Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Something is broken, but it's not my foot

Peroneal tendonitis. That's a fancy word for "you twisted your foot and it won't get better if you insist on wearing flip-flops and ballet flats." After weeks of a mildly annoying achy foot, and an x-ray to rule out a stress fracture, that was the podiatrist's diagnosis. Treatment: a lecture on proper footwear and a prescription anti-inflammatory for a month while it heals.

And that's where the real problem started. The doctor prescribed a pill called Vimovo, twice a day. She gave me a few samples and said she was calling it in to a pharmacy in Acworth (I was in Midtown) that would mail me the 30-day supply. She said it was like Aleve, but wouldn't upset my stomach to take twice a day.

I've had issues before where an allergy doctor prescribed me a really expensive version of Flonase that wasn't covered by my insurance, so when I got back to the office, I went on to my health insurance website to check the coverage. 

Vimovo is not covered. And a 30-day supply of this wonder drug from a mail order pharmacy would cost me $1,916.98, according to my insurance company. Holy crap! So I called the insurance company to verify. Yep, it's not covered. Then I looked up Vimovo find out what was so great about this insanely expensive little pill. And you know what, it's not just "like Aleve." It IS Aleve. TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS FOR ALEVE, WITH A COATING OF NEXIUM! 

So I called the pharmacy to cancel the prescription, because just hell no. The pharmacist tells me that they have a partnership with the company that makes Vimovo, and that I'll only have to pay $10 and the manufacturer absorbs what my insurance doesn't cover. What kind of bullshit is this?!?!? Now I'm sure that Horizon Pharma isn't taking a massive loss out of concern for my health - you can bet that they are probably making a profit on the drug at the $10 cost, which comes out to 6 cents per pill (and trying to get the remaining $1906 (or at least part of it) from SOMEBODY.  Probably my insurance company, who will then try to get it from me, or bitch about high costs and raise my/my firm's rates.  

To compare: the Vimovo pill would cost somebody who actually has to pay the market price about $64 per day for the month I need to take it. If I go to CVS and buy large-size bottles of generic aleve and prilosec (cheaper version of Nexium), I can take the exact same dosage of the same meds for about $1.20 per day.

I also found this New York Times article about Horizon, which bought the patent on the Vimovo from Astra Zeneca and  upped the price about by 1200% over a two-year period. Their other big money drug is a similarly overpriced combo of motrin and pepcid. And the company isn't run by PT Barnum, although CEO Timothy Welbert probably shares Barnum's views on the rate of stupidity among American consumers.

Now when it comes to my health, I'll admit I've been pretty lucky so far (sound effect= one very loud knock on wood). Heading into middle age, I've had very few problems, I've have always been fortunate enough to have very good health insurance coverage, and like to think I'm reasonably intelligent enough to do the research about procedures, drugs and costs.

But you know what, I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority, and that lots of people are getting really screwed over by greedy pharmaceutical companies, greedy insurance companies, or doctors and pharmacies who are probably getting all sorts of kickbacks and fancy lunches for prescribing this stuff. 

We need to admit that the system is broken. We need to admit that we can do better. We need to look at most other industrialized countries who have some form of a national health system and have lower costs and better health outcomes (better mortality rates, lower disease rates, higher quality of care,etc.).

But for now, I'm  going to do the only three things I can do: vote for politicians who want to see the system change, stop by CVS on the way home, and buy a new pair of Sketchers.
Friday, September 16, 2016

Potlucks, picnics and family traditions

Feeding an army is something that we Southern women do well. So far this month, my church had an outdoor service and potluck picnic. Then I spent Labor Day hanging out with my family and brought dessert. Then last weekend was the Hunton family (Mom's side) reunion on Sunday. Suffice to say, it's been a busy month in my kitchen!

When I was little, the family reunion was a huge deal, involving descendants (mostly) of my great grandparents. They had five children, and my grandparents had eleven, which means that I have a LOT of family out there. The reunion is always held at the Marietta Campmeeting -- an old Methodist revival campground. As a child, it was a chance to play with dozens of seldom-seen cousins and drink lemonade from a giant metal washtub perched at the end of a 20-foot long picnic table that was literally packed end-to-end with fried chicken, ham and every southern side dish you could imagine.

The pic is my great grand-father (kneeling) and his brothers at a family reunion in the 1930s, me with my cousin Whitney in the late 80s, and the campmeeting church today.

Potlucks aren't about fancy food, or things that don't travel well, or that just don't "go" with other foods. It's all about pure southern comfort, and for that, here are two great models, and two great recipes that I've made for these recent events.

For the church potluck, it was corn pudding from Pat Conroy's cookbook.  My all-time favorite southern writer, that cookbook is as much of a treat to read as it is to cook from.  This particular recipe has become one of my favorites - it's not gummy or heavy, like the corn pudding most people make from a boxed cornbread mix. It's light, fluffy and absolutely delicious. 

Pat Conroy's Corn Pudding

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 12-oz bags frozen corn

Melt butter - whisk in sugar, flour, milk, eggs and baking powder until smooth. Stir in corn and pour into l2-quart casserole dish (spray with pam or melted butter first). Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes -- firm and lightly browned on top.

For the reunion, I pretty much HAVE to bring buttermilk pie. The recipe is from my Aunt Gladys, and I remember it from every family-get-together growing up. If you're not southern and think buttermilk pie sounds weird, just wait until you try this sweet and tangy custard.

Aunt Gladys' Buttermilk Custard

3 eggs
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, melted
2 tbsp flour
dash salt
2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
uncooked deep dish pie crust

Cover pie edges with foil so they won't over-brown and preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs, then mix in butter, flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla and buttermilk. Pour into pie crust and bake 30-40 minutes until golden. Cool completely before eating (it's actually better the second day).

