Sunday, March 26, 2006

Side Effects

As I have written about earlier, I have a persistent cough that gets worse, then better, then worse. It’s turned from a cold to bronchitis to pneumonia. Now, we’re not sure what I have. Over the last three weeks, I have taken or am taking the following prescription drugs:

1. A round of azithromycin during the first week. That didn’t seem to do much.
2. An Albuterol USP inhaler to dilate my bronchial tubes.
3. My favorite is Promethazine with Codeine. It lets me sleep instead of coughing all night.
4. Then there was a double series of steroids (there goes my chance in baseball this year, darn it).
5. The most recent round is an Advair Discus inhaler (more steroids and more bronchial dilators).

The following are the combined possible side effects of all this medicine according to the Walgreens web site:

SIDE EFFECTS, that may go away during treatment, include mild diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, fast heartbeat, nervousness, tremors, headache, difficulty sleeping, nausea, drowsiness, excitement, dry mouth, throat, or nose, dizziness, constipation, stomach upset, thickening of mucus in nose or throat, difficulty sleeping, mood changes, nervousness, increased appetite, indigestion, hoarseness (dysphonia), throat irritation, headache, or cough.

CHECK WITH (OR CONTACT) YOUR DOCTOR AS SOON AS POSSIBLE if you experience vomiting, hearing loss or ringing in the ears, rash, hives, itching, wheezing, increased difficulty breathing, rapid or pounding heartbeat, difficulty urinating, flushing, or redness of face, swelling of feet or legs, unusual weight gain, black, tarry stools, vomiting material that looks like coffee grounds, severe nausea or vomiting, changes in menstrual periods, headache, muscle weakness, prolonged sore throat, cold, fever, white patches on tongue or mouth, or if your mouth/tongue becomes swollen and painful.

AN ALLERGIC REACTION to this medicine is unlikely, but seek immediate medical attention if it occurs. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include rash, itching, swelling, dizziness, trouble breathing, weight gain, vision changes, trouble sleeping, tremors, seizures, severe muscle weakness or cramping, fast/irregular heartbeat, numbness or tingling in hands or feet, chest pain, or worsening of asthma symptoms (e.g., increased difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing). Rarely, your wheezing might actually increase immediately after using this medicine (paradoxical bronchospasm).

CONTACT YOUR DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY if you experience swelling of your hands, legs, face, lips, eyes, throat, or tongue, difficulty swallowing or breathing, hoarseness, irregular heartbeat, reddened, blistered, or swollen skin, or severe diarrhea.

My favorite of the above is vomiting material that looks like coffee grounds.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


It’s been a weird few weeks. I have had a cough turn into bronchitis turn into pneumonia. The coughing is ongoing and sometimes involves spasms where it’s hard to catch my breath. And about every time I think that I have turned the corner on it, there seems to be another corner ahead.

Then our well pressure tank became waterlogged, as I have written about. That was all about too much water and not enough air.

In addition, it seems as if our water softener has not been working. So, we have had a build up of sludge in our faucets and other water-related appliances. The repair man came out and replaced lots of parts and gaskets. Even a new Ventura, whatever that is. He also set the softener to a higher hardness level. When it’s “slick” in the shower, all is copasetic.

Today, I took my trusty VW Touareg into the local quick-change oil place, sat and read the paper while they worked, and then got into the car. The “Check Tyre Pressure” warning light was on, which is usual whenever someone fills or checks the tires. Usually, you go to a menu on the dashboard, click on Tyres, and then tell the system to learn the new tire pressures. Today, however, the list of options on the dashboard menu did not have Tyres. It has Lights, Language, Doors, Units. It does not have Tyres.

I looked in the owner’s manual. It should be there. It isn’t. I tried the Set to Factory Defaults button. Nothing. I shut off the car and restarted it…sort of like rebooting a computer. But, alas, while I still have the Check Tyre Pressure warning, bell, and icon visibly displayed and sounding, there is nothing in the menu anymore for Tyres.

