My Eyes, v2014

As I’ve done before – 2008, 2012 – I’m posting my new eyeglasses prescription here, because it’s the single most useful and lasting way of ensuring that when I need it I can find it again (something that paid off for me in 2009):

This year I’ve an added bonus, a prescription for “computer glasses” that come with the special note to the glasses maker of “if computer lens design not available in this Rx, then use a good PAL with intermediate and near.”

Jackhammered

I was out for most of the morning today – a quick coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen for a while turned into a 2-hour long coffee-and-lunch – and when I returned to the office I noticed that my email was offline and there was a Tweet from Timothy Cullen alerting me that this website was offline:

Tim Cullen Tweet

Sure enough, not only was the site down, but our phone service and email (hosted on the same server) were offline as well.

I placed a quick call, on my cell phone, to Keith over at silverorange where our server lives, and asked him to reboot the server, as I couldn’t reach it from here over the network. He mentioned they’d had a brief power outage earlier that had taken everything down – a rare occurrence for silverorange, which prides itself on crazy-redundancy – and that was likely why things were awry.

Unfortunately a reboot didn’t do it, so I got my coat on and hiked up to Fitzroy Street to look at things from the inside.

Along the way I stopped in at Computer Dynamics, the folks who built the box that was offline, to pick up a replacement fan, as Keith had let me know a few weeks ago that the fan was shot. This gave me a chance to finally meet Marty MacLeod, who I’ve been buying computers and accessories from for more than a decade, whose shop is 3 minutes walk from my office, but whom, until today, I’d never met face-to-face.

Once I arrived at silverorange I set about replacing the fan, and then once everything was plugged back in found that I was still offline. Scratching our heads together, Keith and I tried various things until I remembered that the OpenWRT router I use as a gateway for the server, which has two outside-facing IP addresses, sometimes – not for many years now, but sometimes – gets itself into a state where I need to switch the primary and secondary IP addresses to get everything upstream to work. As soon as I did that, blamo, everything started to flow and I had web, email and phone back.

The cause of the brief power outage? There’s construction happening in the basement at silverorange, and somehow the vibrations of a jackhammer were enough to cause a circuit breaker to blow.

In the end analysis, then, a jackhammer in a basement in Charlottetown causes Timothy Cullen to tweet. We live in a strange world.

My $879 gallbladder attack. Or how it took me 3 years to find out how much I cost the healthcare system.

Three years ago I set out to answer what I thought was a simple question: how much do I cost the health care system? I sent a Freedom of Information request to Health PEI, the public service body that manages the health system in Prince Edward Island, and what ensued was an almost-three-year back and forth – detailed in part here – between Health PEI, the Information and Privacy Commissioner and me that, as time wore on, achieved a level of absurdity that surprised me given the simple question I was asking.

My most recent communication from the Information and Privacy Commissioner on the adjuication of my appeal of Health PEI’s decision not to release cost information to me was a letter I received on January 16, 2014 informing me that the expected decision date on my case was being pushed forward to September 19, 2014 (from the originally-extended-to February 13, 2014).

Until today.

When I received an unexpected communication from Health PEI’s Privacy and Information Access Coordinator telling me that they had reconsidered and asking me to confirm my email address.  A few minutes later I received an Excel file with the details of almost every medical procedure I had from 1996 (when their data starts) to June 2011, along with the name of the doctor, the location of the procedure and how much was paid to the doctor.  It’s almost every medical procedure because, as Health PEI had informed me earlier, if “the service was provided by a non fee-for-service physician or was provided through a hospital (e.g. emergency department or day surgery) there are no individual payments.”

There are 58 procedures in total, ranging from “ALLERGIC RHINITIS” to “X-RAY ABNORMAL,” performed by 22 individual doctors.  In total $1901.88 was paid out to doctors. While the amounts paid to physicians don’t reflect the total cost of my health care, it’s useful information nonetheless. Here, for example, are 10 items related to a the diagnosis and eventual removal of my gallbladder – an epic journey I related here – in the winter and spring of 2003:

Doctor Location Date Procedure Paid
CHAMPION PAULINE OFFICE January 8, 2003 ABDOMINAL PAIN, COLIC 22.94
CHAMPION PAULINE OFFICE February 19, 2003 ABDOMINAL PAIN, COLIC 22.94
CAMPBELL CLARENCE M QEH February 25, 2003 X-RAY ABNORMAL 38.60
FLEMING BARRY D A OFFICE February 28, 2003 ABDOMINAL PAIN, COLIC 63.15
GILLIS LISA A OFFICE March 17, 2003 CHOLELITHIASIS 22.94
FLEMING BARRY D A OFFICE March 24, 2003 ABDOMINAL PAIN, COLIC 22.61
FLEMING BARRY D A QEH April 8, 2003 CHOLELITHIASIS NOS 432.55
KENNEDY RALPH DOUGLAS QEH April 8, 2003 CHOLELITHIASIS NOS 108.14
FARMER STEPHEN R QEH April 8, 2003 OTH SPEC PROB INFLUENC HEALTH 145.50
FLEMING BARRY D A QEH April 8, 2003 DAY SURGERY - HOSPITAL PAYMENT NIL

The total paid to the six physicians for my gallbladder issue was $879.37, and that table is a good blow-by-blow of how it was diagnosed: two visits to Dr. Champion, my family doctor at the time, a referral for an X-ray at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital followed by an office visit with Dr. Fleming, the surgeon who would eventually remove my gallbladder and then the operation itself on April 8, 2003 (“Cholelithiasis” is “the presence of gallstones”).

