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ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2005 by Ralph Robert Moore. All rights reserved.
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"there's my rainbow!"
january 1, 2005
I mentioned in my previous Lately that Mary's hearing before the Social Security Disability judge was scheduled for December 14.
Mary suffered a severe stroke April 17, 2002.
Physically, the stroke left her completely paralyzed on her right side. She couldn't shift her foot, lift her hand. Cognitively, the stroke gave her profound aphasia (the inability to understand language). Anything anyone said to her, her brain now translated as nonsense sounds. She lost the ability to speak, not because of a physical problem with her vocal cords, but because she no longer understood what words meant. She no longer knew her own name.
The clot in her brain that caused the stroke was the size of an egg. The emergency room neurologist who met with me right after Mary's admission to intensive care told me it was possible she wouldn't survive beyond a few days. After her discharge, when I had another neurologist look at the hospital x-rays of Mary's brain, to see if we could determine the cause of the stroke, he said if he didn't know who Mary was, had just looked at the x-rays, he would have assumed, by the size and location of the clot, the patient in the x-rays had died.
Mary's made remarkable progress in the time following her stroke. She can walk now, say some words and phrases. But she has not recovered the ability to read or write, it's often very difficult for her to communicate something to me, and when I say something to her, I usually have to say it several times, in different phrasings, breaking down what I'm saying to simple, easy ideas, before she understands. Her right side, although no longer paralyzed, has remained numb. I have to turn doorknobs for her. As with many stroke patients, she tires easily, sleeps twelve hours a day, and has problems with short- and long-term memory.
That's our situation. She's my hero. She has put up with all the frustrations resulting from her stroke, frustrations you and I can never imagine, with grace and humor. You and I would not handle so severe an impairment as well as Mary does.
Mary had her stroke while she was sitting in her office at work, getting ready to have lunch with some girlfriends. She's described it to me since. She was in her swivel chair behind her desk, suddenly felt like she was going to lose her balance, fall off her chair. What was happening? Gayle, a woman on Mary's staff, came in to see if Mary was ready to leave for lunch. Gayle told me afterwards, when she asked Mary if she wanted to leave for lunch, that Mary just stared at her, looking confused. Couldn't respond to questions. That's when Gayle and Joel, the Senior Vice-President, called for an ambulance.
Mary was in charge of Human Resources and Administration for her company, a direct report to the CEO. The stroke came absolutely, completely out of the blue. One moment she was normal, the next, paralyzed and uncomprehending. That zap is out there for each of us. Like the late Warren Zevon said, Enjoy every sandwich.
Before Mary had her stroke, we never gave any attention to our health. We both felt great. Didn't need any prescription drugs. We had heard of strokes, of course, had a vague idea of what they were, but they always happened to someone else. An anchor on the local morning news, but he returned to the happy news desk in a few weeks; our next door neighbor, but he was up and about after a while, although a bit forgetful.
If people aren't familiar with stroke, as we weren't, they tend to think of a heart attack as being much more serious, but in truth, a heart attack is just a bad cold compared to a stroke. With a heart attack, you spend a little time in a hospital, change some of your lifestyle choices, and go on. A stroke causes severe, permanent damage no amount of exercise or clean living can reverse.
As part of Mary's insurance package, she was covered for both short term disability and long term disability. That's what saved us, financially.
After three months on short term disability, she was automatically switched over to long term disability. As a part of the terms of receiving long term disability, we had to agree to apply for Social Security disability benefits. If Social Security approved Mary for disability, those benefits would offset about fifty percent of the amount the long term disability carrier had paid already, and would pay until Mary turns sixty-five.
From what I've heard, from several sources, over ninety percent of applicants for Social Security disability, during the initial application process, are denied.
And so were we.
For that reason, our long term disability carrier hired an attorney to handle our appeal. Which was worth it to the carrier. The carrier, at this point, has paid about seventy-five thousand dollars in long term disability benefits to Mary. If the appeal were successful, the carrier would recoup about half that cost, or about thirty-seven thousand dollars, far more than the cost of an attorney.
