Mothering Mom and More(!) Honey

 

Mom

Mom Giving Her Opinion a Few Years Ago

On 28 August — four days after being released from the hospital into rehab and ten days after I found her on the floor of her bathroom — Mom turned 89.

We had a little party because it had been a rough couple of weeks for all of us.

The fall that ended with her being hospitalized was the third in a month, and second in a week.

She had fallen in the past, but there were always reasons.

She wasn’t using her walker (crushed elbow).
She tripped on a crack in the sidewalk (dented pride).
And — the one that made me most crazy — she was trying to get some plastic bags out of a tree so the birds wouldn’t get caught and ended up breaking both bones in her forearm.

You might think such a task wasn’t meant for an 88-year-old who used a cane, but Mom felt differently and paid a price for that opinion.

These last few times, it was different. She just … fell. And just like in that stupid commercial, she couldn’t get up.

Lest you think my brother’s and my negligence allowed the third fall, you should know we took her to the doctor after the second one and were considering her suggestion that it might be time to move to into an assisted living facility. But her GP believed fall prevention physical therapy would be better, allowing her to stay independent as long as possible, and ordered tests to make sure there was nothing else happening.

It turned out she had pneumonia and congestive heart failure, though in fairness to the doc, she wasn’t expressing symptoms when she saw him. Those came and went throughout the week, mostly her feeling tired and like she couldn’t get warm.

On Saturday night before the latest fall, she called me at work to say she was cold again. When I arrived, she had a slight fever, but said she wasn’t any worse than earlier in the week, so after talking to the nurse on call, I gave her a meal and acetaminophen, made her comfortable, and went home, knowing I’d be back in the morning. If she wasn’t better, I’d take her to emergency. If she was better, we’d be going back to to the doctor.

But, the next morning, she was on the bathroom floor, having lain there for two and a half hours, partly because her medical alert necklace was on the sink rather than her neck.

I covered her with a blanket and called the rescue squad.

The EMT on call found her blood pressure high and oxygen level low, certainly enough cause to transport her to the hospital.

It was five days before she was released, and then it was to go into rehab. I spent those five days visiting the hospital, looking after Mom’s cat, and researching assisted living and long-term care residences. I hoped to find a place where she could move seamlessly from one stage to the next.

For those who live outside the US, Medicare (which provides the bulk of medical insurance for the elderly) pays only for rehab. It doesn’t cover any type of long-term care or assisted living. To qualify for help with that (through Medicaid), you must considered destitute, defined as below a certain income level with less than $2,000 in savings.

What happens is most people who can no longer live independently will pay for some kind of assisted care in their own home or a facility until their money runs out. Then, they go on Medicaid, which generally pays for long-term care, but not assisted living.  At least not at any place I wanted my mother to live.

None of this happens without a lot of paperwork, a job I have inherited and only just begun.

We were fortunate. My brother and I found a facility that offers rehab, assisted living, and long-term care, all in the same building.

Though it’s a bit farther from her acquaintances than Mom would like, it’s a straight shot down the highway, with beautiful, large, private rooms, and — here’s where we cross our fingers — she should be able to segue from rehab to assisted living to long-term care pretty much seamlessly.

The rehab to assisted living transition went well, but the biggest leap is still ahead, and I’m doing everything within my power to make it so she doesn’t have to change addresses ever again.

This — my new part-time job — involves many steps.

First, Mom had to grant me Power-of-Attorney, allowing me to sign legal and financial documents on her behalf, so my brother and I visited the lawyer.

Then, I had to establish myself as Mom’s POA at her bank, a process that was more onerous than it should have been, requiring an extra form signed by her and notarized. Said form basically states if the bank honored my POA, Mom wouldn’t hold them responsible for my actions. Well, duh. That’s what a signed and notarized POA document says. There were other hold-ups too, which explains my new, but deeply felt, conviction that I will never, ever, use that bank on my own behalf and will be moving her accounts as soon as it’s feasible.

On a side note, surely it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to do everything online. In the bank and you want a copy of all the most recent transactions on an account? The employees can’t help, but you can do it online. Like to change the amount of a monthly transfer from one account at their bank to another (also at their bank)? Sorry. You have do it online or use their handy app, which is, of course, 100% secure. That’s what the teller said: 100%. Um, sorry, but I don’t believe anything is 100% secure, and I have three emails in my inbox about data breaches to back up that belief. Furthermore, I don’t want to bank online or use their app. I just want to be able to go into a bank and, you know, bank there? How crazy is that?

Okay, end of banking rant.

Next up was cleaning out a lifetime of possessions from Mom’s apartment, while furnishing her new room. Cue much furniture moving, many trips to Goodwill and the recycling center, and hours and hours of cleaning and packing.

