Rashes and Scratches: How I’m Dealing With My Eczema – 2016 Edition

I’ve had eczema for a few years now.  It’s pretty rare, though not totally uncommon, to develop it as an adult.  Typically children are more prone to it.  Adults that have it tend to have had it as a kid, which wasn’t the case for me.  In any case, it’s been an ongoing thing but as time has gone on, I’ve learned more and more ways to work through it.

Here are some of the recent activities in my ongoing battle with eczema.

Understand My Eczema Triggers

I don’t have breakouts all of the time, but when I do, I’ve found that there are often things that lead to them for me.  All of these things are quite common as far as triggers go:

  • Cold, dry weather – It definitely spikes in the winter time when the air is cold and dry
  • Stress – If I have a high level of stress, I seem to be more prone to outbreaks
  • Too Little Sleep – If I average 7 or more hours per night, this seems to help me out a lot.  If I fall below that, I have noticed that outbreaks are a lot more common.
  • Cleaning Products – Washing dishes by hand or cleaning with harsher products seems to really ratchet things up.  Even wearing gloves did not seem to help.  But more on that in a second.

Understood and Re-Upped My Medication

One of the things that worked out really good over the past few years was a topical medicine called ProTopic.  It was originally prescribed to me when it was a fairly new product, and there were quite a few concerns at the time.  One was that it was thought to have led to higher incidents of skin cancer.  Another was that it could weaken the skin.

mb-2016-05-doctorNow that it’s been around a lot longer, the larger sample size of available research has largely reduced these concerns.  As far as the cancer goes, there are no real differences in the rate of skin cancer for people who are on the medicine or who aren’t.

And the thinning of skin turns out not to be the case either.  That tends to happen when you use steroid based products for a long period of time, but ProTopic is not a steroid, but instead is an immuno suppressant, meaning that it really works to squash the response of the immune system that triggers the breakouts.  I also talked to the doctor about the concern that I could be building a tolerance to where my body would no longer respond, and she said that based on my usage, I have a long ways to go before she would be concerned about this.  That’s good!

The downside of the medicine is that it is expensive.  Even a now-available generic version, cost me $305 for a tube.  The good news on that is that I use it very sparingly, so this tube could end up lasting a long time.  At the worst, I’d estimate that it would last six months, but based on how much I’ve used my previous amounts, it could last as long as two years.

Reduced Mildew

We have a few areas where mildew seems to build up a lot.  One is in our washing machine, which is a front loader that unfortunately was one of the early models, and I found that the area around the soap / bleach dispenser was never drying out and causing huge buildups of mildew.  Maybe this had nothing to do with eczema, but either way, the idea that our clothes, towels, and bedding were being washed in it and then coming with our bodies gave me the idea to clean things out once and for all.

I spent a couple of hours erradicating all traces from the machine (using bleach, which ironically triggered an outbreak *lol*) and I now actually remove the little drawer and keep the inside dry to prevent new buildup from taking place.  It defies logic to have to take the blasted thing out before bed, and then put it back in before I leave for work, but actually once you do it a few times, the absurdity kind of drops off.

Improved Moisturizing 

One of the simple rules of thumb that my dermatologist told me is to make sure to use creams and not lotions.  They work differently and creams are better than lotions for eczema patients.  I’ve been working on trying to find one that I like best, and am right now working through an Aveeno formula specialized for eczema.  The creams are definitely more money and they also tend to be a little more messy as they’re more watery than lotions, but if it helps, I’m all for it.

Revamping My Cleaning Gloves (To Do)

When I told the dermatologist that cleaning solutions bothered me, she suggested gloves.  When I mentioned that they often irritated me, she said that’s common.  Sweat and condensation will form inside the glove, and this process can actually irritate the skin.  She has found that one thing that often works is to put a thin cotton glove on, then put the cleaning glove over that.  The cotton glove will absorb most of the moisture that forms inside the glove, thus preventing it from getting to the skin.  Now, the trick is just to find some thin enough cotton gloves where I can test this process.  Any ideas?

Overall

Eczema is no fun.  At one point over the past winter I decided I wanted to go cold turkey and see what would happen.  Big fail.  I ended up with spots in multiple places on my hands, fingers, and arms, and it itched so bad that I know I was spreading it around as I scratched it (even knowing that I shouldn’t).  Honestly, I hate being dependent on medicine but knowing that it works, I’m happy to continue on for now.

I’m hoping that one day there’s a miracle cure.  Until then, I’ll do my best to deal with the rashes and scratches.

Readers, do you or does anyone in your family suffer from eczema?  Any miracles out there that I should know about?

