Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Oh, this makes sense.

I'm waiting on a prescription for a non-prescription medication.

Does that make any sense to you? Because it boggles me.

Last year my doctor recommended an over-the-counter medication for acid stomach. It's not outlandishly expensive, but at $22 for a six-week supply, I planned ahead. I included my budget for this medication in my flexible spending account enrollment.

Lo and behold, after enrollment for insurance programs ended at my employer and it was too late to change my elections, the government ruled that FSAs could no longer be used to buy this particular medication. Thanks, guys. That extra $190 a year really must help you out.

I discovered this when I tried to buy the medication and was told my FSA card could not be used. I was flummoxed, and contacted my FSA administrator. They confirmed what the pharmacy had told me, but said there was a regulation that would allow me to buy the medication with my FSA money if my doctor wrote a prescription for it.

"But it's an over-the-counter medication," I protested.
"He can write a prescription for an over-the-counter medication," they insisted.

Next I had to explain this nonsense to my doctor's medical assistant. First incredulous, then laughing, she presented it to my former-military doctor, who probably had some interesting words for it before writing me a prescription for my OTC medication.

Then I took it to Walgreens, slapping the box of 42 generic pills beside the scrip. The pharmacist was understandably confused. I explained, and he frowned at his computer screen for a while.

"I can't do it," he said.
Now it was my turn to be flummoxed. "But the law says I can use the FSA funds if I have a prescription. Here's the prescription."
He frowned some more. "But our computer can't ring it up that way."

I restrained myself, since shouting, "That's your problem!" would not help. Surely I was not the only person in this predicament, right? At some point Walgreens would have to allow for non-prescription medications to be coded as prescriptions for FSA purposes?

"We can run it as a prescription and fill it from back here," he said, gesturing to the stacks of pills.
"Okay," I said.
He did so, and rang it up. "That'll be $78."

Whaaaat? It's the same pill as the box on the shelf for $22. Did I mention my insurance sucks?

Eventually Walgreens did work it out, and I was able to use my money for its intended purpose and buy the OTC med at the normal price.

Fast forward to tonight, when I had to get my medication from a different Walgreens. As with each previous visit, I tiredly explained that I had a prescription on file for an OTC medication, wishing I could get them to just tell me which button needed to be pressed to ring it up properly and then I could train each new pharmacist.

This one insisted, however, that it could not be done. All of maybe 20 years old, he tried to ring it up as a regular medication and of course the computer rejected the FSA card.

"We can run it as a prescription from back here," he said.
Ring a round the rosy, pocket full of posy.... I explained yet again why that doesn't work.
He punched in the numbers anyway and said, "Sure, it's $18.99.


Not $78 anymore. Fine by me, so I sat down and waited for them to fill my "prescription." Secretly I almost wished my condition would get worse so I could just get a regular prescription and be done with this nonsense.

A few minutes ago, I saw my pharmacist scuttle out from behind the counter and grab the same box of OTC medication off the shelf and bring it back behind the counter to slap a prescription label on it. With an embarrassed shrug, he said, "They instructed us to use those."

I didn't stop laughing until it was time to pay up.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

domestic bliss

PHONE: *ring*
J: Hello?
ME: You might be the most frustrating man I've ever known, and that's saying something.
J: What'd I do??
ME: Remember last week when a giant pile of laundry went through the wash and it got stuffed into baskets instead of being hung up so all the shirts and pants have to be re-dried?
J: That was the kid.
ME: And then we re-dried all the shirts and pants. So imagine my joy to venture into the basement and find all the laundry stuffed back into baskets.
J: That darn kid!
J: ... oh.
ME: There are these newfangled devices called hangers, and they magically lift your clothes off the floor into closets and then your clothes aren't wrinkled anymore and I don't have to dry a shirt three times to wear it. Is there something about having a penis that makes you and the spawn oblivious to wrinkled clothes?
J: I wouldn't say that, exactly...
ME: Hangers!
J: I love you.

He did do the dishes, though. Ain't nothin' sexier than a man who does the dishes. :)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mom's Summer School

Today marks the first full day of the delinquent's summer. To my utter shock, he did not qualify for the school district's summer school - I can only assume because of budget cuts, not because of his brilliant schoolwork.

Therefore, I have designed Mom's Summer School. First comes the workbook: I found Summer Bridge to be the most useful and least onerous. That didn't save me from the theatrical eyerolls - nobody else's mom makes them do schoolwork in the summer, yanno. Too bad, so sad. The workbook is excellent; three or four lessons a day, including math, reading, English, science, etc. Each day he does a few lessons. Fortunately for me there is an answer key, since I had no way of knowing if his answers were correct. I could never homeschool; my math SUCKS.