Our appeal of Social Security's initial denial was filed by the attorney over a year ago. That's how slow the process is.
For months, the attorney sent us occasional letters letting us know about her latest filings. I myself had to send in periodic updates on the doctors Mary had seen, the drugs she had been prescribed. The attorney told us there was a possibility the judge might decide on the evidence of the medical records and the attorney's filings a hearing was not necessary, but in fact, the judge ruled she wanted to meet Mary, in court, to make an assessment.
One day we went out to our mailbox and there, inside the rectangular metal chamber, amid bills and furniture flyers and colorful catalogs, was a fat, white envelope with six black-lettered lines for the return address. Inside, a summons to appear before the judge.
In Dallas, the Social Security appeals court is located in the Plaza of the Americas in downtown Dallas.
The hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, December 14.
We had to go to the city the day before the hearing for blood tests Mary needed to take with her cardiologist to determine her current coumadin level, to check her cholesterol level, and to see if her use of the statin drug Crestor had caused any damage to her liver (we're in the process now of switching to a different statin to control Mary's cholesterol, Lipitor, since Crestor apparently causes more liver damage than originally thought). Since we were in Dallas, we decided to do a dry run to Plaza of the Americas, so we'd know how to get there the next day.
We passed the massive front of the building, took a right down the side street, saw the sign for the parking garage, took a ticket from the machine in front of the ticket booth.
Most parking garages are fairly mundane, but this one was the type where you have to steer your car straight up a tight, extremely steep upwards spiral, story after story, climbing towards the blue sky. I don't know what we would have done if we had to stop halfway up the spiral. It was so steep, I don't think we could have gotten enough traction to continue.
We parked on Level Seven. Walked away from our car, holding hands, towards the plain door marked, To The Atrium, me turning around, pointing my key set behind us, pressing a button twice to lock the car, send out a confirming beep.
Went through the door.
On the other side was an enormous enclosed space, like looking out at the Universe, the people below tiny; on the far opposite side of this canyon, balconies draped with ivy.
It was like opening your eyes and finding yourself on a ledge hundreds of feet up.
We pressed a button for the elevator, me staying away from the edge (the rail was only waist high, no protective Plexiglas to prevent someone from tumbling over).
The elevator turned out to be one of those all-glass enclosures that descend slowly, wide vista of floors lifting beyond the glass.
The Plaza of the Americas has shops, hotels, restaurants, even a skating rink. It seemed like an odd place to locate a Social Security disability office, but there you have it.
We took a different, blessedly enclosed, elevator, covered in oak paneling and deep mirrors, to the sixth floor of the north tower, where the Social Security office was located. The office wasn't as polished as the marble walls and burnished statues, one foot lifted, of the rest of the complex, but it looked OK.
That evening, our attorney called us to go over what would occur during the hearing the next day. She finished by saying, "I'll meet you in the Social Security waiting room. I'm an African-American woman. I'm not an attorney. I've passed my bar, but my licensing won't happen until February or March of next year."
(That's something I've noticed in the past few years, people who aren't licensed in a particular field performing more and more of the functions usually reserved to licensed professionals. Physician Assistants give injections now, and perform minor surgeries, something only a doctor with an M.D. designation would do in the past, and unlicensed pre-lawyers frequently represent clients in court. I think it all started with Casual Fridays.)
The morning of the hearing, we got up early, showered, looked at each other worriedly.
The weeks preceding the hearing, Mary would have difficulty with this and that, raise a finger. "Tell the judge this."
I'd nod, make a mental note.
Our legal representative wanted to meet with us an hour before the hearing.
We went up to the Social Security hearing office.
There were a lot of people in the office, sitting in the chairs in worn clothes.
A woman rose from the seats. "Mr. and Mrs. Moore?"
We went through the typical, unspoken, You Don't Look Like Your Voice On The Phone moment, shook hands.
Originally, since I was going to testify as a witness to Mary's disability, I wasn't going to be allowed into the hearing room except for the brief time in which I'd give my testimony, which I didn't like, I wanted to be there the whole time, to give moral support to Mary. Our representative, after talking to Mary on the phone, realizing the severe extent of her disability, persuaded the court clerk to allow me to be present throughout the entire hearing, to assist Mary in her answers, which I very much appreciated.
There wasn't a room available we could go to, to discuss our case.
I suggested going downstairs to the lobby, where we could sit at one of the tables in the food court.
She brought the Social Security office's thick file with her, in case I wanted to look at it.
We made polite conversation in the elevator on the way down.
In the immense marble lobby, I led us over to the escalators. Pointed to the round food court tables one story below. "We can sit there."
Mary and I went down the escalator, holding hands. When we reached the step-off, we turned around, to wait for our representative.
Except she wasn't there. She had vanished.
We craned our necks back. She wasn't at the top of the escalator. We looked at each other, not sure what to do. Decided to sit at one of the round tables, hoping she would show up.
I had carried the heavy Social Security file with me, out of politeness. I cracked it open, reading comments from Mary's different doctors.
After five minutes, we heard a woo-hoo! woo-hoo!
We looked around, looked up.
Our representative was at the brass railing one story up. "I'm going to take the stairs. I'll meet you folks down there."
I wasn't sure what to say. Our representative, who's going to battle the United States Government on our behalf, is afraid of escalators?
I opened my mouth. "Okay."
She joined us at the table five minutes later, started to go over with us what the hearing would be like. Mary and I were both nervous. The representative was, too.
We weren't a minute into it when a middle-aged man in a gray suit popped up beside us, startling us. "Egregious! That's egregious!"
What the fuck?
"Taking that file out of the Social Security office is an egregious act!"
(Lawyers love using the word egregious.)
So the four of us trooped back upstairs.
We still had half an hour to go before the hearing.
Mary and I decided to go back downstairs, walk around.
We window-shopped for a while, both of us tense. At one point, Mary stopped near a balcony, pointing, face showing relief. "There's my rainbow!"
Indeed, there were bent bands of bright colored lights on the marble floor.
(Rainbows mean a lot to us. The day we were married, January 19, 1981, as we drove down the California coast to where we would honeymoon, at the Madonna Inn, we passed block after block of tree trunks with yellow ribbons tied around their girth, celebrating the release, that day, of the Americans who had been held in Iran; everywhere along the snaking of the coastal highway were rainbows. We took a lot of pictures).
When it got close to 11:30, we took the elevator back up to the sixth floor of the north tower.
11:30 came and went.
Noon came and went.
The waiting room was otherwise deserted. The black guard, sitting behind a desk, in a blue shirt with a dark blue insignia sewn to the upper right bicep of his uniform, had left.
Was the judge eating lunch?
Finally, we were called into the hearing room.
The hearing room itself was not a Perry Mason courtroom, but an ordinary room in which three long tables had been placed, forming a large letter I.
Mary and I sat at the bottom cross bar of the I.
At the stem of the I, on the right side, sat our representative. On the left side sat a "VE", meaning a Vocational Expert, who would assess Mary's ability to find gainful work, based on the testimony we'd give.
At the top cross bar of the I, against the back wall, sat the judge, with a woman next to her who operated the tape recorder that would record our testimony. That top cross bar of the I was elevated, about five feet off the ground, so we had to look up at the judge to talk to her.
Two microphones were placed on the brown table in front of where Mary and I sat, to record our responses.
As I pulled out a chair to sit down beside Mary, the judge asked, "And who are you, sir? Would you identify yourself to the court, please?"
"I'm Mary's wife. I mean her husband."
The first ten minutes of the hearing were taken up with the judge reading different exhibits into the record, asking the representative if the representative had ever appeared before her, the judge, before, asking the representative if she objected to various legal points of order.
