Retirement: Who Knows?

I am 63, going on 64. I had thought I would retire at about 65.5. But who knows.

I received a email with the subject heading: Post-Employment Benefits Local Forum.

Just the phrasing scares me. What the hell are Post-Employment Benefits? Is that some attempt to change the definition of “retirement.” Because that’s what they will be talking about “retirement” benefits.

Apparently the UC Pension plan is in significant trouble; and I am of course concerned that these troubles may affect me significantly. That I may have to work longer than anticipated, and that even if I do, I may received reduced benefits, in terms of money and medical.

But something is afoot and it is hard to know what to think, or plan or feel.

This language appeared in the email:

The University’s long-term liability for retiree health benefits for current and future retirees is also projected to increase, from $13 billion today to nearly $26 billion by 2018. In other words, the liability is increasing at a rate of more than $1.5 billion per year. Governmental accounting regulations now require UC and other employers to include this liability in their financial statements. Such a significant liability could affect UC’s credit rating when borrowing money for campus buildings, hospitals and other projects.

If in fact the liability associated with the pension fund might inhibit
the University’s power to build buildings, support hospitals, as well
as unnamed other projects, whatever those might be, then they may do
something drastic. One does not have to look far to get some sense of
how businesses treat their employees these days, and more it more it
appears the University is a business.

Radiation Overdose and Nobody Looking

I am flummoxed.

How did 207 people, over an 18 month period, receive, at Cedar-Sinai hospital, a CT brain perfusion scan, at 8 times the correct dose of radiation?

Apparently, there is a readout, each time a scan is done, that indicates the level of radiation. Maybe, I thought, the information panel for the CT scan is really complicated, and maybe the information on the dose is hidden in a corner. That would be stupid, but still possible. But no; one person said, “It’s right there in front of your face.”

So how did the technicians miss it; and how did the doctors who read the scans miss the level of radiation dosage printed on each scan.

Expert opinion proves not very helpful. One such expert says, “It’s pretty mystifying to me.”

Well, you bet, it’s mystifying and even a bit terrifying.

I could understand once or twice perhaps….maybe…but this happened 207 times over an 18 month period.

During this time, patients called to tell their doctors that, after the scan, their hair fell out.

Finally, somebody put two and two together–the scan and the hair falling out–and the flaw in the machine was finally noted and fixed.

One person tried to find a silver lining to the whole thing, saying that the people who received this scan were mostly old and in bad shape anyway and would probably die of something else before they died of a brain tumor produced by the excess radiation, since these are generally slow growing. I find this odd and slightly offensive reasoning. I would, were I one of the persons scanned, take small comfort in knowing I would die of something else before I died of brain tumor resulting from gross incompetence.

Jeez!

Is this another case of dependence on the machine? I don’t know and don’t want to be flip. I think this episode is worthy of some serious sociological research, and some soul searching on the part of the medical profession. 

Symptoms?

I have just depressed myself looking for the symptoms of swine flu on the web. Amazingly some of the sites have not been updated since April. What good is that.

But I have a cold or I think it is a cold or perhaps I have swine flu. Part of me would like to believe I have swine flu because I think I will survive this and then I shouldn’t have to worry about it when it hits this fall. But probably I don’t have swine flu which means I just have a nasty cold that is making me feel paranoid about having the swine flu.

I should never have bought a thermometer. I keep checking my temperature.

So far I have not had a temperature, but I find that the while fever is a symptom of swine flu, one does not always get a fever with the swine flu. And another source listed as the top two symptoms: fever and sudden cough. The latter is what I had and still have: a sudden cough, though I must say it is no longer sudden, since I have had it a week. Now I would call it persistent. It’s a horrible sounding cough, deep in the chest.

I got this cough from Hawaii, I am pretty certain. I say this because it sounds exactly like the cough our neighbors had a week or two ago. They went to Hawaii and came back with a cough, and in their case, also fevers.

