Monday, March 29, 2010


It seems to me that the new health-care reform measures don't do much of anything to investigate causative factors of the exhorbitant costs of care, or to lower those costs -- only "how to get (or enable, or force) us to pay it" has been addressed. I think they're barking up the wrong tree.

Here's my plan:


Outlaw public advertising of prescription drugs. Those TV commercials ("Ask your doctor if this drug is right for you!") and two-page magazine spreads are presented to encourage use of prescription drugs and increase sales. The commercial spots are expensive to the companies, and we pay for it in higher drug costs. Another less-obvious but expensive form of drug advertising is aimed directly at physicians in the form of visitation and gifting by pharmaceutical representatives ("drug reps.") Company employees book appointments with physicians and give them a presentation about a specific drug (information? or propaganda? Since the info is supplied by the drug's manufacturer?) AND buy lunch or dinner for the entire office staff as a magnanimous gesture. They keep track of how many prescriptions for X the doctor writes, and they'll ask him next visit, "Why are you not prescribing X more often?" They bring cakes, cookies, and donuts, and free gifts of clocks, insulated coffee mugs, and exam-table paper printed with the names of their drugs, just as a few examples. On a large scale, I can't imagine how much all this must cost. In the rural physician's office where I worked, we could count on lunch from a drug rep once or twice a week. They'd call in the morning and ask what restaurant we wanted, and the office manager or receptionist would call the restaurant with our orders, and at lunch the rep would bring it in take-out boxes. My daughter in a large city has a friend who's an office nurse and says they have lunch provided EVERY SINGLE DAY from drug reps.

All of this should stop. No more TV and public-magazine advertising (medical journals are a different situation) and drug reps should not be allowed to give doctors anything but ink pens. Drugs have to carry a hefty price tag for the manufacturers to turn a profit after all this advertising and bribing.


Outlaw class-action lawsuits, which often reimburse individuals who never suffered any ill effects of a drug or treatment and never filed suit. Outlaw prescription-specific litigation advertising: "Have you or a loved one been injured by Yaz? Levaquin? Crestor? Etc.? Etc.? Call our law firm NOW!" Success or settlement of these cases increases the price of drugs yet again.

Outlaw commercial advertising by medical-injury litigators. "Have you been injured, sickened, or killed by a medical mistake? Does your child have a birth defect? Have you started sneezing? Call our firm and GET MONEY." Physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, and other care practices, out of necessity charge the consumer more in order to cover their liability insurance. The only place litigation attorneys should be able to advertise is the newspaper and the Yellow Pages. Medical litigation is a feeding frenzy.

Consumers should, indeed, be able to bring suit for legitimate damages. But put an end to frivolous lawsuits: if the litigant loses, they pay EVERYONE'S court costs, including the attorney for the defendant, all of the court staff, lost wages of anyone testifying... every single cost incurred by anyone involved in that case.

Set a cap on the amount of damages that can be awarded, keeping it relevant to the actual cost of the injury, subsequent required care, lost wages and reduced quality of life.

These measures could go a long way in reducing the cost of health care, prescription medications, and medical insurance.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


I went to this race yesterday, part of the Pennsylvania Maple Festival in Meyersdale, PA.

5-mile run; I've been doing casual runs of anything from a half hour to an hour, not pushing hard at all, just doing time. I expected to have fun and probably break an hour; or, if it was a really good day, maybe make it in 50 minutes.

My time:

Early on a man about my age started running with me, and we started talking, and he was going just a little faster than I was comfortable maintaining, but I was having fun talking with him. We talked just about the whole time. Now and then I'd say, "I have to quit talking, I can't keep up this pace and talk, too," and he'd say, "Well, your pace is just about perfect for me," and then he'd say something and I'd answer and we'd be talking again. My shoe came untied and he actually waited while I tied it because he wanted to stay with me! So I have him to thank for my unexpected performance!

I thought I might be good for an age-group second, if I was lucky. But I was FIRST in my age group (women 55-59) -- first out of two.

But here's the thing. After the awards I went to the results board and looked at the times, and THAT's when I got mindblown.

I would have won in the next three age groups under mine, also.

Women's 50-54 winner ran 45:32. Women's 45-49, 48:29. Women's 40-44, 45:38. No runners 35-39, and the 30-34 first-place woman was ahead of me, but the second-place runner in that group was not.

Besides myself, there were a total of 13 women from 40-59. Holy cow.... I'm out there running faster than that many younger women???? How did I do that? I've hardly been training! I haven't run 5 miles in over a month!

So I got a shiny piece of bling and a definite mental high. I was feeling great when I got home so I went out and biked for an hour, taking advantage of weather we shouldn't be having until May, even though there are still snow drifts dotting the now-mostly-bare fields and roadsides.

What a wonderful day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I just watched a program, "Mountain Talk," on the Documentary Channel, about the speech mannerisms and unique vocabulary of the rural residents of southern Appalachia.

It made me so homesick.

An old woman stated that when she was growing up, the nearest town was Robbinsville, but she never went there until cars came into the area.

The reason I know that "Robbinsville" has two "b's" is that I've been there. It was one of my rest-and-resupply stops on the Appalachian Trail.

Breathtaking mountain views kept appearing, with swirling mist in the valleys. The kind I saw just about every day.

I could cry for those days and those miles.

In a way, it feels as though triathlon is sort of meaningless. I mean, what's the point? Swim a prescribed distance, hop soaking wet onto a bike and pedal a prescribed distance, change your shoes and run (or walk, or crawl, or whatever) a prescribed distance. Why?

