Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Bone break related topics on a Saturday morning August 18, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:14 PM
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This splint holds my healing left wrist in place. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WHEN A THICK ENVELOPE arrived in the mail this morning from my insurance company, I felt angst. I expected it would contain information on a $19,431 claim for surgery to implant a plate into my broken left wrist. I was right.

Recently I received a nearly $15,000 hospital bill for that surgery with nothing covered by insurance except an allowed amount of $4,662. I reacted as nearly anyone would—with disbelief, anger and tears. I pay $1,000/month for health insurance and already paid my $3,600 deductible. So the thought of paying another $15K pushed me over the edge. One phone call later and the hospital billing department assured me I didn’t owe $15,000 and that, due to a “processing error,” the claim would be reprocessed.

The insurance paperwork I got today includes two code notations:

Based on additional information received, this service will be processed on a new claim.

We are making this adjustment to a previously processed claim.

Those codes flag most, but not all, of the claims in four pages of claims. So is this a done deal? I don’t know. I hope so. Zeroes fill every space in the amount I owe columns. I choose for now to think this ends a stressful ordeal.

Speaking of end, the question of the week to me has been: “How much longer do you have to wear that?” The questioners, at least a half dozen yesterday, are referring to the splint on my wrist. The last time my orthopedic doctor discussed this with me, he said I would be wearing the brace well into late September. I see him next week. Maybe he will shorten that time. Range of motion therapy continues to go well. Strengthening therapy comes next. I’m now more than two months out from my bone break.

 

Margie Brown Holland (formerly of Faribault) and her unborn daughter, Olivia, were murdered by Margie’s husband in 2013. This t-shirt, part of The Clothesline Project, honors the two. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women coordinates the project to honor victims of domestic violence. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This plaque at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office honors employee Barb Larson, shot to death in the tourism office by her ex-husband, a retired Faribault police officer.

 

Kim Sisto-Robinson of Duluth created (and shared) this graphic honoring her sister Kay. Kay’s husband shot and killed Kay in 2010. Kim has made it her mission to be a voice for Kay, to speak out on the topic of domestic violence. File photo, courtesy of Kim.

 

One issue still lingers, though, and it’s something I dislike as much as that incorrect $15K hospital bill. Just last evening a burly stranger joked that my husband hurt me. Not funny. Not funny at all. I don’t care who you are. To suggest that domestic violence is in any way funny rankles me. There is absolutely nothing humorous about any aspect of abuse, whether psychological, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, technological or physical. I’ve heard more times than I can count that insensitive, uninformed and supposedly funny comment that Randy must have pushed me or hit me. He didn’t. I fell on rain-slicked wooden steps. I don’t understand this attitude. Women (and sometimes men) are being assaulted and dying every single day in this country from domestic violence. I find absolutely nothing funny in that. Nothing.

THOUGHTS ON ANY of this?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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An update: Stories while recovering from a broken wrist August 15, 2018

My newest exercise tool, therapy putty.

 

WHEN YOU’RE RECOVERING from a broken bone and subsequent surgery, little things hold significance. Like Play-Doh. I was so excited Tuesday morning when, at the end of my occupational therapy session, my therapist handed me a container of therapy putty. Play-Doh to me. Annie instructed me to, twice daily, lightly squeeze the putty with my left fingers and thumb. “Lightly,” she repeated, as she observed me manipulating the blob of yellow gunk.

 

Look on the right side of my wrist to see the plate, shaped like an ice scraper, and held in place by 10 screws. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

So why is this such a big deal? It’s just putty, for gosh sakes. It’s a big deal because every added exercise signals progress to me. Now, nearly nine weeks out from the fall that resulted in a severely broken left wrist requiring surgical implantation of a metal plate, I continue to regain my range of motion. Strengthening exercises have not even begun. Yes, this is a slow process requiring every ounce of patience I don’t possess.

 

Site of my bone break and surgery. And, yes, my hand, fingers and wrist remain swollen.

 

But I dutifully do my 10 exercises three times daily. Because I want to use my left hand again. I am itching to wrap my hand around my Canon DSLR camera, to cook solo, to carry my two-year-old granddaughter… I know, realistically, those goals are still a long ways from being achieved. But it’s good to have goals.

 

I am thankful for any time out of my wrist splint.

 

Two weeks ago I was much less positive as I developed a severe itchy rash on my wrist. I’d show you a photo, but I don’t want to gross you out. Picture a really bad case of poison ivy. Efforts to treat the surface skin problem with an antibiotic failed. Hydrocortisone cream solved the problem as did airing my arm while resting. You can only imagine my joy at releasing my arm from the trap of a splint for more than just exercising and showering. That made me one happy camper.

 

On this bill, the $4,661 is the insurance discount. The $0.00 is the amount of the insurance payment on the (incorrect) bill.