Fatigue comes with the swine flu. I have certainly had that in spades. One site even lists "depression" as one of the symptoms. I had that already–I mean even before I caught this cough….

What got me started on this swine flu scare was an article in the LA Times saying one might prepare for the more serious complications of the swine flu by getting the pneumonia vaccine (that protects against bacterial forms), and the last couple of times I have been in my medical person mentioned I should get the pneumonia vaccine because I had pneumonia recently and well–you know–I smoke. So Carol called our medical person to see if I could get a the pneumonia vaccine, and she said sure, but was upset to hear that I had not gotten my vaccine for shingles, which she approved my last visit.

I had completely forgotten the shingles.

God this getting old is complicated. My memory is going, so the shingles completely slipped my mind. Jonathan Swift had the shingles; maybe that’s why he was so irritable.

So now I have prescriptions for a shingles and a pneumonia shot. But I don’t think I should go get them while I still have this cough–whatever it is.

I mean what if I got these shots and what with my immune system weakened I got pneumonia and the shingles at the same time!

I would be fit to be tied.

Once Upon a Time

In a phone conversation, Sister-in-Law Teresa noted she had found online an article suggesting redheads are more sensitive to pain. I quote in part:

People with red hair are more sensitive to pain and consequently need more anesthetic during operations than other patients, according to new research.

"Red hair is the first visible human trait, or phenotype, that is linked to anesthetic requirement," says anesthesiologist Edwin Liem, who conducted the research at the Outcomes Research Institute of the University of Louisville, US.

And further:

In people with red hair, the cells that produce skin and hair pigment have a dysfunctional melanocortin 1 receptor. Liem says this dysfunction triggers the release of more of the hormone that stimulates these cells, but this hormone also stimulates a brain receptor related to pain sensitivity.

I didn’t know red hair was related to a "dysfunctional melanocortin 1 receptor." I don’t know what that means, but it doesn’t sound good. Red heads are known also to be susceptible to skin cancer. Although what skin has to do with hair or why the two should be related, I don’t. On the up side, red hair appears evolutionarily adaptive in that this dysfunctional receptor is related to a redheads’ ability to synthesize vitamin D with relatively low sunlight exposures. So as one site puts it redheads tend to appear in dark parts of the world, or the fringes of Western Europe.

I bring this up only because once upon a time I was a redhead. Now you wouldn’t know it but back in ’73 I looked like this:

redhair
 
 
Perhaps red is in the eye of the beholder. But don’t I really look "auburn." Redheads are the rarest of hair types, making them special in both positive and negative ways. Note the recent attacks on "gingers." But I am not a "ginger." No, I had lustrous, wavy auburn hair.

I have been proud of few things in my life, but I was proud of that damn hair. And now it’s all gone, though I still have that dysfunctional receptor.

Continue reading Once Upon a Time

White Tops: The Sit-Com

I suppose one of the problems with getting more white tops on TV is that who the hell would want to watch, for example, a sit-com featuring the daily affairs of white tops. Plus, there’s the general problem of making something funny out of daily affairs of white tops.

I suppose there might be something funny in losing one’s hair and developing arthritis in one’s joints or not being able to stand without one’s knees making cracking noises audible clear across the room. And of course one could work for humor I suppose all the various bowel and evacuation problems that go along with aging, like developing lactose intolerance or finding that one has to pee every other second. And oh yes, the absolutely hysterical issues surrounding the prostate, its enlargement and possible cancer treatments.

And the imagination runs rampant at the possibility for humor in all those doctors visits, with insane doctors, and false positives, and getting the wrong results, and various humiliating procedures, and diverse operations to extend the quality of life like knee and hip replacements.

And then of course the laugh-out-loud funny problems involved in paying for all those doctor visits while on a fixed budget in the middle of an inflationary cycle.

And what about that thigh slapping experience of one day having your driver’s license taken away because your macular degeneration has narrowed your vision to a dark tunnel.

