Sunday, July 6, 2008

July 4th with Firefighters

Sadly, my first July 4th in Boston was not exciting. I'd hoped to be able to go into Boston, and see the fireworks and maybe the Boston Pops. But it rained, which generated a migraine. Not a hugely awful one, but still one that made me need my meds. This made me decide that I should stay in. Driving in an unfamiliar place on a holiday with an out-of-state plate while on

So while resting from the migraine, I started thinking about July 4th when I was a kid. My dad was a volunteer firefighter, and the guys in his house always had a cookout at "Cappy's". The guys all pitched in for meat and alcohol and sodas, the wives brought side dishes and desserts, and the kids brought their swimsuits and pool toys...because Cappy's family had a pool.

Some of the younger guys weren't much more than overgrown teenagers themselves. One year I was all impressed with my new maturity level -- I was in my mid-teens, but already about 5'7" -- and then, out of nowhere a young guy nicknamed "Bigfoot" picked me up and unceremoniously dumped me in the pool. I surfaced and whacked him with a wet towel. So much for maturity on either count.

One high point of the parties was when one of the rigs would come out to Cappy's. The kids would all climb all over and have a great time. We have about 30 photos of my brother wearing a plastic firefighter hat, "driving" the engine or ladder or whatever came to the party that day. The guys would show the kids what the tools were and how they were used. They didn't need to bother showing us the turnout gear -- we knew about that. The neighborhood kids always came running and got to go on the fire trucks, too.

The other high point was the fireworks. Not the city fireworks, which were only fair in those days, but the fireworks that a few of the guys brought back from South Carolina (where you can go to a roadside stand and buy anything short of a rocket launcher, I think). Scratch a firefighter, find a firebug. They'd shout fireworks safety rules at us kids, but then proceed to break all the rules themselves. I particularly remember hearing "never drink and set off fireworks!" said a million times -- almost always by someone holding a beer or bourbon. The fact that these were illegal fireworks being set off by people sworn to uphold public safety made it that much funnier, at least for this cynical then-teenager.

It was really great, that feeling of belonging at that party. It was one large family having a good time all day and into the night.

We were exhausted at the end of the day. We'd drive home with the radio on low, the windows slightly open, and the warm breeze blowing into the car. My brother and I always fell asleep on the drive home, and slept late the next day.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Snake, A Snake, Oh Nooooo.....

I just ran a snake off the back screened-in porch. Little fucker came in under the screen door, then went into coiled-up attack mode at the cat. I grabbed the cat, stamped my feet, yelled, and the snake sat there, coiled up, and just looked at me like, "What, bitch?"

Now, I don't do well with snakes, even ones I know aren't poisonous. They creep me out. I think it's some subterranean part of our brain that makes us feel that way. People who've overcome it have my admiration. But personally, I'd rather deal with a gator in the driveway than a snake anywhere.

The snake on the screen porch wasn't working for me, even though I'm 90% sure it is non-poisonous. Only 90% because I'd taken off my contact lenses. So I did what any liberated woman would do; I called my daddy, who said, "Does it have a pointy head?"

Dad, I didn't get that close. It was round in a pointy kind of way. But not pointy pointy.

"It sounds like a black snake, not a cottonmouth. Wait an hour and it'll leave. Or get a broom and sweep it out. Or call your brother, he deals with snakes all the time."

So I opted for #2. I put on my wellies because a bite even from a non-poisonous snake can get infected, and I don't want to visit the ER with a stupid black snake bite. And if it were a cottonmouth...well, I'm probably allergic to horse serum and not in a hurry to find out for sure. So then I had a purely medicinal shot of vodka because I am not brave.

Thus fortified, in my wellies, broom in hand, I slid the back door open and stepped onto the porch. I got the shovel in easy grabbing position in case the snake showed up, hissed at me, and had a white mouth. We don't need no stinkin' cottonmouths here. They ARE poisonous and aggressive, too.

While singing my snake-killing fight song (from the flash "Badger badger mushroom mushroom, SNAKE, O a snake...") I started moving stuff with the edge of the broom. Furniture. Flipped up the furniture cushions. Poked the chairs around the patio table. Poked the patio table. Stalked around the edges of the porch, banging the wall with the broom handle. Cussed a lot and generally acted like a deranged Great White Hunter. All I needed was a pith helmet.

After all that, no snake. It obviously was unnerved by the screeching and door-slamming and general carrying-on and left. There's now a mat shoved under the back screen door, to fill in the gap between it and the patio. I'm hoping that the snake really is OUT and not trapped inside.

I suspect the snake lives under the drain pipe right outside the screen porch, or maybe in the corner between the patio and the master bedroom. It's a bit marshy over there, and shady. It'd be a nice place to hang out if I were a snake. I also heard some weird hissing-like noise coming from back there a few days ago when I moved some plants that, at the time, I assumed was from the bad connection of the hose to the spigot. But...

Ugh. Between snakes on the porch and gators in the driveway and 3" flying roaches and lizards everywhere, it's like Mutual of Omaha's Wild freakin' Kingdom around here. I do not need nature that close.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Me Too" Drugs - and Our Daily Meds

It is springtime in much of the US, and those who are allergic to pollen are having a good time right now. But in between sneezes, you allergy sufferers need to know something. There have been no truly new breakthroughs in treatment since Seldane was discovered way back in the 80s and Flonase in the early 90s. Pretty much everything since has been variations on the theme -- these are known as "me-too" drugs, because they are almost exactly the same drugs as the ones they replace.

One of the easiest ways to tell if something is a "me-too" drug is to look at the drug's generic name. A "me-too" drug will contain, in part, the name of the drug that it is copying. For example:

  • Seldane (terfenadine)was taken off the market for safety reasons right as Allegra-D (fexofenadine plus pseudoephedrine) was approved for sale. Interesting, no?

  • As Claritin (loratadine) went OTC, the pharmaceutical companies got approval to sell Clarinex (desloratadine).