Ah, let’s call the VW dealer and see what the service manager says. He says they must have done something at the oil-change place. I ask what they could have done since all they did was change the oil, its filter, and check my tire pressures. He has no clue. Only way to figure this out, I was told, is to come to the dealer for a computer scan to find the problem. The dealer is about 30 minutes away and I know from past experience that these computer checks take up to two hours to complete even if they find nothing, which is often the case.

I called the oil-change place in the vain hope that the manager could shed some light on this. Wrong. Sgt. Schultz in person.

To recap, we have pneumonia, coughing spasms, waterlogged well pressure tank, sludge from faulty water softener, and a misguided air pressure monitoring system in the VW. Serendipity? Kismet? Some grand order of the cosmos?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Form for Dysfunction

Out state health plan has lots of different providers depending on what medical service you want. So, it’s not odd to get a letter from one or another of them regarding information they say they need. Such was the case over the weekend when I received a form addressed to Marian.

The first question (which, somehow, was Part II) was confusing. It asked if any of the household was covered by another health plan. Then, in parentheses, they specified group health, Medicare, Medicaid). Well, I am 65 and am under Medicare, so you would think the proper answer would be “Yes.” But, if you gave that answer, you then had a whole litany of information they wanted which really had to do with private health plans and nothing to do with Medicare.

If you answered “No,” you were told to go to Part III. That is the specific Medicare section where they wanted to know who was on Medicare, when, etc. And, finally, at the bottom of the form, it asked for the “subscriber’s signature and membership number.”

The form also gave a telephone number and said that the information could be given over the phone rather than being mailed or faxed it. Since the Part II question seemed a bit ambiguous to me, I thought it would be easy to just call the information in and get it right. So, I dialed the 800 number and got a customer representative on the line. She verified my membership number and name.

She then told me that Marian would have to give her the information needed and that I could not. I asked whose signature they wanted at the bottom of the form and was told mine since I am the subscriber. My signature was required since I would be verifying the information that, theoretically, Marian was filling in. I noted to the attendant that the only box we had checked was “No” in Part II (she confirmed that was the correct choice) and the only other information we filled in was my name, Medicare number, eligibility dates, etc. So, in essence, the only thing that Marian could have filled in was checking the “No” box and leaving everything else blank. She was sorry, but she could not take the information from me and had to have it from Marian, or we could mail the form in.

We went back and forth on this and I became a bit more incredulous with each iteration. I tried again and again to insert logic into this discussion, but to no avail. Normally, I am calm about these annoyances and ask to speak to a supervisor. But this time, I was so non-plussed that all I could do was to thank her for her non-help and hang up. Hope they don’t hold that against me when they get my form in the mail. And, doggone it, I didn’t ask one pertinent question: If she had talked to Marian and gotten information from Marian, would I then have to get on the line to verify that Marian was telling the truth?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Lowe's and Behold

For the last week or so, I have had pneumonia. The germane definition for this piece is: Pneumonia (noo-MONE-ya): An infection that occurs when fluid and cells collect in the lung (from: I have been having spasms of coughing, but am otherwise fine.

Last night around 9:00 PM, Marian told me that there was some water collecting around the big water pressure tank we have in the basement. We’re on a well. There is a 150-gallon tank in the basement that is not only a reserve of water, but also creates the water pressure to move it through the house. When I went downstairs, I saw that the pressure gauge on the side of the tank was wildly fluctuating between 40 psi and 60 psi which was turning the well pump on, off, on, off…a good way to burn out the pump.

This on, off, on, off condition is caused by the tank being waterlogged…too much water in the tank and not enough air. Thus, there is no way to get any constant air pressure since water has filled the tank and there is no air to compress. The only way to cure this is to turn off the pump, use an air compressor, and drive all the water out of the tank getting it back to almost all air. Then, you can turn the pump on again and fill the tank and compress the air so you are back in business. I have done this before. It’s a pain and take a long time.

