Health Care

The Massage Conundrum: WWYD?

Trigger warning: This is 110% a First World Problem. Read on at your own risk.

As a birthday present, my mother gave me what we call Frivolous Dollars — money that must be spent on oneself in an indulgent way, rather than saved — and insisted that I earmark the cash for massage and ice cream. She did so because she knows that I have a tendency, when given money, to stash it away immediately. Even when I was a kid, that was my impulse; the top drawer of my dresser became the family bank. Everyone knew they could rely on me to lend out the cash I had laid away there, which I did, faithfully, until it was gone.

I feel incredibly grateful that I have a mother who can remember & recognize birthdays, even for adult children who live several states away. When I was little, she used to sneak into my room in the middle of the night and decorate with streamers, signs, and balloons, so that when I woke up on July 19th it would be to a world transformed. (Mike Dang will totally do that for his kids, btw.) And she also knows that I, like most people, generally prefer experiences over things. So: perfect A+ present, mom! I feel loved & understood. Thanks!

She found a deal online for a place in Manhattan that is offering a discounted bundle of massages. Three for $149 instead of the usual price of $300! Amazing. Even when I do treat myself to a massage — like, say, after going through childbirth — I only do one, and the therapist is usually like, “Wow, your back is like a wall!” and I say, “Ha ha, yeah, I know!” and though the massage feels great there isn’t much/any lasting effect. But three massages? That might actually make some kind of dent in my Shoulder Wall of Constant Stress & Pain.

On the other hand, I haven’t ever been to that particular spa. The place I have gone, and know I enjoy, is around the corner from me in Brooklyn. That means it gets points for proximity and familiarity. With the frivolous dollars, I could afford one, maybe two massages there. So what would you do? Three at the unknown, further away place, or one, maybe two at the place you already know closer to home?


Riding in Car Services With Boys

Yesterday morning my family and I found ourselves 40 minutes deep into Brooklyn — Midwood, people! — for an appointment with an audiologist. I blame our socialist healthcare, which ironically doesn’t even go into effect until August 1st, but I didn’t know this when we got our referral. So there we were on the corner of Ocean Parkway and Avenue P, sitting in the back of a car service because we made some very impractical promise to ourselves not to take the baby on the subway until he got his two-month vaccinations.

The doctor’s office we were aiming for turned out to actually be not where we were dropped off, but a roughly 20-minute walk away (thanks, Google Maps!). Luckily we had the baby in a carseat with no stroller or carrier, and it was approximately 90 degrees. A recipe for relationship success right there. About to find out if your child is hearing impaired? Definitely recommend getting no sleep the night before then go for a 20-minute walk in the sun carrying a baby in a carseat. Then, once you get there, realize you forgot to memorize your baby’s social security number and are therefore a terrible parent. Despite this, find out your child’s insurance kicks in August 1st so you will be paying out-of-pocket to find out two weeks too soon that your kid’s hearing is perfectly fine.

Thankfully it was only (only?) $75 and we put it on our (shared!) debit card.

Anyway at the end of our first of two car trips, we unbuckled and I said the magic words:

“So how much do we owe you?”


Fear-Based Spending

Let me start by saying that safety is good, and it is sensible to spend money on it. The auto industry howled miserably about the terrible increase in manufacturing costs that would accompany mandatory seatbelts, but it was probably worth it, because seatbelts save a lot of lives. But the line between prudent precaution and baseless fear can be hard to see, and can lead us to expend effort and money on the prevention of remote risks.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with an abundance of caution (except, you know, when there is), but it’s interesting to consider the sensible and not-so-sensible ways we spend money. I doubt anyone ever went broke buying a Brita water filter in New York City, but it is basically a waste of $25 in a city with some of the finest tap water in the country. And why spend an extra $100 to have a baby video monitor rather than an audio model? Have you ever watched a baby sleep? It is boring. (Besides, the audio version is perfectly adequate for sitting on your across-the-street neighbor’s stoop and having a margarita after your infant is in bed. Or so I’ve heard.)

And yet, we spend this money.


A Hospital Bill, Annotated

I still have not gotten my hospital bill for giving birth, and I will be a little bit anxious about it until I do. What I have gotten, though, is the bill from the hospital’s pediatrician for a one Mr. O’CONNELL,BABYBOY, as he was known for the four days he spent without a name. Our pediatrician did not have ‘privileges’ in the hospital where I gave birth (or, as I think of it, birth was done to me) so, as my OB informed me, quickly, and during my very last appointment, that the practice next to them that always has a pediatrician around Labor & Delivery would come


The Cost of Things: A Vasectomy!