The two "me-too" newbies for this year are Xyzal (a tablet) and Veramyst (a nasal spray):

  • Xyzal is basically Zyrtec, which went OTC earlier this year. Zyrtec is cetirizine hydrochloride. Xyzal is levocetirizine dihydrochloride. In other words, the pharmaceutical company has found a handy way to keep getting paid those top-tier prescription co-pays, plus whatever the insurance companies pay.

  • Veramyst (fluticasone furoate), a nasal spray, is GSK's newest version of Flonase (fluticasone propionate). You see, Flonase is now off-patent and thus not making as much money for GSK. The ads for Veramyst claim that it's an "improved" version of fluticasone, but FFS, how much can you improve a drug that you snort up your nose? Other than removing the nasty eau-de-potpourri scent that brand Flonase has, I mean. The real benefit, I suspect, is that Veramyst will be on patent until 2021.

Know that big pharma is going to wine and dine and give gifts to docs in the hopes that they will prescribe the newest drugs. Drugs that don't actually relieve allergic reactions any better than Benadryl, which has been around forever and costs mere cents per dose. The new, more expensive med which does the exact same thing as its predecessor, and is released right as patents expire and/or the old drug goes OTC. The difference between these new drugs and the drugs that they copy is slight -- a changed saline structure, a "mirror" of some of the chemicals in the drug. Nothing that changes the outcome.

Does anyone else see a pattern here?

Let me reiterate: drug companies are releasing the me-too drugs -- and have done over the past twenty years -- as the patents on their blockbuster drugs expire. They want the cash cow to keep producing milk. The examples provided here only deal with a small portion of medications -- it's being done for everything from GERD/heartburn meds to sleep aids to antidepressants.

Give a large finger gesture to big pharma this pollen season. If your allergies act up, take Benadryl when you are at home. Take one of the non-sedating OTC antihistamines for when you're at work and/or need to be out and about. If you use a nasal spray, get Flonase or Astelin. And don't buy into the marketing hype -- these "new" drugs aren't new, they're retreads.

You'll have more money in your pocket. We like more money.

Much of the information discussed here can be found in an expanded form in the book Our Daily Meds. I suggest that everyone read it -- what is being done to the American public by big pharma is scary. They withhold information; they pay outrageous sums to docs to "write" papers; they only use partial information discovered; they hide unflattering test results; they place the blame on deaths from meds on other meds. There is little oversight, and we're all at risk -- at the least, we get our pockets picked; at the most, we or a loved one wind up dead.

They have not yet developed a pill to treat the condition of being dead.

Take new meds, and their claims, with a very large grain of salt, and research before you start using a new medication.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

FDA Warns Company About Ceramic Hip Joints, Company Ignores Warning

According to today's New York Times, the Stryker ceramic artificial hip is causing problems for people who've had it implanted. The hip was a much-hyped, much-hoped-for alternative to traditional hip replacements, which had to be replaced every ten years or so. In other words, if a younger person has hip problems due to injury or illness, they'd be facing multiple hip replacements throughout their lifetime. This isn't good from a medical perspective -- there are issues of uneven leg length, less bone to attach to, and, of course, the costs both in healthcare dollars and patient time and discomfort.

Stryker, the main company making the ceramic hips, disagrees strongly that there is a problem with squeaking, and says that the new hips won't shatter. Patient and surgeon/physician reports say otherwise about the squeaking; as of yet, no one knows about shattering.

The hip joint is a tricky one anyway. It is a ball-and-socket joint, which is one of the reasons it wears out in many people. It also has a lot of stress on it, as it carries the body's weight with every step. It also has a large ball in a large socket, and a relatively small connecting bone to the femur. (So much for "intelligent" design, eh?)

Here is part of the story from today's New York Times:

The first time John L. Johnson’s artificial hip squeaked, he was bending down to pick up a pine cone in his yard in Thomasville, Ga. Mr. Johnson looked up, expecting to find an animal nearby.

Susan O’Toole, a nutritionist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, who first squeaked going up stairs after getting home from her hip-replacement surgery in 2005, said she thought the banister she was gripping needed repair.

And Edward Heary, an apprentice appraiser in Hatboro, Pa., said clients sometimes look with embarrassment or concern at their floorboards when he walks though their homes.

As all three patients — and hundreds of others — discovered once they pinpointed the source of the noises, they had become guinea pigs in an unfolding medical mystery. Their artificial hips are made of ceramic materials that were promoted as being much more durable than older models. But for reasons not yet fully understood, their hips started to squeak, raising questions about whether the noises herald more serious malfunctions.

“There is something amiss here,” said Dr. Douglas E. Padgett, chief of adult reconstructive and joint replacement service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. More than 250,000 Americans get total hip implants each year, a procedure that generally costs close to $45,000.

Any artificial hip can occasionally make a variety of noises. But until Stryker, a medical products company, began marketing highly durable ceramic hips in the United States in 2003, squeaking was extremely rare.

Now, tens of thousands of ceramic hips later — from Stryker and other makers that entered the field — many patients say their squeaking hips are interfering with daily life. One study in the Journal of Arthroplasty found that 10 patients of 143 who received ceramic hips from 2003 to 2005, or 7 percent, developed squeaking. Meanwhile, no squeaks occurred among a control group of 48 patients who received hips made of metal and plastic.

Beyond annoyance and embarrassment, many patients and their surgeons fear that the squeaky ceramic hips may signal that the joints are wearing out prematurely. That could force patients to undergo the very operation — a second replacement of the same hip joint — they had hoped to avoid by choosing ceramics.

Last fall, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to Stryker, saying it had failed to take the steps needed to prevent squeaking and other problems.

Stryker says that none of the problems underlying the recall or the warning letter from the F.D.A. reflect problems that cause squeaking, which it contends occurs in less than 1 percent of implants.

Whatever the actual frequency, some investigators who have looked at the problem say the squeaking seems to be associated with extreme flexing of the ceramic implants, but exactly how is unclear. In X-rays, many of the squeaking hips appear to be perfectly aligned. Nor is there a clear relationship between squeaking and hip pain or other conditions some patients say they have encountered, like the sensation that the hip disengages slightly when a patient walks.

