Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Week Time Stood Still

If this were New England, it would look just like this outside these days
We are in the midst of the true dog days of summer here.

Life has seemingly slowed to a lazy crawl as we've been in the usual July/August swoon at work with very little of interest happening on the new release front. The Indians have been stuck in the same offensive rut since the All-Star Break, and they seem to take the field and wind up playing the same offensively-bereft ballgame time and time again. Even the twin financial dramas here (me attempting to keep my new dental expenditures from eating me alive and Sarah looking for a new job outside of Case) seem to be playing out at the pace of a Wim Wenders movie.

All that said, I suppose the lack of urgency or panic in our lives these days is worth noting in the "pro" column (though Sarah is justifiably pretty worried about how things will pan out for her over the next few weeks), though the weather has most certainly been a "con" as of late. All of you who know me well are well aware that I'm a huge fan of warmer climes, but this week has been a real beast. Stepping outside of work on Tuesday when the sun briefly burned through the permanent overcast was kind of like taking a nature walk on the surface of Venus. Even at this late hour, the air outside is oppressively thick and so moist it feels like you needed gills to breathe. There is a thick cover of fog just off the ground and around the sodium vapor street lights almost every night. There is no breeze, no cool natural relief of any kind: the only time the air moves at all is when another torrential rainstorm plows through the area (we've been making up for a bone dry last couple of months here lately) and even that does little more than re-juice the atmosphere for the next one.

Ah, if I had the free time and gas budget (and a less irritating car stereo speaker problem), this would be an ideal time for a late-night drive ... but the responsibilities of work (and trying to finish the terribly tedious endeavor of transferring data from 500 CD-Rs to a 500 gig My Book external hard drive) must take precedence this evening. Maybe this weekend, assuming it dries up a bit.

I did say "assuming."

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Oral Complications

Headaches, ahoy!

Well, we're not at the edge of the abyss, but certainly in a tight spot as the beautiful summer of 2007 has curdled slightly over the last few weeks on many fronts (heralded by the sudden transition of the Cleveland Indians from a strong playoff contender to a scuffling, sub-.500 snooze). Let's just say that life has become "interesting" again.

Interesting how? Well, Sarah made a move to a new job last month, and said new employment has turned into an utter disaster in pretty much every way possible. Currently, she is frantically finding someplace, anyplace else to work as quickly as possible. On a rational level, I'm not very worried much about her ability to do so as she's been doing lab work a long time and certainly has the smarts to impress a potential boss, but she is pretty emotionally stressed about it and that, combined with some financial worries that have cropped up on my side, have me a tad on edge as well.

While this latest onset of looming financial drama appears nowhere near as catastrophic as the last two summers (what is it with summer and minor crises around here, anyway?), it's enough to put me in a tight spot for the first time since the aftermath of Chuck's visit late last spring. While I don't have visions of the rest of the year being a miserable, snail-pace slog out of abject poverty, this is not a place I want to stay for an extended, undefined period of time. With a little bit of luck, perhaps, that will not be the case.

There is something different about this current mini-crisis than before in that I was far better-prepared to deal with a sudden financial issue than I was last time, and that sense of security is probably what has kept me from completely freaking out on one hand while also causing some consternation and irritation on the other. Sure, I'm relieved that I was able to start dealing with these new expenses right from the start, but I am also a bit annoyed that my "emergency funds" have been wiped out so dizzyingly quickly thanks to a confluence of unforeseen events (and a billing miscalculation). Most of this new money drama, though, comes from being forced to deal with some chickens coming home to roost a few months before I'd intended to do so. I'll explain ...

This is not my dentist. As I've written before, I have trust issues with dentists dating back to my childhood that I've never worked through. As a result of this, the only times I have visited these places over the last decade have been due to emergency situations dealing with my impacted wisdom teeth. While having these troublesome teeth extracted, I would nod politely and agree to set up regular appointments afterward and then never follow through, this despite dealing with a very competent, patient and personable practitioner who has always done a fine job of settling me down and putting me at ease while he poked around my oral cavity with pointy metal objects.

While I'd tried to keep up as best as I could over the years, I knew that I was eventually going to need a really deep cleaning (and possibly a few new fillings) as my teeth and gums have never really recovered from sixteen years of smoking and inadequate cleansing. As money saved from buying Marlboros every day started to accumulate into my "emergency funds" over the spring and I managed to duck a giant car repair bill come E-Check time, I'd finally started feeling flush enough to consider dental/medical insurance and getting potential problems taken care of before they became worse.

