insurance paid for Linda's September therapy on the first try. No fuss, no foot dragging. I don't know what to think. It makes me suspicious. I didn't even have time to get a bill from the hospital. In fact, except for a $100 penalty (seemingly spurious for failing to pre-auth something) they have squared up all of her bills (with the hospital) to date.

It makes me feel a bit more at ease. Even when you know a bill isn't your responsibility, there's a kind of stress from getting repeated demands for thousands of dollars.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Sorting out the medical stuff

I was just saying to one of the therapists that I hadn't had to deal with any insurance stuff since August. This morning I called back the hospital and told them that I was appealing with the insurance a bill they were hoping to collect on. I told them that I intended to wait until I was sure the insurance wouldn't pay before I sent money.

They offered my 25% off if I pay by December 15th, sort of a Christmas sale I guess. I'm not sure that little offer will accomplish what they hoped. I now know what kind of a discount to ask for in the future if this should end up costing me. They can obviously afford to accord me at least 25%. I know what I intend to say if they tell me it was a limited time offer, "Oh, well then, I'll just wait until the next time you offer 25% off all of your outstanding accounts. You can call me next Christmas."

Interestingly, when I mentioned that the bill didn't show my insurance discounts, they told me they had no paperwork from the insurance company showing a discount. I promised to bring them a copy of my EOB (office talk for "explanation of benefits" that page you get from the insurance company for every little thing there is a claim on). That's like 20% off right away.

In other news, I planned to call the insurance about Linda's remaining medical equipment, a commode and a walker. I've been researching a bit about the circumstances for when that kind of equipment would be covered (or not). It looks like we're OK. I was going to call the case worker today and get them working on it, but we were out all day and I didn't get the chance. I guess tomorrow. I had really enjoyed not talking to the insurance people. I won't actually talk to the insurance people, of course. That's why they assigned me an "independent" case worker in the first place.

That long trip to Columbia

There was a stroke survivor meeting today in Columbia. We probably should have skipped it so I could work, but the day care people were sick and it was better for them if I kept Ellie. That's no recipe for getting work done. And Ellie had asked very earnestly a few weeks ago to "go to the hospital and see my friends." So we went. Naturally, everyone was impressed by Linda's progress, especially her speaking.

I brought pictures. It was fun to go through them. "This must have been early, you still had the patch," and "You couldn't move your arms yet here, could you?" Or, "That's as far as you could stick your tongue out, let's see what you can do now (much better, wow)". I brought extra copies and encouraged people to take any that they liked. I can always have more printed.

Ellie was good, although she always adds a bit of chaos to the visits. Fred asked Linda how her relationship with Ellie was going. She told him it was improving. Later she told me she was really impressed that he asked that, it was more sensitive than you might expect from most guys.

I did my duty and checked out the gym computer. It was still going strong. Hurray for free software. I suppose someday, a bit of thought should be given to updating it, but it is such a junker that the task sounds not fun--I haven't volunteered yet.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The first collector comes calling

I got my first call from a collection agency today. They were quite polite. It turns out that the medical equipment people have been repeatedly mailing my bills into oblivion (I figured this out later, when I talked to them). When the insurance finally paid for her wheelchair and said the rest was non-covered they turned our account over.

The lady on the phone told me that her company was hired to collect on such-and-such dollar amount and asked what I intended to do about it. I told her that I would write a check for the portion of the amount that was unambiguously my responsibility, but that I still believed the rest to be the domain of the insurance company.

This is a bit inconvenient now. The collector is legally barred from working with the insurance company. The medical provider doesn't feel terribly compelled, since they've turned the account over to a collector. So I suppose that means I'll be writing a letter to the insurance people pointing out their error.

We've already had a sample of the insurance company's honesty, and the whole thing makes me feel tired. Still, evil people shouldn't prosper, so I'll keep after them. I've done a bit of checking about what things are usually covered (by Medicaid for example). That's very helpful because the definition of "medical necessity" effectively means what is usual and customary. I'm pretty sure they don't have good grounds for the refusal.

