“Your doctor bill is $46, but the use of a ‘treatment room’ costs $255.”

The U.S. medical system is skewed toward profit. I should know that by now. And yet, I was still surprised when I got an invoice for $299.96 for a twenty minute appointment for steroid injections in my head. (For more on that fun, go here.) The recent bill was made all the more surprising by the fact that the first appointment cost just over $100.

“Ah,” I thought, “I’ve heard about this before. They’ve made a billing error and are charging me for a treatment room, when my appointment took place in a normal examining room. I’ll simply call them and sort it out.”



According to Denita, the customer service representative, “treatment room” is just another expression for “facility charge.”

Because my doctor’s network is at a public hospital, this cost is set by the government.

If you don’t live in the U.S., you’re probably scratching your head, wondering why on earth the American government wants hospitals to charge $391 for me to spend 2o minutes in an examining room. You’re also probably wondering why I just wrote $391, when I previously said I was billed for $266.

After the insurance adjustment, the bill was $266.

This means if you don’t have insurance you’re on the hook for the whole $391.


By now, non-Americans in other industrialized nations are likely feeling a little smug.

Because I’m American. I asked if I could talk to someone to get the fees waived because they were so clearly ridiculous.

Danita offered to put me in a payment plan.

But the issue wasn’t about ability to pay, it was the expectation that I should pay $255 for passing twenty minutes in a bare bones examination room

If you’re wondering, that’s $12.75 a minute, just over $.21 a second, to pay for something that should be considered the cost of doing business.

It’s like going to buy a pair of shoes and being told, “That’s $65.97 for the shoes and $20 to help pay our electric bill.”

To be fair, I should admit, it doesn’t just happen in the medical field. These days — and yes, I do realize I sound like an old-timer using that phrase — when you buy tickets to any event, you go online, jump through a few hoops (or many, as when The Engineer recently purchased tickets to see Jeff Dunham), pay your money, and print the ticket. For this, you are charged a service fee, which seems to get higher every time we go anywhere.

Exactly what service are we getting?
The program that “allows” us the dubious convenience of buying tickets online?
The non-existent customer service if — God forbid! — you make a mistake in the labyrinth of the procedure?
The doubtless minimum-wage-receiving contract workers who take the tickets at the venue?

These are all part of the cost of doing business and should be covered by the exorbitant cost of tickets.

My “facilities fee” is the same. Why am I paying for my medical provider’s building every time I visit? At that rate, I could pay to share an apartment for a few weeks.

Danita did say I could speak to a supervisor, but the supervisor would offer the same choices — a payment plan or 10% off.

So I asked Danita for 10% off. The bill for two visits (including the doctor) went from $597.92 to $538.12.

That means I paid $13.45 a minute for the doctor and the facility, instead of $14.95.

Wow. I feel so much better.

 Addendum: It bears saying, though it should be obvious, that the most ludicrous part of this kind of medical bill is the assumptions that everyone can pay them, and that those least able to pay, the uninsured, are expected to pay a higher rate. 



The Radium Girls

In the early 1900s, radium was looked upon as a miracle element capable of amazing things, quite a different reputation from the one we now recognize as true.

In the 1910s, through the 1920s, and into the 1930s, the “Radium Girls” were looked upon as the chosen few for they were the ones privileged to work with the wondrously glowing material. These girls — and most of them were just that —  worked as “dial painters” painting the dials of watch faces and airplane instruments so the numbers would glow in the dark.


Photo credit: Wikimedia

Such work required meticulous attention to detail, using only the finest of paintbrushes, which the girls would swirl to an even finer point with their mouth.

“Lip, dip, paint.” The procedure was part of the their training. “Lip” the brush to a point, “dip” it in the radium material, and “paint” the dial.

By all accounts, the girls liked their jobs. Though the work was challenging, they enjoyed one another’s company, and of course, there was the added benefit of being some of the few to work with radium. Wearing their best clothes to work so they would glow when they went out at night, sometimes painting their nails or lips with the material — it was all part of the fun.

But then, girls started having little health problems. A tooth that had to be pulled leaving a socket that never healed. A slight limp. Pimples.

