A Prescription for Disaster

Stocking up on prescription meds can be lifesaving.

If there’s anything I don’t want to be out of during an emergency situation, it would be my prescriptions.  First of all, I would have an extremely difficult time getting to the store for a last ditch run on groceries, batteries and all that stuff that empties off the shelves in a red hot flash during an impending disaster.  Finding time to stand in line at the prescription counter would be unlikely.  Since my 72 hour kit is in place with the recommended supplies of food, water, heat, light, shelter, etc., the next logical thing would be the items that would prolong my life – my prescription medications.  I once went for a couple of days without them to see what would happen.  I was feeling very ill by the middle of the first day.  I can’t imagine what it might be like for someone with diabetes or other immediate life threatening condition.

What I had to do was stock up on the meds so I would have enough to last until I could get more no matter what the emergency may bring.  Some people explain this plan to their doctor and ask for an additional month of medication to squirrel away.  My doctor declined claiming he didn’t feel comfortable doing that.  At the time, I was working and had insurance that covered a percentage of my meds.  I ran my plan by the pharmacist and he said I could either pay cash for my medications and get more than a month’s worth at a time, or I could call up to five days ahead of the refill date and each month set aside the five pills.  I chose the second option.  Six months later, I had 30 days worth saved up.  If you use this method, be sure to rotate your stash and use the oldest first so they stay fresh and potent and don’t expire.  I now keep five days worth in my 72 hour kit, five in my comprehensive medical kit, five in my emergency car kit, five in my purse and five in my extended two week emergency bag.  I should have medications available for any contingency.  The meds need to be stored in the original prescription bottles so they remain legal to carry around.  I also keep a couple of sets of prescription receipts in my wallet and kit in case I am able to get refills during a difficult time.  Once, when I went to the emergency room, my family found the receipts and told the doctors what medications I was taking.  This helped speed up my treatment.

Sometimes the emergency situation is economic.  I always ask my doctor to prescribe generic medications which are cheaper.  When I retired with a disability, my income stopped abruptly and I didn’t know when I was going to get another check from disability or some other source.  I was glad for the few months of medications I had stocked up.  The doctor’s helped by giving me samples, but they would only do it for a couple of months.  After doing a little research, I also found that many of the pharmaceutical companies have an indigent program for free medications.  I used this method until my disability checks kicked in.

Other stuff I like to keep plenty of in stock are over the counter medications like aspirin, ibuprofin, tylenol, antidiahrreal medicine, allergy meds, cold and cough medicines, vitamins and a variety of stuff for stomach ailment.   I use coupons and buy them on sale.  Whenever friends or family make a trip to Mexico, I ask them to pick up antibiotics so I have a nice variety in stock in case I get ill and a doctor isn’t available to prescribe them for me and my family.  You don’t need a prescription in Mexico and they are way cheaper.  Before I was able to get antibiotics from Mexico, I ordered a small selection from a veterinary website.  Animals take the same medications we do, but I bought a Physicians Desk Reference, a book called Where There Is No Doctor and some others that help with dosage.  Pain killers are also a handy item in an emergency.  I don’t like keeping a ton of them around because they can be dangerous for children or a target for theft.  But, if my dentist or doctor prescribes them, I don’t throw away the leftovers and if they will give me refills, I will get them.  I keep them in the original presciption bottles and put some in my emergency and medical kits.  Again, I rotate them as often as I can, but have thrown away expired pain killers as they would be useless without the potency.

Where There Is No Doctor - a handy reference.

Disease tends to run rampant after every major disaster.  Some people consider immunizations to be more dangerous than helpful, or they don’t trust the pharmaceutical companies or government to make them safe.  My opinion is that if I didn’t get any other immunization, I would at least get a tetanus vaccination.  It will probably save my life someday.  Everyone in my family is current on all available immunizations for their age and needs.

I do not advocate taking any medication without a doctor’s advice, self-medicating or treating your family members without a doctor’s prescription, nor do I ever intend to share antibiotics or medications with others.  The prescription medications and antibiotics that I have stockpiled in case of emergency are just that.  To be used ONLY in case of an emergency situation when a doctor cannot be available.  Misuse of these items would be a prescription for disaster.  I sincerely hope that my time and efforts are a complete waste of time and money and I never have the opportunity to use them.

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Diet and Exercise – A Catch 22 for the Disabled

A couple of years ago, my doctor told me I would be dead by 60 if I didn’t lose weight immediately.  My blood pressure was constantly at stroke level due to stress, my heart was enlarged which caused me to experience angina and atrial fibrillation, had severe sleep apnea, am insulin resistant and was borderline diabetic.  He referred me to a Lap-Band Clinic which I qualified for on five counts, but did not have insurance coverage or, at the time, $10,000 cash up front.  I told him I would diet.  He said it was too late for that, but what else could I do.  Shortly after that, I applied for disability and still do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare and do not have the now $15,000 fee to pay for surgery.  Now I suffer from congestive heart failure and have been hospitalized for respiratory failure, possible pulmonary embolism and am supposed to be on oxygen 24-7 (however, I do not have insurance coverage for the treatment).

There must be about 27 diet books and half dozen diet programs, CD’s, etc. in my collection now.  Like a lot of people, I make a New Year resolution every January to lose weight and exercise more.  This year it was Nutrisystem.  I had some extra money left over from my disability back pay and agonized over how to spend it wisely.  Health is always at the top of my list these days, since I am way short of that commodity.  Although the NS website is extremely helpful with tons of support, it did not work for me.  When I started, I decided that I would have to be dedicated for at least three months in order to get true and accurate results.  Right off the bat, I lost the initial 10 lbs. of water weight.  That was the first month.  I only lost an additional 2 lbs. per month thereafter, which for me at 200 lbs over my average weight was unacceptable, plus WAY too expensive to continue with these results.

What I liked about Nutrisystem was the precooked and packaged meals that came right to my door.  It is difficult for me to cook and shop since I am unable to stand for long periods of time due to osteoarthritis in my knees and scoliosis which has caused painful sciatic problems in my back.  Of course, the extra weight does not help.  Many of the meals were downright tasty, especially the frozen ones, and there is a lot of variety.  I also loved the forums where I could discuss my progress (or lack thereof) with other people in my situation.  The folks who were physically challenged seemed to be having the worst results.  We were unable to move around or exercise enough to boost our metabolism.  If we cut calories or meals in order to get past the stall, we ended up with even less of a metabolism and often even gained more weight.  Even with the diuretic I take daily for hypertension and edema, I was unable to lose more than the initial water weight and remained bloated and swollen.

Doctor’s advice?  Get more active which is difficult and painful carrying this much fat and water weight, not to mention the severe lack of oxygen when I take more than 20 steps.  More doctor’s advice?  Diet and take meds.  I protest, “But, Doctor, the diet doesn’t work if I can’t exercise and I can’t exercise because I need to lose weight and the meds make me tired, listless and lower my metabolism!”  Doctor says, “Hm.  Catch-22.  Get Lap-Band surgery.”  Seriously?

Preparing to Get Ready to Prepare

Have you checked out the news lately?  Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, volcanoes, tsunamis, oil spills, hurricanes, mudslides, sinkholes, livestock and crop killing drought, record wildfires.  Wow.  That’s just today!  Whoever’s orchestrating this show really knows how to make a person sit on the edge of their seat.  What’s scary is, other than the tsunamis and hurricanes, any of this stuff could happen where I live.  And this isn’t even a new show.  It’s all reruns and they happen month after month.

So years ago I decided to take action.  I  thought I better heed the advice of the prolific plethora of disaster oriented commercials and websites such as The American Red Cross, FEMA and a multitude of other emergency preparedness gurus.  I bookmarked them all on my computer.  There, I was ready.   All that info available at the touch of a button… unless there was a power outage.  Okay, so then I printed off the information and loaded them in a binder.  Now I would know exactly what to do to prepare when an emergency happened… if I could find the binder and had time to read through all the information AND take action.  Unlikely.  Fast forward to the present after a few minor bumps in the road of life got my attention.  I was definately ready to get prepared or prepared to get ready.  Um.  You’re right.  I am a slow learner.  A late bloomer.  Not too quick off the mark.  Well, you get the idea.

You guessed it.  I finally actually read the material, put together 72 hour kits for each family member, made a plan of action and discussed it with them, stocked up at least two months of food and supplies at home (thank you super coupon shopping networks), compiled emergency car kits for each vehicle and a comprehensive first aid kit.  And don’t forget the pets.  We even trained the cat to take cover during an air raid.  When my son plays the siren in this link, http://free-loops.com/1461-air-raid-siren-1.html, Baby runs for cover under a chair or table and stays there until we say, “All clear, Baby.”  Now we’re all set.

Baby, relaxed and confident that she's ready for any disaster situation.

Unfortunately, my body is not as prepared as my mind.  Walking around my sister’s little homestead the other day, we watched as a storm cell bore down on us and I wondered what would happen if a tornado dropped out of the middle of the dark vortex.  I would be able to move about as fast as Tim Conway doing the Old Man Shuffle (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQqXESf5wJc&feature=list_related&playnext=1&list=PL7FF907D60677887B).  Have to work on that.  I bookmarked a website…

Survival of the Unfittest

There have been a lot of inquiries asking how I survived financially during the waiting period after applying for disability. Fortunately, I documented everything and kept great notes because the medications I was on pretty much wiped out my short term memory. While barely able to function, I still understood how important it would be to my future and the future of my youngest son still in college and living at home to make the right decisions.

There is a five month to two year waiting period for SSDI in my state during which time there is no income while you are unable to work. Even if you qualify for unemployment, you cannot apply unless you are able to work. What really helped us out was the accidental timing. I had become more and more ill while working and finally felt I needed to take some leave to try to recover. It became apparent closer to the end of the 12 week family leave from November through February, that I would never be able to return to this job and probably never work again. That decision was extremely difficult as I always felt I would work until the day I died. How were we going to make it?