Some patients squeak even they are walking normally, like Ms. O’Toole or Michael Mueller, a software executive in Scottsdale, Ariz. Mr. Mueller is so frustrated with squeaks, pain and popping noises for which he blames his ceramic hip that he has displayed his problem on YouTube.

Click on the YouTube link. This isn't a little thing, it's with every damned step; and it would drive me barmy.

Here's more from the Times:
While there have been no reported cases of serious mishaps, some surgeons fear that the ceramic material might shatter at some point, leaving a patient with so many inflammatory shards in the hip that a doctor could never find them all.

“It is important to keep this in perspective,” said Aaron R. Kwittken, a spokesman for Stryker. “Published research shows squeaking is rare compared with other total-hip-related risks like infection, dislocation and leaving patients with uneven leg length.”

But plaintiffs lawyers, who have already filed scores of lawsuits on behalf of ceramic hip patients, are gearing up to argue that squeaking is not a minor problem for many who experience it.

(There is more at the NYT link. - CS.)
So, who do we believe? The company with a vested interest in keeping its much-hyped replacement joint on the market, or the docs (who've been doing hip replacements for years) and their patients (who had looked forward to not needing a replacement hip replacement in ten years or so)?

Did the FDA speed the product through too quickly, without enough studies? To be fair, the FDA has sent two warning letters to Stryker about the problem. One of them can be found here: According to the letter, Stryker knew about an increase in complaints, but didn't implement any corrective or preventative actions. Hm.

It sounds like US healthcare consumers are getting the short end of the stick yet again. The irony is that the people who usually get the short end in healthcare (the uninsured) are likely to have dodged this particular bullet.

Someone needs to step up here and do some studies. Someone not associated with the companies manufacturing the ceramic hip. Stat.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Son of Return of Satan's Tic-Tacs

So I've started the newest dip in my Effexor dose. Effexor, for those of you who haven't played along until now, is now nicknamed "Satan's Tic-Tacs." They are pills that will fix you, and then when you try to get off them it's as bad as coming off smack....

...or so I've heard. I've never used smack, so I don't have firsthand knowledge, but I know people in low places who assure me they'd rather quit smack and smoking in the same week than stop Effexor cold.

The manufacturers of Effexor weren't being terribly forthcoming in telling people about this nasty side effect (though they do have some info up on the FDA website [pp8 &9]) . I can understand why they might not want to trumpet news of the withdrawal heebie-jeebies on Good Morning America, but the company should at least tell doctors that this can get pretty sucky, so they can in turn tell their patients that the symptoms they have while reducing Effexor is not proof of returned craziness. What kinds of symptoms do I mean? Oh, let's see:
  • dysphoric mood,
  • irritability,
  • agitation,
  • dizziness,
  • sensory disturbances [note: these include "brain shocks" described by a LOT of people coming off Effexor]
  • anxiety,
  • confusion,
  • headache,
  • lethargy,
  • emotional lability,
  • insomnia,
  • hypomania,
  • tinnitus, and
  • seizures
They forgot nausea, vomiting, and what one Effexorite refers to as "the explosive shits." Oh, and my favorite, myoclonic jerks -- those weird, sudden full-body jerks as you are in early stages of sleep. Oh, and I have a hell of a startle reflex, and I'm grinding my teeth like mad again.

They also forgot a very rare side effect that Wyeth refers to as "withdrawal syndrome." IOW, the patient, once on Effexor, cannot stop taking the drug. They're hooked for life. That's scary.

My drop from 300 mg to 225 mg was pretty spectacular. I had all of the side effects except seizures, and even that's possible since I was sleeping 20 hours out of the day. The drop from 225 to 150 slightly less interesting. The drop from 150 to 75 mg is shaping up to be middling. Since dropping my dose, I'd been a champion sleeper up to tonight...when I can't get to sleep. Luckily, I'm not employed, so I can just kind of ride along with whatever Effexor is doing.

On the plus side, I have had a few vivid dreams, one of which involved snogging someone cool. The vivid dreams side effect is a pretty good one, as these things go.

So that's medical life in Heatherland. I'm having a nice drink to see if it helps me get some zzzz's. If the Effexor withdrawal weirdness does get too bad, I may call the doc and ask for 10 mg Prozac to help; it's the newest thing to help people coming off Effexor. Prozac is a cinch to discontinue, so it may be an option if I need it.

Things are good here, all things considered. I'm coming off Satan's Tic-Tacs, slowly but surely. I have a neato vehicle with a sunroof, and it's the perfect time of year to drive around with your windows and sunroof open. Things should work themselves out okay.

But I'm still pissed off at Wyeth! Fuckers!

Friday, April 11, 2008

CFC-Free Inhalers Don't Work.

The FDA has banned asthma inhalers that contain CFCs because, obviously, the hole in the ozone layer was caused by rampant use of asthma rescue inhalers and has nothing to do with industry or anything big like that. So now millions of asthmatics have been forced to change inhalers to the CFC-free variety -- which cost twice as much and simply don’t work as well.

There are over 22 million asthmatics in the country, and asthma is a disease that hits the poor – especially poor children – especially hard. Also, 47 million Americans don’t have insurance – and people with chronic health problems such as asthma are more likely to be uninsured. So now, instead of about $20 per inhaler out-of-pocket, poor and uninsured people will pay about $40 out-of-pocket.

Twice as much, for a product that consumers are reporting doesn’t work as well. Several websites discuss the ineffectiveness of the new inhalers, and people around the country have posted the same problems with the new inhalers.

This has been my experience, too. I use the new inhaler (a ProAir HFA), hold my breath, breathe out, and wait. I wait about five minutes, and 9 times out of 10, I need another “puff.” With the old inhaler, I generally only needed one puff. With the new ones, I’m using one to three puffs. Yes, I know how to “correctly” use an inhaler; yes, I have tried a “spacer” -- it didn’t help. So, essentially, we now have a rescue inhaler that doesn’t “rescue” you very well and costs twice as much.