As the years progressed, the sockets that didn’t heal became jaw bones that broke and fell out in their mouths. The limp became a leg that had somehow grown shorter. Pimples turned into bumps which grew into full-sized lumps and ended up as tumors.

Disclosure: I had never heard of the Radium Girls until I received a free advance reader edition from the publisher (Sourcebooks) of The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. 


Photo from Sourcebooks website

If I hadn’t it’s likely I would have requested a copy from the library once I read a review. I’m a sucker for underdog stories.

The girls were indeed underdogs; they came from working class families, but eventually took on two of the most powerful and wealthy companies of their time.

Their story was heartbreaking, bringing tears to my eyes. Their illnesses seemed to me to be the opposite of Alzheimer’s Disease, a physical breaking down of their bodies while the strength of their minds and spirits kept them fighting.

Many of the Radium Girls died young, and by young, I mean in their twenties and thirties. And although initially the companies were as ignorant about radium’s lethal powers, in the end, they simply didn’t care.

Readers, they lied. They lied to the girls. They lied to the girls’ families, and they lied in court.

They lied to save their almighty profits.

This probably doesn’t surprise you. I may be a cynic, but it sure didn’t surprise me. Workers, especially women, have ever been looked on as expendable resources, but the brazenness of these companies actions still shocked me. They knew these women were radioactive before the women did, probably because company doctors were allowed to examine them without sharing the results of those examinations.

I was also stunned to learn that sometimes even the girls’ own communities shunned them. (Now they have a statue in their honor.)

However, what truly sets this story apart is the realization that we owe much to these young women and to the fact that they continued fighting, in one case virtually from a deathbed. It is their fight that led to work safety standards and eventually to the development of OSHA.

Many survivors participated in research at the Center for Human Radiobiology (CHR) for decades. CHR also exhumed the bodies of more than one hundred dial painters for further research. Amazingly, the researchers didn’t share what they found with their subjects either.

Still more amazingly, as late as 1979, one of the companies’ sites was found to have unacceptable, environmentally hazardous levels of radioactivity, and they were charged with cleanup, which the company never actually did. Another site was razed and the waste dumped around its town. That town now suffers a higher than average cancer rate.

The Radium Girls comes out in May. Read it if you’re a history buff, a fan of the underdog, or simply think heroines don’t exist.

Think again.


Little Insects, Big Investment

There’s no two ways about it — getting into beekeeping is a costly endeavor. To make it worse, it’s generally advised that you buy new equipment. The reason is simple, and you probably know it already unless you live under a rock, in which case you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Raising bees these days means launching yourself into an ongoing battle against diseases and pests. Buying used equipment can mean buying another’s problems, definitely not the way to start.

Since I’m the queen of thrift shops and garage sales, and The Engineer is strongly (and intelligently, I might say) anti-waste, starting a new activity with completely new equipment is a rare exception to our usual mode of operation. A sense of foreboding warns me beekeeping may prove to be an exception in a lot of other ways too.

To begin with, it’s best to take a class. Ours was held at the local library on two Saturdays and cost $85 per person or $100 per family. We spent fourteen hours learning about the fascinating world of the honey bee.  If you ever take up beekeeping, I highly recommend you do the same. The $100 included a book, The Backyard Beekeeper, by Kim Flottum, which has rapidly become our bible.

I must add the world of the honey bee is also a frightening one. And that has nothing to do with their sting. It’s those pests and diseases I mentioned, especially the Varroa Mite.

A Varroa Mite is a scary thing. Their scientific name, Varroa Destructor, is well-earned. These nasty creatures latch on to bee larvae and pretty much devour them alive. But that’s not the scariest part. They also latch on to the adult bees, thereby making the bees vulnerable to a laundry list of other diseases and pests. (I won’t share that list. Just thinking about it is a little worrying.)


Varroa Destructor  See what I mean? Scary! Photo credit: Wikipedia

Still, forewarned is forearmed and all that. <crosses fingers>

We also learned what we’d need to start a hive. Having already visited a beekeeping store, we weren’t too shocked, but the list of required tools and equipment can be daunting.