I started a notebook and listed all of my assets and bills. First, we did the obvious and dropped unnecessary services like cable, sold extra items around the house, and used coupons, discounts and sales with every shopping trip. It was tax time so the hefty return I expected would be a huge advantage. After retiring in February and applying for both state retirement disability and social security disability and hiring a disability attorney to speed things up, there was a good chunk of money in my final paycheck which I recieved in March. We had Care Credit (a medical credit card), and three other credit cards with limits from $500 to $1,200 which all had $0 to very low balances as I always kept up on my payments. We would need all of our cash and credit cards for monthly bills. In April, I applied for Food Stamps and Medicaid and switched as many of my medical appointments to a sliding scale fee based clinic. If you look online, there are many pharmaceutical companies that will send you free prescriptions if you qualify based on income. Zero income qualifies. That took care of the immediate and short term financial situation.

Long term, I needed to concentrate on my mortgage, the largest monthly payment that could not be paid by most of the methods listed above. At least not indefinately. Of course, the first thing I did was communicate my concerns to my mortgage lender. They were not sympathetic and could think of no other alternative than to pay in full each month and every month or go into foreclosure. Nice. The loan officer at my bank who gave me the original mortgage tried his best to refinance my current loan, but said my interest rates were already as low as they could get and even after paying five years of principal, the economy had reduced the value of my home so there was no equity and I would have had to pay an additional $3,000 down on another loan with payments only minutely smaller than my current one. Next. After calling a half dozen mortgage assitance agencies, they said I had done all that I could do and there was nothing they could offer to help out.

By this time in July, I was accepted for state disability and started receiving monthly payments plus back pay to the day I applied. I called my mortgage company back and offered to make partial payments to cover principal and interest each month until I was accepted for disability. I sent a partial payment to show good intent. They kept it, but didn’t count it as a payment. They said they wouldn’t accept partial payments and I wasn’t eligible for mortgage forebearance unless I had an income of at least $1,000 a month which I did not. At this point, I stopped making mortgage payments and started doing research on how I could stay in my home as it would be a hardship to move while disabled.

Just as my cash stash was tapped out and the credit cards maxxed, I was approved for SSDI and payments began in December with back pay and medicaid coverage to last January. I paid off the credit card bills with the back pay and sent the medicaid number to all my pharmacists, physicians, etc. and received refunds for services received during that time. More bill catch up and here I am with a disability income approximately the same as my working income without insurance or benefits.

The fight for my home continues as documented in previous blogs, but I have confidence that it will work out in the end. If you know someone who needs to be on disability, but doesn’t think they can make it financially during the long waiting period, please refer them to http://www.thedisabilitydigest.com. It is the best resource out there.

Falling down – not recommended!

There is no age limit for adversity.  We all experience it in life, some more than others. One out of 600 homes nationwide is currently in foreclosure.  Two years ago, I never imagined I would become a part of this statistic.  I never missed a mortgage payment, was never late, bills were paid on time, credit was in great shape.  Then illness struck.  Everyone in foreclosure has a story, whether it was a bad adjustable rate mortgage, sudden unemployment, MERS, illness, bankruptcy or other unexpected fall from financial grace.

I think my situation is a lot like falling down.  When I was young I fell down on purpose thinking it was funny to entertain my friends with clownish antics.  It didnt hurt… much… not more than a bandaid.  Have you fallen lately?  I don’t recommend it.  Now, it hurts.  The older you get, the harder the fall, there is much more at stake.

Being the stubborn type, I took the proactive approach which may soften the blow.  When I realized I was not going to be able to return to work after a 12 week leave, I began weaving a safety net.  After some extensive research on disability, I started the paperwork with SSDI.  One of the best resources I found was The Disability Digest at http://www.thedisabilitydigest.com.  It turned out to be my ace in the hole, so to speak.  An invaluable support system.  I also hired a disability attorney which speeded up the process.  In my opinion, it was well worth the money.  I was careful to bypass legal counsel on several other occasions including pro se divorce and bankruptcy to have my massive medical bills dismissed.  That worked out fine, but in this instance, time was not on my side.  It often can take years to be approved for disability.  I filed in January 2010 and was approved in October 2010.  Employment checks ended in March and my State Employee’s Disibility began in July, but that only provided about 1/3 of what I was getting from my regular monthly paycheck.

As soon as the disability procedure was in play, I took all the steps I could to avoid foreclosure, including applying to refinance my mortgage.  Because the value of my home had declined and there was only five years of equity, the reduction would not have been enough to make a big enough change in my monthly payments.  I called several other mortgage assistance agencies, but did not qualify for assistance.  Of course, I kept in touch with the mortgage company and asked them to temporarily reduce my payments.  They not only wouldn’t cooperate (like absolutely EVERYone of my other creditors, but when I sent a partial payment (my last payment to them) in July, they not only did not return it, but also did not apply it to the principal or interest.  They just kept it and sent a statement with the full monthly payment owing and past due.  I was livid!  This meant war. 

Are you sitting on the edge of your seat yet?  BTW, if this blog is the book I’m supposed to write, and each chapter is a year of my life, then this segment of my life is Chapter 61.  No fair peeking at the end of the story!