Wednesday, August 23, 2017

2017 Yippedy Doo Dah

2008 was the Year of bad health and the Great Recession.  That next year, I lost the farm.

In a vain attempt to pay down bills, retirement funds were dissolved and everything not nailed down was sold. Every stick of furniture, all the farm equipment, you name it...

But, I hung on to my 5 of my boys:  2 dogs, 2 oxen and my horse, Axel.

Eventually, I was able to buy back Angus and Bella, but even they had to be sacrificed initially.
I'm grateful to have been forced to learn a lesson in what matters most in life.  Take a wild guess... it ain't possessions. It's health, friends and family (furry and the not so furry).  
My grudge is against the health insurance company, not the doctors.  
Last year, I had a chance revisit that grudge.  
Let me begin by explaining that in Alabama, as a working adult, you can get insurance at a discounted rate if you qualify for ObamaCare, or you may get it through your company or, as in my case, as an individual, I can only purchase health insurance through the one provider who has the monopoly: Blue Cross.  
For you Canadians who quiz me about the American health care system, let me give you a slice in the life.
In 2016, I paid $5000 of health insurance premiums.  My plan had a $7000 deductible which I came close to meeting thanks to that lovely exposure to Brucellosis via an old hog.

Therefore, I fast tracked my $7000 knee surgery in December 2016, thinking I'd be on the hook for only $4000 of it after meeting my $7000 deductible. Au contraire.  The surgery ended up costing $9000 and the insurance paid $0.  In spite of the calls I made to confirm the procedure had been approved, Blue Cross denied all claims based on their position that I had traveled out of state without consent for treatment.  The surgery was performed in Alabama, but the office visits were in Georgia.  The orthopedic clinic told me this was standard MO for Blue Cross, that I could get a lawyer and 'probably' win.  Lawyers aren't cheap and suing in America counts against your credit score... 'probably' wasn't strong enough impetus.
This year, I'm hiring a lawyer before a surgery to contact Blue Cross for confirmation. This year, my premiums are over $6000 and my deductible went up to $8000. With the close to $4500 in medical bills I've already paid out of my pocket this year, I should have only $3500 to go before my insurance starts picking up the tab. You'd think.  And then, to add insult to injury, they only cover 80% of any surgery anyway, which is a lot, until you calculate a $30000 surgery will still leave you owing $6000, after the $6000 premiums and $8000 deductible.
So almost 10 years later, I feel like I'm back to Square One, back to draining my retirement account because the insurance is already sending me cheery little notes claiming that my CT Scan wasn't performed a one of their approved diagnostic labs, even though it was 'supposed' to be pre-approved... so they're not putting its cost towards my deductible. I'm lawyering up because this is just the beginning.  
This is what I haven't been telling many people:  I've felt like crud for the past year.  I've had increasingly more problems with my heart and the most depressing fatigue has plagued me.  I had blamed Cole's cancer for draining me.  The last few months he was alive, it became clear that the emotional toll of caring for my best friend wasn't the main culprit. Abdominal pain that had been easy to dismiss is now keeping me up at night.  My chest pain became frequent, daily nausea, dizzy to the point of keeling over, my legs swell like fence posts by the middle of the day and the fatigue worsened.
Long story short, after months of being tossed around from doctor to doctor and test to test, I was probably, as my dear brother put it, clinically depressed.  So when Cole passed, I was seriously hoping to follow him the next day or so, whether by God's will or my own, I was sick of this crap and I was plotting a way outta here.  So, now you know why a puppy ended up in my life so soon.

Let's call him a last minute attempt at self preservation.  
Fate did intervene because two days after the puppy made me feel it was necessary to hang around for his sake, the bad news started rolling in and it hasn't really stopped.
Currently, two specialists can't agree if their organs of study are the most to blame for the host of problems.  Two weeks ago, the chief concern was the renal vein that was found to be compressed, causing kidney failure, lots of pain and circulation issues.  The surgery suggested costs $30000, plus two months out of work because they have to cut a major vein and reroute and stent it.  
Now, the gynecologist who was only given my permission to take out the cancerous bits when she went in 10 years ago is screaming at that I should've listened to her and had a complete hysterectomy back then.  A uterus is the size of a peach, mine looks like it swallowed 6 ping pong balls and has grown from one ultrasound to the next.  Causing her to worry the pesky ping pongs aren't benign fibroids.  Theory is the ballooning uterus is what's squished the kidney and pinched off the vein.  Likable hypothesis because her surgery is $18000 cheaper and has less down time. 
Caveat:  the old ticker.  I'm going in for a full battery of cardiac tests next week before they can schedule the ASAP hysterectomy.  In spite of the prolapsed mitral valve and the hole in my heart, I had been able to run and maintain a (comatose) low blood pressure.  Had.  Now my blood pressure has sky rocketed, possibly due to combination of chronic pain and bad circulation on my left side. They won't prick me with a scalpel until they get the green light from the cardiologist.
I'm not scared so much as I'm profoundly tired.  But, I'm resilient, Cole taught me that.  I took my first out of town journey alone a couple weeks ago.  It's been almost 10 years that I have never left my 1 hour home base area without Cole.  An hour into the drive to UAB's vascular clinic, I started frantically texting Flynn back at the farm, trying to find an excuse for me to make a U-turn and come home.  He didn't let me off the hook.  I did make it to downtown Birmingham, found a parking deck,

