Walking Away

January 19, 2013

English: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Ser...

English: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – Medicare & You 2010, official government handbook. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Empire continues its decline; the global financial and economic systems the Empire built, the huge healthcare system, the food production and distribution system and the vast, but sputtering global system of cheap energy that sustains them make their wobbly way toward the next step down in complexity.  Climate change affects systems as diverse as food production, tourism and the insurance industry.  All interconnect in ways even the experts did not expect as changes in one system beget changes in another – each change destabilizing the whole in new ways.  And we at the bottom of the Imperial totem pole live in increasing fear that, right when we least expect it, something – big or small – will suddenly give and the whole kit and caboodle will come crashing down on our heads.  In truth, it probably will, though not necessarily in the big, splashy, splattering way we have come to expect.  Not yet, anyway.

My suspicion is that the collapse we all expect will not come (for us, at least) in one fell swoop, but more in the way of the “death by a thousand cuts” many people have endured since the financial collapse – where loss of a job (and insurance) led to loss of a house which led to loss of food/shelter/health security which led to increased stress on family health which led to …

Many of us who see what’s ahead and are working hard to disentangle our lives from “the system”, localize, become more self-sufficient and secure, still depend on the system for some of our needs.  I have a house with a mortgage, which means I must keep homeowner insurance and pay property taxes.  As a senior citizen, I live on my social security and rely on Medicare for my healthcare needs (mainly yearly checkups right now, thankfully), but I still must depend on a Medicare approved physician for my healthcare and a Medicare approved pharmacy for the few medications I take.  Living in town, I depend on the local utility company.  Despite my best efforts at gardening and the availability of local farmers markets, I still depend on the just-in-time system for some of my food needs.

And as hard as I work to cut back, power down and make do, ripples in the various parts of the system seem to have increasing effects on me.  The cost of what food I do buy has gone up significantly in the last few years, as has the cost of utilities – even as my use has decreased.  My homeowner’s insurance, which had steadily risen in cost over the years, suddenly doubled last year as (I assume) insurance companies begin to feel the pinch from increasingly costly natural disasters.  Three years ago, my Medicare-approved doctor quit his internal medicine practice and left me searching for another Medicare-approved physician.  (They’re harder to come by than people realize.)  I found one – finally – although I still have not met him; his PAs conducted the two yearly physicals I’ve had since then.  So far, these ripple effects have been inconvenient, but manageable.  But I have been asking myself, lately, what do I do as this slow collapse continues if the ripples become unmanageable – even with my best efforts to manage them?

I come from a fairly long line of women who, despite having some of the same minor health problems that I do, lived into their late eighties and early nineties.  So, the question is not just a rhetorical one.  And for those of you who are considerably younger than I am, yet find yourselves similarly afflicted by ripples in the system despite your best efforts to disengage, you might want to ask yourselves that question.

Last week, I did something I’d never done before and had never thought I would do.  I walked out of a doctor’s office in the middle of an exam.  I am not particularly proud of that, but at the point I did it, I felt it was literally necessary for my survival.

The nurse practitioner who did my yearly physical in December suggested that, since I have mild “rheumatic heart” from a bout of rheumatic fever in my teens, and had had occasional bouts of atrial fibrillation after I turned 65, I see a cardiologist for evaluation so that his nurse practitioner could be included in my next annual exam.  I really didn’t want to.  I’d had such an evaluation several years before.  Everything looked good and the cardiologist had taught me a couple of things I could do (which worked) to reduce the risk of further bouts of atrial fib.  I’ve had none for the last four years.

Nevertheless, I let her make an appointment for this past week.  I arrived a half hour before my 3:15 appointment, figuring that there would be additional paperwork, and found a seat.  The waiting room, which seated around fifty, was full and stayed that way almost the entire time I was there.

Two hours later, I still had not been called in, so I checked with the receptionist to see if perhaps I’d missed my call.  She checked and said, “Oh, there are only a couple more people ahead of you.”

