Simply ordinary observations from an ordinary person - sometimes having to do with health care issues, sometimes not. Topics will change as my attention wanders. Yours probably will too....

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dear Ms. Manners, can you provide advice on how to greet a casual business associate when the encounter takes place in a health club locker room? Oh - and the said associate is wearing only a birthday suit, not a business suit. The situation has left me awkwardly speechless, so I am hoping you can be of some etiquette assistance. Sincerely, the Spynster

Well, seriously, it was awkward! I walked around the corner and there was a woman I know only from business situations, standing at the blow dry station wearing not a stitch of clothing. Complete nudity is not that common at our health club, at least not on the women's side of the locker rooms. Who knows what the men do - spynsters don't want to know! Anyway, most of us females change quickly and efficiently and drape towels generously when going in or out of the showers. But occasionally some free spirit will forgo using draped towels and in this case the free spirit was someone who would have expected a social greeting from me!

I tried to think of a quick appropriate greeting like "Hi! Nice to see you!" - oh, that was soooo not true. or "Hello, gosh you're looking great!" Also not true - she's my age and we're both shaped a bit like sweet potatoes. (You know, tapered on both ends, plump & fleshy through the middle.) Or "Wow, I'm surprised to see you." Now that was true, but how could I say it when I'd be looking in every direction except towards her?

I took the cowards' way. Before my forward foot hit the floor I did a complete u-turn and walked the long way around to my locker. Past the toilets, and sinks, and sauna, and showers, and weight station, and private lockers. Anything to avoid having to stop and chat. Gosh, I added to my cardio workout by doing that. Maybe I should say "thanks" next time - only I hope there never is a next time. Please Ms. Manners, what would you say?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Liberry Blues

I have a bone to pick with someone in my town. And it's not just because I'm turning into a cranky old lady as my age increases and the people around me get more and more aggravating. No, this particular person really deserves a good dressing down by a sharped tongue spynster, or even better, by an old-fashioned librarian who should confiscate the cretin's library card as punishment.

Because this person is committing the literary sin of writing in library books. Not just once either, but he/she has made notations in every copy of one of my favorite mystery writers. It is incredibly annoying to be reading along, and then come across these notations - it's like fingers on a chalk board. Obviously this person has never been taught basic manners regarding public books - namely, that they are on loan to everyone and should never, never, never be de-faced or damaged in any way. What a right-wing, fanatical nut job!

Why am I accusing him/her of being right wing? Because the notations happen everywhere in the stories where the author has made a tongue-in-cheek observation about America or Americans. She (the author) is writing from the perspective of an Italian detective working in Venice Italy and there is equal opportunity to expose the weaknesses of Italian government. But my co-reader is highly offended by even the slightest, most creative phrases which seem to indicate disrespect or insult to the USA. Geeezz Loueezz - give it a break! And if the opinions of the ex-pat author writing mystery fiction are so offensive, why did he/she have to read every single book our library owns? At least this person has turned off Fox News and lowered the volume on Rush L. (is that technically possible?), but perhaps he/she should not be reading library books. Even if they are tax-payer owned.

So there's my peeve - there could be a brawl in the public library if the two of us are ever in the mystery stacks at the same time. This is America - I'm probably allowed to take a loaded gun into the library now that I think of it. Ka pow, you pencil wielding creep.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dough Nots

Part of my HR duties at the company includes coordination of safety training and, hopefully, preventing expensive worker's compensation claims. We have a pretty good safety record, so for the past year, I have alternated a Safety topic with a Wellness topic - assuming everyone wants to stay healthy and thereby avoid pain, suffering, and really expensive health care costs.

Attendance at the Wellness sessions has been moderate - pretty much the same core group each time. We've discussed nutrition, weight management, stress management, heart health, bones & joints, and infectious disease control. I'm always careful to use valid sources and to document my facts, so that the audience knows I'm not just making things up! I've become quite the little expert on all things healthy/unhealthy and on human behaviour. Here's my conclusion after 12 months:

That, given a choice between healthy weight, healthy blood sugar levels, healthy arteries, strong bones and good teeth - between those choices and a full box of fresh, local bakery doughnuts - well, the doughnuts win every single time! Standing on a scale staring at the dial, and still reaching for a glazed; or reading the latest lipid panel printout and grasping an old fashioned; or watching the blood pressure gauge while chowing down a maple bar - it's a human conundrum. We luv us some sugary deep-fried dough balls.

I may have to declare the pink boxes a safety hazard this year - although that's probably a safety hazard of it's own. Hey, how am I going to get this sticky sugar glaze off my keyboard!

Monday, May 11, 2009

C Stands for Ca-Ching

My friend is home from his second round of immunotherapy at UCSF and is doing well. He arrived shortly before the first invoice did and, thankfully, was already lying down when he opened the manila envelope. The 12 itemized pages included 5 days of ICU, 14 doses of interferon at $5,000 per dose, the PICC line and every other item needed during his fight for survival. Bottom line for those 5 days? $289,000. Doctor's fees not included - those will come later. As will the invoice for the 2nd week which includes another $30,000 for interferon and 3 days of ICU.

