acupuncture update, plus more thoughts on privilege (updated)

I am extremely happy (and somewhat amazed) to report that the Chinese medicine treatments are having a positive effect on my fibromyalgia symptoms. I have more energy, better concentration and more mental clarity, less of the "brain fog" that characterizes this condition.

It's a subtle change, but noticeable. At first I thought I might be having a good day, then a good week. But the changes have lasted. It's been three weeks since I noticed the difference, and it's still here. I'm really encouraged.

Now comes the tricky part. Thanks to Allan having a job with benefits (USians and others: this is extra health coverage not covered by our provincial insurance), $400 worth of treatments was reimbursed. The doctor I've been seeing has very reasonable rates, much lower than many practitioners, so for that $400, I was able to give it a decent try.

Now that I've used the entire acupuncture benefit, I can't afford to go for weekly treatments, unless my employment situation changes. My nephew who is in acupuncture school advised that if I have to scale back on the acupuncture itself, to keep up with the herbs. I think I can afford to get the herbs every week and the herbs plus needles every-other week. Whether that will be enough to retain this change... there's no way to know.

I often remember that if I were still employed at my old job, or had the kind of position I need, I'd also have benefits, and I'd have $800 of coverage instead of $400.

Then I reflect on that thought, and I admonish myself.

When we first moved to Canada, and for a long time after, we were completely amazed and thrilled at being able to see a doctor and take care of routine health care at no cost. Our taxes here are about the same as we paid in New York. But here, we don't have enormous (and ever-increasing) insurance premiums deducted from our paycheques, we don't pay significant (and ever-increasing) co-pays, and we don't have to fight for coverage for routine care. Yay Canada. Yay normal, modern civilization.

Then when Allan first got his job, and we saw what was covered under his company's insurance plan, we were completely knocked out. Dental and prescription coverage, wow! Plus some coverage for massage, acupuncture, podiatry, chiropracty, and other related treatments, double wow! This was better than anything we had had before. We were both so pleased.

Eventually I went back to a day-job and very quickly found good employment. With Allan and I both having benefits, all our coverage was doubled. Our prescriptions were covered 100%, our coverage for glasses doubled, and we had a full $800 worth of each of the professional treatments. Not that we used them, but it was incredible to have the option.

Then the firm I worked for tanked, and I haven't had benefits since. And ever since then, I've thought, damn, if only I had benefits...

When I got my orthotics, I thought, damn, this would have cost me $200 less out-of-pocket if we both had coverage. When I ordered new glasses, I thought, boy, I could really use an extra $200 towards these expensive lenses. Whenever I pick up our prescriptions, I think, damn, this would be free. And so on.

It's wrong. It's ridiculous. I'm very fortunate to have any benefits; plenty of people don't. And often the people who do have benefits are often those that can best afford the services without those benefits. If you have a job good enough to offer benefits, you're more likely to be able to afford extra expenses for glasses, massage, chiropracty or other similar needs. I know it's wrong... yet I keep thinking this way.

This is what happens when you are exposed to privilege. You get accustomed to it. You think you deserve it. You think you need it.

I'm not suggested health care should be a privilege, as it is in the United States. And surely we should all have prescription coverage and dental insurance. I mean only to reflect on the process through which want becomes need, through which isn't this amazing becomes where's mine.

When I first moved to Canada, I chuckled at many Canadians' reluctance to pay for any health care costs out-of-pocket. My co-workers, for example, will get massage therapy up to the maximum benefit from their insurance, and not a penny more. If they spend a week in Florida, they'll buy travel health insurance rather than risk out-of-pocket medical costs. They complain about any minor prescription charges that aren't covered by their insurance. To me it seemed silly, even a bit spoiled.

But now that I've lived here for a few years - and now that I've enjoyed supplemental health coverage - I'm heading more in that direction. I will pay for the acupuncture myself, to the extent I can, but I keep thinking of how nice it would be not to - thoughts I never would have had three years ago.

Twenty years ago, Allan and I lived on half the income we have now. And we had fun. We had a good life. Over time, our income grew quite a bit. We've never been well-off, but we had more breathing room, and some discretionary income. But in 2007, our income decreased by a third, and it's been a difficult adjustment.

It's very easy to adjust to more comfort. It's hard to go back.

These thoughts reminded me of a piece from "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," the title story of the great collection by the late great (and so missed) David Foster Wallace.

Wallace is on a cruise, an experience that he's writing about for Harper's magazine, at the magazine's expense. When he arrives, and for several days after, he is goggle-eyed at the sheer excess of food, amenities and attention lavished on the guests. It sometimes repulses him, sometimes embarrasses him, always amazes him.