I used the old-style inhaler for twenty-seven years and did fine with them. The one I carried in my purse would last 3 to 4 months. The one around the house would last about six weeks (I’m still looking for an asthma preventative that really works). Now? I go through both inhalers in a month or less.

I’m also not buying that the ban was to “help the environment” since the FDA’s own website states that the ban ONLY affects albuterol rescue inhalers. If you use another kind of medication to stop your asthma attacks, there’s been no change. It's also generally agreed that CFC inhalers are not an environmental concern!

If I were a cynic, I'd say that the problem is that albuterol inhalers have been generic for a long time, and pharma needed to make some cash off them, and this was a convenient way to do so under the benign guise of "helping the environment." But that would be wrong.

Asthmatics were forced into these inhalers by the government, and are paying for them out of our pockets and with a reduced ability to stop an asthma attack. Why are more of us not complaining? It’s our LUNGS, people! This shit could kill you!

Asthma inhalers didn't cause the hole in the ozone layer any more than disposable contact lenses caused the landfill problems. Frankly, we are being forced to use a product that doesn’t work, and it’s negatively affecting our health. Demand that industry bring back the rescue inhalers that WORK until the industry finds a solution that works and doesn’t cost twice as much to the consumers.

This petition is to help bring back the old CFC inhalers that we’ve all used for so long. Please, sign it, and help out. If you feel really emphatic, contact your congresscritter as well. And to really, really help, complain to the FDA about the new inhalers at the FDA's website!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Child dies from abscessed tooth.

How can anyone say that we have no need for universal health coverage when children die or become ill from abscessed teeth?

Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.

A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.

If his mother had been insured.

If his family had not lost its Medicaid.

If Medicaid dentists weren't so hard to find.

If his mother hadn't been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.

By the time Deamonte's own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George's County boy died.

Deamonte's death and the ultimate cost of his care.... could total more than $250,000....

from The Washington Post; full story at link.

As a country, we should be ashamed that even one person dies from a treatable bacterial infection. As a country, we should be on our knees begging God's forgiveness that a child died of a bacterial infection caused by an abscessed tooth.

That child could be yours or mine; that parent could be you or me. It takes so little to be kicked out of the privileged land of the insured and into the ranks of the serfs who have to wait for their handout from the feudal lord. One job loss. One extended illness. One financial hardship.

Deamonte Driver could be any of us, or any of ours.

Think really hard about this when you go to the polls.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

I have Roses!

I've got blooms already on my roses. I'm pretty happy with them, and also with the photos (which I took myself). Photos were all taken in my bedroom, which has an interesting wall colour on it -- it's grey-green sometimes, and slate blue sometimes.

First up, the double-delight rosas (left). They're a hardy, short shrub that area at least partly crossed with wild "beach roses" in the area. They're fairly small blooms in this age of Grandifloras, but they are very pretty and last well. And I haven't managed to kill them!

I like this pic (below) -- it's my beach roses in their spot, on great-great-grandma's dresser, sitting next to carnival glass (including the one I keep my everyday jewelry in):

Next up is a Grandiflora called Cary Grant. It's said that his wife was involved with developing it. The photo doesn't capture the lovely variations of colour within the flower -- it ranges from a pale peach through deep coral. It also has a lovely spicy-fruity smell.

I love this photo -- the slate blue wall makes the color of the roses just pop.

On Sunday I'll be back in the garden, keeping away from renegade spiders and snakes. Last year I had a centipede bite and a spider bite; I don't want to start this year with a snake bite. Even a "harmless" garden snake will get you sent to the hospital and put on drugs. Oh, and snakes are oogie. Mammals are fine, but not snakes:

Badger, badger, badger, badger, A SNAKE! A snake!, Ooooh, it's snaaaaake! Oh no, a SNAAAAKE!

Actually, I have to go to the garden center on Sunday. I'm looking for a few more roses, and will let my eye and nose guide me. But...I wonder how many women they've seen in there wearing denim shorts and wellies? Wellies aren't worn much here in Florida. I guess everyone is okay with wet, muddy shoes. Go figure. I may have to make a fashion statement there. Green wellies, denim shorts, and my Irish rugby team t-shirt. Yeah.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Home from Iraq

Today, I got the best email I've had in a long time. My cousin emailed me and said that she's coming home from Iraq in less than a month.

I'm so happy. I've been really worried for her. She's a little younger than I, and since I still feel about 23 I think of her as 18 or 20. Too young. Plus, she's a blonde American female in a part of the world that doesn't like Americans or women in positions of power (or with large automatic weapons). Her job doesn't allow her to be on the back lines -- not that there are any in this war. She's been out there with the guys. And that scared the crap out of me.

But she's in a pretty good place now, fairly safe, and it sounds like she is on base most of the time.

And she's coming home to her husband and daughter. This really is the best news I've had for ages.

*happy dance*

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hoppy Easter

You know, there were a few things I wanted in my Easter basket this year, and they didn't include chocolate. Example:

John Barrowman. It's Torchwood's fault. For one, he drives a cool black SUV. And Torchwood has a truly neato underground bunker/office/alien jail. As Captain Jack Harkness, he saves the world, he battles aliens, and he gets to use really, really big guns. And he does it while wearing a WWII-era officer's greatcoat:

Now, I'd also take David Tennant in his "tenth Doctor" role on Doctor Who:

I mean, really. How can you not go "nummeh!"? The one is as swashbuckling as they come, and the other is every geeky girl's dream smart-save-the-day guy.

But, no. I got a rosebush and some Cadbury eggs instead. *sigh*

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Unemployment, Part Deux

You know, I've been applying for every single job out there that I'm qualified for. I'm considering interviewing for a job with a company that I don't like too much, so I have a damn job. (The company isn't horrible, I just didn't like them much when I temped there.)

But I'll tell you, Florida's unemployment people don't make it any easier.

First, I had to attend a seminar where they could discuss all the great things they have for the unemployed. Which is great, except that it's really geared toward non-"professional"-level people. They asked how many of us have a resume, for God's sake.

Today, I got a form letter asking for additional information. It doesn't really say what additional information they want beyond "the reason for the job seperation [sic] (include the individual who informed you of your seperation [sic], and the reason that was given to you)". I called, and I got the Unemployment employee's voice mail -- it seems that she only works Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 8 until 4.

