latelythe on-line diary of
ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Robert Moore. All rights reserved.
Return to lately 2006
may 1, 2006
We knew we'd have to pay taxes this year, put it off long as we could. Second week in April, I sat down at our black breakfast nook table, on an otherwise beautiful blue afternoon, sharpened pencil, spread-out forms.
2005 was an unusually complex year for us, income-wise.
I worked at two different jobs, being let go from my original job in mid-summer, finding a new job in late fall. In the interim I received worker's compensation. So I had three sources of income to report. Not a problem, since I know how to add.
Mary, though, had income from her long term disability insurance for her stroke, plus income from Social Security disability. With Social Security disability, you don't just report what you received as income. You use a worksheet to determine what portion of that income is taxable.
Here's a sample from the Social Security worksheet:
Not that complicated a calculation, butů
Mary was declared disabled after a hearing before a judge in early 2005 (the whole process of obtaining Social Security disability may take up to two years or more of filings, as it did for us). Once she was declared officially disabled, Social Security made a lump sum payment to her of $50,000, representing the benefits she was entitled to, going back to a few months after her stroke. Butůsince her long term disability (LTD) insurance coordinates its benefits with Social Security, most of that lump sum payment had to be repaid to the LTD insurance. Butůduring this process, it was discovered Mary's LTD insurance had miscalculated her LTD benefits going back to 2002, meaning they had underpaid her during those years by about $14,000 (which they promptly paid us, meaning that, too, had to be considered as income, added to the $50,000 we had received from Social Security, but the $50,000 recalculated according to the worksheet, then reduced by the amount we repaid to the LTD carrier through coordination, then figured as a component of our total income, which is where I started to get a little testy).
By the time I was finished with all the calculations, we owed $1,300 to the IRS. Really, not that bad. During this process, we received a call from Mary's former employer, telling us the company had miscalculated benefits for the company's 401(k) plan, so Mary, like all other employees who worked for the company during that period, was being reimbursed for the miscalculation. In Mary's case, an additional $30,000 would be deposited into her 401(k), great in and of itself, greater still that it was non-taxable, so I wouldn't have to consider it when doing our 2006 taxes next year.
The whole process, windfalls and set-backs, was a lot like playing Monopoly, hopping your top hat over squares, forward and backwards, except for real.
Done with that, I went upstairs, answered all the questions for my interview to appear in the U.K. magazine Midnight Street, as well as compiling a bibliography for the issue.
Mary decided she'd like to have a full physical, x-ray and lab work-up, given the fact her younger sister Katy died last month, of lung cancer (Mary's mom, Joan, also died of lung cancer).
Mary's cardiologist recommended a general practitioner in the Dallas area. As it turned out, that doctor was no longer accepting Medicare patients (Mary is eligible for Medicare because of her qualifying for Social Security disability benefits), but the doctor who shared the office with the first doctor was willing to take Mary on as a patient.
Because there would be blood work to determine Mary's cholesterol level, she couldn't eat the morning of the physical, or even have coffee (I abstained as well, to lend moral support). (There are all these special rules regarding medical tests. When Mary a week later got her mammogram, the technician asked her if she had put on deodorant that morning, which of course she had. Mary had to remove the deodorant before the mammogram could begin.)
Mary was understandably nervous about her physical, as well as the possible results. We've always found it helps to schedule something pleasant after something unpleasant, so we decided after the physical we'd stop on the way home at Sam's Pizza and Pasta, and buy a pizza (Sam's has the best pizza in Dallas. I said so on my Dallas Restaurant Reviews page on this site, and citing my review, the Dallas Observer awarded Sam's with its Best Pizza award. When we picked up our pizza, the award was prominently displayed by the cash register, although I don't know if anyone there knew I was the one who brought them to the attention of the Observer. I didn't say anything.)
Along with the pizza, we thought we'd watch a video. We decided on Peter Jackson's King Kong, which we bought a day before the physical, at a supermarket. (Mary, with her aphasia, difficulty with language resulting from her stroke, had endearingly written down the name of the movie on our food list as King Konk.)