I turned the pump off at the breaker box, went out to the barn, and got our air compressor. Marian went into the living room to sit by our grandchildren, who were asleep in there and who might be awakened by the noise of the air compressor. So, I turned on a faucet in a laundry utility sink, plugged the compressor in, and held same kind of tool you use to fill a car tire to the valve on the tank. Things went along fine for about 15 minutes. Then the hose blew off my air compressor. This is one of those you buy to inflate car tires. It’s a self-contained unit and there is no way to take it apart and do something simple like reattach the hose. It was now 9:35.

I called the local Lowe’s number and found out they are open to 10:00. Woo hoo. So, off to Lowe’s I go. It’s literally five minutes from the house. The place was empty. But, thank goodness, there was someone in the power tools section. And he knew compressors. He asked a lot of good questions. I did not want to get one like I had, but, rather, a more commercial model that would be more sturdy and have more capacity than the rinky-dink one I had. He recommended what I should get. Purchase in hand, I headed home.

I have grown to adopt the theory that you really need tools that are well suited to a job. If you want a weed eater, get one from a store that sells to landscapers and not from Lowe’s. If you want good power tools, a store like Lowe’s handles DeWalt and other commercial grade stuff. And they have good air compressors.

It still took time (about an hour) to completely flush the tank of its water, but the difference in air pressure from the new machine as compared to the old one was gigantic. And I now own an air staple gun which I was assured would be wonderful for installing quarter-round. Now if I could only figure out such an efficient way to get rid of my pneumonia.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

While Supplies Last

I own a Husqvarna helmet pretty much like this picture. I use it when weedeating or using the chain saw. Inside the helmet is a harness which is the hat band and suspension that fits over your head and keeps the helmet from falling off. Well, the harness broke…plastic headband just snapped. So, today I embarked on a mission for a replacement part.

I first went to Lowe’s. They had new helmets for $47 and their special order catalog did not show they could order replacement parts. They did give me the Husqvarna 888 number, which I called. After I had been transferred to consumer products customer service, a service representative looked up the helmet number I own and told me the part number for a replacement harness. But, he told me, this could only be bought through a Husqvarna dealer and not at Lowe’s. He was even nice enough to give me a local dealer about a block away and the dealer’s phone number.

Next stop was the Husqvarna dealer. The parts guy was super nice and took down the part number to send in as an order and told me I would have the part (about $10) in three days. So, happy as a clam, I went home. The parts guy then called about a half an hour later. Seems as if this part was discontinued. I told him that I had talked to a guy at Husqvarna who had given me the part number. He said he would try again and took down the model number of my helmet. Well, about 15 minutes later he called again. Yes, this was the right part number. No, it was no longer available; it had been discontinued. The notation in the catalog is “while supplies last” and there were no more.

So, a plastic headband broke and, even though this is a replaceable part (you just snap in a new harness…so they must have known that they break), the part is unavailable. I am left with either using the handyman’s best friend (If you watch the Red Green Show you will know what I mean) or spending $47 for a new helmet. Such is planned obsolescence.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Questioning My Honesty

On January 9 of this year, I wrote “The Tax Assessor Calleth” in which I describe a telephone conversation with a member of our county’s assessor’s office. Here is part of what I said then:

“Where,” I was asked, “was the trailer listed last year? Surely it must be a horse trailer.” “Nope. Only a beat-up farm trailer with no road license that I use to haul fence posts through the pasture to make repairs. It’s right there on my schedule of equipment.” It was.

At 8:15 this morning, the telephone rang and the same member of the assessor’s office was on the line. As an aside to this drama, I have bronchitis and got virtually no sleep all night due to my violent coughing. I finally went to sleep at 6:30, had just awakened, and was still in bed when the phone rang. I was not in a friendly mood, to say the least.

Him: “We looked at the State of Missouri records and the state shows your farm business owns a 1988 horse trailer. Is the trailer you are showing on your books a horse trailer?”

Me: “No. It’s a used utility trailer as I have told you in the past.”