Here’s what Flottum recommends:
Screened bottom board
At least 3 assembled medium-depth brood chambers (sometimes called supers) with assembled frames and foundation (30)
At least two additional medium supers for honey
Entrance reducers for the hive’s front door
Inner cover, outer cover

We chose to use “deeps” for the brood chambers, which meant we only needed two. Getting them plus honey supers, entrance reducer, inner and outer covers, bottom board, and all the frames and foundations in a kit for $275.00 (unpainted, but assembled). 



Photo from articles.extension.org

Queen excluder (optional) $10.95
Mouse guard $2.95
Bee suit with veil (Some people say the suit is optional, and many recommend gloves, but everything I read said you need the hat and veil at the very least. Also, many people wear a jacket instead of a full suit.) My jacket with veil, and my gloves came to around $150.00. It’s very chic.
Hive tools, at least two $6.00- $15.95 each
Smoker and fuel $34.95-$42.95 — we went for the medium priced one at $38.95
Hive stands to hold heavy hives (should support at least 500 lbs) The Engineer made ours out of lumber we purchased using a Lowes gift card he got for being such an exceptional engineer. His preliminary design, the design he used, which he ammended from one I found online, and the final product are pictured below. It’s pretty sturdy, will be set on four patio paving stones, with mulch around the area. 

Hive-top sugar-syrup feeder pail, jar, or hive-top feeder, can use mason jars. I’m a canner, so we have plenty.
Books, magazines, catalogs, and other information Along with Flottum’s book, we got lots of catalogues at our beekeeping class. Subscription to beekeeping magazine was about $20.00, and I also bought a few additional books costing a total of about $40.00.

Honey bees and a queen Cost depends on what kind you get, and where you get them. I will do a separate post on this later. 

To our list, we added baby powder (for gloves, figure a couple of dollars) 2 mist bottles (one for sugar water and one for alcohol to make clean-up easier, Lowes gift card), paint for the hive (also Lowes — it was less than $5.00), duct tape (always useful and always on hand — what design do you think the bees would like?), a frame perch to hold empty frames while inspecting the bees (The Engineer is making), blocks for on top of hive (on hand), notebook (plenty left over from Darling Daughter’s school years), pail to hold tools, a piece of board to scrape waste on, a bee brush ($6.00), and a cell cap scratcher ($8.00). We will purchase or make velcro scraps to discourage bees from exploring up our trouser legs (not sure of cost), pollen or pollen substitute ($6.95 – $82.00 depending on how much you need) and an eating stimulant ($30.00- $150.00, depending on how much you need). These were all recommended in one book or another and made sense to us.

I should note here that you can save money by making, assembling, or even just painting your own hives and stands. There’s also another type of hive that’s more easily constructed, and thus more economical, called a “top bar hive.” Click through for more information.

And when we get to the point where we can harvest honey, there are more supplies to purchase.

You can total it up if you like.
I’d rather not.



The Byrd and the Bees

We’re getting bees!

After trying to convince The Engineer (aka my husband) beekeeping would be a great hobby for him, I recently realized that it would be an even better one for us to do together.

Initially, I was put off the idea for myself because, well, you know, even the gentle honeybee sometimes stings, and The Engineer is a lot more stoic than I am about that kind of thing.

However, after speaking to a friend who took up beekeeping last year, I realized how fascinating the little buggers are and decided I wanted to be a part of it.

So, we’re starting our hive for the following reasons.

  1. Colony Collapse Disorder — honeybees need all the help they can get right now.
  2. At our ages, it becomes especially important to occasionally learn something comepletely new and somewhat out of your comfort level.
  3. We would be starting on this new endeavor together, both novices and learning together.
  4. I use a lot of honey in my tea.

I can’t wait to learn more about these hardworking little insects, and I hope you’ll join us in our adventure!

Look at this one — so loaded with pollen she can hardly fly. (Photo from: http://beesweetnaturals.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Honey-Bee-Flowers-Widescreen.jpg)Honey-Bee-Flowers-Widescreen