The medical equipment people (the collection agency gave me their number) were pretty nice, after I waited on hold FOR EVER. I must have 12 minutes of hold music on my tape recorder. I had finally given up and pressed '1' to leave a message when this woman answered. That's how I learned that they had totally the wrong address for us--not our current or old address or even a simple typo of either.

They seem to have terrible records. They had no copies of the letters they received from the insurance company, only some notes recorded in my (electronic?) file about what had been communicated between them and the insurance. Nothing that they could give me to help figure out what kind of mess is going on. I have to say, next to the hospital, they seem to be the least organized people I have worked with.

I'm not impressed. They did have a correct phone number on record for us, and I have had a working answering machine during the process. They could have left even one message and this would be a little less of a pain.

Little lost kitty

On the way to therapy today, I noticed a very still kitty next to the road by our neighbor's mailbox. It looked an awful lot like Ezri. So after we got home, Ellie and I went out to investigate. Up close, it looked even more like Ezri. A very stiff and cold Ezri.

Linda is a little sad. Ellie is pretty sad. She would like to have her Ezri back. Don, well, you know how he is with cats. I'm sorry that my girls are sad. Poor Ellie. She really does look down.

Sick kid

Ellie isn't feeling well today. It seems like an ear infection may have been coming on for the last couple of days. I stayed home with her. She seems better now, but when her ibuprofen wears off, she'll probably feel worse again. At the moment she is quietly watching movies.

Taking stock

Lately it seems that Linda and I have been measuring our progress, noting how much easier some things are now than they had been. For several days I had been intending to summarize some of the progress she has made since coming home.

Just as a reminder, the criterion that I set for coming home was that we could go through the day without me needing to lift Linda to do transfers. I'd been hurt several times when we were at Rusk, even when I was careful to do all of her transfers carefully. I didn't want to get hurt at home where I didn't have help. Looking back, I realize we were just barely ready to come home. I suppose you could say that the therapists did their job right--they got us home exactly when we could cope with it.

It was very important that Linda could do the transfers she needed. She could get from the wheelchair to bed or a chair. She could walk enough to get in and out of the bathroom with her walker (where the wheelchair could not go). And she could go up and down two steps to get in and out of the house. For several of these, she needed me to spot her for falls, but she could do them on her own.

When we went places, that meant that she brought her wheelchair to the back door (where we kept her walker). She used the walker down the steps and I brought the wheelchair down to her. She transferred to the car and I stowed the chair the trunk. We parked where there were ramps so we didn't have to bump the wheelchair over curbs more than necessary.

My day started with her in the morning, because I helped her with her bath. It ended at night when I would stretch her legs and put splints on her hands and feet (to maintain her flexibility). It was exhausting for me because I had to get up before her and go to bed after her every day.

Over time, the wheelchair was inconvenient and her walking improved so that she could use the walker around the house. Then as we were packing to move, there wasn't even room for the walker in places and Linda started to use just two canes more and more. Now, I don't know how she managed that without falling (more than she did). She wasn't really ready to walk with so little assistance. She just did it because there just wasn't room for her equipment.

That really showed when we moved to the new house. She had many falls right after we moved, and I persuaded her to use her walker more.

At the new house, she started picking up more of the chores around the house, although even now these require her wheelchair. She now often puts dishes away after the dishwasher has run, or does some laundry (including folding). I still put away a lot of the clothes because it means reaching up to shelves or going into Ellie's room which is hard to navigate.

When we first came home, Linda could not be alone. After a while, I could go for short errands, and we would arrange things before I left so she would not be required to walk (and risk a fall) or even do too many transfers (she often fell then too). Now she can be self-sufficient for hours at a time. She has returned to using her two canes for much of her walking around the house, although some tasks require the stability of her walker or wheelchair still for safety.

We almost never need the wheelchair out, although some of that is avoidance of the hardest tasks. Linda does not often go to the grocery store, for example. She would still need her wheelchair to go that kind of distance. And a few times we really should have had it with us when we didn't (like when we went to the homecoming parade). But that is becoming less and less.