 

I was anything but happy, though, when I received a nearly $15,000 hospital bill last week for my surgery. More than a few bad words flew from my mouth as I cried. And then cried some more. I pay $1,000/month in health insurance premiums with a $3,600 deductible. I’d already paid my deductible and now the insurance provider was refusing to pay. Are you kidding me?

I was livid and way too upset to call either the hospital or the insurance company the day I got that bill. But then a hospital employee phoned several hours later to verify my address and I broke down sobbing and eventually was connected to the billing department. The insurance company, the hospital staffer said, made a “processing error.” She advised me to burn the $15K bill. The claim is being reprocessed. I hope it’s correct this time as I don’t want another financial scare. This never should have happened. The incorrect billing caused me a great deal of unnecessary stress.

 

If you look closely, you can see faint remnants of my rash. The lines are imprints from the “sock” I wear under my splint.

 

If only I’d had that therapy putty last week to work out my frustration and anger…

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About that wrist splint… July 24, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 1:37 PM
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A close-up of my thumb, held in place by a wrist splint and the underside of my swollen and scaly hand. There’s a reason I’m not smiling. Read on.

 

I’VE BEEN ABSENT FROM THIS BLOG for a stretch of days, which is atypical of me. But life, freelance work, volunteering, and my broken wrist, have interrupted my usual pace of blogging.

I saw my ortho doctor today, four weeks and one day after surgery to implant a plate. He’s happy with the healing and with my progress in occupational therapy five weeks out from my fall and subsequent bone break.

But I am not happy with the news my doctor delivered. I need to wear my restrictive brace for two more months. That’s a month longer than I expected. I could have ripped the Velcro trap off my arm and thrown it at him. But I like Dr. Armitage. He is a skilled and compassionate surgeon who truly knows me and cares that my bone heals properly.

Thus I will listen. I will continue to do my exercises, now upped to three times daily by my wonderful and compassionate occupational therapist, Annie. Yeah, more time out of that vise grip brace. I will continue to follow the rules of no lifting, no pulling, no nothing with my hand except to type and do my exercises.

The good doctor, though, picked up a small paper desk calendar and said I could lift something of that weight. I think he did that to appease me. He also praised me for excelling in breaking my wrist. When I break something, I do it well, he noted. Yes, he holds a great sense of humor. I envisioned a smiley face or an A+ on my medical records for breaking my wrist into so many pieces that 10 screws now hold it onto a metal plate.

Given the severity of the break, healing takes time. Time. I am not a patient person. I wanted to be fully healed yesterday. I hope, too, that my husband’s patience continues given the added duties of personal care assistant, chief cook and primary housekeeper. I have not convinced him to add gardening, thus the weeds grow.

Meanwhile, the medical bills continue rolling in as I pay my $3,600 deductible on a health insurance plan that costs me $1,000/month (and another $500/month for Randy) in premium. (Tell me that’s affordable? It’s not.)

I know I have nothing to complain about given many people are dealing with health, financial and other issues much more difficult. Still, this is my challenge…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The value of a greeting card July 11, 2018

 

I RECOGNIZED THE GREETING CARD as a marketing strategy. Yet, I appreciated the personal touch extended by District One Hospital, Faribault.

Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to care for you read the card signed with personal wishes from four of my caregivers. I remembered only two of them. Anesthesia erases memories. Like an Etch A Sketch.

Sixteen days ago I underwent surgery to repair my broken left wrist with a plate held in place by 10 screws. That would be six more screws than I expected. But my broken radius was a bit of a jumbled mess or “looked like gravel,” as my surgeon said. He assessed my overall bone health as good, which I consider good for a woman my age. When you fall as I did, you’re gonna break a bone no matter what.

Back to that gratitude card from the hospital. It’s a nice gesture. Thoughtful. And smart PR. In a time when not everyone values a local hospital, such personal connections matter. I value having a hospital right here in my community. They’ve gotten plenty of my business through the years with three children born there and other surgeries. I appreciate that I have access to good medical care locally. I want to stay in my community, where I’ve often received care from people I know. There’s something to be said for that, for the comfort of familiar faces.

The handwritten wishes of three RNs and a nurse intern impressed me. Enough to write about it here.

Thoughts?

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Healing & hospital humor, Part II June 26, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:29 AM
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Me, the day before surgery, with my hair cut easy-care short. The praying woman oil painting behind me was done by my friend Rhody Yule (now deceased) and hangs on my living room wall.

 

SURGERY DONE. CHECK.

Healing and recovery. In progress.

With a plate screwed into my broken left wrist during surgery Monday morning at District One Hospital Allina Health, Faribault, I am now moving toward mending the bone I broke after falling on rain-slicked wooden steps at a friends’ house 10 days ago.

