Monday, September 28, 2009
As I said, not much is happening in regards to the fight to get the pending cases against Chrysler and GM heard in court. That's not to say that nothing is happening, it's just very "behind the scenes" type of stuff right now. I can say that I've been in touch with several consumer groups and congressional offices, and we are moving forward, but at this point we're kind of in an information gathering phase. It's clear that niether Chrysler nor GM will do the right thing and accept responsibility for the pending claims, which means that the solution must come in the form of congressional legislation. In order to get any legislation passed we must be able to provide Congress with a comprehensive picture of who has been injured, how they've been injured, and what the financial impact is on the states in which we live. We're working on putting that picture together now. More on that in the coming weeks.
In the meantime I've been juggling appointments with my Prosthetist, visits with patients at the Wishard Hospital Burn Unit, and public speaking opportunities. For obvious reasons I can't really talk about my visits with patients at the hospital, other than to say that the experience has been helpful to me. It's also been really great to see the nursing staff that took care of me (when I was a patient) on a regular basis. Now that school is back in session I have several speeches at the IUPUI School of Education, and the University of Indianapolis Physical Therapy School on my calendar. I could spend time talking about the speeches, but it's mostly the same material. If something interesting comes up I'll be sure to fill you in. I will say this though, this Wednesday is going to be a crazy day!
I have an appointment with my Prosthetist in the morning, which will take several hours. After that I have an appointment with Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation, who is working with me in regards to future employment (this is one of those state resources, upon which I place a financial burden). After the Voc Rehab appointment I will head to UIndy where I will work with a class of Physical Therapy students. It will be a long and eventful day!
What probably would be of great interest to you is the work that I've been doing with my Prosthetist. We're in the process of changing my suspension system (the sockets that attach the prostheses to my legs) from a pin-lock system to a suction system. One of the biggest issues that I've had is that my left prosthetic leg, and sometimes my right, will start to rotate while I'm walking. This is caused by a combination of issues. Shrinkage of my residual limb, however slight, will cause my sockets to loosen. When that happens the prosthetic will start to spin around the pin, because that is the only point that the leg actually attaches to the liner on my residual limb. Other changes inside the socket that are caused by the force of walking also add to the rotation issue. Needless to say, it becomes quite uncomfortable to walk when the foot is facing the wrong direction and higher parts of the socket start to move toward my groin. (ouch)
The suction sockets will eliminate the pin and give the socket a connection to the liner all the way around my leg, which should also eliminate the rotation issue. The new sockets will also allow my Prosthetist to improve the alignment of my legs and hopefully give me more balance. I've already taken a few steps in the paralell bars without holding on to anything. It's very unsteady and looks goofy. Not sure that I'll ever become fully functional without at least one crutch, but it's something to hope for! The process of changing systems is long and, in this case, fairly drawn out.
First there was the "fitting", which happened about three weeks ago. The fitting required the Prosthetist to make a cast of each of my legs (residual limbs). There were some definite differences between how my old Prosthetist did a fitting, and how my new Prosthetist does them. First of all, my old Prosthetist did it differently every time. Sometimes he made a cast, sometimes he took a computer image, sometimes he just took measurements. The only thing that was consistent was that he always did these things while I was laying down, which never made any sense to me. Sure, at first, when I didn't have a leg to stand on there was no choice, but after I got my temporary legs, wouldn't it make sense to cast one leg while I was standing on the other? Which is exactly how the new Prostetist did it! Granted, it took a great deal of effort for me to stand in the paralell bars on one leg while he made a plaster cast of my residual limb, but that allowed him to get a cast of my leg in the position that it would need to be in for my prosthesis to work properly!
The next step was to try on the "check sockets", which happened about two weeks ago. Check sockets are clear plastic sockets that allow the Prosthetist to see where the pressure points are in the socket and make adjustments. The third step, which is entirely new to me, is a trial period, which started last Thursday. After making the adjustments to the check sockets my Prosthetist wrapped them in fiberglass to reinforce their strength. This allows me to take them home and practice with them for a little while. My old Prosthetist would just make the adjustments and then give me the permanent sockets. If there was a problem later that I wasn't aware of when I tried the check sockets on, then we'd have to start the process over again. The trial period has allowed me to figure out what I like about the sockets and what I don't like about them over time, so that when the permanent sockets are made we'll know that they are as perfect as possible. There are a few issues, which means more adjustments will need to be made, and I'll probably need another trial period after that, but the final product will be that much better! This Wednesday's appointment is the follow up to the first trial.
Now, before I go, there is something else that I've gotten involved in that I want to tell you about. As many of you know, the anniversary of my accident is now less than a month away. (Can it really be four years already!?) On the anniversay of my accident (Thursday, October 22nd) Easter Seals Crossroads, the organization that taught me to drive again, is holding a fund raiser called "Walk With Me". Easter Seals Crossroads provides many programs and services to the disability community that most people never think about. Early Interviention/First Steps (0-3 years of age), Children's Medical Rehab with Developmental, Physical, Occupational, and Speech therapies (3-18 years of age), Autism Services, Respite Services, Transition Services (high school and university levels), Driver Education and Training w/assistive technology, Low-vision in home services, Physician's Clinic (PM&R), Employment Services, Assistive Technology Services & INDATA Project, Augmentative Communication for children and adults, Deaf Community Services, and others.