I can’t express just how grateful I am to my brother for cleaning out the fridge and taking charge of the cat, Darling Daughter and The Engineer for two full weekends of cleaning, sorting, and packing, and my friends Flo and Regina for helping with the final packing day.

We also had a little house/estate sale, giving Mom a chance to visit with her friends, sell some of her stuff, and see her old place one last time. I felt she should be the one to set prices, and both Darling Daughter and I thought she’d be giving everything away.

In fact, it was quite the opposite. Though a veteran of many garage sales, Mom wanted top dollar for everything, which led to me hissing in her ear that I would be the one packing up and taking everything that didn’t sell to Goodwill to donate.

Again, thanks to Flo, for being there to remind me of the humor of the situation.

I’m not completely heartless. I understand it must have been wrenching for Mom to say goodbye to so many of her possessions. But I’d already spent most of three weeks cleaning out the place, so I wasn’t as sympathetic as I might have been otherwise.

On 24 September — four weeks and two days after the bathroom fall — I turned in the keys.

I thought I’d feel like celebrating, but I just felt tired.

To her credit, for the most part, Mom has taken these changes in her stride. Perhaps it helps that she was the one who intitiated the conversation about making the move. Despite this, there have been a few wobbles — see above paragraphs on the house sale — some rather strong statements about her coffee table being hers, and a recent wondering aloud if perhaps we’d made the decision too hastily.

I was emphatic that we had not, reminding her of the many times she’d missed her daily phone call from me (usually because she’d somehow turned off the ringer). This would result in my driving over, preparing myself for the worst, only to find her tootling around her apartment or watching television.

“You didn’t have to come,” she would say.

“Yes, Mom, I kind of do,” I’d reply.

Now, if she misses a phone call, I know she’s busy and not laying on her bathroom floor.

This is a great relief.

Also, on her follow-up visit to the cardiologist, we learned her heart function has decreased about 50% since it was last measured two years ago.

Her heart is failing.
She has atrial fibrillation.
And she’s beginning to have problems with her short-term memory.

She’s in the right place, and will be fine.

The employees there are so nice to her, which is easy, I think, because she’s funny and grateful for the help and easy to be around. There are also card games and Bingo, which Mom has always enjoyed, and I still deliver her books.

As for me, I now need to navigate the Medicaid and Veteran’s Administration mazes, sort through two large boxes of photos and documents, and turn my attention back to my own life, which has fallen into disrepair.

Until last week, I hadn’t exercised for six weeks, and my house is embarrassingly messy, a state very much at odds with my newly developed intention to pare down my own belongings. I’ve made a few small dents (mostly t-shirts and kitchenware), but I’m determined to get rid of more than I keep.

Then, there’s the bees.

Long story much shortened: We’ve done some abbreviated checks, limiting ourselves to quick looks under the hood because the yellow jackets are actively looking to score easy food before winter.

During one of those checks, we discovered Buzzers’ Roost had enough honey to harvest, and used the escape board to remove the honey super.

We extracted on Saturday,  and at The Engineer’s (wise) suggestion, before we cleaned the extractor, we re-checked FreeBees, finding eight more frames to extract. If you recall from my last post, we’d just emptied all the frames in that hive’s supers in early August, and yet, they’d managed to refill most of one.

Since this was a last-minute decision, we hadn’t put in the escape board, and had to rely on the “bang-the-frame-to-knock-off-the-bees-and-brush-off-any-that-cling” process — not a method I’d recommend.

There were many deeply unhappy bees that day, although the hive was back to normal within a couple of hours. I guess when you’re that small, you don’t have much of a memory.

Anyway, just look at this frame — full of beautiful, glistening honey. It’s being held over our uncapping tank. (Ignore the red bit on the bottom, which I’ve only just noticed. It’s probably one of the cards in the holder on that back of my phone.)

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Here’s picture of the inside of one side of the extractor. When we crank, the center part spins, forcing the honey out against the walls. You can see the honey at the bottom and bits of wax and propolis stuck to the walls.

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And this is a little clip of the honey draining from the capping tank into our new double-mesh filter. It cost about $35 at Queen Right Colonies, but works much better than our previous method of two colanders and cheese cloth. This filter has two strainers, a removable, coarser top one, and a finely meshed bottom one, which catch the bits of wax and bees that inadvertently end up in the uncapped honey.

Lastly, below is our guesstimated calculations on how much honey we put into jars. There will be a little more — maybe a few pounds —  once I do a final drain of the uncapping tank. In addition, I did put some cappings to strain through cheesecloth and colanders because there were so many I didn’t think they’d drain otherwise.

It took us six hours this time, including the interlude spent annoying FreeBees. Extracting honey is hard, but rewarding work, and was a nice break from the emotionally draining work of settling Mom  in her new home.

“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.”

Wrong.

Wait

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.

WTF?

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.