Money And Health: Money Should Never Be Top Priority

Money is important.  I don’t focus this blog exclusively on money or finance related articles, because I’ve been doing it for quite a few years now.  I just don’t have it in me to crank out post after post about why everybody needs an emergency fund or how to get a mortgage.  Those are great topics.  But, there’s so much more, including some hard looks about money and health.

Sometimes it takes life to remind you that while money is certainly important, it isn’t your number one focus in life.

The Phone Call

A week ago Sunday, the family was out for breakfast when my phone rang.  I looked and saw it was my parents.  I sensed something was odd because we typically don’t talk during the daytime hours.  We usually reserve our chats for the evening so that it’s a good chance that everybody is home and settled in.

I answered and when talking to my dad immediately knew that something was wrong.  It turns out that my step-mom had been taken by ambulance to the hospital.  She had developed sudden shortness of breath and had a hard time breathing or talking.

mb-2016-03-ambulanceI talked to my dad for a couple of minutes to find out if her breathing had been better when they took her (it was), if she was responsive and coherent (she was), whether my dad wanted me to come get him (he didn’t) and what hospital she was being taken to.

Shortly later, I dropped the family back at the house and drove to the hospital.

The Tests

When I got to the hospital, they directed me where to go and once I got there, they were running the first test of the day, a chest X-ray.

I was able to say hi and see that she was breathing but definitely shaken up by what was going on.  My stepmom is not one to complain, so we knew that this needed to be checked out.

I found a little bit more info as to what had happened, and around this time, they took her for her second test, a doppler scan on her legs.  She had developed blood clots about two years ago, and was on medication for about six months afterward, and it seemed that was the suspicion that they were leaning toward.

After she got back, an ultrasound tech came in and did a detailed scan of her heart.  You could tell that she was quite interested in several areas as they can take ‘snapshots’ and she was there for quite some time.

After this, they came in and told us that they suspected that she had blood clots and that they think some had traveled to her lungs.  They wanted to do a CT scan to test, and she was taken away for that.

When she came back, we talked to them about family history where my stepmoms sister had a similar situation, but had bleeding on the brain that was not diagnosed, and she ended up not making it when they treated the clot and the brain bleeding worsened.  (Different hospital, FYI)  After hearing this, they took her for a second CT scan to check out her head.

Treatment: The First Hours

The diagnosis was confirmed with all of the tests.  She had lots and lots of blood clots on her lungs.  Because the lungs weren’t able to take as much oxygen as needed into the blood, the heart was overcompensating.  Her blood pressure was 170/120 and the resting heart rate was around 130.  This was dangerous to heart.

The treatment option was to insert a catheter into her body and have it go through her body to her lungs.  She would be infused with clot busting medication that would basically be administered at its source.  It’s an aggressive treatment plan with quite a few risks that basically tie back to that if you have bleeding anywhere on or inside your body, it’s going to get worse.  But, the scans and such showed that this risk was minimal, so they advised this to avoid potential damage to her heart.

The importance of doing this sunk in when they told us that they had to page the team to come in to do this procedure, as it was a Sunday and the staff was not there.  I think it home for me at that point just how close of a call this was.

But, the procedure took about two hours and everything went as expected.

Treatment: Night 1 through Day 3 

She was moved to the ICU and we were allowed to see her.  At this point it was around 7pm, roughly 9 hours after she got to the hospital.  Almost right away, you could see that the numbers were improving.  Still, they had her on the infusion medicine as well as regular liquids and also other blood thinning medicine.  She had at least six different machines all clicking and thumping and beeping, and it didn’t allow for much rest.

Early the next afternoon, the administration of the infusion meds was complete.  As the doctor said, the numbers told the story that it was working, as her heart rate and blood pressure were completely normal.  The catheter was taken out, and about 2/3 of the machines were taken out.

They kept her in the ICU for another day until she was moved to another room.

Treatment: Day 3 – Day 5

At this point, they began stepping down her treatment.  By Day 4 they switched her blood thinning medication from an IV administered medicine to a pill.  She’ll be on that indefinitely.

One complicationdeveloped that may have extended her stay by a day or two.  It was bruising.  She’s been susceptible to bruising, and with the blood thinners, it caused bruising at many places on her body.  She had bruises anywhere where pressure had been applied during the course of her stay.  Her entire left upper arm was bruised almost from elbow to shoulder.  Since that was where everything had been done, blood pressure and such, it was very bruised.

So, they spent some time making sure that the bruising wasn’t spreading, but by Thursday morning they were pretty sure that she would be able to leave, and by Thursday afternoon she was back at home.