I guess.... to see if I can. Or to see if I can do it again, or do it longer, or farther, or stronger.

I guess for the same reasons I want to go back to the Trail.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


The Census Bureau wants us to hurry up. At first they wanted the local counts in by March 22, which meant we actually had to finish by March 20 to get it in. Then they wanted it by the 20th, so that gave us till the 18th. Now they want it Tuesday, which means it needed to be finished today. On Friday they asked for all hands on deck, with all employees working all day both Saturday and Sunday.

I said no.

It's not that I refuse to do work on Sunday, or believe people shouldn't. I often have. I was a nurse. Hospitals don't close on Sunday, people don't take a day off from being sick. I worked. When I have worked in stores or gyms, if I was scheduled for Sunday, I worked. It gave someone else the day off, and usually it equalled out. And it's not as if all I'll do on Sunday is go to church and then spend the rest of the day reading the Bible. I go running on Sundays, and I'll run a marathon or do a triathlon on Sunday, thanking police officers and race volunteers for their help. I'll go to the store on Sunday, thankful others are working so I can get groceries I couldn't get during the week while I was working -- in fact, I went shopping after church today.

This is something totally different, though.

American citizens are Constitutionally assured the freedom to practice religion (or not) without government interference or restriction. Sunday is traditionally a religious holiday for Christians, and this is a heavily-Christian area of Maryland. Example: classified ads in the local newspaper are replete with the statement "No Sunday sales" whether the advertiser is selling a used car, homemade quilts, clothing alterations, or pit bull puppies. I felt sick in the gut at the idea of knocking on their doors with government business, interrupting the sanctuary of their day of rest and worship as if it were just like any other day. My own religious freedom is violated if I am required to intrude on that of others. I believe it is ethically objectionable for the government to make this intrusion or require its workers to make it.

I said no. I told them why. They gave my assignment to someone else. She came and picked up my paperwork and I told her how to get to the area and off she went.

I'm not fired. My supervisor said I was not the only one not accepting a Sunday assignment. I may be working tomorrow, if everything didn't get done today. And I'm still eligible for re-hire for the next round of operations.

Thankfully, our freedom (so far, anyway) does not allow termination of employment for religious belief, or for consideration of others' religious practices.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I sent my photo of our son's snowed-in swingset to our local paper, The Republican (can you guess the political leanings of most of the people here?) and they published it as illustrative of the extreme conditions our area has experienced this winter. It's the first time I've ever had a photo published in a newspaper. The caption described "...a shot of the backyard of Jon Hamilton....Taken by his mom, Ellie, the photo has in the foreground the tiptop of his children's swing set, which is approximately seven feet tall."

Does that count as a byline?

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Did I mention that I have a temporary job canvassing homes as a Census Enumerator? They used to call it "Census Taker." I guess "Enumerator" sounds more official. I think it sounds like an Arnold Schwarzenegger role: "I AM THE ENUMERATOR!!!!!"

If the outer reaches of Garrett County, MD were not still under snow, checking off the address list would be so much easier. The area I had today.... well, some of the houses were plowed out. Some of the roads were passable. Some addresses I could reach by driving around the long way and accessing them from the other end of the road. Some I could see from the road but what I could not see was a driveway or anything resembling one.

The reason they were not plowed out was, these are mostly vacation homes in an upscale resort community. No one lives there. But they have addresses so they have to get a Census questionnaire.

Actually a few people live there. I actually contacted a person at a couple of places. Mostly I left questionnaires in plastic bags on doorknobs, after hiking up what might have been their driveway, or just through the woods, in knee-to-thigh-deep snow.

The Census Bureau had better be grateful. They can't be, though, because they won't know. The people who made the maps don't know that road signs have disappeared, as have the roads they identified. Whoever did the initial canvassing to ascertain addresses, last year, didn't do it through 2 feet of snow. Yes, that's what we still have. I used our GPS a lot. I hiked a lot.

If someone had to go out there, it should have been someone with a lot of endurance, someone strong, maybe some kind of athlete, a marathon-runner or backpacker or something, because they would have had to hike the Appalachian Trail to be ready for this. Oh, wait, that's me.

And because it was so like hiking (although on the Trail, I only had to deal with about 3 inches of snow) it was actually pretty enjoyable. Figuring out the best route through the woods to the house, post-holing through, knee-deep one step, then the next step hitting a low place and sinking to my hip; falling, grabbing branches for balance and leverage -- it was right down my alley. The funny thing was, along with my hiking boots, wool knee socks, and waterproof hiking pants, I was wearing a sleevless top and light sweater because it was 60*F, and charging through the snow like that got me all sweated up. But my boots have lost their waterproofing, and my feet got soaked. I was driving with my windows open and the heater going full-blast on the floor.

For my lunch break I drove back out to the community entrance where there was a parking lot in front of a closed office building, poured water out of my boots and wrung out my socks. Water streamed from them. Then I ran the heater full-blast from everywhere -- put my socks over the defroster to dry out a little and warm up, my boots (filled with paper napkins) on the floor and propped my cold feet up in front of the dash vents, with all the windows open because it was so hot in the car. I ate cheese and Rice Krispies Bars and drank water from a Powerade bottle. It truly felt like a Trail lunch, complete with sock-airing. When I was done for the day, I poured water out of my boots and wrung out my socks again, and then wrung them out again when I got home, because they had gotten so wet again just from being in my boots.

As on the Trail, there is no way my boots will dry overnight. They're beside a heater vent, but the weather is now unseasonably warm, and the furnace will probably not come on during the night.

Well, I have been homesick for hiking. And I get paid for this.

But it's sorta nuts.