Then comes the other stuff. A daily journal entry. Book reports due each week, alternating with essays - he can write an essay about any subject that interests him, as long as it's a full page. We will have a number of educational field trips to historical locations and assignments in places like the Botanical Gardens or the history museum: "Go find me three facts I didn't know." Art projects and creative stuff to keep his brain alive.

I have been doing this the last few summers, since he hasn't qualified for the school's summer school and his grades have been less than stellar. It is sometimes difficult to motivate him. I have devised a points system where he gains points for doing his work, having a good attitude, etc. and loses points for failing to do his work and being a teenage snothead. We came up with a list of prizes he can win for points, beginning with ice cream and going up to a trip to the movies.

I have no idea what I'm doing. I am totally making this up as I go along. But my son is struggling academically (that's the nice way of putting it) and has a serious lack of work ethic. I can only kick his butt for so long; he must learn to kick his own butt. Every educational professional who's ever come near him says the same thing: he's very bright, he's completely lazy and mondo ADHD. He could do much better if he could discipline himself to do the damn work. And I refuse to let him spend the summer exercising nothing but his thumbs.

The only problem: the times he's not with me. He'll spend two weeks at his father's house, a week and a half visiting my mother, a week at Scout camp. I can send the workbook along with him (well, not to camp), but will the work happen when I'm not there?

Let's hope it has some effect on him. I'm running out of ideas.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


My folks are heading out of town for their anniversary.

Me: So what's so exciting about Indiana?
Dad: French Lick.
Me: ... See how I'm not saying anything?
Dad: I know, it's the perfect straight line.
Me: Saying nothing at all, just sitting here.
Stepmom: *mumbles in background*
Me: What did she say?
Dad: She said French Lick for our romantic anniversary getaway.
Stepmom: *evil giggles*
Me: Great, I need therapy now. Tell her I'm sending her the bill.
Dad: *laughs*

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Be you writer or reader, it is very pleasant to run away in a book.

The woods have fallen silent with the death of Jean Craighead George.

George wrote more than 100 books, but the one that comes to my mind is My Side of the Mountain. It tells the story of a boy who runs away from "a life of quiet desperation," as the linked obituary calls it, and lives on the land. He hollows out a tree for his home, trains a falcon to help him hunt, and seeks to live as Thoreau did. George excelled at this kind of character, one that has a deep respect and affinity with nature.

Sometime in elementary school, I won an essay contest with a short treatise about conservation. I cannot for the life of me remember what I wrote, but I know I won a beautiful sketchbook that they called a coloring book, and a copy of My Side of the Mountain. 

It was an important book for me. I read it several times. It planted the seeds for my fondness for backpacking. There is a certain self-sufficiency and freedom that comes with walking into the woods with everything you need on your back. It frees us from the tyranny of things, of the to-do lists and suffocating responsibilities that come with more belongings than we can carry. While it would be years before my first solo backpacking trip, the concept stayed with me, the silence and beauty of the woods at night, the freedom of wandering without a schedule, the self-reliance of being alone in the wilderness.

When I became a parent, I bought a copy of My Side of the Mountain for my son, a Boy Scout. He had been out in the woods since he was in diapers - before, actually, having technically been camping in utero when I was about six months along with him. As a toddler, he literally hugged trees. I have pictures to prove it. He was as enamored of the book as I was, recognizing the same qualities of independence and symbiosis with nature.

When I told him Ms. George had died, his face mirrored mine.

In an otherwise annoying movie, You've Got Mail, Meg Ryan's character tells us that when you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of you in a way that nothing else ever does. Even those of us who devoured books as children only have a small number of books that implant themselves in our imaginations this way. For me, This Side of the Mountain was a life-changing experience. I learned to appreciate the feel of fresh air, to walk barefoot outdoors, to observe nature without impacting it.

Another book I read much more recently was The Last Child in the Woods. It postulates that our children's disconnect with nature has a terrible mental and societal cost. In my era, a child could play in the back yard and get his nose right into the grass. I romped through streams and got lost on the woods for fun. For many of my son's classmates, the closest they will get to nature is playing Kingdom Hearts. They lose something vital when they live their whole lives behind closed doors, breathing stale air and exercising nothing but their thumbs. It's not just about ossifying into obesity; it's about an indefinable difference nature makes within their minds.

I challenge you to go back and read Ms. George's full obituary. She led the life about which she wrote. The daughter of naturalists and married to another, she raised her children among the woods as her characters did. While 173 pets might seem excessive, she lived in harmony with nature as few do. I find myself envying her, and missing my time on the trail, the way the sunlight falls between the trees at dawn.

We could all use a few moments walking barefoot in the grass.