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Phantom Menace

          It's now Monday, 12-10-01, one week since I last saw my Oncologist and had my last Rituxan treatment.

          Being a Star Wars fan, I bought "Episode I - The Phantom Menace" on DVD and then got a Phantom Menace of my own in the form of some mysterious pain in a few of my toes and a finger.  It feels like an infection, and causes a lot of pain, like a toothache.  The pain is particularly severe in the little toe of my right foot.  For 3 days I controlled the pain with Tylenol, and then finally couldn't take it anymore and contacted the doctor on Sunday night, 12-9-01.

          He didn't want to take any chances, so he had me go to the emergency room at St. Joseph's Hospital to have it looked at.  After describing the symptoms to a doctor there in the emergency room, I jokingly suggested that the pain is so severe I'd like him to either cut off my toes or give me some good drugs.  I needed some relief !

          He looked at the digits in question, had 3 X-rays in different positions of my right foot made, and said he could find no evidence of actual infection or other problems, despite my description of the pain.

          Taking into consideration my description that it affected the big and little toes on my right foot, the little toe on my left foot, starting to feel the same thing in the ring finger of my left hand, and the numbness of my left thumb and forefinger, he suspects that it is a nerve problem, rather than actual infection or other injury to those digits.  Thus - my own personal phantom menace.

          While I was there, the Tylenols wore off and the pain returned in full force.  He gave me a couple of Vicodin tabs and in a little while I was feeling better again.  After consulting with my doctor on the phone, he prescribed some pain killers and I was on my way.

          The whole thing is pretty strange to me, since I don't recall ever having a pain that wasn't due to some injury or illness to the painful area.  Apparently, this is all in my head and has to do with my nerves.

          In any case, my doctor agreed the next day, 12-10-01, and prescribed Neurontin, which is a drug that is used to treat seizures and chronic pain.  My guess, by the name of the drug, is that it's some sort of neurological inhibitor.  In any case, it works.  The pain is gone, though it leaves me pretty light headed and somewhat confused.  It's a little difficult to focus on things.  I just hope they're right about there being no infection.

          This morning, 12-11-01, I threw up about an hour after taking them.  Then I got so light headed I had to lay down.  Right after that, I passed out for about 5 hours.  The doctor wants me to take these things twice a day for a week, then three a day after that.  I hope my body gets used to them.  I'm not looking forward to throwing up and passing out two or three times a day!  I think I like the Vicodin better.

          More of the Phantom Menace at work:  My stepmother goes to the pharmacy to get the prescriptions filled (same one we always go to) and is told that I have no insurance coverage!  Here we go again...  What?  Is there an echo in here?!

          I call the insurance company, play the "press 1 for this and 2 for that" game for about 15 minutes, finally connect to a real live person, talk for awhile, get transferred, talk some more, and they tell me that, indeed, I'm no longer covered as of December 1st because I was terminated from my job.  

          DUH!  They've been agreeing to pay for all these treatments and drugs and hospitals and doctors for months because I've been diagnosed with CANCER, and now they act like they don't know anything other than a date on a computer screen that says I was terminated from my job.  Where's the little text box in their database that says it's because I can no longer work because the CANCER nearly KILLED ME ?!!  HELLO ?!!  IS THIS THING ON ??!!  HELP !!!

          I often wonder why people in important, potentially life changing, decision making positions have brains when they aren't allowed to use them anyway...

          I point out the fact that I have a letter from them that I just received today that states that they've agreed to pay for fees on the items listed until January, when they'll review again.  The letter is dated December 4th, 4 days AFTER my coverage ceased, according to today's events!!  How does THAT work??!!  Get this: I'm told that, eventually, when they actually GET the bill and compare it to the dates on their little computer screens, they'll kick it back UNPAID !!!  What a nice surprise THAT would have been, eh?!

          I tell them that I think I should have gotten some kind of warning that my insurance would be terminated unless I ( fill in the blank ).  Yes,  yes... hmmm... someone else's department... nothing they can do about it at their desk... they'll look into that... meanwhile, you're just not covered... You'll need to make lots of phone calls to other departments and companies and fill out lots of forms to get this straightened out, Mr. Cash....  Yessssss... Do you have a fax machine near your deathbed?  Can you get to one in your wheelchair?  Good luck and have a nice day...

          So, now I'm a prisoner in Insurance Limbo Hell.  Candy and mom are working hard on it, making phone calls, moving paperwork and speaking lots of insurance-ese, which I don't understand.  In my neurologically-drug-inhibited brain, it's just a hodge-podge of sentences with words like "UNUM", "COBRA", "disability", "CIGNA", and "provider" all strung together.  All I know is, the whole thing makes me nervous and today a prescription that should have cost $10 cost $123.00 instead.

          To straighten it all out, mom drove ALL the paperwork I have several hundred miles to where my sister Candy is.  It's best measured in pounds, rather than # of pieces of paper.  Candy looked through everything and found the single, little piece of paper that needed to be filled out and returned to someone to keep it all straight.  I don't know how I missed it.  Well, I guess I do, since I don't understand it at all.  Anyway, it turns out it's all my own fault, and I'm the one that didn't use my brains.  Damn that Phantom Menace!!

          Candy says I need to make a payment of several hundred dollars to straighten it all out, which is good news to me, simply because it means everything will be fine soon on the insurance thing.  WHEW!!  What a ride!

          Meanwhile, on Saturday, 12-8-01, I got a visit from my Aunt Trudy, Uncle Don and cousin Burns.  It's been awhile since I last saw them and it was good to visit with them again.  We chatted and yukked it up for a couple hours and made plans to visit at Christmas.

          My lower extremities have been going steadily down and are almost back to their regular size, and I can feel sensations in them again finally.  I suspect this has something to do with the new pain I'm experiencing in them.  There's a little scab where my skin must have cracked open at some point, but I never even felt it at the time.  Even better, I can now reach them again while I'm sitting down by bringing my foot up and resting it on my knee.  The physical therapy is working well.

                                               The force is with me! 

          Next: If the shoe fits...