Saturday, April 27, 2013

Greatest Overheard Conversations (Part 1)

Several years ago, a co-worker and I had the occasion to complete some work for the local fire department. The nature of firefighting lends itself to periods of prolonged downtime punctuated by moments of sheer terror so, like most of us they spend a fair amount of their idle hours watching television.  On this particular occasion two middle-aged firemen were seated in matching recliners as they attempted to locate programming worth their time.

For the sake of efficiency, one was operating the remote while the other scanned the programming guide from the local newspaper. Their banter, in conjunction with the domestic setting, struck us a comical and we found ourselves exchanging glances as they spent the better part of fifteen minutes attempting to decide on a channel. Then, fireman A (wielding the periodical) indicated that their search was over. With a subtle look of triumph he stated, “ManSquito starts in a half-hour on the SciFi channel.”

Taking a moment to process this, his viewing companion’s face became a mask of contemplation as he weighed his options. Then, without a hint of irony, came the response:

“What’s it about?”

It was at this moment I was forced to abandon any pretense of working and I glanced up fully expecting to see a mischievous grin on both their faces. Instead, I witnessed fireman A furiously scanning the paper in search of a plot synopsis while fireman B eagerly awaited the answer before casting his deciding vote. Far from a facetious exchange among peers, I realized that I was witnessing a methodical decision making process and in the balance hung the remainder of a Tuesday afternoon.

The anticipation was killing me, and had fireman A taken a moment longer I would have been unable to prevent myself from screaming, “It is a movie called ManSquito on a network that deals exclusively in science-fiction programming! The title alone serves as a blatant indication that the film details the exploits of a man-insect hybrid and the unexpected consequences of genetic engineering!”

Instead, I heard fireman A clear his throat and utilize a gritty southern monotone as he read the following summary:

“A man and a mosquito are fused in this 2005 SciFi epic.”

Now in possession of this clarifying information, fireman B’s head swayed slightly from side to side as he continued to agonize over whether or not he wished to become emotionally invested in such a motion picture. Mercifully, he ended our suspense by declaring, “That sounds like something” before navigating to the appropriate channel and returning his full attention to a bowl of snack mix.

Unfortunately, I was unable to witness their reaction to ManSquito, but in my mind in plays out like this:

As the credits roll, Fireman B glances down at his depleted snack bowl and laments, “That wasn’t what I thought it was going to be….” To which Fireman A replies, “Don’t beat yourself up man, it could have gone either way.”

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Elimination Communication

I recently read an article on the newest parenting trend to sweep America. It is called “elimination communication” and allows newborns and infants to go sans diaper even in public places. The idea is that when the infant is urinating the parent will produce a “ssshhhh” sound and when bowel movements occur the parent will produce grunting noises. After time, the child when associate these noises with waste elimination (and by extension relief) allowing the parent to cue such behavior at an appropriate time by recreating the corresponding sounds.

As you can imagine, the training process is messy and one woman began E.C. training within the first few weeks utilizing only Tupperware containers and her cat-like reflexes.  Several parents in metropolitan areas have admitted to suspending their pants-less offspring over sewer drains or behind parked cars if they are unable to find a public restroom or sink. One practitioner described it as follows:

“Sometimes the thrill of being able to go outside and pee is just what [babies] need. In the suburbs people set up potties in the trunk of their cars. That made me jealous.  But in New York no one cares what you are doing.  You can hold your baby to pee pretty much anywhere.  Especially since few people would have any idea what you are doing.”

Many practitioners credit E.C. as a method of saving money and treating chronic diaper rash. In addition to the cost savings, the transition to potty training is virtually non-existent. Cities like New York even have E.C. meet-ups and classes for parents who wish to incorporate it into their child-rearing and the last seven days of April was the first official “Diaper Free Week.”

I am fully on-board with saving money and preventing chaffing, but it will be cold day in Hell before someone catches me holding my half-naked son over a storm grate as I make audible grunting noises. I cannot help but feel that we might be moving backwards as a society when we encourage sidewalk urination from birth.

I admire and applaud parents for thinking outside the box and being actively involved in all aspects of their child’s development, but if you find yourself hunched behind the bumper of a Dodge Dart outside a Wendy’s trying to force an infant to urinate using only audio cues, you may be too involved. One woman admitted that she compromised and utilized cloth diapers when she was at a restaurant or in the presence of skeptical family members.