 got slightly lost there and back, got poked and prodded, returned to the farm 12 hours later shell shocked.  
For my surgery consultation this past Tuesday, problems started by 7 AM when my navigation app kept chirping that I would be late, then very late for my appointment due to accidents and construction.  Stuck in a mob of standstill traffic in Birmingham, I screamed for Cole and was answered.  I got in behind a semi that seemed to be cutting past lanes of creeping cars.  Then with only 5 minutes to spare, but yet still 2 blocks from the parking deck, a car pulled out from a street parking directly next to the clinic.  I looked over at the passenger seat and told Cole he couldn't stay in the car, he had to come in with me.
I have seen two therapy dogs there already, ya know.
And when my appointment was over, but I couldn't leave the city just yet, I found a park less than a 10 minute walk away.  

I sat there for half an hour working myself out of a tizzy and I asked him if he minded staying with me a little longer.  I know he was supposed to be finally free from work, over the Rainbow Bridge  romping around... Then I remembered his You Gotta Be Kidding Me stare.  Well, I'm sorry--I didn't get the memo that you never left, you'll always be in my heart.  So sue me.
Hey, is that what's wrong with my heart?  Your hairballs are clogging it?  Doesn't matter, totally worth it.

Monday, August 21, 2017

How We Survived the Eclipse

In Russell county, Alabama, we were at 92% solar eclipse totality.  Sounds more ominous than the non event it turned out to be.
Precautions were taken, regardless.

One can never be too careful.
Around 2:35 Eastern Standard Time, Flynn crawled out from under the tractor, grabbed the welding mask and announced that we may have missed it.  The sky did darken and I did see a crescent sun.  Yippee.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Eclipse Preparedness

My neighbor is a self proclaimed astronerd.  I am the astro-not.  He's coaxed me out at the wee hours of the morning to watch meteor showers, which I fail to see.
I asked him for safety tips with the upcoming 90% solar eclipse coming up next week.  
He worked at a horse farm during a partial eclipse and said the horses did stupid, masochistic things during the event.  We'll keep them in the barn. Check.
He said to get the special glasses for Flynn and I.  Amazon sells them for $25 apiece.  Ain't gonna happen.  Next idea:  he says we can use welding masks. Those we have!!!
Hey Dakota, look up at the sun for us, will ya?
That'll work.
We're ready.  

We will survive the eclipse, perhaps not the Dax!

And in case we have guests that day, we've come up with spare safety apparel:

We always have our thinking caps on around here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Thanks, But No Thanks

A certain Canadian faction desperately wishes I would hang up my pitchfork for a briefcase.  They're attempting to kill me with kindness.  This is what I want to do and this is where I want to be.
Slice in the life... Jamie's Saturday:
Take the dogs for a two mile hike before heading to the barn.  Can't start the day with an amped up Dax!

After feeding horses, begin a complete cleaning of all 10 stalls that will take good part of the day.

Then, scoop out all the shavings in the galley down to the earth.

In between stalls, reattach boards that the horses broke down during the night.

Three of our horses have itchy butts and rub themselves on the fences.  Prompting me to apply cortisone around anuses.  Yes, I'd rather do this than be desked.

One horse can't sweat in this extreme humidity and heat, so he gets special treatment.

And an air conditioned stall when cold showers aren't enough.

The temperatures lately have been bareable, but the humidity makes it feel 20' hotter.

So what do I do on my lunch break?  Hide in my air conditioned house?  Nah, the demon spawn and I spend some quality time in the garden pulling weeds (he mostly spends it destroying lotus ponds).

Then back to cleaning stalls in the afternoon.  With some other projects in the mix.  Like finishing up the carpet steam cleaning job of the previous day.

The dogs assist/observe the work with stoicism.

Pete is doing a great job of showing the little one how to stay out of trouble.

Before the last feeding of the day, I squeeze in fertilizing one of the pastures.

I recognize many people wouldn't want to put their hands once where I put my hands every day.  To each their own!

One more feeding for the day.

More kisses, more butt ointment all around!

Then I can finish my stalls.
By 8 PM, it's cooled off enough outside for Titan to come out of his Ice Box.

And Smith crew can go home.
Feed my oxen, chickens and catch up on laundry.

So you see, the only indoors I want to be is in a barn or in the cab of a tractor.
This Sunday is cleaning day: cleaning the office, the feed room, buckets, water tanks, scrubbing the barn aisle (yes, so you can eat off of it) and fertilizing all the shrubbery on the property.
This, dear people, is what you would get if you put me in an office:

Thursday, August 10, 2017


We may be able to reel Dax in from the dark side after all.  By we, I mean, myself and my two esteemed colleagues, Peter and Garrett.