Must. Be. Nice.

To add to it, in one part of the form letter, they say they must hear from me within five days (which makes my deadline the 24th). In another part of the letter, they say the deadline is 3/26.

And, not only did they misspell "separation" throughout the document, but there is no city, state, or ZIP code on the letterhead. If one of my staff sent a letter like that out, I'd have their head on a pike.

I'm pissed off about this "we want more information." I'm playing the game according to rules. I'm looking for work and documenting it. I'm going to unemployment's stupid seminars. So just pay out my biweekly pittance to help keep things afloat, okay? I've paid taxes at a depressingly high rate since I was fourteen years old, and only once did I use any kind of social service -- and that after being fired illegally in 2006. So they can just kiss my fat, white ass.

Friday, March 14, 2008

We really like you...but not for this job.

I've been job-hunting since the middle of January, and it's been a less-than-satisfying experience.

First, my industry is health insurance, which is having its own problems right now. Second, my most marketable skillset is intimate knowledge with the ANSI X12N transaction sets. It's a fairly small sub-group, but it's important. HIPAA law required that all but the smallest healthcare providers submit claims electronically, and those claims must be in an approved ANSI X12N format. Essentially, I can look at a file and see the paper claim the doctor intended. I know a bunch of other boring technical stuff involving remittance advice, claims status, and so on, but I figure you get the picture. It's not really a hot industry.

I do like it, though. It appeals to some weird geek gene I have, some love of puzzle-solving. If something fails, I can obsessively go through the process to find the problem. I enjoy it.

So, I was up for a job locally as well as on just outside of Boston. I interviewed for the local job and thought I blew it. But today my recruiter called and said, "They loved you. However, for the job they were hiring for they were looking for someone who had experience with multiple huge projects, and they didn't think you could ramp up as quickly as they needed. BUT, they really like you and heard great things about you, so they want to keep your resume on file and bring you in again. They are waiting to get approval for several other positions in the company."


This afternoon, I was struck by a need to shop. This happens rarely, so I went on out to shop. Ended up in the store Tuesday Morning (knockdown prices on expensive crap for your house) and was just wandering around to see what they had. They had a LOT of stuff. As I was wandering through, looking for a vanity tray, my cell rang. It was Bob, my recruiter from New England. I might add that he is the ONLY recruiter in New England who doesn't think I'm a lunatic for wanting to leave Florida. (I told him the truth; I'm tired of feeling overheated from May until December.)

The company in New England with the position that was PERFECT for me is losing its senior guy, so now they want all of the stuff from the job description, plus ten years' experience!

People don't stay in ANSI for ten years. They either move on to something like project management or they go bonkers and their friends can visit them twice a week in the nice asylum.

That was pretty much what Bob said, so he's keeping my resume to the fore for when they realize that there aren't many ANSI geeks with ten years' experience under their belt (helloooo, I have, what is it now, six?). Bob's also going to keep an eye out for other stuff that he can send me over for.

But, really. Two rejections in on day? Come on, cut me some slack here!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Effexor --- "Satan's Tic-Tacs"

The blog entries below were originally posted elsewhere, but since Effexor XR is becoming more and more prescribed, I wanted to post them here, as well. Effexor withdrawal syndrome -- aka "why don't you take a lower dose?" -- sucks sweaty donkey balls. Effexor is a great drug. It does the job. It saved my life. But coming off Effexor is like coming off smack or cocaine (I have this from people with firsthand knowledge of this -- don't I know all the best people?), and the manufacturer doesn't mention this, and a lot of physicians don't know about it. These posts only cover the first drop off my Effexor dose -- the standard 75-mg drop. I'm doing my second 75-mg drop right now, and it sucks the aforementioned sweaty donkey balls just as much as the first time through. So, for your entertainment and information, my saga of "Stopping Satan's Tic-Tacs"!

Reducing the Dose of "Satan's Tic-Tacs"
Originally posted 2008-02-18

Coming off of Effexor is notoriously horrible -- people have fired their docs because they weren't told how bad the withdrawal can be. It's really amazingly sucky, and someone on a website devoted to "crazy meds" has named Effexor "Satan's Tic-Tacs." It's pretty accurate, though I'd like to think that if Satan were involved in its creation, Effexor would've made me thin and gorgeous in that "girl-with-buttery-highlights who does yoga and pilates and has $10,000 in perfect teeth" way. But I digress.

I've taken the stuff since late 2005. It saved my life, or at least my sanity. But the side effects are really too much now since I'm not depressed, so I've decided to reduce my Effexor XR dose (with my doc's ok and direction). The worst side effect for me is that the drug really messes with one's heat tolerance -- as in, I don't have any. I live in Florida. This is a problem.

I decided to go ahead and do the reduction now since I'm not working, and I've heard that coming off Effexor is tough. Well, hell, I thought. I'm tough! I can handle this!

On the 10th, I went from 300 mg to 225 mg. Since then, I have spent nine solid days with a migraine and/or general headache, nausea/vomiting, and lower GI problems. I've been sleeping a lot, too, and waking up feeling like I had to move around right then. I have no ability to concentrate and I'm a bit irritable (probably because my head fucking hurts!). I am dizzy and don't dare turn around too quickly.

Deciding to reduce the dose while I'm not working seems to have been a Very Good Idea.

Everything described is common with Effexor withdrawal, and many people have far worse effects ("brain shocks" -- I don't even want to contemplate those).

What really pisses me off is that the company making Effexor has not been terribly forthcoming about the withdrawal symptoms or how to taper off without feeling like utter shit. Tapering off Effexor is far worse than any other antidepressant I've ever used, and I've used several of them. Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Serzone -- none of them had this effect on me when it came time to reduce the doses.

I'm hoping to get down to 150, 75, or even 37.5 mg for maintenance, but I have a feeling that it'll be a long ride.

