Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pain in the Ass

I suppose one shouldn't use the pulpit (however obscure it may be) to lash out at someone or something in a moment of anger, but dammit, I’m mad.

I was supposed to have a colonoscopy today. Actually a colonoscopy and an endoscopy at the same time. They were going to get me coming and going. The initial visit at Coral Ridge Gastroenterology Associates went well enough. The front office explained the preparations in detail, ran my insurance and found that I would have no further out-of-pocket costs, and even scheduled transportation to and from the Outpatient Center.

So I enjoyed breakfast yesterday, my last meal for some 30 hours, and at 6:00 PM downed some foul tasting liquid as instructed. If you've ever had a G.I. experience, I don’t have to tell you what happened next. Suffice it to say I stayed indoors for the evening, never far from the bathroom.

At 6:00 AM this morning I repeated the process. I wondered if the eternal drainpipe would stop flowing in time for my ride at 9:30. At the original consultation I had been told that the transportation agency would call me the day before to give me an actual pickup time. Since they never called, I phoned the practice last night but it was after hours. I called again this morning, apparently before hours, and left a message.

Eventually I got a return call. “Oh, Mr. Johnston, we’re so sorry. This never happens. I had the paperwork right here in front of me but I forgot to arrange your ride. I apologize. I’ll see if I can reach them in time.”
She called back shortly thereafter and informed me that the procedure would have to be postponed until the afternoon.

“But, I’m hungry!” I whined.

She told me that I could call Sarah at the Outpatient Center and see if they had an earlier slot. Now I was thinking we were talking about arranging transportation. When Sarah told me that there was nothing available until later, I asked if I could keep my 11:30 appointment if I arranged my own transportation. Oh, no, I was informed. It was the procedure that was not scheduled, not the transportation.

So now I’m hungry and pissed off.

About a half hour later, the Outpatient Center calls again just to inform me of my financial responsibility, a $250 copay. Snap! That was it.

“Cancel it,” I said. “I’m having breakfast.”

Minutes later the doctor’s office calls and the woman who had screwed up in the first place is wildly apologizing, assuring me that she had cleared the insurance and that the Center should have known there was no copay.

More apologies. But it was too late.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Please stop saying you’re sorry.” (Cue Madonna) “This whole thing has been screwed up on your end and on their end.” (No pun intended.) “We’re done. I’m having breakfast now. If I ever do have a colonoscopy, it won’t be through your practice.”

If you go (and you’d be nuts if you do): Coral Ridge Gastroenterology Associates, LLC, Dr. Manuel E. Barbaian. Pompano Beach, FL.

Coral Ridge Outpatient Center, 5301 North Dixie Highway, Oakland Park, FL.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Henry Flagler

Henry Flagler was one of those nineteenth century industrialists who believed he could accomplish anything he set his mind to. He made his first fortune as the co-founder, along with John D. Rockefeller, of Standard Oil. In fact Rockefeller once said that Flagler was the brains behind the enterprise. Ruthless competitors, they took Standard Oil from a small refining concern in Ohio to a virtual monopoly of the oil business. But dominating one industry was not enough to satisfy Flagler’s ambition.  He, like myself, was not a fan of cold northern winters so he took a trip down to St. Augustine, Florida, to check out the local scene.

He found a sleepy Spanish provincial town and immediately saw the opportunity to make a lot of money luring other winter-weary northerners to its agreeable climate and seaside beauty.  So he built a hotel.  The Ponce de Leon Hotel, named in honor of the Spanish explorer who allegedly found the Fountain of Youth a few blocks away,  was the grandest of hotels, built with poured concrete and brick accents in the Spanish Renaissance style.  Interior elements were provided by Louis Tiffany. It was the first hotel wired for electricity from the outset, made possible by his buddy Thomas Edison.  Patrons of Mr. Flagler’s hotel needed deep pockets: the minimum stay was the entire winter season, whether you stayed all four months or not.

I visited the Ponce de Leon, which is now part of Flagler College. It houses the dining hall and serves as the women's dormitory.  What a contrast to the dorms I inhabited at Carnegie-Mellon.  I was not able to take the guided tour as I am still limping and wincing from the sciatic nerve flare-up that struck me two weeks ago.  But just sitting in the courtyard for a while and taking a look at the grand entrance hall and rotunda was worth the effort.  I had expected a stone interior, something resembling a gothic cathedral, but instead found it is all carved wood. Exquisite.

Flagler needed a way to get his patrons to St. Augustine so he bought the short line railroad from Jacksonville. He discovered that he enjoyed running a railroad so he decided , in typical Standard Oil fashion, to buy up all the other railroads in the region and expand southward to West Palm Beach. But the winter of 1894-95 was so severe that only the southern tip of Florida, where the town that is now Miami stands, escaped the freezing weather. So Flagler set his sights there, extended the rail line, and pretty much built Miami.