I know all this because in addition to being his friend, I'm also his HR go-to and will be helping him organize and track the expenses. He is very, very unlucky to have melanoma and is very, very lucky to have good health insurance coverage. When we talked today, I said "congratulations, you've spent more than the company's annual premium for 30 families in only one week. That's a record!" We both laughed - what else could we do, start crying?

It's my job now to make sure that he keeps that coverage, by keeping him compliant with the insurance eligibility requirements. That means he has to a) work a minimum of 30 hours per week (regardless of how he feels), or b) be placed on protected FMLA medical leave (12 weeks allowed in a 12 month period) or c) be moved onto COBRA if a and b are no longer options. Federal COBRA has a maximum 18 month enrollment. I refuse to even look at option d, where he'd exceed the 18 months and then be left with absolutely no coverage and no possibility of ever getting coverage again.

A few minutes after I talked to him, I read internet articles about the health care industry agreeing to work with the Obama administration on health care reform. I'm not sure where the changes will come, but I hope all the sides will finally come to a large table and work out some viable options. The system we have now works for many of us, but there are a lot of large, scary, black holes in the safety net. Hopefully within the next few years some of those holes will be filled so that cancer patients can focus on wellness instead of bankruptcy.

In the meantime, my friend and I are waiting for the second, third, and fourth envelope with a UCSF addresses to arrive. Overall charges for his health?: priceless.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Scrambled Huevos

I wonder if I'm becoming a racist.

I was stuck in normal 5:00 p.m. traffic on Friday, creeping along the highway at a snails pace which meant I had plenty of time to peruse the newest billboard in town. The more I looked at it, the more irritated I became.

The billboard is in Spanish and everything about it - colors, graphics, font style - is geared to young Latino males. It would blend right into the landscape across the Mexican border but here, inside an American town, it's a bit jarring to the senses. It's the first one I've seen that is completely in Spanish, not a bilingual translation. And I'm a bit surprised about how irritating that is - to see a huge ad in my community which is not in my native language.

Part of me is jealous because I would love to be bilingual. I've attempted to learn Spanish many, many times but still hablo como un bebe. Part of me is sympathetic to the new population, because I realize how difficult it is to learn a new language and adapt to new customs. And part of me is thoroughly irritated because "my" town and "my" country are changing to accommodate the new population instead of the other way around.

I've lived in the same neighborhood for 16 years now and have watched it transition not-so-slowly into a Spanish speaking area. All three of the corner grocery stores are now latino mercados. I can buy tortillas, salsa, beans, rice, bulk herbs, manteca (lard), mystery cuts of meat, mole sauce, pinatas, and muchas otras cosas de mexicanas. I can visit several taquerias for killer burritos, tacos, and enchiladas. But if I want a turkey sandwich on sliced whole wheat with lettuce, jack cheese, and hot-sweet mustard , then I drive 3 miles to the up-scale yuppie grocery where I can also get imported cheeses, wild salmon, applewood smoked bacon, and artisan breads. (I haven't had breakfast yet, can you tell?)

I also work in an industry which has a high proportion of Spanish speakers and my co-workers are wonderful people. But my company made the decision last year, with strong support from the HR director (me), to include "basic English required" in all our job postings. I suppose we could be accused of discrimination but we're doing it for safety, teamwork, and cost control. In California, if 10% or more of the workforce speaks a language other than English, translation of all employment materials must be provided. I work for a small company, so 10% is 5 employees. The translations can get very expensive after awhile. So, starting in 2008, we are requiring English as a condition of hire.

On Tuesday there will be Cinco de Mayo celebrations all over town, and many Mexican flags flying from cars and apartment complexes. That's OK, except I have a very strong suspicion than many of those celebrants do not see CA as their actual home - their allegiance is with Mexico and they would still live there if they had jobs and a living wage. In their own words they "go home" each year for about 4 weeks in December & January, and the school district here has adjusted the school calendar to allow for the students absences. Many of them own homes in Mexico - a new co-worker recently showed me pictures of his 4 bedroom, 3 bath house with a pool where he plans to return after working another 10 years in the US. He's worked hard for it - but there is no question that he is only here temporarily.

So, I guess my whole point is that CA has developed a two culture society and our immigrants, legal or not, are not fully assimilated into American culture. When I studied in Mexico 10 years ago, I learned a folk phrase: "juntos pero no revueltos". Literal translation: together but not mixed/scrambled. Or, together but not together. It's used when discussing whether a couple are friends or more than friends... but I think it also applies to our dual culture here.

The billboard won't keep me from drinking a cold margarita on Tuesday, but I still think it's inappropriate. It's a very large reminder that we are juntos pero no revueltos.