As a result of difficult economic times many Easter Seals affilliates around the country are having to cut programming due to funding. As of yet Easter Seals Crossroads in Indianapolis has not cut any programs and we need to make certain that they don't have to! I've decided to take part in the fund raiser, which is a 2 mile walk across Butler University's campus. (Not sure that I'll walk the full 2 miles, but I'll definitely walk some of it, and then see if I can find a cute single lady to carry me the rest of the way!) I've created a team, Jeremy's Jedi, (couldn't resist the Star Wars reference!) to raise money for Easter Seals. This organization taught me how to drive again, which was a BIG STEP in regaining my independence, and that's why I want to support them. If you click on the team name it will take you to a site where you can either join my team, or make a donation. Please do not feel obligated. I'm doing this because it's an organization that has helped me tremendously and, as it is the anniversary of the accident, it will help me make something positive out of a day that holds such tragic memories.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Enrolling in Medicare
Now, just because Congress was in recess and not much happened with the beast that has taken over much of my life in the past month, don't think I've been sitting around playing video games all month! (Although I have to admit I've done my share of that!) I've been quite busy, meeting with my new Prosthetist, visiting burn survivors in the burn unit, getting involved with both burn and amputee support groups, but the biggest thing was that I was finally able to put one very important issue to bed.
I'm finally on Medicare. (Now, I've had the Medicare Hospital insurance ever since I was approved for Social Security Disability, but I had turned down the Health Care portion because I was still covered by my employers plan. Now that I am no longer employed, COBRA is getting too expensive and I needed to make a change.) The easy thing for me to have done would've been to sign the enrollment form during the normal enrollment period at the beginning of the year. (Once you're eligible for Medicare they send you a form to enroll between January 1st and March 31st, which is the normal enrollment period.) Could I do it the easy way? No, of course not!
At the beginning of the year I was paying into COBRA, which is not cheap, but decided to wait on enrolling for Medicare, because our President's stimulus package was supposed to make COBRA more affordable. I wanted to wait to see which would be the better financial option for me. (I should have known better!) I contacted Medicare to find out if I could wait until the information about the stimulus package was released, and they gave me an extended enrollment period because I wasn't technically unemployed until the beginning of this year. Ultimately, of course, the reduction in COBRA cost from the stimulus package did not apply to me because I'm eligible for Medicare. (Would have been nice to know that up front!)
When I finally made the decision to enroll in Medicare I contacted the Social Security office. (They handle enrollment.) I had assumed I would just need to send in the enrollment form, but they needed additional information from my previous employer. (Again, would have been nice to know this when they extended my enrollment period!) So, with very little time left I managed to get the paperwork they needed, send it to my old employer in California, get it signed and sent back to me, and then hand deliver it to the Social Security Office.
Once I had delivered the paper work I assumed that everything was done, and for the most part it was, but several weeks went by and I hadn't received anything confirming that I was on Medicare. I finally started making calls. The folks at Social Security were able to confirm that I was enrolled, but in the process I uncovered a bigger issue. Somehow Medicare had gotten a hold of information about the accident and they had the other drivers auto insurance listed as the "liability insurance" for anything related to injuries from that "incident". What that means is that they would deny any claims related to my amputations. Adjustments to my prostheses, future physical therapy, wheelchairs, etc... I have very few medical expenses that are not related to that "incident"!
Now, you should know that the other drivers auto insurance did pay out the maximum on her policy in the very early days after the accident. You should also know that the maximum on her policy, while it was a substantial amount that is standard on most auto insurance policies, was eaten up by the first week of medical expenses. That policy was exhausted long ago. Of course, Medicare would not take my word for it when I informed them that their information was wrong. I had to track down the other driver's insurance agent and get them to fax a letter to medicare informing them that the policy in question no longer existed.
It took a few days to reach the insurance agent, and I assumed this would take a long time to work out. To my surprise, once I had spoken with the agent, I had a copy of the fax in my email less than 20 minutes later! From what I understand it takes a full week from the point a fax is received by Medicare for someone at Medicare to actually look at it. I'm not positive that the whole thing has been worked out yet but, if not, it will be soon.
Obviously this is an important issue to get straightened out, but I want to be sure you understand my sense of urgency here. I've been working with my new Prosthetist on getting new sockets for my legs. Hopefully the new sockets will allow me to fix several issues that I have been dealing with when walking. Also, this should allow him to start making the adjustments that may give me the ability (or potential ability) to walk without crutches! I've already had the fitting for the new sockets, sockets that I will be able to customize in regards to appearance. The process includes several stages, but I should have the new sockets in about 6 weeks. I'm very excited, and I promise to keep you informed as we go on this ride together!