The judge asked Mary a series of questions, to determine the degree of her disability. What was her height, what was her weight, how long had she been married. The judge swung her head to me, asking for my elaboration, for several answers Mary was incapable of giving.
After about forty-five minutes, the hearing was over.
The VE admitted, in response to a cross-examination by our representative, that there was no job for which Mary was capable.
Our representative told us some judges announce their decision then and there, but our judge wasn't one of those.
The judge thanked us for appearing.
I pushed my chair back. "Thank you, Your Honor."
The representative said we probably won't know until January or February if our appeal has been accepted.
So more waiting.
I woke up, switched my eyes to the alarm clock on my side of the bed.
I hate that. Why can't I sleep through until morning?
I lay in bed beside Mary for about an hour, almost falling asleep once or twice, fuzzily realizing the almost, thinking, Damn! I'm still awake.
I work from home, for a company that processes healthcare claims for different employers. My job consists of writing the booklets employees receive explaining their benefits, researching healthcare-related legislative and regulatory issues, to see if the company or our clients have to revise procedures, and writing a bi-monthly newsletter that goes out to key people within the company, as well as to our clients, keeping everyone up-to-date on trends and changes within the industry.
I was wandering through the living room when the doorbell rang. It was the president of my company, along with a man I had never met, a tall, dark-haired man in a black turtleneck.
"Rob, I'd like you to meet Trey Collins."
I shook his hand.
The president smiled. "We've decided to branch out into other areas, to improve our profits. As of now, in addition to processing healthcare claims, we're also going to be a major movie studio, turning out first-rate films!"
I was surprised, tried not to show it. "That's great!"
"Trey here is David Lynch's personal assistant. Our first venture is going to be a new movie directed by Lynch. Isn't that something?"
That really took me by surprise, because although I like Lynch's films, he's never had a commercial success (I admire he has his own vision, and doesn't compromise). Still, he seemed like an odd choice for our first feature, especially since the movie studio was supposed to be a new source of profit for the company.
Long story short, Trey told me David had read some of my stories, really liked my style, and wanted to know if he and I could "shoot some ideas back and forth".
So David flies to Dallas, I meet him, we get along really well.
I forget what the movie we were working on was about, but anyway, it turns out Dave is a private pilot.
So one day, I hear this loud crash, the house shakes. I run upstairs, and there's Dave sitting in a fixed wing aircraft in one of the upstairs rooms, both wings snapped off.
"Are you okay?"
He pulls off his goggles. "Yeah, I guess. I think I am."
I'm looking around the room. There's no hole in the ceiling. How the hell did the plane get inside?
I go back downstairs, and it turns out one whole side of our house is missing its walls, ground floor to second story ceiling. Rain is dripping everywhere.
The beautiful home Mary and I live in is all smashed on that side. Plus, we have indoor cats, they're strictly indoor cats, their front paws declawed, but now they're running around outside, something we've always feared might happen.
As I look, worried out of my head over their safety, squatting down, trying to call them back inside, pleading with them, I see Sheba, our orange cat, who only eats dry food, never, ever, wet cat food, trotting out into the rain with a raw chicken drumstick between his jaws, looking back over his shoulder at me, like, I'm sick of all that "good for you" medicated dry food. This chicken leg is mine.
He drops the drumstick a safe distance away from me and starts tearing at it with his teeth.
Meanwhile, rain's getting on everything. Furniture, photographs. I go hunting for Lynch, to see about getting him to reimburse us for all the damage he's done to our home, so we can get it repaired, but he's gone. There's just Trey there, his assistant. "Boy, what a mess," he says.
I look around, hair wet. "I'll say. So, is David mailing me a check, or…"
Trey looks surprised. "Oh, Dave couldn't possibly pay for this. He'd love to, he really would, but to be honest, he just doesn't have the money."
I'm furious. "What are you talking about? What about that big lawsuit that French movie company settled with him? What about those three houses he owns out in Los Angeles?"