I still stretch her legs at night, but the only splint that she wears now is a small one on her left finger. In a fit of anger she threw it on the floor a few days ago, but last night she asked me to retrieve it because her finger was getting tight at night, so she still needs it. She almost always gets up to shower before me in the morning on her own, and is generally able to shower standing. For convenience, I usually lay her clothes out for her in the bathroom. Walking barefoot is still a challenge, so she likes to get dressed and have her shoes on right away.

She gets her own lunch when I am at work.

People actually understand her speech pretty well now. It is substantially better than when we came home, and even much better than when fall semester started, for all that the insurance company told us months before that Linda was "cured" or more precisely that her therapy was no longer necessary.

Lucky is a matter of perspective

Linda has come a long way. There's no question about that. She's been lucky and unlucky. She could have died. She could have remained locked in, wishing she died. But there could have been any number of ways it could have been better. There's nothing particularly lucky about having a stroke, even one where the recovery has been very good.

Just consider the speech thing. Her friends talk to her and think nothing of her speech impediment. It doesn't matter to them, it's just part of the stroke. But it has to make a bad impression on strangers. If you didn't know about Linda personally, wouldn't you first expect she was retarded or something? I think so, even if you soon realized your error.

So there are luck and unlucky parts of the whole thing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

An appointment with the reaper

My house has a mouse in it. I am the only person I know with a verified allergy to cats that has two indoor cats. And a mouse.

My cats are officially on a diet. They can forage until he's caught.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Aren't you glad you read the paper

I don't know what made me decide to pick up the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today. You just find articles when you read newspapers. Sometimes it's better not to be informed.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Ellie's first movie

I took Ellie to her first theater movie. We went to The Incredibles which isn't exactly a kid movie, but I thought she would like it. She did. Near the end she got a bit antsy, but soon she was drawn back into the movie. She had a lot of fun.

Afterward, we went out to eat. Actually, I ate and she munched on theater popcorn. She ate really well earlier in the day, so I wasn't surprised that she didn't want much tonight. At the restaurant, she became instant friends with one of the waitresses (who gave me her number when we left). I told Linda that kids really are "babe magnets" and that a waitress hit on me tonight. She was astonished when I showed her a name and phone number scribbled on a small piece of paper until I admitted that the girl was actually just interested in babysitting.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Movie night

There don't seem to be movies that Ellie is afraid of. Linda wanted to watch Pirates of the Caribbean about a week ago. We decided to give it a try and turn it off if it was too much for Ellie. I was just sure that animated skeletons would be over the top. Now she asks every single day if she can watch the "pirate movie."

Because I'm a bad parent, I figured I could go even scarier with the kid (as long as she doesn't start having nightmares). So we started the Fellowship of the Ring. I figure that a girl who can handle skeletons has a pretty good shot at handling orcs.

Not much scares her, and the stuff that does is not what you would expect. A huge monster with tentacles and lots of teeth is attacking the main characters, everyone is screaming and hacking at it with swords; Ellie isn't phased. A mass of misshapen semi-humans are attacking from all directions; no problem. A couple of characters are sitting on a rock having a conversation; that somehow is very scary.

In any event, she seemed to enjoy it, so we watched Return of the King tonight. Afterward, we ran around the house whispering ominously, "precious..." We talked about hot lava, which Ellie is very interested in, and we pretended to drop the ring in the fire.

Smells like rehab

We watched The Lord of the Rings when we were at Rusk, so watching again tonight brought back vivid memories for Linda. She said, "I can smell the hospital." I didn't remember that, but I remarked that I could still feel the bed. It was a surprisingly hard bed. We would set the back up and bring the video player over on a hospital table to watch movies. It wasn't very big, but it was enough to escape for a few hours. It's kind of a nice memory.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

In need of a holiday

Like my students, and like the famous Bilbo, "I need a holiday." It wasn't until recently, that I realized I've been working for a long, long time. Luckily, Linda is getting stronger and more self-sufficient all of the time, so Thanksgiving and eventually Christmas will probably be like holidays.

What I really want is enough time to get bored from nothing to do. Then I want a really nice computer project to work on. I know I'm such a geek, but programming is what I do for fun.

