PSA

One of my jobs is English-to-English translation, as people always seem to have trouble understanding each other.

While I am home recuperating from surgery, I thought I’d explain a few medical terms for your edification.

Public Service Announcement

  • “Minor surgery” – anything done to someone else.
  • “Procedure” – surgery that your insurance won’t fully cover.
  • “Outpatient procedure” – surgery that even Medicare won’t fully cover.
  • “This won’t hurt a bit” – It won’t hurt me to do it to you. I can’t say what it will feel like on the receiving end.
  • “Just a little prick. It’s not really painful.” – The President is just a little prick, too; but he causes plenty of pain.
  • “This may cause a little discomfort.” – Yeah, doc, let me do it to you and then tell me about discomfort.
  • “Deductible” – Don’t even think about using your insurance before you’re broke.
  • “Co-pay” – You think you’re insured, but we think that unless you have a little skin in the game, you’ll actually try to use your insurance. This’ll make you think twice.
  • “Co-insurance” – Ha! After you satisfied the deductible and made the co-pay, you thought insurance would cover the rest – sucker! Now you get to split the rest of the cost with us!
  • “We’ll just run a few tests.” – We bought this new (and really expensive) machine. The only way we can afford it is to use it a lot and bill you for it.
  • Bonus! Want to save on medical expenses? The TSA scanners have an uncanny ability to detect injuries! My most recent scan found a cavity before I went to the dentist. That’s not to mention the other injuries they have found.

Worker’s Compensation

The popular myth about Worker’s Compensation Insurance is that it is there to protect workers from unsafe working conditions. As Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story: Worker’s Compensation Insurance is (also) there to protect employers from lawsuits by employees. If you are hurt on the job, you can’t sue your employer for damages. You can file an insurance claim and hope the insurance company (which works for the employer, not you) will agree that your injury was caused by your job and pay for your medical care and a portion of your wages while you are unable to work. More likely is that they will dispute your claim, asserting that you had a pre-existing condition or that your injury was caused by something you do in your spare time. To collect the benefits you are owed you may have to hire an attorney to represent you even though you can’t sue.

Another popular myth is that workers fake injuries in order to collect benefits. Since benefits are set at a fraction of your wages, you have to be pretty stupid to get only a portion of your wages (unless you have some other lucrative job you can perform while collecting benefits, a rarity indeed) while living on savings or scrimping to get by. The insurance company may spend more on surveillance (hiring private investigators to follow you around and film your activities) than the cost of compensation for the injury. An article in the Journal of Social Research (Tennyson, 2008) asserts that industry estimates of fraud are grossly exaggerated (by a factor of 10) and that surveillance activities decrease trust and lead to increased fraud.

In The American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Spieler and Burton (2012) cite more than a dozen reasons for under-reporting of work-related injuries and illnesses and cite conclusions from other studies including ” at least 80% of all medical costs caused by occupational diseases were missed by workers’ compensation programs.” (Leigh and Robbins, 2004)

So are workers ripping off the system in large numbers, as popularly believed? Or is the system ripping off workers in large numbers, as the evidence suggests? The evidence suggests that workers fail to report work-related injuries for multiple reasons including fear of retaliation, and that insurance companies fail to pay for work-related injuries for multiple reasons including asserting that doctors can’t prove that the job was the sole cause of the injury or illness. The evidence also suggests that insurers will go to great lengths to discourage claims and to reject those that are filed.

What do others think of US Healthcare?

Most of the world has a healthcare system. The US has an insurance system. Why does it not strike us as odd that we have a “system” centered around an industry that makes its money by withholding care? The more premiums we pay and the fewer services they pay for, the “healthier” the system is. Take a few minutes to watch the video above and hear what people who have a healthcare system say when asked what they think about the cost of care in the US. Our leaders and our media want to convince us that we can’t afford a single-payer system. The rest of the world recognizes that we can’t afford not to have one.