What a crack up! I mean staggering around in the dark and falling down the stairs because of vertigo and lying there helplessly on the floor until somebody happens to find you.

Comedy I was once told was like the bouncing ball. In comedy, you bounce. You fall on that banana but you get up, brush yourself off and go on arrogantly believing that you are invulnerable. And, well, that is pretty funny–that necessarily denial of our fleshly being with our fleshly end keeps us ongoing.

But when one gets a white top the bounce starts to go.

Still a white top comedy might be possible in some niche market.

White Tops

Last quarter a student gave an oral report on something called "The L-Word." I had no idea what she was talking about since I don’t get Showtime. Turns out, in the student’s words, that it’s a TV show a lot like "Sex in the City" except with (L)esbians. I never watched "Sex in the City" either, though what the show was about seems implied in the title.

My student when she gave her oral report began to understand (that’s one reason I have them do oral reports) that most of us had no idea what "The L-Word" was since mostly it appeared we were not lesbians, so in her research paper, she provided background (most of which I did know) about how for years lesbians had not appeared on any TV shows, and she quoted in her paper an author who wrote about how most people probably don’t know how odd and bad it feels to watch hour after hour of TV and never see people like yourself represented. The media, TV especially, appears so powerful that if you don’t appear on it, you and people like yourself don’t exist.

So "The L-Word" in its frank and candid depiction of lesbian life, especially sexual life, was a pretty big deal, though my student admitted that as lesbians go the lesbians on the "L-Word" were not entirely representative being wonderfully beautiful and also very affluent. And as she noted in her paper, it felt sort of funny to understand that while lesbian life was more frankly depicted in the "L-Word" mostly only lesbians watched it, so while the media did seem to affirm the existence of very beautiful and affluent lesbians it was doing so mostly for lesbians and not the non-lesbian viewing audience.

But that’s how things go with the niche market. Things get a little solipsistic.

This has something to do with what Wallace means when he wrote that we try to see ourselves in TV characters and, as part of this ID-relation, them in ourselves. This is about narcissism, about wanting to find images or something "out-there," that embodies, gives form to, and affirms our existence.

Maybe it’s not really the same. I wouldn’t know since I am not a lesbian. But I think I have felt a little of that non-being lately, a little of that sense of not being able to locate myself in the public terrain or the world of the media (even in a niche market). I just don’t see that many white guys with thinning white hair on TV shows. Sure there are plenty of older guys in commercials but they are all having problems with heart attacks or the operation of their penises or having to pee all the time. I mean where are the TV shows with white topped older guys and women doing whatever older (and therefore unattractive) people do.

Honestly, I feel a little negated–as if I were drifting off into a sort of TV land irrelevance. Where in general are the white topped guys. I look around and I don’t see as many white topped guys as I would expect. Then it dawned on me. Do a lot of guys my age dye their hair? No doubt about it, you dye your hair and you do look younger….and one TV commercial says that will increase your confidence too and sense of self worth.

But that’s too late for me. If I tried to dye my hair now I would end up mostly dying my scalp. So I would have dyed hair and a sort of undercoat. That might look strange and not really a self-confidence booster.

Tinnitus Again

By virtue of my birthday, December 14, 1945, I am on the very cutting edge of the so-called baby boomers, and by virtue of that fact, I have been frequently just slightly ahead of the curve when it comes to fads. For example I was drinking Perrier (anybody remember that) well before Time magazine did a cover story on it. The same was true for the coffee craze and later high class ice cream. Also, sadly, I have been on the cutting edge of physical complaints. I had gingivitis long before Time ran a cover story on that. And now I find a lengthy article in the New Yorker on tinnitus–written clearly in partial response to boomers. The article reports that as of now 12% of men and 14% of women over the age of 65 have some form of ringing in the ear.

And when all those baby boomers hit 65 the number of people walking around with some noise in their ears will be enormous. A whole new industry may be developed around trying to figure out what it is and how to get rid of it.