Caller number 1

Someone keeps calling me. It is clear that they want to talk to me, but they never leave a message. I play my answering machine, and it's always, "Mr. Bindner. .... Mr. Bindner .... Mr. Bindner ...." Unfortunately it always seems to happen when I am not around. Linda pretty much never answers the phone, so my mystery caller is having some rotten luck. They probably think I am avoiding them.

I wonder about it though. If they were honest and really wanted to get a hold of me, you would think they would leave a message. Telemarketers don't even bother talking to answering machines, and the political parties just leave recorded messages. The woman sounds too old for me, so I doubt she's looking for a date.

My most far-out theory: She's a proprietary-software terrorist. There's a bomb in my house, and she is waiting for me to pick up the phone in person (verify that I'm there) before she detonates. Ok, so probably not. If it doesn't resolve itself, maybe I'll post a recording. Since everyone knows everyone, someone will probably know who she is.

In any event, it is very suspicious. It makes me wonder whether I want to talk to her.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Moonlight stroll

On Sunday night, I had an email that said there would be good northern lights in the early evening. "If you are in the midwest or the east, go outside now." So I did, and there were lights. Linda wanted to see them too, so I took her out. She commented that it was the first time she had been outside after dark. Walking in the dark is pretty challenging, but we did fine.

Linda's speech therapy continues to go well. Yesterday she did some perfect Bs. Not just really good Bs, some were perfect. They were crisp and clear, even for a normal speaker.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Dinner conversation

"Did you know that I walked all the way from your computer to the bedroom today without my canes?"

Thursday, November 04, 2004

More small improvements

Linda had a bit of a breakthrough with her speech therapist yesterday. They were discussing how to get better "B" sounds. Feeling the muscles involved in getting the correct percussiveness is very subtle, but Linda had very good success yesterday. She describes it as "getting the trick." She can do it very well when she concentrates (and isn't too tired).

Now she just has to do it enough to make it habit so her "B" sounds good even when she isn't concentrating on it.

She took a shower standing up today for the first time. One more little increment towards normalcy.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

A black day

I don't know if I just forgot to take my anti-depressant, or if I had too much hope that America might find its way again. Boy do I feel embarrassed for the ole U S of A today. I'm glad I don't have television. If I had to look at W's face for the next 4 years, I would cancel my cable anyway. I don't know how you can so dislike a person you have never met. Well, the day is over. It seems like evil got the upper hand, but I guess I'll have to wait things out and be proven wrong.

Mathematical view of a ballot

Mathematicians sometimes study practical things like elections. Even mathematicians who don't study elections can't help but be problem solvers. I was pondering my punch-card ballot today.

Say you were in the position of voting a nearly straight ticket. In Missouri, that is easy. You punch a hole for your straight ticket vote, but you can go on to punch holes for selected candidates where you wish to deviate. Of course, you can skip the whole straight ticket thing and just vote for everyone individually.

If you didn't trust your ballot to be handled honestly, should you vote individually or should you use the straight ticket method and vote for select individuals? If you think this is a silly question, perhaps you should review our noble American history of elections.

Just as a simple modern example. Did you know that the maker of shiny new Bank Midwest ATM machines, is also a maker of no-paper-trail voting equipment? Did you know that the head of this company is reported to have said that he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes" for George W. Bush? I don't know about you, but I trust my punch card a lot more than I would a touch-screen that comes with that kind of warranty.

If we have touch-screen voting in our next election, I think I'll be voting by absentee.

So. Have you figured out how you should punch your punch card? The answer is: you should vote individually. It minimizes the damage that a dishonest person can do by tampering with your ballot. If you voted straight Democrat, including for president, a dishonest person with access to your ballot could punch the Republican candidate for president. This would effectively deduct one vote from your candidate of choice and deliver it to the opponent. If you voted individually, the most a dishonest person could do is invalidate your ballot by turning it into an overvote (punching extra holes).

If every voter avoided straight ticket voting, the dishonest person would have to tamper with twice as many ballots to achieve the same effect, requiring access to twice as many ballots and increasing the risk of being caught.