Tag Archives: death

Life is a Pre-Existing Condition

Afford me a moment to ramble about health insurance and pre-existing conditions.

My mother died from terminal lung cancer almost eight years ago.  She fought her disease with a fierceness and dignity that I find almost unimaginable.  The greatest insult during her entire ordeal was with her health insurance.

After more than two years of purchasing a health care policy on the individual market in pre-Obamacare days she was denied coverage when she was diagnosed with lung cancer.  The functionary on the phone told my father that her cancer was a pre-existing condition.  It was as if they were telling him that she waited to get diagnosed with cancer after more than two years of paying premiums.  As if she waited to deal with her cancer because…reasons?

My mother probably started her path toward lung cancer taking her first drag of a cigarette as a sixteen year old in East Moline Illinois in the 1960s.  Based on health insurance company logic she had a pre-existing condition going back almost forty years.

In truth, we all have a pre-existing condition.  We are alive and we will die.  This might be a little bit of hyperbole, but after dealing with health insurance companies I do not feel that anything is beyond the pale.  When you are at your lowest these people will step on your throat.  When you have lost family members these people will drop a letter detailing their refusal to honor the policy you dutifully paid upon for two years.  These are the people that Republicans in the House of Representatives have sided with instead of actual human beings.

If you think that things will be fine you need to wake the fuck up.  Health insurance companies will drop your ass from your policy for any of the following reasons:

 

  • Breast cancer
  • Uterine cancer
  • Pregnancy or expectant parent
  • A Cesarean delivery
  • Being a survivor of domestic violence
  • Medical treatment for sexual assault
  • Mental disorders (severe, e.g., bipolar, eating disorder)
  • AIDS/HIV
  • Lupus
  • Alcohol abuse/drug abuse with recent treatment
  • Alzheimer’s/dementia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Arthritis (rheumatoid), fibromyalgia, other inflammatory joint disease
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Any cancer within some period of time (e.g., 10 years, often other than basal skin cancer)
  • Obesity, severe
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Organ transplant
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Paraplegia
  • Coronary artery/heart disease, bypass surgery
  • Paralysis
  • Crohn’s disease/ ulcerative colitis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/emphysema
  • Pending surgery or hospitalization
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Pneumocystic pneumonia
  • Epilepsy
  • Hemophilia
  • Sleep apnea
  • Hepatitis (hep C)
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease, renal failure
  • Transsexualism

That’s right, if you survived an abusive domestic situation you have a pre-existing condition for which a health insurance company could deny you coverage.  Born with cerebal palsy?  Hell, that is almost the definition of pre-existing condition in the eyes of a health insurance company.  Paul Ryan came for your health care and he succeeded.

So, basically Republicans want to punish us for having the gall to live and to expect more than a Hobbesian existence.   The ethos in Republican circles is “Fuck you if you are not rich and powerful.”

Paul Ryan came for your health care.  Paul Ryan is coming for your retirement.

The Many Evil Faces of Added Sugar

Start talking about added sugar, without even getting into the differences on a biochemical level of fructose versus other sugars, and the rebuttal is likely to be, “But fruit has sugar.” At the most base level this argument is true and, in fact, fruit contains the very sugar type—fructose—that appears to be the source of our dietary ills.

An apple, according to data sources that I averaged across the internet, will contain approximately 65 Calories, 13 grams of sugar in the form of fructose, and 3 grams of dietary fiber. Compare that with a twelve ounce can of Coca-Cola which has 143 Calories, 40 grams of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup, and no dietary fiber. Here it is in a simple chart form:

Apple Chart

Sure, fructose is contained within the natural sugar of an apple in roughly the same proportion as it would be in a can of Coca-Cola. However, to get the same amount of fructose as the Coca-Cola you would need to eat three entire apples. On par, you would still be slightly ahead because the apple contains dietary fiber and other nutrients beneficial to the body’s function. Your mother was right about soda being just a bunch of empty calories.