Human Resources

Resources have value based on the cost of extracting them versus the value added to the product. A few years ago, when the fracking boom hit, western Wisconsin was found to have the best frac sand around. A new industry appeared. They blew up fields to mine sand and built new railroad lines to haul the sand to natural gas wells. A few years went by, and they decided sand in Texas was cheaper, closer to the gas deposits, and good enough. The Wisconsin sand mining industry went bust.

If you are a highly skilled widget maker with 20 years of experience and know things, like where to bang on a machine to restart it when it freezes up, and you make great widgets, and you pay attention so that you know stuff that no one else in the company knows, you get paid well. But maybe they do some calculating and decide that a newly-trained widget maker, who gets paid a lot less, will do most of the time. When the machine goes down or they don’t know where to find something, maybe they figure the lost time will be made up for by the lower wages. Now it’s time to get rid of you. Having Security walk you out of the plant may be bad for morale. What to do, what to do?

Maybe they can make it unpleasant enough that you’ll take early retirement to avoid the headaches. What if they suddenly start making mistakes on your payroll? Or maybe change your family health insurance plan to a single plan without telling you? Maybe your pension contributions get messed up. Maybe, if you notice the mistakes and complain, they’ll get fixed eventually. Or maybe you’ll just get fed up and leave, allowing then to bring in a lower-paid worker. Nah, that would never happen, right? But if the cost of extracting your value becomes greater than the value added to the widgets, start watching those paystubs carefully.

Weather and Climate

We’ve talked about weather and climate before. We’ve linked to data on the freeze/thaw cycles of one Wisconsin lake that has been studied for more than 150 years. While this year’s weather should not be mistaken for climate, in October we were ice fishing. In January we could be swimming, though it would be a bit chilly. October’s ice is gone. The lake is liquid again and the temperature is pushing 50. Since 1852, this lake has melted and re-frozen in the same season six times. Five of those have occurred since 1977.

The preview is old. Don’t try to tune in on the date mentioned.

In case you’ve been wondering where we’ve been, we’re around – we just had nothing to say for a while. Now we can’t ride a bike for a while, so…here we are! Comments welcome. Watching TV is going to get old fast, so let’s talk.

Verklempt Saturday Night Live GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Photo credit: John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal 01/07/2020

Why ride a bike?

Part One, The Practical Reasons:

  • A bike is faster than walking.
  • A bike is faster than taking the bus (especially if you consider the time spent waiting for the bus and walking to and from bus stops – you can’t just walk out the door and have the bus magically arrive).
  • A bike may be faster than a car (when you consider getting stuck in rush hour traffic and the time spent parking/getting to and from your parking place).
  • A bike is cheaper than a car:
    • cheaper to buy – you can buy a phenomenal bike for $10,000 – like a Ferrari but $2-300,000 cheaper (depending on the Ferrari model). A bike for basic transportation is maybe $15,000 less than a car for basic transportation. (Comparing a Trek FX or Zektor to a Toyota Yaris)
    • cheaper for daily use – no gas or electricity to buy, no parking fees to pay.
    • cheaper to maintain – a bike is much easier to work on yourself – no sheetmetal in the way; if you pay for maintenance, it is still way cheaper
    • cheaper to insure
  • A bike is cheaper than a car for society:
    • fewer resources used to produce them
    • no fossil fuels burned to power them
    • fewer urban acres devoted to parking, which makes more land available for other development (at a higher use-value) or open space, which creates less impervious surface, thus decreasing urban runoff:
      • this means less pollution of waterways
      • fewer urban floods
      • faster recharging of underground aquifers
    • less wear and tear on existing roadways, less need for ever-larger roadways
    • A bike is the most efficient form of human transportation in terms of energy usage per mile traveled.
    • I’ve never fallen asleep riding a bike.

Part Two, The Health Reasons:

A picture is worth 1000 words. So two pictures must be worth 1000 words plus a whole lot of data I therefore don’t need to cite.