The doctor was located in one of the tall "professional buildings", as they're known, surrounding Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Men inside the huge parking garage, like at Disneyland, used their swinging arms to direct cars to different parking spaces. Quite a change from the doctor with a black bag making house calls.
Mary's appointment was at eleven. Precisely at eleven, an assistant came out into the reception area, called Mary's name. Impressive. I went in with Mary (I accompany Mary on all her doctor visits, since Mary can't fully communicate). We were ushered to an examination room, where a nurse assistant took Mary's blood pressure. She asked Mary to change into a disposable white paper gown. "The doctor will be in to see you in about five minutes. We have a rule against keeping our patients waiting past their appointment time."
And in fact the doctor, a woman in her fifties, did promptly arrive five minutes later. (I have to say, I've always been impressed by the doctors (including Mary's cardiologist) affiliated with Presbyterian Hospital. Everyone we've dealt with is friendly, knowledgeable, and sees you within a few minutes of your appointment time. Which is getting more and more unusual these days.)
The doctor looked in Mary's ears, eyes, and mouth, listened to her holding a breath, letting it out, did a breast exam, OB-GYN, pap.
Everything was normal. She talked to Mary for a while, finding out her lifestyle, concerns.
"We'll want to do a blood test and urinalysis, as well as a chest x-ray. We can do all those today, and also give you a tetanus booster shot. In addition, because of your age, I'd recommend getting a mammography, bone density test, and colonoscopy, which we'll help you schedule."
We left the office and rode down in the elevator with a bunch of other people, them going right while we went left, walking hand in hand to the blood and urinalysis lab.
After Mary came out of the closet-sized bathroom, I asked the nurse if Mary should leave the urine sample in its plastic vial on the shelf in the bathroom, or turn it in. The nurse smirked. "The vial is already coded, invisibly, with her identity. We don't take any chances."
After that stop, we continued on through this Disneyland for older adults to the x-ray department.
Large reception area, sixty people sitting in chairs. All types, sizes, colors.
When you first go in, you walk to the rear of the reception area, wide chest-high counter, five or six people sitting behind the counter, each by a computer. We waited in one of the lines.
We got called up to one of the receptionists fairly quick. She took Mary's information, put a couple of forms up on the counter for Mary to sign, the fingernail of my right index finger indicating where Mary's pen strokes should begin.
I asked, "Is there a long wait?"
"Yeah, it takes forever!" The receptionist grinned, good-naturedly. "Kidding. It moves really quick."
Which it did. We were called into the back area, where Mary and I went into a locked booth. Mary took off her blouse, put on more disposable white paper. We sat outside the booth, in a hallway, Mary's blouse draped over my forearm, sitting with a cheerful, white-haired woman, and a woman in her late thirties, three teenage daughters hanging around her. One of the daughters, sitting in her mother's lap, didn't look well. Face too pale. Mary smiled at her. She smiled back.
The next day, Thursday, we worked out in our backyard garden for a few hours, mowed and trimmed our front lawn.
We wouldn't know the blood, urine and chest x-ray results for about a week. I knew they were on Mary's mind.
Friday, actually Good Friday, I was finishing up my day job work for the week in my upstairs study, when I heard faint, monotonous buzzings outside our home.
I thought of a hand-lettered sign taped to the rear window of a car that cut in front of me, in the mid-nineties, as I was on my way to work one Good Friday:
I walked over to the tall, wide window in Mary's second floor project room, and there, below, were all our neighbors, mowing their lawns, for Easter. Even the ones that sometimes let a week skip.
I looked out the big window, down at all the men walking behind their mowers, and found the scene touching. That everyone around us cared enough about their neighbors, the fact there'd probably be a lot of families visiting, that they'd all, independently, make sure our neighborhood looked nice.
The following week, wanting to strike off more items on our "To Do" list, we decided to get the inspection sticker on our car renewed (we had to do that by the end of April), and get a burglar alarm permit from our town's police department.