Money And Health: What Matters

In all this, did money matter?  No.  She’s got great insurance, having worked for a government agency for many years, and having retired with great insurance.  So, hopefully the time spent will not cost much out of pocket, but it wasn’t like my dad was even checking or it was discussed.  The goal was just to get her healthy again.

In the end, money is a priority and a very important one.  When it’s all said and done, money doesn’t matter compared to health.  You want to see your loved ones healthy.  That’s what’s important.  If we’re not healthy, all the money in the world doesn’t make a single bit of difference.  Not a penny can be enjoyed in life if we don’t have health.

This was a trying week.  My stepmom has been told that she’s not allowed to scare us like that again.  She used up her quota for a good long while!

Now the goal ist to take this as a reminder to make sure to cherish what’s really important.  Each other.

Medicare Fraud With A Sickening Twist

There’s an ongoing story that’s received a lot of local attention over the past few years, but I’m not sure how much national coverage it’s received. It really deserves attention just to put the word out there in hopes that such terrible acts are never committed again.

Typical Medicare Fraud

Defrauding Medicare is unfortunately a fact of life and probably will be for as long as the system exists.  Typical fraud by a healthcare provider involves submitting bills for services that were never done, enhancing claims to include bogus items, or something along those lines.

This is dishonest, immoral, and it cheats taxpayers out of money, as money goes to pay for things  that never happened, but a Farid Fata, a doctor here in the Detroit area took it one step further.

One terrible, sick step further.

Terrible Medicare Fraud of the Worst Kind Imaginable

Dr. Fata was a doctor specializing in cancer.  He diagnosed cancer and then treated it.  He decided to pull a Medicare fraud.  But, he didn’t go the traditional route.  Nope.  In fact, all of the claims that he submitted for services rendered were 100% accurate.

The only problem is that in hundreds of cases, the treatments that he administered were not necessary.  Many people who he treated for cancer did not have cancer.  At all.

His scheme was that he would get referrals from other doctors whose patients had abnormal levels, and were tested for cancer.  He would do further testing, and while many people did have cancer, many didn’t, yet he would fake the diagnosis and begin treating the cancer.

He put people on chemotherapy, radiation, and all sorts of other cancer treatments and had them go through the hell of these treatments, as well as the mental anguish of thinking that they were fighting cancer.

Sick Bastard

It’s sickening to think about yet it went on for years until people started getting suspicious.  It all started to fall apart when a doctor, who already had suspicions of wrongdoing and had submitted his notice, treated a patient that had broken her leg.  Other doctors at the hospital saw the cancer diagnosis and brought him in, as he was on-call, to make sure that their work wouldn’t interfere with the cancer treatment.  He looked through the chart and none of the levels indicated any sort of cancer being present.  A second opinion confirmed this, and within days, the whole scheme began to unravel.

Dr. Fata admitted his scheme.  He’s in jail and I hope he never gets out.  While he and his practice treated thousands of patients that did actually have cancer, there are hundreds out there who now have to live every day knowing that they were violated in ways that I can’t even begin to imagine.  He employed hundreds of people from other doctors to nurses to office staff, yet he hid his ruse for a long time.  People had suspicions, but the people with fake diagnoses were ‘his’ patients.

Scratch that.  They were his victims.

Cancer Treatment Sucks

mb-2015-06-chemoI haven’t had cancer, but I have known people that have.  My step-mom fought breast cancer years ago.  My wife’s aunt has fought it.  Another aunt has ovarian cancer and has been through torturous treatments and surgeries.  The treatments we have often help beat or hold off the disease, but the treatments suck.  There’s no other way to put it. You’re basically poisoning your body to try to get rid of cancer.

Hopefully Tomorrow Changes That

It’s my vision that one day cancer treatments won’t suck.  We’re probably a long ways away, maybe 50 or 100 or 200 years, but I believe that one day, people will look back at how we treat cancer today and it will be considered rudimentary.  It might even be considered barbaric.

And if that’s what they use to describe it, then great, because that means they’ll have come up with something better, just like we’ve improved so many treatments for other diseases compared to how they were treated long ago.

Meanwhile, we have what we have.  And, it scares me to think that while this man is behind bars and hopefully stays there, you probably have others out there with similar or even worse ideas.

Second Opinion

This shows the importance of a second opinion.  No matter how much you trust your doctor, if he or she ever tells you that you have cancer, I think the first and most important step is to go somewhere else and make sure that you do.  You owe it to yourself.

Readers, had you heard of Dr. Fata and his monstrous acts?  

Do You Brush Your Teeth During The Day?