  • riding a bike burns fat
  • riding a bike leads to greater aerobic fitness
  • riding a bike causes minimal stress on joints
  • riding a bike leads to lower stress levels, reducing mental health costs
  • as obesity and cardiovascular disease lead to greater societal health costs, riding a bike has public health, as well as individual health, benefits

Part Three, The Fun Reasons:

  • Riding a bike can be done alone, with family, with friends, with strangers – whether you like your fun in solitude, with loved ones, or as a way to meet new people, you can do it on a bike
  • Riding a bike lets you observe the little changes in the world around you – you can see your surroundings more easily than in a car so you can see wildlife (whether urban or rural), watch seasonal changes (seeing flowers bloom, trees bud out and leaves change color, watch and hear waterways freezing and thawing) [We won’t repeat pictures you’ve already seen here – scroll back through old posts for more.]
  • Riding a bike gives you time to think and reflect – or to stop thinking and just feel the rhythms of your body and your interactions with the bike, the road, and the world around you.
hoarfrost
Half-fast Fall Classic, Devil’s Lake
Sunset, stormy night (NOT a fire in the distance)

Part Five, Because Frazz Does It:

Short subjects (or, in Herb Caen parlance, three dot journalism…)

Ice fishing season started before deer hunting season. That is not normal. To continue weather weirdness, I saw all of this within a couple of minutes, on the same small bay:
* piers dismantled and stacked neatly by the shore
* piers frozen into the ice, likely destined to become scrap metal by spring
* ice fishers
* shoreline fishers working a 30’x30′ opening in the ice
* someone fishing from a boat…

I just watched “The Donald Trump Story” on television, but under its original title “Gaslight”…

I hope to answer the question “Which is harder – the Death Ride or the Horribly Hilly Hundreds? ” I rode them 27 years apart so it’s not a fair comparison so far. Both are about 200 km or 125 miles. The Death Ride climbs 15,000 feet, the HHH about 11,000. The Death Ride climbs to over 8700 feet. The HHH never reaches 2000. The Death Ride contains five epic climbs; the HHH about 40 short and steep ones. My experience is that a long steady climb allows one to settle into a rhythm. A short steep climb tempts one to charge up it, only to have to do that 39 more times – so my current hypothesis is that the HHH is harder (for me), as long as you hang out at elevation before Death Ride…

If I fail to answer the question, at least I plan to have fun and tell you about it after. Now I just need to get the time off work and make the arrangements for the 40th anniversary Death Ride.

I got two STDs. The Death Ride is July 11, 2020. The HHH is June 20,2020 -doing them three weeks apart wouldn’t be a fair comparison, either. Save the dates…

I just earned my last badge.

At work I was invited to try lovetoride.net. We formed a team and recorded all of our riding for a month. At the end of the month I won a dozen tamales, so I did it again the next time. In addition to tamales, one can earn virtual badges for things like encouraging others to ride, riding a century, commuting by bike… Last year I noticed the badges were piling up but I was missing two: “Legend”, for recording 10,000 miles on the app, and “Super Commuter”, for commuting by bike 200 times in a calendar year. So rather than just recording rides for a month when they were running a promo, I started recording all rides just before the coast-to-coast trip. 10,000 miles came soon after. 200 days came in November 2019. No big deal. That’s just doing what I normally do for the first 40 weeks of the year. But now I have a fake badge to show for it…”Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!”

If you’re not blazing a trail, you’re just breaking wind.” Frazz, by Jef Mallett

Uncle!

“No exposed flesh” is a reasonable dictum in mid-January. When winter is still six weeks away, it is almost enough to make a long-term resident cry “uncle!”

The temperature should not be in the single digits (Fahrenheit) in early November. When I got my bike out of the garage to go to work, the wheels wouldn’t turn. The tires were frozen solidly to the fenders and I had to chip them loose before I could roll the bike out of the garage. It wasn’t quite icy enough to lace up the skates but it was close. I usually put the studded tires on between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I may have to move that up to tonight. [And yes, the studded snow tires are now on.]