Meanwhile another industrialist, Robert Plant, was snatching up railroads in the state. As befitting robber barons of the era, the two men made a gentleman’s agreement: Flagler would keep to Florida’s east coast if Plant would stay on the west.  This left Flagler with only one direction to expand  – south.

At the time Key West was the largest city in Florida and a bustling port. Although engineers said it couldn’t be done, Flagler extended his line 128 miles down the Keys, mostly on causeways and trestles. His Florida East Coast Railroad was now the railroad that went to sea. It’s premier passenger train was the Havana Special, an all Pullman deluxe overnight run from New York to Key West with connections to passenger steamers bound for Cuba.

A hurricane on Labor Day 1935 wiped out nearly one third of the line and the railroad decided it was cost prohibitive to replace.  Flagler had passed away twenty-two years prior to the disaster but one can’t help wonder if he had been alive, would he have rebuilt the line? Could one still have taken the Havana Special for a vacation in the Conch Nation?

Remnants of the overseas railroad exist throughout the Keys. Much of U.S. Highway 1 was built on the original pilings. As to the rest of Flagler’s railroad it is alive and well today. The Florida East Coast Railroad is the longest “short line” in the country and one of the most profitable railroads. Long coveted by rivals CSX and Norfolk Southern, it remains fiercely independent and a competitor worthy of Flagler’s heritage.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Southbound 2013

It’s been a very long time since I added any articles to this blog but I’ve decided to start writing again. Rather than the random philosophical rants I’ve posted in the past, I’ve decided to write about travelling full-time in an RV with my two cats.

This week I started my third annual pilgrimage south. Yes, I’ve become a snowbird. I’ve never quite understood that term, snowbird, as applied to folks who spend their winters somewhere warmer than their usual home base. Wouldn’t it  make more sense to call us sun birds or sun seekers? I guess it’s like a nor’ easterly wind. It isn’t blowing towards the northeast, it’s blowing southwest. Guess it could also be called a snowbird wind.

Skidaway Island State Park, Savannah GA
I’ve arrived in Savannah, GA. I’m staying for the second time at the most beautiful state park I’ve ever camped in – Skidaway Island State Park. I was lucky to find available one of the best sites in the park. It’s a huge pull-through site, easily a quarter acre, surrounded by palmettos and live oaks bearing Spanish moss. Very private. The cats love it.

It wasn’t so great for the cats the first time we were here. In those days, I had taught Osito to walk on a leash and I was attempting to teach Brindie the same. Brindie, you will recall if you’re an avid reader of this blog (which you aren’t because I don’t have any avid readers) is the stray cat I rescued several years ago at The Woods campground in the Poconos. You’ll find the rescue story here

I had put a harness and leash on Brindie and thought that we would have a nice little training session outside. Instead, she panicked, flailed around, did back flips and in the chaos I dropped the leash. She took off into the woods still wearing  the harness with the leash dragging behind her.

Brindie and Osito
She eventually came back around 11:30 that night sans leash and sans harness. The next morning I went around and told the neighbors who had all been on alert and anxious to help. The full account of that mishap is here.  Since that time I have become comfortable with letting both cats out on their own if the situation seems safe. The biggest concern is traffic, and not annoying other campers, especially the type that might be inclined to inform the park ranger!

So that was two years ago. Now the cats are fine, it’s me that’s a mess. Monday I felt great. We were on the first day of the journey staying at Kiktopeke State Park at the southern tip of the Delmarva peninsula. I took a short stroll along one of the nature trails that afternoon and returned to the coach to enjoy dinner, some TV and an early night.

The next morning when I stood up, a pain shot through my left leg. It was so intense that I screamed. I was barely able to walk. Somehow I got everything stowed, broke camp and drove to my next destination – the famous tourist trap known as South of the Border. The campground is fine for an overnight stop and it’s not expensive.  I pushed on the following day towards my first multi-day destination, Savannah. Fortunately the leg didn’t hurt too much while sitting in the driver’s seat and wasn’t needed for driving.

I finally got to a medical facility yesterday. The doctor said it was my back, not the leg which was causing the pain. He gave me a couple of shots and called in four(!) prescriptions at a nearby Kroger. Still limping and wincing I headed for the supermarket.

Attack Vehicle
I parked as close as possible to the door but resisted the urge to pull into a handicapped space even though I certainly qualified. It would have been just my luck to get a ticket or towed. As luck would have it, someone had left a motorized shopping cart in the space next to me. I thought, what the hell? The next minute I was whizzing down the aisles, terrorizing the able-bodied. Since I had to wait 15 minutes, I went on a joy ride. What a sight I must have been. Unshaven, wearing paint stained shorts and flip flops, and looking like death warmed over. So what better place for a cranky, old cripple to cruise around in? The wine racks, of course!

It’s now Thursday. I feel much better. I can walk a good fifty feet without having to sit down. Still, I had to reluctantly cancel my tour of the Mercer-Williams house, the one made famous in John Berendt’s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I’m hoping to be enough improved to try tomorrow.