For just about all my life, I have brushed my teeth two times per day.  I brush once in the morning after I wake up, and once in the evening before I go to bed.  Outside of that, I never brushed during the day.  Well, I would on days I went to the dentist.  So, two times per year, I guess!  After all, you don’t need to gross out your hygienist, right?

This has served me well, and for a long time.   I would even kind of laugh to myself when I would see someone brushing their teeth in the bathroom at work.

But, after my latest cleaning, the thought popped into my head.  Maybe a mid-day brush wouldn’t be a bad idea!

No Cavities!

Thankfully, I did not have any cavities during my cleaning, as those are pretty rare.  However, my hygienist did say that I had one particular area that I needed to make sure I got a little closer, as she saw a little plaque buildup.

Since my appointment, I’ve been making sure to hit that area whenever I brush, as well as giving everywhere else a good brushing, but I stopped and started thinking not just about getting that area, but started to ask:

How Did I Let That Happen?

Over the years, I’ve been pretty good about not having many cavities (knocks on wood as I type this), but I can think of a few instances here and there where I’ve gotten similar input on a noticeable area that I had to make sure to catch.

mb-2015-05-toothbrushI started to think, maybe the time of days that I’m brushing are impacting my success.

I mean, I don’t know about you, but for me, the following is pretty much true:

Mornings: I’m rushing around trying to get out the door for work so that I get to the office at the usual time, or on the weekends, trying to rush so that I can get over and help the kids get their day started

Evenings: I’m generally tired enough where I just want to get through the getting-ready-for-bed process, and rush through so that my head can hit the pillow as quickly as possible.

In either situation, the key word between the two is: Rush!

In the morning, I’m rushed because I’m wound up and trying to get out the door, and in the evenings I’m rushed to get into bed and unwind.

Two Options: It’s All About Probability

Realizing this makes me think that there are two things to try:

  1. Try to eliminate rushing.  I’m guessing that my dentist would probably say two brushes is fine.  Maybe they’d recommend adding more time per brush?  This is great, but I’m 40 years old and have been establishing myself and my routines for many years.  Simply adding a minute or two to each brush sounds easy, but is it plausible to simply say that I’m going to stop rushing just because I know I shouldn’t?  Sounds too good to be true!
  2. Add an extra brushing. During the day, I certainly have times where I rush.  Deadlines, meetings, and such all happen and make me rush around from time to time, but I generally try to avoid rushing around too much around my lunch.  This would be the ideal time to add a tooth brushing session to my daily routine.

It seems worth a try, anyways, to add a brush.  Of course, you could use my first argument against me in that I’ve established a routine of not brushing during the day for pretty much my whole life, so adding a brush could prove just as, if not more, difficult than adding extra time to my current brushes.

I guess there’s only one way to find out!

Readers, how many times a day do you brush?  Do you brush during the day or do you figure (as I used to) that the only people who do that are those who work for at a dentist office?

Impressions of Obamacare

I recently had the opportunity to work through signing up for Obamacare, though it was not for me.  A family member recently took on a new position, and since their employer does not offer health insurance, she needed to sign up for insurance using Obamacare.  She asked for my help.

I won’t walk step by step through the process, since there are already a million articles out there about that, but wanted to share some of our shared impressions.

  • It’s pretty cleanly designed – I was pretty impressed by the user interface.  It was colorful and simple enough to be welcoming, but not distracting.  It also split much of the form entry into multiple pages so as not to be overwhelming.
  • There’s a lot to enter – Most of the information you need is pretty straightforward but there is a lot more information than you probably think going in.  We had estimated it’d probably take around an hour but in reality, it took closer to two hours.
  • Figuring out income is tricky – Many people likely know how much they make, but if you are hourly, or if you aren’t really sure, you’re likely taking a guess.  In our case, we struggled because of the hourly component, and also didn’t really the implications of only being at this job for part of the year, which will greatly affect the total income that will go on the tax return.
  • All of the options lead to second-guessing – We had a rough idea of the needs, and also had a rough idea of the expected costs, but when we got to the lists, it was quite a bit to take in.  The variation in pricing and such made it pretty confusing, and you found yourself just scrolling through.  Also, when you found what appeared to have the same offerings, but for price variations of up to 100%, it made you start second-guessing whether you were really making the right choice.
  • The providers have some work to do – When we found the plan we wanted, it gave a link so that it could be paid to ensure that coverage started on the 1st of the month.  The only problem is that the link didn’t work.  It likely went out to the providers site for payment, so there is some problem somewhere along the way.   We also noticed during the sign up process that the details about each plan took you to the website of the provider, which was fine, but that led to confusion as each provider structured their information to their own design.  Since you’re comparing multiple plans along multiple providers, I think that providers should be encouraged to put the information together in a more common template format.
  • Some stuff needs to be re-arranged – We needed to sign up for health and dental.  It wasn’t really clear whether they are done completely independent (they are) or not, so before we submitted ‘OK’ on the health side, we were nervous that we were locking out of the dental options (we weren’t).  I think this could be solved by having the participant select the coverage that they need up front before signing up for anything, and the system could build your sign-up plan accordingly, making sure that you go directly to dental sign-up.