Second blog entry on the subject:

Better Today -- Satan's Tic-Tacs Losing Their Grip?
Originally Posted 2-19-2008

It’s day ten in the "Reduce the dose of Satan's Tic-Tacs" saga, and it's better than the previous nine days. I woke up with a relatively mild headache, and haven't been as tired. I don't feel queasy or anything. This is all very good indeed. Right now, I'm glad that the worst of the side effects seem to be gone or greatly reduced.

Third blog entry on the subject:

Whoops, Spoke Too Soon
Originally Posted 2-20-2008

Oh, this is a joy. I'm back to sleeping and all the other fun stuff because of the Effexor withdrawal.

I'm amazingly stupid. I can't concentrate on what I would've considered "light" reading in college. Last night, I tried to read something moderately complex and my brain rebelled, so now I'm reading historical fiction. Handy, because I already know what's going to happen, so it doesn't require my entire brain.

But this Effexor withdrawal thing is evil. My brain is PISSED OFF that it isn't getting its usual amounts of seretonin, norepinepherine, dopamine, and what-have-you. (I probably misspelled all of those science words, but I can't be arsed to look them up.)

The only up side is a lack of desire for sugary sweet foods. I don't seem to be craving sugar like I did before. I hope this keeps up; I could use the weight loss.

Anyone want to get a class action lawsuit going against the Effexor manufacturers? I don't really want money -- I just want all of them to experience the withdrawal syndrome firsthand.

*very evil grin*

Fourth blog entry on the subject:

Satan's Tic-Tacs IV, or 'I Snogged David Tennant!'
Originally posted 2008-02-23

I really like this vivid dreams side effect of Effexor withdrawal. During my nap, I dreamed I was snogging David Tennant. If you're going to snog someone in your dreams, might as well be David Tennant in his “tenth Doctor” mode. Yay, Doctor Who!

I'll be posting more as it happens. Dropping from 225 mg to either 37.5 mg or nothing is going to be a long ride, I think. While I'm at this, I think I'll call my friend, Judge Roscoe, to see if I can get a "freebie" to smack around whomever at Wyeth decided to sit on the withdrawal syndrome info. I'm sure it would hold water much better than the infamous "twinkie defense," and it would be in a much better cause.

Finally, a hat tip to the member of who coined the term "Satan's Tic-Tacs" (for Effexor). It's perfect.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

One Bad Apple

I'm a member of several websites and moderate on a couple of them. It's fun, and it's a fun way to meet up with people you'd otherwise never get the chance to exchange ideas with.

One of the most frustrating things to me is when someone joins a site, repeatedly violates "no flaming" rules, and repeatedly gets away with it. To my mind, allowing someone multiple second chances cheapens how it appears site administration feels about the rest of the site members. In other words, when the rules are extended for someone who's an ongoing asshat and a drain on resources, it is an insult to the site members who don't act that way and whose use of the site is negatively affected by the asshat.

If you've got someone in your life who yells at you, demeans you, calls you names, tells you you're stupid, says you're fat, and calls you ugly -- what do you do? If you are at all psychologically healthy, you cut that person out of your life. The same rules should apply online. Don't make everyone else smell the rotting apple. Throw it out.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Dancing With the Stars

Ok, I don't really like the show. The one currently playing on BBC America should be called "Dancing With....Some People" because I haven't heard of most of the so-called "stars" on the show. And they aren't really doing the dances they're given, either. They might do the actual steps four times during a song, and the rest is all add-on-foo-foo stuff. Not really the rumba or cha-cha or waltz or whatever it's supposed to be.

But most disturbing of all was finding out that the sixth season of the show will include.....Penn Jillette. Now I have to tune in, if only to see if he sticks a fork in his partner's eye or makes her disappear during the tango, or something equally Penn-ish. It would certainly liven up the show.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Strange Interview Questions, Strange Interview Indeed

I've been job-hunting since mid-January, after getting let go from a contracting position because of budget cuts. Contracting is a cool gig, but the downside is that when the budget gets cut, the contractors are first to go.

And I'd forgotten how weird interviewing is.

It's bad enough to have one person interview you, but the trend seems to be to have four or five people in the interview, all rotating asking really general "behavioral" questions and asking for further clarification.

Some of these questions are just plain strange, and my interview today hit a new level of weirdness in interview questions.

"Describe your understanding of databases." Two or three questions like this. Really, really general questions, and I couldn't get them to be specific towards a direction. What I wanted to say was, "Well, if it's broke, your website won't work for shit. In fact, if it's broke, anything running off it won't work for shit." It didn't seem appropriate, but I kind of felt it was. You see, nowhere on my resume does it say anything about me using Access or other database, other than a brief testing stint. And honestly, a monkey could've done that testing.

"What do you think the future of the healthcare industry is?" Ah-hah! I have an answer! I started off with "The 47 million uninsured Americans will obtain some level of subsidized or mandated insurance...."and then they said, no, from a technology standpoint. So I said, well, that's another group for an RFP....

....and tacked on that a single-package solution would become the norm for housing patient medical information, insurance payments, medical costing, E-prescriptions, E-claims filing, yadda yadda....Mayo Clinic and U of F are using these kinds of programs...." SAVE!

"How do you go about analysis and decision-making?" There were three questions that were variations on this theme. I've yet to come up with a response to this that's broad, yet specific. I mean, my "methodology" is to get an understanding of what the client wants/needs, read everything on the subject I can get my hands on, look at the specs and deadlines, and promise the developer beer. It's worked so far.

"How do you handle changes in scheduling?" I lie down on the floor and kick my feet and scream and say it's not fair. Waaah! What do you think?

"What is the worst decision you've made?" The ones that first came to mind ("I didn't opt to file an EEOC complaint against a discriminatory employer"; "Telling the 'Employee Advocate' twat in HR that she obviously couldn't discern the difference between FMLA and the ADA any more than she could tell her ass from her elbow"; and "I took my ex back and wasted four more years of my life.") all seemed like bad choices. So I was puzzled.

I know what they're looking for when they ask question. They want to hear, "I made such-and-such [relatively minor but noticeable] mistake and here's how I learned from it and then we all went and had tea and scones with jam." I know. But as a question, it only tells the interviewer that I know how to spin words.