Anna Sale’s fabulous new podcast Death Sex and Money recently featured the story of an Australia father of four who made the decision — eventually, after some angst — to get a vasectomy at the hands of a physician called, I swear to god, Dr. Snip.

Here in the U.S., the pill is the most commonly used form of birth control. Second is female sterilization, procedures like women getting their tubes tied, which is a more common form of contraception than condoms. But urologists say that vasectomies are simpler, safer, faster, and less expensive.

This led me to wonder, just how much more expensive is sterilization for ladies as opposed to gentlemen? According to BabyCenter’s fact page:

The cost of sterilization procedures ranges from $1,500 to $6,000. Most insurance companies will cover at least part of the cost of the procedure. In fact, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must now cover contraception and sterilization with no cost to you. Plans that existed on March 23, 2010 – and some religiously affiliated employers — are exempt, but many are complying with the changes anyway.

As you might expect, a vasectomy is cheaper as well as easier:

Vasectomies cost about $350 to $1000 — far less than surgery to sterilize a woman — and many insurance companies will cover the procedure.

Basically the same difference in cost between being a bridesmaid and being a groomsman. Typical. After the jump, watch the intense but mostly SFW video of the vasectomy performed by Dr. Snip, filmed (discreetly) in real time. 


Speaking of FitBits, Here’s One for Your Hoo-Hoo!

All of you data-lovers who are more moderate-minded than David Sedaris or I am and are hugging your FitBits close to your chests have an altogether new kind of tracker to consider: Minna Life’s k-Goal for your kegels, now available to fund on Kickstarter. (Nice alliteration there, right? Going with Indiegogo or something would have totally ruined the effect.)

“Pretty much everything else that’s out there right now is passive,” explains Jon Thomas, VP of manufacturing for Minna, the sexual health products company that designed kGoal. “You don’t have any feedback or any transparency into whether you’re doing the exercise correctly or how you’re actually progressing.”

The cheerful little device, which vibrates enthusiasm at you from inside, has raised over $38,000 of this writing and aims to reach $90,000 total. Other gadgets I expect to see soon: 


Measure Your Life in Birth Control

My life divides neatly into AD — years of delightful innocence about the realities of life — and BC — when I had to dedicate a part of brain to thinking about obtaining, using, and paying for birth control so that my womb wouldn’t get any ideas about its outsized importance of my life and start throwing its weight around, dictating terms. Here is my life in birth control.

At first I used condoms, and though I bought them occasionally at less than $10 a box, my male partner almost always came prepared. (ba dum CHING!) Soon, though, I realized I wanted to own the control part of birth control. Besides, I hated the way latex smelled. I might have gotten the pill from my doctor at home, but when I tentatively broached the subject of sex with him, he told him dismissively that I was too young and ended the conversation. So I talked through my options with the thankfully less judgmental gyno at the college health center.

First I paid about $10/month for a subsidized patch. Its adhesive sides collected masses of fuzz from my flannel sheets, which meant what should have been a subtle flesh-toned square swiftly turned a garish violet. Then I got sick. Very sick. After a dizzying week, I ended up in the clinic overnight for Valentine’s Day with a fever of 103.5 and had to get an extension for my seminar paper on the American steel industry. I hate not being on time.

Finally, tired of trying to tough out the patch, I ripped it off. The college gyno next tried me on the ring, also sold subsidized at $10/month. It gave me staggering headaches from the hormone shifts and the opportunity to come to grips with myself — specifically my cervix — twice a month. The ring didn’t kill me within the week or render me invisible to all but Sauron, so I dealt with the side effects for the next decade.


The Cost of Being Exposed to HIV While Uninsured

To spoil the end before the beginning, this is a story about being exposed to HIV while not having health insurance, taking actions to prevent infection, and ending up successfully still HIV negative (several years and counting). Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) (taking a combination of anti-retrovirals (anti-HIV) medications as soon as you know you’ve been exposed to avoid being infected) works in many cases. It worked for me, and I am endlessly thankful that I had access to credit and adequate care to make it happen.