Overall, it wasn’t a horrible experience but it wasn’t great.  I’d say it was OK, though we were expecting worse.  The biggest takeaway is that health insurance is still full of a lot of unknowns, and that can lead to nervousness and such.  I can see where they tried to take a lot of that out away with their design, but some additional re-work could make even more improvements.   We finished up and I could tell that my family member was nervous.  Taking away that ‘What did I just do?’ element is something that could help consumers a long way.

Readers, have you or someone you know signed up for Obamacare?  What was the experience and what suggestions would you make?  Note: This isn’t a place to debate whether Obamacare should be in place or not.  It’s here and the purpose of this article was to discuss our experiences with that framework in place.  I’d appreciate if discussions could be handled along the same lines.  Thanks.

Do Everything By The Book And Still Get Screwed By Health Insurance

Every time we think that we have health insurance figured out, we are proven that we are and will always be wrong.

You can do it all.  Every step.  Check it off.  Verify it.  Dot every i and cross every t.

Doesn’t matter.

The insurance companies will still manage to get you.

Actually, it’s not always the insurance companies.  It’s more the laws and the medical profession as a whole.

In Network But, Oh, Just Kidding

The latest example I saw that just floored me was in a New York Times article last week where unsuspecting people need immediate medical care.  They do the right thing.  They head to their emergency room that they already know is in network and get the care that they need.

It all sounds fine and good, until the bills come, and they realize that while they went to an in-network emergency room, the physician that treated them may not have been in-network.

Meaning, you’re stuck paying through the nose.

Apparently, many hospitals can’t (or won’t) fill all positions with employed doctors, so they contract out some of the staff that they need.  This is becoming more and more common.  It reduces fixed costs for the hospitals, but it means that you really have no idea what you’re going to end up being billed for.

Sometimes, it’s a crap shoot.  The hospital may have some doctors employed by the hospital, and some brought in as contractors.  The one that you get to see?  You can’t really pick.

Granted, patients can find out if the doctors are in network or not, and if the doctor that comes to see them is not, they could always refuse service or ask for someone else, but honestly, if you’re in a situation where you or a loved one needs emergency care, how often do you think this will happen?   If you’re hurt or having a heart attack, or your child has a broken bone, are you really going to wait around in hopes that a doctor is available that can save you money?

Sadly, that’s what our health system in America is coming to, and you may be asked to make this choice.

The hospitals themselves are covered.  In the sheaf of paperwork that you sign when you first arrive, you’re likely signing something that indicates that there is no guarantee of the network participation of anybody that treats you.

Since most hospital visits incur separate charges for the hospital and the doctor(s), many unsuspecting patients are falling into this trap, and when they call to protest the bill, the hospital can point to the fact that they signed the paperwork.

And, the sad thing, this is all legal.

What’s The Better Way?

The bottom line is that the system is broken.  I’m generally conservative, but I’m not staunch enough to think that Obamacare is an unmitigated disaster.  Many conservative people argue that it should be repealed, and many politicians build their platform on trying to do just that.

I’m not so sure, and the main reason is more of a fear as to what would happen if it was repealed.

Think about that for a second.  There are people out there whose goal in life seems to be to get rid of our current arrangement, and they will talk for hours at end about why it is so awful for our country and our citizens.  If anybody started that conversation to me, I would politely stop them and ask them how they would propose to make it better.  What would they put in it’s place that would stop the stupid nonsense and loopholes that screw the average consumer?

My guess, based on the fact that I’ve never heard one good proposal, is that nobody really knows.

On the flip side, Obamacare has not and will not prove to be a big fix.  We’ve already seen that.  It made a lot of promises, and even lived up to some of those as to problems that it was able to solve.

The main  issue I have is that for every problem it solved, it often created another issue.  You have many paying higher than they used to for insurance.  The second problem is that it did not truly reform the system in that there were way too many problems and loopholes left open that didn’t get addressed.

Like going to the in-network Emergency Room and getting billed thousands for the out-of-network doctor that took care of you.

Sorry, until stuff like that gets fixed, you can slap any label you want on the health care system, but the one I would slap on it would read:

Out of Order