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The day with the bluest sky

So fifteen years. Wow. That day when the world changed. A few weeks ago, I was searching in my filing cabinet for my eyeglass prescription, and as I pulled out the file marked "medical records," I happened to notice the one in front of it marked "maps."  As in about a dozen of the old-fashioned paper kind that haven't seen the light of day since I got my first iphone. Out of curiosity and a little nostalgia, I unfolded the first one, a streetfinder map of Manhattan that I bought for a weekend getaway with a boyfriend in early 2001. Seeing the World Trade Center buildings marked in tourist-attraction pink on that little map gave me a goose-over-my-grave feeling, and took me back.

Of course everybody who is old enough remembers exactly what they were doing that day. I was leaving my house late to drive to work (rather than take the Metro as I usually did) after an early morning meeting with a printer had been postponed. I saw the news about the first plane as I was getting ready to walk out the door. I stopped to watch, then saw the second plane hit before going into work. By the time I got to the office, the news stations were reporting that DC had been targeted as well, although the info was unclear.  My office was just three blocks from the White House, and we all stood together in a fearful huddle in the conference room wondering what was happening and what we should do. Eventually, we closed up the office and left. I gave my boss a ride home. The drive, which on a good day takes about 20 minutes, took about two and a half hours that day. Carolyn and I listened to the radio the whole way and tried to use our cell phones with little luck.

My most vivid memory of the day came later in the afternoon. After hours of watching the news unfold on TV, I decided to walk to the convenience store down the block for some diet coke. I'll never forget that walk, because it seemed so surreal to me that a day of such horror could be so perfectly beautiful. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping in the park I passed by, there was a little breeze, and the sky was a unbelievable, travel-poster-worthy shade of blue. It felt like a day for picnics, or celebrations, or a glass of wine and watching the world go by on a sidewalk cafe. It just seemed so peaceful and pretty, and yet eerily quiet and somehow so WRONG.

Ultimately it was only the first of many surreal moments that followed over the next few weeks. Seeing tanks and armed soldiers on DC street corners. Driving on the highway past the Pentagon and seeing that horrible, gaping hole. Hearing the stories of friends who had close calls, or who lost their own friends and loved ones. Fifteen years have passed, and it seems like those sad days are at once a lifetime ago, and not so very long at all.

At the time, I remember Rudy Giuliani offering a prayer at a Ground Zero memorial service. And while I can't say that I think too highly of him today, he chose the perfect sentiment for that moment -- the "Francis of Assisi" prayer, which remains beautiful and necessary to me in this crazy world that we are still in:

"Lord, make us an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life."

Friday, September 9, 2016

Steph's Top 10: Movies I Love

Every once in a while at work, my boss or I will make a movie reference when we're talking to the younger members of our team. Most of the time, they’ll say they have never seen the movie in question, so I joke that I'm going to make a an educational list of movies they really need to check out. 

Well, here it is. But these aren’t really the serious films that I appreciate because they make some sort of statement about the world, or are marvelous examples of technical craft. These also aren’t the action films or cheesy disaster movies that are just plain fun to watch (Pierce Bronson v. volcanoes, The Rock v. earthquakes). These are just movies that I love and find myself watching over and over again.

In no particular order other than how they popped into my mind at 5:00 am when I can’t go back to sleep. I’ve been wanting to start making Top Ten lists, but I just couldn’t narrow this one down.

The English Patient. It’s such a haunting, lovely book, and Anthony Minghella picked up the mood perfectly to make a stunningly beautiful film.

A Fish Called Wanda. John Cleese makes an surprisingly adorable romantic hero (bonus points if you know where his character's name originated). Add Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Palin to the mix, and you've got comedy perfection. Just don't call me stupid.

Pulp Fiction/Kill Bill. I just couldn't pick between my favorite Tarantino films, but either way, Uma Thurman is pretty freaking awesome.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Yes, it soft-pedals prostitution and Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi is offensively racist from a modern perspective, but oh, George Peppard is adorable.

Sense and Sensibility. While I love P&P, Elinor Dashwood is the Jane Austen heroine I identify with the most.

Much Ado About Nothing. Possibly the most accessible Shakespeare. Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson at her most luminous. And Benedick and Beatrice are pretty much the model for every rom-com couple since 1598.

Grosse Point Blank. Like The Breakfast Club, this is pretty much microtargeted on my generation. Nobody shot anyone at my 10-year reunion, but other than that…

The Thomas Crown Affair (the 90s remake). Smart and sexy as hell, and after 20-something years, I still want EVERY SINGLE OUTFIT Michael Kors designed for Rene Russo.

An Officer and a Gentleman. I’ve seen it a million times, and I still go mushy at the end when he sweeps her up in his arms. Every damn time.

Steel Magnolias. When I’m old, I will be Clairee. If you’re a woman in the South, this movie pretty much has a quote for every situation in life.

The Breakfast Club. This is high school. And it's everything.

Almost Famous. Sex drugs and rock 'n' roll through sweetly funny, rose-tinted glasses.

Hope and Glory. WWII-era London from the viewpoint of a 10-year-old boy. Who knew the Blitz could be so funny.

Dangerous  Liaisons. Deliciously, viciously, elegantly mean. Glenn Close and John Malkovich are super villains in 17th century clothing who wield words as weapons.

Chocolat. Juliette Binoche livens up a stuffy little French Village in the 1950s. And yes, that is Trinity from The Matrix in the shirtwaist and pearls.