There are a host of other costs involved with taking out my gallbladder – nurses, machinery, heat, light, etc. It would be interesting to know what slice of the QEH budget my gallbladder removal was responsible for, but that figure seems impossible to determine, so the $879.37 will have to stand in.

Using pivot tables in OpenOffice allows me to do all sorts of analysis on my medical history: which doctors have I seen the most, what medical complaints do I seek assistance with the most, how often do I see a doctor. It’s an insight into my health care that I really value.

It really is absurd that it took almost 3 years to provide me with this information; indeed, perhaps my next request should be an accounting of the time and cost for Health PEI and the Information and Privacy Commissioner to take so long to say no before they said yes.

I’m a big believer in public health care; I consider it one of the distinguishing benefits of being Canadian. But I don’t think that not having to pay out of pocket for our health care necessarily means we all shouldn’t know how much our health care is costing the health system, if only because understanding more about the nitty-gritty costs of health care makes us more responsibile citizens when it comes to electing our politicians to make large-scale decisions about health spending.

If you would like to request the same breakdown for your health care, fill out a Request to Access Information application form (you can see how I filled mine out here) and send it to:

Privacy and Information Access Co-ordinator
P.O. Box 2000, 16 Garfield Street
Charlottetown PE  C1A 7N8
Tel: (902) 368-4942

I presume that if you asked what I asked for you should receive your information quickly and without having to wait 3 years.

If I die tomorrow, I would be high-fiving someone and thanking them for giving me these wonderful and precious days…”

I first got to know Karin as a customer of her food stall at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market. From the time Oliver was a year old, every Saturday morning, after having our smoked salmon bagel, we would have our second course from Karin’s ever-changing selection of healthy food. And she made a mean iced tea to boot – also every-changing, and unsweetened the way I like it. Karin was unfailingly kind to both of us, especially to Oliver: she was always tucking a Hallowe’en fridge magnet, or some such thing, into his pocket. Visiting her stall was one of the highlights of our week.

Gradually, Saturday by Saturday, I got to know Karin a little more. After learning of my trips to southern Sweden, she would lend me Wallander-series books, knowing that I knew the terrain. She would always tell us tales of her travels, or of her family, during those few minutes while we were waiting for something to cook or warm or cool.

After she received a diagnosis of terminal cancer in 2008, Karin asked me if I could help set her up with a blog so that she could write about her experiences, and the result was Mastering the Art of Living while Dying. There are only 34 posts there, covering the period from the spring of 2010 to the summer of 2012. But in those posts you’ll learn a lot about Karin, and a lot about her take on, well, living while dying. Two years ago she wrote Would She Just Die Already?, one of my favourite of her posts because it captures the humour and joy that Karin brought to everything she did:

It has been more than 3 years since the doctors have told me that there is no story. No cure, no treatment, Nothing, Nada!. That was pretty harsh news. So my friends and I gathered around and comforted one another and decided we should all live our days like they are our last days. So here I am three years later, doing just that. I’m living my life like it is my last days. Now my friends are like…o.k. it’s been three years, would she just die already. I’m no longer on  their “pitiful friends” list.

This Karin person is having way too much fun living her last days. I’m a pain in the butt! Sure we need to live our lives like it our last but you can only do that so long. Especially if you have a family to raise and bills to pay. But here is Karin, having lots of fun, going on trips while my friends are trying to pay the mortgage and raise their children.  Most of my friends have forgotten that I have cancer. They have moved on to their sicker and needier friends.

But seriously, I am so blessed to still be here after 3 years of getting a terrible diagnosis and I am enjoying my life. Every day of it. If I die tomorrow, I would be high-fiving someone and thanking them for giving me these wonderful and precious days. And… just for the record, it’s kind of cool that my friends and I have forgotten I’m dying. Better run and pack my suitcase for my next adventure! Blessings!

Somehow, amidst treatment and recovery and despite myriad challenges of world-travel-health-insurance – the kind of thing you never think about until you need it – Karin and her intrepid partner Mike saw a lot of the world in the last few years. She published a cook book. She met a grandson. She did live while she was dying. She would probably say that she didn’t master it; but she sure gave it a good chance.

Karin died this weekend. I hadn’t seen her in a few months, and she had been not dying for so long that it came right out of the blue for me. She was a good person, someone who we were all the better for knowing, and she will be missed.

Dzintars Cers: A voice of strength, a voice of reason, a voice of the future

Dzintars Cers has two albums of delightful Latvian-infused progressive rock. This is amazing. That is all. (Go and buy them now: only $7 each).

(The “voice of strength” tagline is from Dzintars’s website, also awesome).