First they really don’t know what it is? Well, they know that–it’s a noise in the ear. But wait. That’s the problem. They don’t know where it is. One person for example had his or her whole ear removed because of cancer and still had tinnitus in that ear even though the ear was gone. So you can’t say it’s noise in the ear. One has to say, it’s a noise. But that would fail to indicate that it’s tinnitus.

No longer will people be able to say dismissively, "Oh, it’s all in your head." Sure, one can say back, that may be the case but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

How the hell I am able to hear something in my ear that isn’t in my ear is a mystery to me. It’s there all right, though. In my left ear and not my right or any other place. Something neurologically is going on.

Thankfully my tinnitus is apparently very mild. One poor fellow has it so bad that his life has been disrupted. He hears it all the time at high volume. One day he went outside during a thunder storm and stood by a flag pole hoping lightening would strike and carry him off. That’s one of the more bizarre attempts at suicide I have heard of.

Also I appear to have stumbled on a cure. I don’t know why I thought of it, but I bought a really cheap white noise machine about the size of a pancake. It sits next to my bed and makes white noises, like the sound of surf or the sound of rain. Unfortunately, the soothing surf sounds are punctuated by the squeaks of sea gulls and the sound of rain sounds more like static on a television. I settled for the water fall sound, which doesn’t sound like a water fall but is nonetheless soothing.

I find that, if the tinnitus really starts to aggravate me, all I have to do is move my hearing from the tinnitus to the white noise and bingo the tinnitus goes away. How I switch my hearing like that, I don’t know. But then I don’t know how I move my eyeballs either.

But that is one of the "cures" now being promoted. White noise. Also they have developed hearing aides that pick up more background sounds, like the sound of a refrigerator, and for some that too works to "block" the tinnitus.

I don’t know why they feature nature sounds on those white noise machines. I think they should make an urban sounds white noise machine that includes, for example, the sound of a refrigerator. I also find the sound of the dishwasher mildly soothing as long as something is not banging about in it.

Me and A-rod

About three weeks ago, I lugged some groceries into the house and noticed, not long after, pain in both knees, though much worse in the left. I thought it wasn’t so bad, a little swelling maybe but not enough to deter me from my daily exercise. That was a mistake because right about in there I began to experience that old dull ache almost constantly. I could walk ok, albeit with a hobble, and I took to getting to school early to make sure I wouldn’t rush and inadvertently hurt myself. I trudged along on the far right, with everybody, even little people with short legs, leaving me in the dust.

The pain from that little humiliation was slight compared to the fact that the damn knees began to disturb my sleep. I couldn’t find a place–as I tossed this way and that–that it didn’t hurt, just enough to keep me from lapsing into my usual torporous sleep. So I was wide away and just had to wait for utter fatigue to carry me off–and that knowing that tomorrow as going to be an extra busy day. Or I would wake at three am and the leg aching and nothing I could do about it but pound more Advil, hoping I didn’t blow a hole in my stomach.

So finally Carol did it for me and got me an appointment with a knee doctor, though I had to wait a week to see a real knee doctor and not a PA.

I go in yesterday and walk up to the doctor desk and am told by the receptionist to truck over to X-ray. So I trudge over there and am taken to a little room and told to go into this little closet and take off my pants and put on my smock and lock my clothes and belongings in the closet and when I have done that go sit in the waiting area–which I do in my smock, with my white thin legs sticking out, and holding in one hand the key to the closet. Then they do the X-rays. First stand here, then stand there, then lie down, the roll over. And after that I re-clothe and go back to the reception area and wait for the doctor and about this time Carol shows up to keep me company.

Finally I get to tell the doctor guy what’s up and he just sits there and then points at the X-ray and says, "Your right knee there’s got bone on bone and early onset arthritis." This panics me because I am sure I am aging prematurely because of evil things I have done and ask, "Do you mean it’s early for a person like me to get arthritis." No, he just means it’s arthritis in the early stages of a progressive degeneration.

Great! And what are my options?