I've been enjoying Peter reprimanding the puppy and keeping him in line.

Garrett is warming up to him.  Dax follows him like he's the sun to his moon.

Part of Cole's legacy is that Garrett has learned awesome trail etiquette.  He gets ahead, but waits at junctions and turns back to check on me.  So, technically, he's walking the puppy, not me!

The Great Gazoo (Garrett) does not swim.

He'll get in a foot of water, but no more.  Wednesday, I had dragged a contractor out to the middle of the woods to assess a dam that is in danger of collapsing due to the monsoons we get around here.  One entire side of the dam had sloughed off, leaving a deep pool of water where the water could churn and further erode the dam.  Because all the churning made a blanket of white foam, we couldn't tell how deep it was. Ever so helpful Garrett had been staring at that whiteness from above.  He sprung up and jumped in it.  The contractor and I watched him go completely under, to which he stated: "five feet".  While I was trying to cut my way through the thorny vines to rescue him,
Dax had been exploring the creek bed on the opposite shore and threw himself in after Garrett.  

Let me stop this story to tell you about my new work boots.  Wednesday was my first day wearing them.  After two years, my old Ariat boots leaked like sieves, the heels were completely worn down, the uppers sagged around my ankles... I decided to treat myself.  
It was a conspiracy to see how much swamp water new boots could hold.
Back to the rescue... Garrett gets pulled out, but Dax is fighting a strong current, bobbing his way down into the swamp.  I get tangled in the thorns, but I have Dax.  The contractor has to come and rescue us both.   

"That was gnarly, dude!"
The only explanation I have for Garrett's leap of stupidity is his love for snow.

During our trip out West last Winter, Garrett would amuse himself by diving into snowbanks.  Maybe the foam looked like snow?
Who knows!
What I do know is that a 9 week old puppy can be placated with an apple.

We take an apple to bed at night now to keep him from teething on the pillowcases. So, what if he makes applesauce at night and hides his apple in your hair. He's QUIET, that's all that matters.  

The twice daily walks are having to get longer and longer to tucker him out.  Seems he builds endurance quickly.  I'll soon need to hook up my bike to the baby trailer for Peter!

The Chosen One (to teach me of patience, consistency and tolerance).

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Carlson Gets Rechristened

The new pup is unlike any of the dozen puppies, 30 dogs and many foster dogs I've loved over the years.  Out of all of them, only 3 couldn't make the transition from stray to family member and I consider those my 3 failures.  I've been thinking Carlson may be #4. 

You're thinking, how can something so cute be villainous?

 One of the strays I took in 10 years ago was an adult Rottweiler.  The day came where he'd recuperated from his neglect, put on 40 pounds to top the scales over 100...he tried his luck usurping me and I had a come to Jesus meeting with him.  From that moment, he became the best, most loyal dog.
Carlson doesn't take to being reprimanded.  He will throw an absolute tantrum, barking and growling at me if he doesn't get his way.  Mildly perturbing at 6 weeks of age, more concerning now that he's 15 lbs at 8 weeks.

The camel's back breaking straw came two Fridays ago in the garden.  I was told by the trainer to not let him take anything from me unless I've offered it to him.  He wanted a weed I had pulled and as I was on my knees, at his level, I thought this a golden training opportunity.  He disagreed, lunging for my face, latching onto my lip, hanging from it growling.  Astonishingly, he survived, but spent the night in his crate on the back porch where I didn't have to look at him.  
That's when I made serious attempts to return him and/or sell him.  
No luck, looks like he's mine.  

Regardless, the name of Carlson, meant to honor the late Coleman, was no longer befitting of him.  
Presenting to you: Dax.

Anyone know a good priest to perform an exorcism?
I may be worrying about the wrong thing, as he's fearless, keeping him alive on a huge farm should be my greatest concern.
At 7 weeks of age, I set him down in 4" of lake water to cool him off.  He proceeded to swim straight out into the lake.  I spent the rest of the afternoon working in wet clothes and shoes.  

He is unstoppable and nosy.

Hysterical at times.

Moments of levity might be his saving grace.  

Ever so helpful.

Misdirected energy at all times, but zealous.  

It's been a few days in a row that I've actually liked him.  He prefers Flynn and Peter over me.

Flinging himself out of the truck when he sees Flynn.

But I'm willing to try the adage 'Fake it till you make it'.  I'll pretend to love him to bits until one day I'll wake up and it will be true.
Until then, it's duty more than maternal love that kept me out mixing concrete until midnight.

To prevent him from darting out onto the dirt road, I'll line the board fence and gates with mesh and I poured long speed bumps to keep the pestilence from weaseling out under the gates. Oh, and I dug post holes and cemented in posts for the new fence I'm running behind the house.  
Duty, remember -- not love.

I mean it  ;)