And here's another problem. The worst work thing I have done was when a Public Health Clinic advisory went out, and the word "Public" in the headline was missing the "l". A lot hangs on that "l" in the word "public." Especially at 42-point. Bold. But I'm never really sure how people will take it when I say that -- and worse, I've had interviewers not get it.

But the all-time winner dipshit question du jour was, "What is your personal motto?" Who the hell has a personal motto, much less one at their fingertips that isn't overtly religious, or so utterly misanthropic that it causes HR people to run screaming out of the conference room?

I muddled through, but today's was seriously the weirdest interview I've been on in a while. Most peculiar.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Quirkyalone Day!

Today is International Quirkyalone Day!

WTF is a Quirkyalone? Could you be one? Maybe.

I am, perhaps, what you might call deeply single. Almost never ever in a relationship. Until recently, I wondered whether there might be something weird about me. But then lonely romantics began to grace the covers of TV Guide and Mademoiselle. From Ally McBeal to Sex in the City, a spotlight came to shine on the forever single. If these shows had touched such a nerve in our culture, I began to think, perhaps I was not so alone after all.

We are the puzzle pieces who seldom fit with other puzzle pieces. Romantics, idealists, eccentrics, we inhabit singledom as our natural resting state. In a world where proms and marriage define the social order, we are, by force of our personalities and inner strength, rebels.

For the quirkyalone, there is no patience for dating just for the sake of not being alone. We want a miracle. Out of millions, we have to find the one who will understand.

Better to be untethered and open to possibility: living for the exhilaration of meeting someone new, of not knowing what the night will bring. We quirkyalones seek momentous meetings.

Quirkyalones have vibrators.

By the same token, being alone is understood as a wellspring of feeling and experience. There is a bittersweet fondness for silence. All those nights alone — they bring insight.

Being quirkyalone can be difficult. Everyone else is part of a couple! Still, there are advantages. No one can take our lives away by breaking up with us. Instead of sacrificing our social constellation for the one all-consuming individual, we seek empathy from friends. We have significant others.

And so, when my friend asks me whether being quirkyalone is a life sentence, I say, yes, at the core, one is always quirkyalone. But when one quirkyalone finds another, oooh la la. The earth quakes.

So, what is International Quirkyalone Day?
International Quirkyalone Day is a do-it-yourself celebration of romance, friendship, and independent spirit. It's a celebration of all kinds of love: romantic, platonic, familial, and yes, self-love. International Quirkyalone Day is not anti-Valentine's Day. It's NOT a pity party for single people. It's an alternative--a feel-good alternative to the marketing barrage of Valentine's Day and an antidote to the silicone version of love presented in shows such as Hooking Up and The Bachelor.

Above all, IQD is a celebration of romance, freedom and individuality. It celebrates true romance (as opposed to the fake versions presented to us in reality dating shows), independence, creativity, friendship, and all kinds of love--including love for yourself.

If you are single, International Quirkyalone Day is a call to arms to celebrate the possibilities available to single people today. If you are partnered, IQD is a vital reminder to value yourself and develop your individuality even when in a couple.

Couples (especially quirkytogethers, of course) are welcomed to attend. After all, many a partnered person complains about the contrived nature of Valentine's Day.

It's an invitation to create a great day for yourself, whatever that means to you (and your partner if you have one and choose to celebrate with him or her).

My housemate (who happens to be my mom) and I exchanged cards and candy for Valentine's Day. I gave a Valentine and some groovy Spider-Man pencils to my nephew. But that's all from a V-Day standpoint.

In honor of IQD, my "independent spirit" is getting some pampering: I'm getting a pedicure and having my hair trimmed today. And then, I may have a glass of wine and muse on my dream house, its dream occupants, and how I'm going to get them.

Happy day, whichever one -- or both -- you celebrate.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The State of the Union & the Economic Stimulus Package

I didn't listen to last night's State of the Union address. I'm job-hunting, and I can tell you the state of the union: it's sucky. It seems that when things are iffy, there are fewer mid-level professional jobs posted online -- what there is instead, is a lot of contract positions. It's much easier to let a contractor go if your department's budget tanks than to let an employee go, even in a "right to work" state like Florida. Or so they tell me.

The idea of the tax credit check sounds good -- who doesn't like getting a check in the mail? I could use the $300 to $600 myself, but not really to stimulate the economy. I need it to pay for COBRA insurance coverage, which is $400 a month for me. Just me, I might add. Someone is making some dough off COBRA, somehow. I know that my former employer wasn't paying $250 a month for the employer's share of my insurance -- they're a huge company, and I'm sure they were getting a much better rate than that.

But more about COBRA later. It's really worthy of its own entry.

I stopped watching State of the Union speeches ages ago. They never contain anything new or different, and they always remind me of a pep rally for the country. I didn't like pep rallies in high school, and I'm not interested in one now.

Besides, no matter who gives the speech, no one is going to say what I want to hear: we've got the health care crisis fixed and everyone has insurance; and we're also bringing the troops home tomorrow.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Make Your Voice Heard

Make your voice heard by completing the AFL-CIO survey on health care -- you can access the survey by clicking on the title of this blog entry. Those running for election need to know how rising costs, inability to obtain insurance, and high costs for medications are affecting the average person on the street.

Without compelling stories and numbers, nothing will change -- and what we have today isn't working for the country.

Take ten minutes to send a message. It's one our elected officials need to hear.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Political Problem

Today I received my sample ballot for the Feb. 5 presidential primary.

Now, despite being fairly liberal on most issues, I'm a registered Republican. This is because damn near 3/4 of the county I live in is Republican, as are 3/4 of the candidates in the primaries. Florida only allows people to vote for those in their own party in primary elections, so if I want some say in who is chosen in the primary elections, I have to be registered Republican. Hence my registration.

I looked at the ballot today and didn't find a single soul who I could vote for with a straight face, much less a clear conscience.

Ah, yes, I got trouble...right here in River City....

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Menstrual Migraine

Oh, God. I forget every time how bad it is.