Not many actually. Evidence is now in that arthroscopic for this kind of thing frequently doesn’t work at all and may make things worse. He has seen that he says in his own practice (he is filling in for a doctor who hurt his foot). But he can give he a cortisone shot–which he sets about doing immediately. The needle looks really long and goes in a long way but only into the empty cavity behind the knee.

So now I am on steroids. I may get relief for up to a couple of months and then the knee may ache again. But I can come in for another cortisone shot–and so on.

I am being set up for the Cadillac of knee surgeries: knee replacement.

Getting old is a crock. I don’t want to boldly go where this is taking me.

Equanimity

Last Thursday was it—at the doctor’s—I told the medical person that sometimes when I flex my hand little popping noises (smaller versions of the ones that come out of my knee) come out of it and sometimes those noises are accompanied by twinges of pain and when during one of those times I squeezed one of my finger joints it was sore—and she said, arthritis, and if she didn’t shrug, she might as well have…

Because, well you, arthritis is just one of those things that comes along with the aging process and there isn’t a whole lot one can do about it except hope that it doesn’t get worse or so bad that you are in pain all the time and your movements become restricted.

Brother Steve and I compared notes on aches and pains over the phone recently.  He has bad things going on with his left knee and I didn’t know it but he also has some pretty serious stuff going on with his right shoulder probably from carrying that mail sack all those years (or maybe it was his left shoulder).  I too have some deep shoulder pain probably from too much basketball and possibly also from that time a number of years back when I swam a mile a day for something like a 100 days in a row.  That was stupid.

Earlier this week I carried some groceries from the car into the house and later that day both of my knees became swollen.  Perhaps I carried too much weight or maybe I twisted something while carrying the groceries.  This is strange new territory where you have to worry about carrying too many groceries or wondering if that pain in your fingers when you reach for the toothbrush is going to get worse.

I can’t find much consolation at the moment and probably I am letting these things get to me a bit too much.  But how exactly does one contemplate the prospect of inevitable decline with equanimity?

Correction

As nephew Brian correctly noted it shouldn’t take a scientist to figure out that people getting the same rash at the same time does not mean the rash is contagious, for certainly, and of course—as Carol also pointed out to me—the persons so affected may have been exposed simultaneously to some toxic element in the environment.  Who knows but perhaps some noxious material was released from the walls when the plumbing people knocked holes in them to put in the new pipe.  That’s a possibility. 

And I was wrong too about the rash being pityriasis rosea.  I went in for my yearly physical, and when my medical person looked at the rash she said it was dermatitis.  As a diagnosis, this was not very helpful since dermatitis means “inflammation of the skin (rashes).”  Well, yea, I knew that: that I had a rash I mean.

The medical person checked me out pretty thoroughly; and was happy to be reminded that I had recently received an anal probe from the urologist so she didn’t have to do it.  I was relieved too actually.  I don’t much enjoy that business.  Or the yearly physical, for that matter.  I still have to go in to have blood drawn for the blood panel work up.  Damn! I don’t want to do that either.

Then after the physical, we had to split to go back to the title company that drew up the papers for the refinancing of the condo.  We had gone there before the doctor and we had spent a good half an hour or more going through an endless stream of documents, initialing and signing them, and then Carol noticed that the address they had for us on all the documents said Santa Barbara.  But we don’t live there; we live in Goleta.  So the person we were talking to phoned the people who drew up the paper and they said—damn it!—that the paper would have to be redrawn and we would have to resign everything.

I just sat there.  Resolved, I guess; because I have become used to casual incompetence from banks and money people.  So then we went to the doctor and then we went back to sign the documents.  By then it was dark and the placed was closed, and when we tried to get out of the building we found out we were locked in.

I just stood there.  Resolved to incompetence.

But we got the papers signed and I learned that I don’t have pityriasis rosea.  Just dermatitis.  I have made an appointment with the dermatologist about that and to have him look at something that is growing behind my left ear—by which I mean the portion of my left ear nearest the skull.