This marks my second simultaneous summer with a broken bone In late May 2017, I missed the bottom step on a hospital stairway, plunged into the concrete floor and broke my right shoulder. And, yes, that would be the very same hospital where I underwent surgery yesterday morning. That May evening a year ago, I was on my way to donate blood. Yesterday a nurse asked if I would accept a transfusion if needed. I didn’t require one. But the nurse wondered aloud if you get free units of blood if you’re a donor. Nope, not that I know.

 

 

Her comment sparked from a document I created on my computer and brought to the hospital for my surgeon yesterday. Dr. Bryan Armitage has a great sense of humor or I wouldn’t have crafted the Frequent Flyer Discount card I handed to him. He was ready with a quick suggestion to submit my “one free surgery after 10 visits” card to the billing department given he just does the surgery. I persuaded him to accept the card, which he intends to hang above his office desk.

You have to find humor in a serious situation. And, believe me, I needed laughter yesterday prior to surgery.

On a serious note, I am grateful for the skills, compassion and care of my entire medical team. Seasoned nurse Kris and about to graduate nurse Shelby provided excellent pre op and post op care. And there’s that I just do the surgery orthopedic surgeon who worked his magic. I am grateful to all the reassuring (no, you won’t be awake during surgery, I promise) staff who cared for me during my six-hour outpatient hospital stay.

And I am grateful to my husband, Randy, for his attentive and loving care. He’s the best.

Likewise, I appreciate the many prayers and well wishes; cards, gifts and food sent and delivered (thanks, especially, to my niece Amber for the meals); and for the flowers from my wonderful husband. I feel so loved.

 

Me, several hours after surgery. I’m so happy to have more of my fingers exposed.

Other than being overly tired and experiencing some pain, swelling and tingling, I am doing remarkably well. Given my dislike of pain meds, I am taking only the minimum dosage paired with icing and elevating. That plan is working thus far.

That’s the latest from here as I continue in recovery mode.

One more thing: I weighed 20 pounds less on the hospital surgery scale than I did on the ER scale nine days prior. Vindicated for the third time. Read all about that miraculous weight loss by clicking here.

© copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Good news, bad news June 21, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
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GOOD NEWS: I really do weigh less than the scale at District One Hospital in Faribault registered during my ER visit last Saturday morning. During a weigh-in at an orthopedic appointment Wednesday, I weighed the same as I do on my scale at home. That’s 17 pounds less than I weighed just days ago on the ER scale. I feel so vindicated.

Now for the bad news. I need surgery on my broken left radius. The news came as a surprise given I was told in the ER that I didn’t need surgery. That just goes to show the importance of a follow-up visit with a specialist. Outpatient surgery will be Monday. I’ll leave with a permanent plate screwed in place. Surgery seemed the best option for the best outcome.

It’s not a particularly major surgery, but surgery none-the-less. And I don’t much like surgery. (This will mark my eighth.) But who does?

There you go. I welcome all prayers for an uncomplicated and successful surgery and recovery, for full and prompt healing, and for patience. Words of encouragement are also appreciated. And hot dish if you live close enough to deliver one. Just had to throw in that, oh, so Minnesotan angle…

© copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hospital humor June 19, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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My splinted and bandaged broken left arm, elevated.

 

I DON’T WANT TO DWELL on the case of the broken arm. But I thought you would appreciate some humor related to my recent fall and subsequent left radius break. I need to laugh about ruining two simultaneous summers or I’d feel overwhelmingly blue.

Let’s start with my ER visit. I offer high praise to the staff of Allina Health District One Hospital in Faribault for the wonderful care. And I love the newly redone ER, which offers way more patient privacy.

But I don’t love the scale or the importance of securing my health insurance card, photo ID and weight before getting me a room and medical attention. Upon my arrival shortly before noon on Saturday, I wanted only to keep from passing out (due to hyperventilating) and to get relief from my pain. But first things first. Get this woman a wheelchair. Get the necessary info and then wheel her onto a scale. I expect this is all procedural protocol. But when you’re in excruciating pain, you wanted help yesterday and your weight does not seem particularly important.

 

My bathroom scale. Accurate or not?

 

About now, you’re thinking there’s nothing humorous in this story. Ah, but there is. The hospital scale showed me weighing nearly 20 pounds more than my scale at home. I told the nurse so. She ignored my protest and recorded the weight. I was mad. Later I would weigh myself at home. The difference—17 pounds. I expect maybe a several-pound difference. But almost 20 pounds? I lost 20 pounds more than a year ago and have managed to keep off that weight. I weigh myself regularly. And my clothes still have a much looser fit. Plus, the scale is relatively new and has matched weights from previous clinic visits.

My husband just laughs. Although he agrees that the hospital scale is way off (or he’d be 17 pounds heavier, too), he laughs at how mad I am about it. As the saying goes, don’t add insult to injury. Literally.

PLEASE CHECK BACK tomorrow for another humorous take on my broken arm story.

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling