Saturday, February 13, 2010

My friend Frank's quest for Medicare

I was sitting on Frank's couch while he shuffled around his apartment looking for his Medicare card. Why was he looking for it? I'll get to that.
In the midst of a very busy day and several inches of new snow atop a foot or so of old snow, I locked myself out of my maintenance office in a moment of confusion at the apartment complex where I try to keep everybody's stuff from breaking down and their feet from slipping on frozen white stuff, and so there I was suddenly unable to do much of anything productive, tools locked inside the shop with the keys, among other complications. So I decided to visit my friend Frank, the 94-year-old engineer, while I waited for my manager's return.
You've never met anyone like Frank, and I hadn't either until a few months ago. His long life has been filled with a multitude of experiences and accomplishments, such as sailing a yacht around the Bahamas for twenty years or so, singing with a quartet in New York City back before the Great War, working as an electrical engineer for a long time with a manufacturing company or two in New Jersey, having a couple kids along the way with a wife whom I don't know much about except I know their union didn't work out so well.
Being an engineer, Frank is a veritable fountain of knowledge and common sense for a fledgling maintenance man like myself. During this particular week (that just ended,) he had been consulting with me about the mechanics of salt-spreading, because I had been struggling to distribute various snow-melt substances on the sidewalks that adjoin the 94 apartments that I maintain. The cheapo plastic spreader that I had been using wasn't working out so well because the salt grains get stuck in the little door inside the machine that's designed (poorly designed) to let them tumble out so they can melt on the ground where they're supposed to prevent Frank and me and anybody else from slipping on the snow and ice. We had been having an ongoing discussion for several days about the mechanics of this task. Yesterday the dam thing had finally ceased working altogether when a plastic shaft broke in the middle. I had explained to Frank earlier that I had chosen the plastic salt-spreader thinking that it would not corrode and break down like the cheap metal one that I had used before purchasing the plastic one a few months ago.
So there I was locked out in the middle of the day in a moment of exhaustion and exasperation and therefore decided to visit Frank; his place is next door to the office/shop. I walked in; he was cooking onions to go with something in his lunch and boy did it smell good, although I wasn't hungry because I had just grabbed a hamburger on the fly some thirty minutes before.
I sat on the couch and had a few chocolates that he keeps in a jar on the end table. Old folks like to keep little sweet treats like that around, you know.
He was looking for his Medicare card and I asked why. He explained to me, after inserting his hearing aid (which he had earlier removed because it doesn't work well for phone conversations such as the one he had had just a few minutes before,) that a woman at a medical office had requested, during that phone conversation, some bit of information that would be printed on his Medicare card.
"It's not in here," said Frank, in his stunted 94-year-old voice, while flipping through the cards and plastics in his wallet. "I think I know where it is." He slowly righted himself from the easy chair with a maneuver that took some ten or fifteen seconds, then grabbed his cane. " thing an old guy like can do--use a cane. Dexter across the way won't use one, but it makes more sense to have three legs than two, I've found."
"What information from the card are they requesting?" I asked.
"The name of my doctor," said he.
"Well, you can tell them that, can't you?"
"Yeah, but she wants to verify that Dr. Birney's name is printed on my card. He's my primary care doctor, but I'm switching to another one, and we need to get all the paperwork straightened out." It took a long time, from my 58-year-old perspective, for Frank to vocalize all this. Meanwhile, at the nearby closet door, he's opening it and pulling documents from a stationery box with one hand while leaning on his cane with the other. "Dr. Birney's phasing out all his Medicare patients, or that's my understanding of it."
"Really, and why is he doing that?"
"I don't know." Frank turned his head slowly and peered at me through the bifocals with a goofy smile. "I guess he's had it with puttin' up with old guys like me."
Frank is lol, and I was amused as well, at his cheerfulness in the middle of a locked-out, snowed-in day.
94 years and still laughing; it doesn't get much better than that.

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