First, though, I took the car in for $300 of preventative maintenance in order to get ahead of any unwanted surprises in that department. Then along came a $600 hit in the form of a medical bill for Chuck's New Year's Eve visit that was separate from the charges that Hillcrest Hospital had settled with this past spring and had been languishing unpaid since they apparently had messed up my home address in the billing department. Luckily, they had my work number and managed to contact me before I wound up headed to a collection agency. I was pretty surprised when the call came, but also determined to stay ahead of debt, so I opted to pay the $600 amount off in one lump sum over the phone.

Thus, in two days that week, I'd blazed through nearly half of my emergency fund, which I wasn't especially happy about but two possible future issues had been dealt with in succession and that's what that money was there for, after all. Writing this entry tonight, of course, I heartily wish that I'd taken a payment plan option instead ...

It was almost 2 weeks ago now that I was eating a slice of pizza at work and I heard something make a sharp, splintery "crunch" that was definitely not pizza crust: it actually sounded like I had just masticated a piece of glass. This sound was coupled a second later by a very surprising and intense bolt of not-quite-pain-but-definitely-discomfort from my rear right lower molar. Ruh roh. A careful probing of the area a moment later confirmed what I'd immediately suspected: a piece of my tooth had somehow broken off. Oh, wonderful ...

Thankfully, there was no residual pain from the break: just a sensitivity to cold drinks and a sharp reminder if I chewed something the right way at the right time (needless to say, I've been keeping food away from the area, just to be on the safe side). Regardless, I placed a call to my dentist right then and there and spent some slow time later that night reviewing possibilities online, none of which looked particularly cost-friendly. By the time of the appointment, I'd guessed I would have two choices in this matter: a crown or another extraction. The latter was half as much as the former (which would wipe me completely clean at a shot), but I am out of wisdom teeth to pull and, after that last extraction, I was ready to take my chances with a crown instead, cost be damned. With that, I knew the rest of my emergency funds were effectively toast.

Ah, but the plot thickened a bit more at the office: my dentist confirmed that I would indeed be needing a crown, but also threw in a curve ball of needing a root canal first since the tooth was decayed at the back end where it had broke. Ugh. I was also referred to a handful of other dentists to have this done procedure done as apparently mine doesn't do this kind of thing. So, I am now in the process of setting this appointment up ... the trick is not only lining up my schedule with the specialists, but getting this done in a fashion that allows me to get these operations paid for and over with before things start to quite literally hurt. Realizing I might quickly be in over my head if I didn't do so, I signed up for the Ameriplan discount card program to try and knock these expenses down by at least a quarter, hopefully as much as half (of course, none of the contacts I was given deals with Ameriplan, so am I on my own setting up a time to see someone that is).
Lastly, my dentist used this opportunity to finally get me serious about getting myself back on the horse and getting my mouth back into shape once and for all. Phase 1 of that ongoing project was last Friday morning when I had root planing done to all of my upper teeth. For those of you who have never had this done, this is a pretty unpleasant procedure, and an absolutely terrific incentive to visit your dentist every six months. Root planing is also done with no anesthetic, a fact which initially had me in a near-panic when I realized the hygienist was actually getting started with the process and not just poking around.

As it happened, the anesthetic wasn't necessary: while this was definitely no picnic, the level of actual pain involved was far less than I'd imagined it would be (though I was tensed up throughout and the back of my shirt was soaked through at the end of the hour-long process). But again, this whole operation is not something you'd want to try without a safe word: it is a very unnerving sensation to feel the roots of your teeth being scraped at under the gum line (and you feel this ungodly sensation for hours afterward), and I was spitting a truly distressing amount of blood into the spit sink during breaks in the action. Thankfully, considering the amount of time since my last actual cleaning, Part 1 of this project went better than expected. While I am currently dreading Part 2 (the bottom deck gets done in early September), at least I have an idea what to expect this time, though I'm thinking about sneaking a Hydrocodone or two beforehand just to deal with the worst of it.

And, just maybe, I'll be back out of the hole right around the same time.

NP: Tangerine Dream The Bootmoon Series: Preston 1980