Him: “But the state says your farm business owns a 1988 horse trailer. Are you sure that the trailer you are showing is not a horse trailer?”

Me: “As I have told you in the past, it’s a used farm utility trailer. The state’s records are wrong. We have not owned that trailer for years. I do own a horse trailer personally, and, if you would look up my name in your records, you would see that it’s declared along with our two cars.”

Him: “So, it’s not a horse trailer?

Me: “No.”

Him: “Do you license it?”

Me: “No. I just drag it around behind my tractor doing fence repair work or hauling trash. It’s just a used farm utility trailer.”

Now, let’s look at all of this logically. I have listed a farm utility trailer on my books with a cost of a couple of hundred dollars. It’s been listed that way for the last three years, I think. The 1988 trailer that was referred to was a six-horse gooseneck. I bet it sold for over $20,000. So how does one mistake one for the other? And a simple review of the state’s records would also show that no trailer license has been issued to my farm for that or any other trailer. And, finally, if I had indeed licensed the farm utility trailer, wouldn’t I need a valid paid personal property tax receipt showing that I listed that trailer?

Next year I’m sending a picture of the farm trailer in with my return. Bet they call anyway.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Dusty Bottle Club

I wrote the following poem and it’s in Roots and Paths:

Fine Whine

The message that came with the bottle
Says the wine will be at its prime
In about ten years. Aged a bit
Beyond perfection myself,
I’m taken aback.
Is this a sign
I’ll be here
To enjoy the bottle in its time?
If I keep buying young wine
Will it extend my life,
Or will the bottles I put in the rack
Have another’s fingerprints
When poured?

A couple of months ago, I got a brochure from Clos du Val, one of my favorite Napa wineries, letting me know about their Dusty Bottle Club. I joined and just got my membership card and a description of benefits. Besides getting invitations to select tastings, twice a year they will send me one or two bottles “of our rare, older vintage Cabs.” It’s a bit pricey and it’s limited to 100 people. I also get good discounts if I want to buy a few bottles more of these aged wines.

Guess I won’t have to wait to drink these suckers. Woo hoo.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Nose Knows

Within our family, I am sometimes criticized about how sensitive my sense of smell is. The slightest smell of certain things can be overpowering to me. This is, of course, coupled with a less-than-adequate ability to hear.

Less than a week ago, we installed a Sharper Image Ionic Breeze with UV and all sorts of bells and whistles in our bedroom. These dudes put out clean air, but they also produce ozone. When we got it, I cranked it up to full throttle for a few hours, but found that the ozone odor was too much for me and reduced the setting to medium. The ozone is still there, but at a somewhat acceptable level given my sensitivities.

The other day, I came into the kitchen. Marian had extinguished a candle in there about 10 minutes previously and I commented on the smell of something burning. Yesterday, when I was doing afternoon feeding in the barn, I raked up some loose hay and produced a spark for an instant, which worried the dickens out of me causing me to check and recheck that nothing had caught on fire.

Tonight, I had to go into the basement to look for some old tax records. I went up and down the steps four or five times. Each time, I smelled just a whiff of natural gas. On a couple of the trips, I convinced myself that it was ozone I was smelling from air being circulated into the basement from our bedroom. But it kept coming back to me that it was gas. Not strong, but there. Not always, but enough.

I called our HVAC service man who had me go down into the basement a couple of times to see if I still smelled it and to also look at the burners on the furnaces to see that they were lit. I did and they were. So, he came out here about 7:00 PM. He had his gas sniffer out and it smelled gas, but it came and went and he could not pinpoint the source. Finally, he took a butane lighter, the kind you use in a fireplace or BBQ grill, and ran flames up and down the gas pipe that went into one of the furnaces. Seems there was a gas leak indeed. The T connection coming from the gas line and into the furnace has a tiny crack in it…the gas lighter caused it to burn ever so slightly for a few seconds. He repeated this experiment a couple of times. Ooooo, look at the pretty blue flame coming out of the pipe!

The nose knows. I am vindicated once again.