Perhaps her family members aren’t so much skeptical as they are averse to watching their nephew/grandson defecate in their Pyrex. Skepticism indicates that they do not believe it will work, I am guessing their real fear is that it will work too well. Just a piece of advice: perhaps some Desitin and a box of Luvs would get you invited to more social gatherings.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My First World Problems

  • There are evenings when I become distraught attempting to decide which restaurant to eat at.  I cannot describe the anguish of craving a Chili’s appetizer, Outback entrĂ©e’, and Olive Garden dessert. I know in my heart that no matter what I decide I will always be haunted by what could have been.
  • For whatever reason, there are three albums that refuse to transfer their cover art to my iPhone. Despite multiple attempts at alleviating the issue, I am still forced to stare at a generic visual placeholder each and every time I want to hear “Back in Black.” I can hardly even bring myself to listen to the song anymore.

  • A cell-phone upgrade credit is the source of unspeakable torment because regardless of when I choose to utilize it a better phone will be announced within the month. Sure, it seems like a good idea to get the iPhone 5, but what if there is some validity to the reports of a new iPhone? What if I pull the trigger and two days later Apple announces the iPhone 6Q with a cerebrally-activated Craigslist app and iSqualor?

  • I recently purchased Triple Shine Armor All to apply to the dashboard of my car but was chagrined to discover it was too reflective. Imagine my dismay when I discovered the Armor All company doesn’t produce a Double-Shine variety leaving me with Original as my only alternative. What company is reckless enough to triple the dose of its reflective polymers without attempting to see what would happen if they simply doubled them?

  • I am conflicted as to whether or not I should trust the “Most Helpful Critical Review” on if it is not classified as an “Amazon Verified Purchase.” Sure, it seems unlikely that someone would randomly pen an in-depth review of a wireless router they have never used, but at the same time what if I am basing my purchasing decision on the seditious output of some technological anarchist. Even more unsettling, what if this sadistic degenerate did purchase the router just to cover his tracks but purposefully avoided familiarizing himself with the interface in order to preserve the inaccuracy of the review while giving the impression of integrity.

  • My TV has a limited number of HDMI inputs which means I am forced to connect certain devices at an inferior resolution. How am I supposed to sleep at night knowing that I pay for HD cable but my pristine picture is being tainted by the clearly inferior component video cables I use as a stopgap? At the same time, I cannot justify connecting a Blu-Ray player at anything less than 1080p and it would be downright negligent to connect an Xbox 360 with an RCA tether.

  • Why in heaven’s name would Netflix allow someone add disc 2 of a season to their que before disc 1? Shouldn’t there at least be a warning that reminds the customers that their indicated preference will wreak havoc on the show’s continuity? And while I am at it, how is it possible to develop a smartphone app capable of accessing thousands of movies from anywhere in the world but still cannot allow me to alter my DVD que? Do you know how inconvenient it is to find a computer each and every time I change my mind about my entertainment preferences? 

  • My Dilbert M&M’s dispenser features a non-standard capacity. This means that one small bag of M&M’s is inadequate to completely refill it but two small bags leave me with an unnecessary surplus. I tried purchasing the medium bag in the hope that it would eliminate this discrepancy but it also leaves me with a surplus as it slightly exceeds the volume of the two small bags. Either way I am forced to eat the excess or affix a rubber band to the partially depleted bag.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Baby Story Part 11

At the time of this writing, I have been a parent for exactly three weeks and here are my thoughts:

1. It is imperative to inform your neighbors that you have a newborn so they will not suspect clinical depression. The symptoms are the same: fatigue, problems concentrating, feeling overwhelmed, erratic eating, and a loss of interest in activities or personal appearance. Each and every time I trekked to the mailbox at noon still wearing my robe and two day stubble I felt the need to remind everyone I encountered that I had not given up on life, just uninterrupted sleep.

2. I am fairly certain that the most traumatic aspect of my son’s circumcision was my unskilled attempt to remove his bandage. For whatever reason, the physician had affixed his bandages using an alpine butterfly knot and cautioned us that if we met any resistance in its removal to “apply a little water.” I am here to tell you that I came close to water-boarding his waist and that bandage was not going anywhere. I felt that like an Egyptian archeologist attempting to unravel a mummified frankfurter.

3. Diaper reward programs are borderline insulting. I signed up for both Pampers and Huggies “rewards” which involves divulging personal information and then entering a series of cryptic codes hidden on somewhere on the packaging. I spent $45 on diapers and I have now earned the ability to be entered in a drawing to win a pack of crayons. Not crayons; a chance to win crayons. I am used to being slighted, but I rarely have to complete a form and enter a 14-digit code to earn the privilege. The good news is that after a few more children we might become the proud owners of a $25 gift certificate to Starbucks.

4. No topic is off-limits in a pediatrician’s waiting room. On our second visit, I heard two total strangers go from polite introductions to breast firmness within the span of about fifty seconds. Apparently woman A had experienced a severe case of mastitis with her first child which resulted in the surgical draining of some fluid. Conversely, woman B’s milk ducts function like a Wisconsin dairy farm. And while I am on the subject of pediatrician waiting rooms, does anyone else find it perplexing that the online only self-diagnostic juggernaut has begun publishing actual magazines? Given the current trend toward a paperless society this seems like a regressive business model. Would anyone visit a website called

5. Trimming my son’s fingernails is terrifying. I feel like a bomb technician because each time I cut one I close my eyes and hope that a loud noise doesn’t follow.

6. If there is an inexhaustible resource in this world, it is unsolicited parenting advice. This is a double-edged sword, because with a first child you need all the advice that you can get but no one seems to agree on any of it.

  • You should never wake a sleeping baby under any circumstance. Unless you are trying to enforce specific sleeping/eating habits in which case they should be awakened every three hours.

  • A small amount of baby powder is essential to preventing diaper rash and should be applied at each change. Unless the child inhales it in which case they will develop mesothelioma and be unable to conjugate verbs.

  • You should always warm your baby’s bottle to room temperature. Unless you wish to prevent unnecessarily-picky eating habits in which case you should give to them cold.

  • A two week old child’s stomach cannot hold more than three ounces. Unless they are eating more than three ounces at a time.

7. There is nothing like having your infant smile at you, especially once you realize that the smile is an involuntary reaction to the evacuation of their bowels and not an indication of their psychological well-being.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Price of a Miracle

One of the great milestones in the birth of a child is anxiously awaiting the medical bills said birth had generated. Recently, I sat down and attempted to determine the amount of billable services that one vaginally-delivered healthy child could generate. The total, from the in-office pregnancy test until hospital discharge, was $15,677. Now in our case my wife suffered from post-natal pre-eclampsia and had to be readmitted to the hospital within the first week which generated another $6,110.07 so in our particular case the total would be $21,787.07.

Of this total, $10,577.45 was for use of the hospital facility. Since the physicians and anesthesiologist bill separately this meant that I was paying more for the structure itself than the medical talent utilizing it. Now I fully realize that this fee includes nurses, equipment, labs, meals, utilities, and apple juice but it should also be noted my wife was housed in a non-critical care unit at a not-for-profit hospital in an area with a low cost of living. 

As outrageous as the cost of inpatient care has become, the real cash cow is outpatient surgery. When my wife had her tonsils removed at a local outpatient facility, she spent a grand total of six hours within the building for a 30-minute procedure. The surgeon billed $550 but the facility billed $8,100. For those keeping score at home, that works out to $22.50 per minute.

I have to wonder how it got so expensive to spend time at a not-for-profit medical facility. For instance, had my wife and I reserved the 1,100 square-foot Premier Suite at the Central Park Ritz Carlton in New York for the same dates it would have only cost us $4 per minute (and that include cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and valet parking).  I say this not to suggest that they provide comparable services, but to provide a point of reference for value. How is it that a not-for-profit medical facility in the south can cost five times more per minute to operate than a decidedly for-profit luxury hotel in the most expensive metropolitan area of America?

As for the medical professionals, no one is stacking paper like the anesthesiologist. For the twenty-eight minutes he spent in my wife’s room administering the epidural he billed $2,448.00 which averages out to $87.43 per minute. To put that in perspective, the per-minute rate for the OB that actually delivered the baby was half that.

Fortunately, my wife and I were only responsible for about 17% ($3,724) of the total cost of our son’s birth because we have deductible health insurance as part of a sizable risk pool administered by a large insurance company. This is important because our company is large enough to negotiate service discounts that I as an individual would be unable acquire. For that privilege, we pay $3,912 per year in premiums and administrative fees and I consider that a deal because I get several discounts for being non-smoker and submitting myself to an annual physical.

I am decidedly middle class and the fact that I am only on the hook for 20% of the medical bills* I generate prevents me from filling bankruptcy. However, if the cost of routine medical procedures continues to outpace middle class income even 1/5 of my bills could be financially catastrophic. Perhaps I am being too critical and these prices scarcely allow hospitals to keep their doors open, but if that is the case I have to wonder why they are so eager to continue expanding them.

*Even that 20% only applies to charges incurred at in-network facilities by in-network physicians. Were I to go “broken arrow” and find myself at a hospital out of the approved network my financial exposure would be much greater.