Meanwhile, corn and soybeans are still in the fields. Fall was too wet to harvest. Now the beans are beansicles. Flood watches are not normally issued in late fall around here, but we have them again this week. On the other hand, the university crew was out rowing yesterday. It may be below freezing, but the lake is still liquid, so they can still train on the water.

This is the first fall in memory in which I mowed the lawn and shoveled snow in the same week. The wet fall meant the grass had not yet gone dormant even after the first snowfall. Green leaves fell during the first snowstorm.

Usually we wonder if we’ll have a white Christmas. This year was a white Halloween/Samhain/Día de los Muertos.

“Winter Wonderland” Chet Baker (but it’s still fall!)

Checking my old backup hard drive, I came across a little something I did back in 2007. It was the magazine open on the lap of the snowperson in the photo below.

I also found a picture of my old bike.

Lake freezing before my eyes
Rowing season may have just ended. But I was wrong – they were out the day after this photo was taken. I don’t think the crew bought an icebreaker.
Might be time to get the piers and boat hoists in before it’s too late.

The half-fast cycling club got together to do what we do best, in accordance with our slogan: “When the going gets tough, the half-fast go for a beer.” The occasion was the 25th anniversary of a local brewpub, and even those we haven’t seen on a bike all year showed up. Not to be dropped by the group, I spent the week in training with single malt Scotch.

If it’s too cold and snowy for you to want to ride (we’ve already set records for both), and you’re in Madison WI, save the date: Sunday, December 8 at 3PM at Trinity Lutheran Church for “War and Peace: Music of Remembrance” with the Choral Arts Society.

In Praise of Snot

The other day I heard Bill Bryson on NPR talking about his latest book. To paraphrase, he said that our bodies deal with cancer on a nearly daily basis. Usually we recognize mutated cells as invaders and destroy them before they cause damage. This is, of course, a completely unconscious process. Our bodies are way smarter than our conscious minds. (Imagine having to take responsibility for beating your heart every second, and still having enough consciousness left over to decide whether The Bachelorette was making a smart choice.) It is only on the rare occasions that those cells divide uncontrollably that we are faced with what we know as cancer.

That got me thinking about mucus. Over the years I have seen a lot of fad diets come and go. In the ’70s, the “mucusless diet” was a big thing. The theory, as I understood it, is that when we have a cold we have an excess of mucus and therefore mucus is bad. We have a stuffy and/or runny nose and we don’t want that. The next step was that certain foods cause us to produce mucus and we should avoid them. Among those “mucus-producing” foods were all dairy products. Being a Cheesehead, that was pretty hard to swallow. No 11 year old Cheddar? No Brie? And don’t get me started on the Velveeta on which I was raised.

What if that is bass-ackwards? What does mucus do? It forms a protective barrier. When we leave a dusty environment, we notice that we want to blow our nose. When we do so, we blow out some pretty disgusting-looking stuff – dusty mucus. The technical term for that is boogers. Our body makes mucus (snot) to line our mucous membranes. That snot ensnares toxins in the air we breathe – dust particles and god knows what else. It traps that gunk so we can get rid of it before it gets into our lungs and causes some real damage.

When we have a cold, that system gets overwhelmed. Something has gotten past the defense. Our body makes more mucus to try to repel the invaders. Too much, too late. That we have failed doesn’t mean the system is bad. Our body also has an inflammatory response. Sometimes it, too, is overwhelmed. At that point we suppress it with ice, elevation, and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or steroids. Does that mean the system is bad? No, it just means that it sometimes overcompensates after its failures. (Sound familiar?)

Likewise, mucus is not bad. Mucus is a good thing. We need it every day. It is only when it is overwhelmed and tries to overcompensate for its failures that it becomes excessive.

Long live snot! (And eat cheese if you want to.)