I take low-dose oral contraceptives and skip the inert pills for 3 to 6 months to avoid having a period. I don't mind having one, but the menstrual migraine that hits just drops me to my knees.

It's an amazing level of pain. It's like an explosion going on inside my head. Moving my head is bad. Noise is worse. I cannot get comfortable sitting, standing, or lying down. I can't keep still, it hurts so much. But moving around brings on the nausea. All I can think is, "Please let the medicine work. Please let it work. Please let it work soon."

And it never does, so it's off to the acute care center for a shot of painkiller and a shot of anti-nausea medication. It's amazingly difficult to get myself dressed and into the car. In some ways, it's worse than an asthma attack.

After I get the shot, I come home, eat a little, drink a bunch of juice/soda mixed, and then go to sleep.

It's horrible. If I could skip a year's worth of periods, I would, just to avoid the migraine.

So, that's what I did this Saturday -- lost a whole day to the joy of being a woman. Yay.

Cat Blogging

Baxter the literary cat. He seems to like historical fiction (note: not the same as historical romance) and magazines. In this pic, he was looking for the bookmark, I think. And he was on my side of the bed!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


(Previously published elsewhere, August 2007)

One of the things about a long commute (and not many people having your cell phone number) is that you have time to yourself to think about what you see while on the roads. Some days it's the guy with the "legalize marijuana not Mexicans" sign on his truck. Some days, it's less light-hearted.

While on the off-ramp to my suburb township this evening, I glanced to my right and saw a vehicle with yellow ribbon and flag magnets all over it. Then I noticed that there was a "memorial" on the rear window. The memorial said, "Real heroes don't die, they get wings." There was a picture of an angel with combat boots on.

The dates of this hero's life were 1984-2005.

Twenty-one. He was 21 when he died. Did he get to vote in an election before he died? Did he get to go to a bar and have a few beers while watching football with his friends? Did he get to go off and have a romantic weekend with his girlfriend? Snorkel in the Keys? Go skiing? Ride the big roller-coasters at the theme parks? I hope he got all of those things and more, because he isn't going to get them now.

Twenty-one. Jesus. Who will be sent over there next, middle-school students?

I was amazed at the ribbons and flags on the vehicle because I'd be damned pissed if that were my kid. That kid was sent to fight a war based on lies and wagging of the dog. I sure as hell wouldn't have yellow ribbons all over my vehicle. I'd be putting "bring them home NOW" stickers all over.

But...I hope that his parents always believe that their son died for a good reason. Still, at the end of the day, even dying for a "cause" isn't much comfort. Not when weighed against a kid who only got to live to be twenty-one.


Res ipsa loquitur.

Which brings me to the only song I've heard yet that talks about people not coming home. It's Tim McGraw's "If You're Reading This," and I can't get all the way through it without tearing up. Give it a listen -- it's a powerful song.

When Friends Become Moms....and You Don't

(Originally posted elsewhere, Sept. 2007)

I've known my closest girlfriend since we were 17. We met right after high school, sized each other up in that way that young women have, and it could've gone either way. We were very much the same, and could've ended up being deadly enemies. But we wound up as extremely close friends -- so close that I beat her own sister in a bridal-shower game that involved figuring out how would my friend would answer the questions given. The friendship has withstood other people's gossip, bomb threats, boys, the evil boyfriend from hell (aka, Voldemort of the Westside) who cheated on her with me (don't ask, it's a long story), losing touch for a few years, family upheavals, family deaths, and her wedding (just kidding; she was an amazingly low-maintenance bride). When this year's fall college classes began, I realized that we'd been best friends for twenty years. More than half our lives.

My other friend was much the same way. We met at my first job with Megalomanic Insurance, Inc., and she became my friend and mentor. We survived job and boyfriend ups and downs. She taught me how to dress like a grown-up, but with style. I taught her the stuff about sex that no one tells you. (There was an incident where she was dating a guy who was uncircumcised, and before the big "we're gonna do it" date, she was all in a pother about whether it would look hideous. I tried to explain it, but we ended up buying gay porn to get the full frontal nekkie pic.) Sixteen years. Almost half my life.

And then something happened with both of them.

They became moms.

It's difficult for me to still be relevant to their lives right now. All of their friends are moms. Their social group is made up of married couples with spawn. And while I like my friends' offspring, I don't really want to spend the afternoon as the only never-married, never-spawned person at the gathering, with a bunch of other peoples' kids. I don't like children in groups. I don't like moms in groups, either. They make me feel all Bridget Jonesish.

So we're in different places, and it's hard to keep in touch. And it often feels like I've lost a huge chunk of myself, with those two people not so close as they were.

I'm not whining, or trying not to. I know that they find it tough to keep in touch with their friends who aren't married with offspring. My one friend works close to me, so we can meet for lunch. My other friend is in a position where she has to punch a clock, so that idea is out. And weekends are all family stuff. It sucks.

Then again, spawn grow up and move away, and the parental units need to know there is still life outside the home. And sometimes the spawn need to talk to someone who isn't a parent.

So I'll be around, even if the connection isn't as tight as it once was. It's different, but not broken.

It's just difficult to remember that sometimes.

New Year, New Job Hunt

Since the New Year celebrations are about over (though a lot of people won't get back to the office until next Monday), it's time for me to stop mucking about and begin my job hunt again.

Until last Friday, I was a contract employee, a business analyst with a mid-sized dental insurance company. I enjoyed the work and really liked my coworkers and boss, but the jobs that were available full-time weren't where I wanted to go professionally. I also would've had to take a large salary cut. I decided that I didn't want to settle since I'd feel some low-level resentment if I did, so I opted to not apply.

As a result, it's back to the rounds. Updating the resume, searching job boards, taking calls from recruiters. Some of them have jobs, some just want you in their database. Some of them don't read your profile and call you with jobs far, far away. No, thanks, I don't want to relocate to Kansas for six months.

I'm having the worst time putting my former job into resume-speak. Maybe I should have a glass of wine to facilitate authoring in the dominant workplace communication paradigm... blah-blah-friggin'-blah.