We went to the car inspection place first, one of those "quick oil changes" franchises that also do inspections. I gave the guy our car keys, Mary and I deciding not to wait in their tiny room, but instead walking across the vast expanse of the adjacent Home Depot's parking lot, going inside to pick up some nails (for replacing some pickets on our privacy fence), an under-the-cabinet work area light for our kitchen, a nine foot hose (for watering all the potted plants on our back patio, which we didn't find), and a couple of three-packs of spooled filament for our weed whacker.
We got back to the inspection station just as they were finishing up with our car.
Next up was getting the burglar alarm permit.
I drove down the main drag of our business district, looking left for the police station.
The drag has the occasional left turn only lane, that allows you to cross oncoming traffic to get to an establishment on the other side.
As soon as I curved across the oncoming lanes, into the police station's driveway, I realized I was driving into the exit driveway, rather than the entrance driveway.
A police car exiting the same driveway braked, cop behind the steering wheel watching me in his rear view mirror. The whole black sunglasses and square jaw look.
There was a half moon of parking spaces in front.
Since I had gone in the wrong driveway, I not only had to back-up to avoid driving into the "Police Vehicles Only" section at the side of the building, I also had to drive the wrong way through the half moon visitor's parking lot, all the while the braked cop car watched my every move.
I swung into a vacant slot. We got out, I looked down, realized my left tires were, like, two feet past the left yellow line of the parking slot.
I got back in, backed the car out of the slot, twisted my steering wheel, nosed forward again, to where I was inside the lines.
Got out, beeped the car to make sure it was locked. Took Mary's hand. Walked towards the front glass door. "There's probably twenty cops inside doing rocks scissors paper, deciding who's going to arrest me for bad driving."
But in fact, no one was inside.
Although the police station, a one-story red brick building, was quite wide, with a back building sprawl of several hundred feet, the front entrance led to a small room with a couple of chairs, one window at the rear counter.
Square paper sign scotch-taped next to the empty window:
YOU ARE BEING VIDEOTAPED.
I stood at the empty window, going into actor mode, emoting someone law-abiding who is patiently waiting to be helped.
A heavy-set black police officer with glasses showed up, smiling. I explained we wanted to get a burglar alarm permit. He passed the one-page form under the protective glass. (We see so much protective glass now, not only in banks and hospitals, but even some retail establishments. At some point are people going to start walking around with protective glass? How will kissing work at that point? When did we start getting so afraid of each other?)
I filled the form out by the side of the window, as he disappeared back within the recesses.
One of the questions asked, What system is used to set off your alarm?
I checked, Contact Points. Another system was, Water Method.
Water Method? What's that? Some Leonardo DaVinci design? Are the instructions written in mirror script?
We got our permit. And I successfully drove out of the police station parking lot without getting arrested.
When we got back home, the phone rang.
It was the nurse from Mary's doctor, telling Mary her blood and urine tests were all within the normal range.
But what about her chest x-ray?
This was the screening Mary (and I) were most concerned about, given the fact her mother and younger sister both died from lung cancer.
Over the phone, I heard the nurse flipping through papers. "I don't have it here. They haven't reported it yet. I'll contact them, and get the results to you tomorrow."
So we had to wait.
The next day, we went about our business, but in the back of our minds was anxiety over the chest x-ray results. What if she were diagnosed with lung cancer? Can you imagine the impact that would have on us? For Mary, the horror of getting a disease, like the horror of getting lost in the woods. For me, no longer being able to hold her hand, hands separating, five fingers on either side drifting away.
When we didn't hear from the doctor's office by three in the afternoon, I decided to call.
The nurse put me on hold. Keeping the phone against my ear, I swiveled around to smile at Mary, who was sitting on the edge of our bed, hands in her lap.
"She's getting the file."
Mary sat upright. "Okay."
The nurse came back on the line. "Okay, I have it here. The results are all negative. No abnormalities."
I shut my eyes a moment, couldn't help it, looked over at Mary, gave a thumbs up.