In the next twenty minutes before I finally was called in, six others went in ahead of me.  And over the previous two hours, those who had gone in rarely came back out in less that a half hour.  Some, who I presumed had lots of testing done, had not come out for an hour.  I was quite tired and angry by the time I did get into the exam room.  I do have moderate hypertension, especially “white coat” hypertension.  Nevertheless, I was flabbergasted when the nurse took my blood pressure and said it was 220/100.  I asked how much longer it might be before I saw the doctor.  “Oh,” she said.  “There are only a couple more people ahead of you.”

I knew there were at least six people ahead of me and realized it might still be another hour or two before I was seen by the doctor.  So I said to her, “I’ll wait another half hour, but my son has been waiting out in the parking lot to take me home for the last hour and a half.  I can’t wait any longer than that.”

She shrugged.  “Well, I can’t do anything about that.”  Knowing that the longer I waited, the higher my blood pressure would go (and that I was already near “stroke bait” levels), after another half hour with no one else coming in, I put on my coat and left.

As I said, I’m not terribly proud of my behavior, but in my defense, after being home and relaxing for an hour or so, my blood pressure had dropped forty points down to 180/60.  And by the next day, it was back to its usual 140/60-160/80 range.

I don’t really blame the doctor.  I certainly don’t blame his nurse.  I do blame a system that has systematically reduced care in rural areas because it is not profitable and forces people in those rural areas surrounding Springfield and other larger towns to come into Springfield for anything other than routine medical care.  It adds to the burden of a growing city when the number of specialists has not entirely kept up with that growth, let alone the overflow from a failed rural health system.  Another ripple, I am sure, in the ongoing collapse of the overall health system in America.

But it has forced me to start thinking this week.  At what point do those of us who, like me, are already feeling multiple effects of the failing parts of this whole complex of intertwined systems, (even when we’re doing what we can to prepare,) walk away?  My entire strategy hinges on being able to stay in my home or one like it, where I can garden, raise a few chickens for eggs and other protein and ride things out for my remaining years.  Given that, do I (or you) wait until my homeowners insurance double again and, unable to afford it, I lose the house?  Do I (or you) hang on against increasingly frequent and stronger ripples that wreck my health and leave me vulnerable just as collapse picks up speed?  What happens when the social security system begins to fail?  How might I start over, if I need to walk away?

There are dozens more questions like that and I don’t know the answers.  That doesn’t terrify me.  I’ve started over more than once in my seventy-two years. But I did realize this week, that those of us who are not fortunate enough to be completely independent of the system, probably need to ask those questions that are pertinent to our particular situations and confront the possibility that, even with our best attempts to prepare ourselves, we may lose what we have. We might find ourselves having to walk away and start again, somehow.  I see it as just one more prep I may need to think through, as collapse progresses.

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9 Responses to Walking Away

  1. eugene says:

    Sure agree with your perspective. Talking with another old guy the other day, discussion turned to the slow breaking down everywhere. No talk of why, just the seeing. Stopped at Target, asked for a common electronics item and received “never heard of it”. Half of Americans can’t read/write well enough to fill out a job application. It’s like America is suffering from old age, aches and pains everywhere. On a prominent economic blog, I read (I’m blunter) “lets just not pay Social Security back”. And it’s not the first time I’ve seen it. Told my neighbor while back “it’s like on the Titannic women and children first” as I watch cuts to an already inadequate social support system. As I read blog comments, it’s obvious the commenters make good money and always have. One said “solar systems are getting cheaper, they’re down to a 100K”. Like you, wife and I live on Social Security. When I got out of the service, I spent yrs suffering from undiagnosed PTSD so job security was not possible resulting in little savings but glad things turned out as good as they did. Could have died under a bridge. Slow, steady deterioration seems to be the game.

    • theozarker says:

      Hi Eugene, good to hear from you. Signs of the slow collapse are everywhere, aren’t they? I’ve always thought that as collapse progresses, the social safety net would be sacrificed before anything else. Like you, I’m grateful for social security. Raising a child by myself while trying to keep a roof over ours heads back in the late seventies and early eighties didn’t leave much to save. I just hope SS lasts until I can get this old house paid off. Sure would be in a pickle without it at my age. I guess there’s always the little tin shack by the garbage dump if all else fails! 😀

      And like your friend, a lot of people I talk to know things are not right, even though they may not know why or what to do about it. Wonder if the ordinary Romans felt this way as their empire slowly collapsed around them. Pretty sure they did. Humanity has been here so often before. You’d think we all would have learned a little something from history.

  2. VaMom says:

    Wonderful blog entry, as always. I do agree that collapse really is all around us for those of us aware enough to see it. Truly, I think most people outside of the upper middle and upper class feel it happening although they might not understand the source of the problem nor that it is not temporary. Backing away gradually by increasing self reliance and certainly health and fitness in any way possible is the key, but even that provides no solution. As an example, I have been able to cut my public utility use substantially since 2004 … Electric by half, natural gas by 80 percent, water by half … Yet my bills are roughly the same because of increasing rates. I’m thankful not to have now doubled bills, but there is a limit to to how much one can conserve and I believe I am there … So now all I can do is watch my utilities increase from here.

    And the issue of property taxes is much more worrisome. Many advocate not paying off one’s mortgage early, indeed to rent if possible so as to have the flexibility to move on if needed without having one’s financial assets totally locked up in a home you may not be able to sell. Good advice for working age folks, but really, just how flexible can an older person really be? Move to where??? I myself have opted to do the opposite and make small extra payments on the mortgage with the hope that just as other bills become too difficult to manage, the mortgage will drop away and I will have some breathing room. It’s hard to know what’s best and I choose to just try to remain upbeat and enjoy each day … Sunshine, flowers, pets and family.

    Love your blog! Best wishes.

    • theozarker says:

      Hey VaMom, how are you? My son and I have paid extra on the principle since we bought the house and will continue to do so in hopes of paying it off in the next ten years or so. Property taxes aren’t a problem yet, but when the homeowner insurance doubled it raised the payments on the mortgage by over 200 a month in order to keep the escrow account that pays the insurance and taxes going. So it often does feel like we’re running in place, doesn’t it? (Sometimes that little tin shack by the garbage dump looks pretty good. :D)

      Well, I’m like you. I do what I can and try to smell the roses as often as I can. But I am, more and more, looking at options if the empire lands on top of me as it falls.

      • VaMom says:

        Wow, that is a big monthly increase for just homeowner’s insurance. Some years back, my insurance started to get out of hand and so I called around and got some new quotes from different companies. In the end, I stayed with the same company but increased my deductible to $5000 (yes, a bit risky) and also had them do a new analysis on how much it would actually cost to rebuild my home. Each year they had just increased that estimate by 5 percent and the cost to rebuild had gotten way higher than it actually would have been. I mention this just on the off chance the same might be true for you. Anyway, glad to hear I’m not alone on the prepayment thing! Best wishes.

      • theozarker says:

        Yes, it is. And we just got word that they’re cancelling the insurance at the end of the insurance year. So we’re looking now. There’s nothing out there any cheaper and most of that is with double the deductible. Insurance companies have been hit hard with the increase in natural disasters over the last few years. And this house and several others in this neighborhood are over 100 years old. The reason they gave doesn’t make sense since we had already fixed what they’d listed. So, here we go again … 😦

  3. Nadia says:

    I’m going to be 60 this year and, reflecting back, I worked too hard as a middle to high level HR professional pushing corporate policy for some of our very largest banks and healthcare companies advocating for mostly high paid corporate types, saving their behinds from lawsuits while we paid bills and raised children. Then I experienced the empty-nest, the hollowing out of my first marriage, the turning point of ETR, (estimated time remaining), and, when I reached 50 and menopause at the same time, became too old and too expensive to hire as many of my age group despite my years of work experience.

    My parents were children of the depression and WW2. In addition, my father, who came here from Belgium, witnessed war horrors as a boy sent to live without his family to be safe with the Jesuits in Berlin. He described abuse while there, missing his mother, watching and smelling burning charred bodies in the streets, and very little food.

    When younger, my sister and I listened to his stories but didn’t FEEL the pain. Nothing in our American life at that time provided us empathy for his stories. He is gone now and I cry often wishing he were here so that I could take his hand and say that I had just begun to understand his messages to me about life, living, and loving. My mother grew up as 1 of 14 children and talked about how hard her mother and father worked to scrape by and how thrilled her mother was when Medicare was introduced in the mid-sixties. My mother is experiencing dementia now but is thankfully surrounded by the family she loves and has reasonable care as everything is scrutinized and monitored by both my sister and I. She also lives in Minnesota where, so far, human policy has always been important – although that is changing too – for the worse. My sister has attacked medicare fraud on my mother’s bills as providers will charge visits when none were made as is becoming common with those with dementia who don’t have highly involved family to look into these things and hold people accountable. Thank God for experience.

    My parents were always frugal and did EVERYTHING for us to succeed and have a good, loving family life and experience. As my dad was an engineer and spoke 5 languages, we traveled the world as peace-corps workers would and saw the immense poverty and struggles experienced then and now in Africa, Indonesia, and Central America. These experiences, put aside in my mind for a long while, have come back to fortify me now and they temper my anger, cynicism, and bitterness about our own mess here in the US. I guess that for the nonsense, waste, and crap we see creeping up all around us, someone else who deserves it is benefitting – I certainly can no longer waste time thinking about the self-absorbed elite policy and business leaders who have been putting our country, then and now, at risk for the last 30 years at their tremendous gain.

    I agree with everyone who sees the steady decline of our life comforts and securities, and yes, it happened as a drip here and a drip there but the faucet is on full now. Water drops fall and congregate at the lowest level and that is our American rain – we are now falling into the place where much of the rest of the world has lived for decades, if not centuries. Out of greed our “movers/shakers” gave away our jobs to needy societies abroad in order to line their pockets and dump “stuff” here; much of what we no longer afford nor want. Our increased anguish is coming as these long impoverished societies gain strength and better daily lives that many in this country’s middle class have enjoyed for a brief 40 year time in history, even though too many in our country were never able to really experience an easing of stress and lack of upward mobility either.

    My second husband and I fell very hard in the last 4 years – like so many others we lost jobs, home, savings, all benefits, and then lost jobs again. We have slid down and exist without any type of typical security, including health care – basically a small step above homelessness. I’ve had to look deep and accept these as, possibly, permanent changes. It creates a sense of dread and worry that never quite leaves me. I have worries about health care every day and wonder if my only option will be, like our earliest people, to die when it’s time to die without any diagnosis or care.

    Every day I have to lift my spirit and think back. I have to learn not to waste my thoughts on stuff I can’t change. I’m not a very humorous person – thank God for my husband on that score. We have found a small place and live like campers. We are grateful because we have it. I try to keep on keeping on as my husband says. We live on 80 percent less than we did 4 years ago and owe taxes from savings we used up in a futile way to stay afloat, without much success.

    I found kindred spirit when I happened upon your blog and comments by others. It is very comforting to come to this place – to read, empathize, and respect your life experiences. I am sending my best wishes to you and your readers, like me, for a day filled with peace and the memories of all the people who came before us and wished us well. May we find a sense of “release” in that we know that, somewhere, another listens, has our back, and shares our pain. Take care.

  4. VaMom says:

    Nadia … That was a very beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it and I wish you well.

  5. graveday says:

    Nadia, that was indeed a telling point scored against the forces pulling good people down.
    Unfortunately, those forces seem bulletproof. Best wishes.

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