But Wallace quickly adjusts. Before long, he notices that the same amenities that originally left him awestruck now seem downright paltry. When another cruise ship docks next to the ship Wallace is on, he notices it looks a bit nicer than his...
Because the Dreamward is lined up right next to us, almost porthole to porthole, with its Deck 12's port rail right up flush against our Deck 12's starboard rail, the Dreamward's semi-agoraphobic shore-shunners and I can stand at the rails and sort of check each other out in the sideways way of two muscle cars lined up at a stop light. . . . The Dreamward has more pools on Deck 11 than we do, plus what looks like a whole other additional pool behind glass on Deck 6; and their pools' blue is that distinctive chlorine-blue - the Nadir's [Wallace's fake name for his cruise ship] two small pools are both seawater and kind of icky, even though the pools in the Celebrity brochure had sneakily had that electric-blue look of good old chlorine.

On all its decks, all the way down, the Dreamward's cabins have little white balconies for private open-air sea-gazing. Its Deck 12 has a full-court basketball set-up with color-coordinated nets and backboards as white as communion wafers. I notice that each of the myriad towel carts on the Dreamward's Deck 12 is manned by its very own Towel Guy, and that their Towel Guys are ruddily Nordic and nonspectral and have nothing resembling withering neutrality or boredom about their mien.

The point is that, standing here next to Captain Video, looking, I start to feel a covetous and almost prurient envy of the Dreamward. I imagine its interior to be cleaner than ours, larger, more lavishly appointed. I imagine the Dreamward's food being even more varied and punctiliously prepared, the ship's Gift Shop less expensive and its casino less depressing and its stage entertainment less cheesy and its pillow mints bigger. The little private balconies outside the Dreamward's cabins, in particular, seem just way superior to a porthole of bank-teller glass, and suddenly private balconies seem absolutely crucial to the whole 7NC Megaexperience I'm expected to try to convey.

I spend several minutes fantasizing about what the bathrooms might be like on the good old Dreamward. . . . I experience a sudden rush of grievance against Harper's magazine for booking me on the m.v. Nadir instead of the Dreamward. . . .

I am suffering here from a delusion, and I know it's a delusion, this envy of another ship, and still it's painful. It's also representative of a psychological syndrome that I notice has gotten steadily worse as the Cruise wears on, a mental list of dissatisfactions and grievances that started picayune but has quickly become near despair-grade. I know that the syndrome's cause is not simply the contempt bred of a week's familiarity with the poor old Nadir, and that the source of all the dissatisfactions isn't the Nadir at all but rather plain old humanly conscious me, or, more precisely, that ur-American part of me that craves and responds to pampering and passive pleasure: the Dissatisfied Infant part of me, the part that always and indiscriminately WANTS. Hence this syndrome by which, for example, just four days ago I experienced such embarrassment over the perceived self-indulgence of ordering even more gratis food from Cabin Service that I littered the bed with fake evidence of hard work and missed meals, whereas by last night I find myself looking at my watch in real annoyance after 15 minutes and wondering where the fuck is that Cabin Service guy with the tray already. And by now I notice how the trays sandwiches are kind of small, and how the wedge of dill pickle always soaks into the starboard crust of the bread, and how the damn Port hallway is too narrow to really let me put the used Cabin Service tray outside 1009's door at night when I'm done eating, so that the tray sits in the cabin all night and in the a.m. adulterates the olfactory sterility of 1009 with the smell of rancid horseradish, and how this seems, by the Luxury Cruise's fifth day, deeply dissatisfying.

But the Infantile part of me is insatiable - in fact its whole essence or dasein or whatever lies in its a priori insatiability. In response to any environment of extraordinary gratification and pampering, the Insatiable Infant part of me will simply its desires upwards until it once again levels out at a homeostasis of terrible dissatisfaction. And sure enough, on the Nadir itself, after a few days of delight and then adjustment, the Pamper-swaddled part of me that WANTS is now back, and with a vengeance. By Ides Wednesday I'm acutely conscious of the fact that the AC vent in my cabin hisses (loudly) . . . [read on for about 20 more examples] . . . and it's impossible to get really numbingly cold water out of 1009's bathroom tap.

If you haven't read this, I can't recommend it highly enough, along with one of the book's other masterpieces, "Ticket to the Fair", a report on attending the State Fair in Wallace's home state of Illinois.

Update. I was so busy beating myself up for wanting more than I have that I missed the larger context. It's healthy to be grateful for what we have and not always craving more, more, more. But that shouldn't apply to health care, including the health care that we Canadians or our employers pay for privately. For more on this, please read comments. Thanks to my wmtc friends for seeing this from a different point of view.

But I still hope everyone reads "A Supposedly Fun Thing...".

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