"Oh, well, money just goes through Dave's fingers." He tilts his head to one side, closing his eyes, lets out a sigh. "He's an artist. A free spirit. He's not bound by the same rules we are."
I blow up. "I don't give a fuck who he is! He crashed his fucking airplane into our house and now it's missing all these walls, our cats are running outside, our stuff's getting ruined…Who the fuck is going to pay for this?"
"Well. If you're going to be coarse." He fucking leaves!
Mary and I are out in the pouring rain, trying to find all our cats, get them back inside, trying to figure out how to prevent them from then running to the ruined side of the house, where they can just run outside again.
I spot this French poodle out in the rain. It's all black. One of those poodles that have all their fur trimmed so there's like these weird balls of fur on each leg, one at the end of their tail, shit like that? And I think, Hey, wait a fucking minute. That's fucking David fucking Lynch's God damn dog.
So what should I do? Should I leave it out in the rain to somehow punish David Lynch, or should I have pity on it, take it in to protect it? In my head, a voice says, Your decision will affect what happens to your home.
I take the wet thing in. Rub a towel over its smelly back.
And wake up. For a minute, I'm confused, still filled with dread and sorrow over what happened to our beautiful home, then, in one of those great, great feelings of relief, I understand, This was just another one of those times where you wake up and realize none of those awful things happened, it was all just a dream!
I couldn't get back to sleep. I counted the cats, shook my finger at Sheba, made coffee, lit a cigarette, went upstairs to read the news while the coffee brewed.
Later, once Mary woke, I gave her a kiss. "I had the weirdest, weirdest dream last night."
SENTENCE is now entering its eighth year on-line.
When I visit different sites, I often wonder how popular they are, whether their audience is growing or shrinking, what pages on their site are most popular, etc. Most sites don't publish their statistics, and they certainly have a right not to, but I think site statistics are kind of interesting, like those circulation statements you see once a year in magazines that tell how many paid subscriptions they have, how many newsstand copies they sell, how many free copies of each issue they give away, how many copies are spoiled, and so on.
Each January, I've been publishing statistics about SENTENCE, for those of you who might be interested. If you find this annual survey boring I apologize, but I do it in the belief that regular SENTENCE visitors might like to know how the site is faring, and that other webmasters might find the information useful for purposes of comparison. The statistics quoted here are from Urchin Enterprise Version 3.4, the statistics software used by SENTENCE. Totals, unless indicated otherwise, refer to all SENTENCE pages combined.
In 2004, SENTENCE received over 800,000 hits, compared to 585,000 hits in 2003, 445,000 hits in 2002.
Each day, between 600 and 900 people visit SENTENCE.
The ten most popular short stories on this site in 2004 were, in this order, starting with number one:
The ten most popular non-fiction pages on this site in 2004 were, in this order, starting with number one:
I started SENTENCE to showcase my writings. To make them available to readers around the world. Because before the Internet, although I was getting published in different periodicals and anthologies, the bulk of what I wrote was unpublished, unseen, unread. And much of that bulk included the best stuff I had done.
In many ways, the opportunity to self-publish on the Internet mitigates the frustration I think we all, as writers, feel towards the publishing establishment. At least with this bypass, we're able to get our stories out directly, to let readers themselves decide on the worth of our words. But I have to admit, being published in print, in a saddle-stitched magazine with a circulation of 300, is still a greater thrill to me, a vindication of my worth, than knowing, through my statistics software, that since its placement on SENTENCE, that same story, on-line, has been read by over 10,000 people. I still want something I can hold in my hands.
This annual column also gives me the opportunity to sincerely thank all of you who visit SENTENCE on a regular basis. I've come to know some of you through e-mails, and even with those of you who visit silently, I've sensed your presence, and am so appreciative you've found something of worth here to which you keep returning.
As I've said elsewhere, the real achievement of writing is not the writing. The real achievement of writing is someone else reading the writing.
Thanks to all of you, everywhere, for reading me. It means a lot.