Help, I’m Hooked on Battery-Operated Toothbrushes

My 22 month old loves brushing her teeth, mostly because her Spanish baby toothpaste tastes like strawberries; even when I give her as little as possible, her eyes still light up and she shouts, “Nummy!” I wish I shared her enthusiasm. A few years ago, my mother bought me a battery-operated disposable Oral-B Pulsar ($5.99 at Target) and I’ve been ruined for regular toothbrushes ever since.

Instead of spending $3 three or four times I year, I found myself spending twice that amount to get that awesome vroom noise the motor makes and the tingly feeling on my gums. Was it making my teeth cleaner to use something with an on/off switch? Who knows? The only thing my dentist said to me was to brush less hard. Oh, that Oral-B, I thought fondly. It’s almost too good!

Then, without warning, my too good toothbrushes started sputtering and dying after only a few weeks. The first time it happened, I figured, okay, no biggie, I got a lemon. But the next one also gave up faster than the French. $6 was too much to spend every month on a toothbrush. I decided to try other brands of battery-operated disposables, and there were plenty of choose from, because apparently I’m not the only one who’s been wooed and won by the magic of mouth vibration: the Oral-B Pro-Health ($11.64); Arm & Hammer Spinbrush ($13.99), which comes in Sonic, PureClean, or Whitening; Phillips Sonicare ($14.99), which comes with a two-minute timer. There’s even a Justin Bieber Singing Brush ($6.45), AS SEEN ON TV.

I feel like such a sucker, but what can I do? I’m hooked! Ultimately, I chose the Spinbrush, because alone among the ones I saw in my local drugstore it allows me to replace batteries rather than throw the whole thing away. But I still feel kind of silly and like I’m wasting money. Even Consumer Reports is making fun of me: “All you really need is a good soft-bristled manual toothbrush if you take the time and effort. But if you have arthritis, lack dexterity, or would like some extra power, powered toothbrushes can help.” THANKS GUYS. 


Do 1 Thing (And a Report on a Successful Thing!)

Thursday is a great day to do that 1 thing you don’t want to do but also don’t want to continue thinking about doing.

Before I get to this week’s 1 Thing I want to report that I saw a doctor about a small lingering health issue from LAST SUMMER. I got all freaked out initially because the first doctor I saw about it, a year ago, seemed incompetent *and* told me it might be cancer, so my natural reaction was to shut down, hide under the bed, try to pretend there are no such things as hospitals, etc. A couple of months later, when I couldn’t ignore the problem any more, I saw a doctor in Spain. He spoke only enough English to assure me it probably wasn’t cancer, but he did say I might need surgery.

Again: shut down, under the bed, pretending.

AT LAST, thanks to “1 Thing,” I made another appointment with a new English-speaking doctor who hopefully wasn’t incompetent. Turns out she’s the greatest. It’s not cancer! I don’t need surgery! In short everything’s fine. Thanks, 1 Thing!!

My next 1 Thing is to mail a care package to friends of mine who are having their first baby, and it should be super fun because I get to pack it full of stuff that is haloed with love & good wishes. What’s yours?


CEO Wins Chance to get Killed By George RR Martin

In a perfect confluence of events, a wolf-loving Michigan CEO has won the right to be killed off by renowned wolf-aggrandizing author George R.R. Martin. Responding to a competitive fundraising call, Dr. Dave Cotton’s family made a $20,000 donation to a wolf-related charity in his honor — for father’s day. (Aww!)

Mike Cotton, chief operating officer of Meridian Health Plan and one of Dr. Cotton’s three sons, said his father had an affinity for wolves before he started reading Martin’s fantasy series, “A Song of Fire and Ice,” which was first published in 1996.

“We saw this crowdfunding come up online and we thought it would be perfect for his love of wolves,” Mike Cotton told ABC News. Mike’s brother, Sean, who is an administrative officer at the family-operated company, said their father loves the books and watches the HBO series “avidly.”

“He’s always referred to himself as a lone wolf,” he said of his father.


Mind the Gap (Year): Taking Time To Tend to a Dying Parent

If you had asked me in the summer of 2011 where I thought I’d be in a year, I would have said living a queer artist’s life in San Francisco, “writing” my dissertation. Instead, I spent the summer of 2012 moving my parents out of their retirement property in South Florida — think Boca but not nearly as bougie — and bringing them back to New York, where my brother and I had grown up.