Not that I would suggest undertaking this experiment, but drink an entire can of Coca-Cola and tell me how you feel. Do the same thing with three apples and tell me how you feel. I am certain that there will be major differences in satiation. Three average apples will fill your belly with approximately 35% of your daily requirement. It’s not a pound of Brussels sprouts, but it will get your insides a moving if you know what I mean.

There is a problem in demonizing an entire category of nutrients. If you say fat is bad then you ignore the beneficial fats. If you say carbohydrates are bad then you have dismissed a key source of the body’s energy system. You get the idea.

Within those broad categories, however, there can be bad actors. All fats are not bad, but trans-fats might as well be the Red Skull of the nutritional world. Seriously, when have either the Red Skull or trans-fats done something good?

It’s the same way with carbohydrates and, specifically, sugars. If our body is capable of registering the calories from a sugar—i.e. every sugar except for fructose—than it has a role to play in our nutrition. Fructose, in the form added to our food, is a bad actor because it screws with our bodies in a myriad of ways.

It looks like the experts are finally getting on the “added sugar is pretty bad” bandwagon.  And maybe that egg yolk won’t kill you after all.

You Must Read—Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World

Soda—or pop if you are of that persuasion—is a well-known public health enemy. It delivers a powerful one two punch of empty calories and a lot of sugar. The consumption of soda in the United States has risen dramatically since World War II. Take for example the average size of a soda bottle. Before the 1950s the standard container size was ~6.5 ounces. You know, those little glass Coke bottles that everyone tries to find in antique stores. Contrast that with today’s 12 ounce cans and 20 ounce bottles, which are considered single servings by everyone but government nutritionists.

9781613747223But, how did soda get to be such a big deal? Rather than spend more than two hundred pages demonizing an industry that has more than its share of detractors Tristan Donovan chronicles the rise of the soda giants in Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World.

While there are other major soda players there is one name that essentially defines the category: Coca-Cola. The Atlanta, Georgia-based company has become the proxy for all discussions about soda and this is for good reason. It’s marketing tactics have defined the category for the better part of eighty or more years coinciding with the introduction of the now-famous Santa Claus ads by Haddon Sundblom. It’s distribution channel is the model favored by the industry. It’s global reach and global brand identity are nearly unmatched anything outside of national governments. Heck, I bet there are corners of the globe where the Coca-Cola logo is more recognizable than the American flag.

The story is interesting because in many ways soda should have been a victim of World War II. Rationing of sugar and the lack of proper substitutes—high fructose corn syrup would not be available to soda makers until later—should have crippled the industry and taken the brand images outside of the consideration set of the world population. However, Coca-Cola allied itself quite amazingly with the U.S. military and, by extension, the victories of the U.S. military. Soldiers on battlefields across Europe and the Southeast Asia came to see a bottle of Coca-Cola as a piece of home and by permission of the U.S. military Coca-Cola was going to provide those bottles. It also helped that the U.S. military helped the company build bottling plants to supply soldiers all over the world and when the soldiers went home those plants supplied the populations left behind. I am sure that if you asked an official historian there would be little mention of this nice government subsidy in the history of the company.

More frightening, in my opinion, than anything else is just how pervasive soda has become in our modern lives. Take for example:

  • Soda now comprises approximately 9% of our daily caloric intake in the U.S. up from 4% in the 1970s
  • Children get nearly 11% of their daily caloric intake from soda or other sugar drinks

It’s easy to see how this has become such a problem. Think about how close the nearest soda is to you right now. If a soda is not in your refrigerator or on your desk, how far away is a vending machine or location that sells soda? I am guessing that within a few minute walk everyone who will ever read this blog has access to a Coke. I have been on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert and seen a small refrigerated case with the familiar red and white logo. About the only place I can remember being free of western soda brands was Cuba. Soda was still present, but just not the familiar brands back home.

But the health impacts of this sweet obsession are equally appalling:

  • If you regularly consume 1 or 2 cans of soda per day you have a 26% greater risk of developing Type II diabetes as opposed to a person who rarely consumes soda
  • In men, a 1 can a day habit has been shown to raise the risk of heart disease by 20%

A lot of these debilitating effects can be traced back to sugar and HFCS, which has for the most part supplanted real sugar in soda in the U.S. Don’t believe me? Read David Gillespie’s Sweet Poison.

Tristan Donovan’s Fizz is an excellent way to gain an understanding about how a sugary drink became such an integral part of our social and economic fabric.

Finally, the Yard Recovers

This past winter was brutal and the plants in the yard paid the price. The final tally included a dawn redwood, all the butterfly bushes, a rudbeckia, and thanks to some unidentified animal using its bark as a chew toy one yellow poplar/tulip tree. One of the lilac bushes near the compost bins was also severely denuded when spring came around making me wonder if it was going to be added to the casualty list.

The easiest replacement was the yellow poplar/tulip tree. It’s a great tree for the landscape, not over planted like a lot of maples, and with two other yellow poplars in that part of the yard it forms a nice triple planting.

The problem is that that I have lost a couple of season’s worth of growth and the replacement looks a little undersized:

Tulip Tree Replant

Little guy is included for height reference and to witness the joy of gardening.  I am hoping that the difference in height will be less noticeable as the trees mature.

The loss of the dawn redwood vexed me. I love that species of tree and I was really hoping that it would add a lot of interest to the yard because it was such an unusual specimen. Remember, I live in a neighborhood where people plant autumn blaze maples and Bradford pears. I would estimate that three-quarters or more of the trees are of those two types. God forbid that there is ever a Dutch elm disease-like outbreak that targets autumn blaze maples because neighborhoods in eastern Iowa would be deforested in no time.

However, I was concerned that the harsh winter—although somewhat more in line with what pre-climate change winters were like on occasion—was the culprit in killing the dawn redwood. I did not want to replace the tree every few seasons because the mercury dipped into the negative teens.

The solution presented itself in a London planetree:

London Planetree

This particular tree is believed to be a hybrid of a plane tree and a sycamore. Possessing the traits of the sycamore was of interest because sycamores are native to my neck of the woods. Plus, as a tree that is adapted to bottomlands it would stand up well to the intermittent standing water that collects during heavy spring rains. Or the rains that have inundated us here in June. The London planetree is a vigorous growing species and it is highly tolerant of difficult urban conditions like heat and pollution. Neither are a major concern in my suburban backyard, but it is comforting to know that this is a hardy tree.

The butterfly bushes are not going to be replaced because that spot in the garden is going to be reserved for hops come spring 2015. I have the plans for a trellis in the workshop and should put something in the ground by early fall.

Oh, and the lilac? It’s making a fairly remarkable recovery:

Lilac Reborn

And the grass? Do not even get me started on the grass. With no fertilizer, lots of rain, and lots of sun when there is no rain the grass is growing like a weed. How so? I need to mow every four days to keep it from looking too shaggy. Granted, part of that is because I mow my lawn at the highest setting. But still…

Worst Day of My Life

I want to apologize for “going dark” the past week, but the day that I have dreaded every morning for nearly three years came to be.  On Tuesday August 27th my father was found dead.  He took his own life.

The cause of death will be listed as a suicide.  However, I consider this to be another casualty of the cancer that took my mother’s life three years earlier.  It did not erode my father physically.  It killed him mentally.

That Tuesday morning will be the worst day of my life because it came like a bolt from the heavens.  I may have dreaded the phone call for the past three years but I felt that my father was getting to a place where suicide was less of a concern.  I was wrong.

It was the worst day of my life because it was so sudden.  My mother slipped away over a period of months.  I was prepared for her death even if I never wanted to see that day dawn.  My father was just gone.

People will tell me that there was nothing that I could have done.  I believe that only in part because deep down I feel that there was something that I could have done.  There must have been something I could have done different or better.

No one has the words to describe such a situation and the wounds do not heal.

R.I.P. Google Reader

It seems silly to get sad over a piece of software going away, but I am going to miss Google Reader which sailed off into the sunset today.

For many years I have used the simple news aggregator to quickly navigate hundreds of RSS feeds for work and pleasure.  Sure Feedly is a capable replacement.  However, it is not Google Reader for me.  Oh well.

What are your thoughts on the demise of Google Reader?