Rural Health Care

A couple of months ago, one of our kids had a health emergency in the middle of the night. We had no choice but to take him to the “local” community hospital, 18 or so miles away. The doctor got him taken care of, and the problem was resolved in the Emergency Room without having to admit him as a patient.

They charged us an outrageous amount of money, only about $250 of which was for the doctor. More than TWICE (over $500) was for simply using the ER at all. I called and pointed out that this is the sort of pricing we’d expect from a for-profit corporate hospital, not a “community” hospital like these folks purported to be. The woman understood my point, particularly since we’d be paying the bill out of pocket. After a bit of internal wrangling and review, they agreed to knock some additional dollars off the total.

It was still a lot more than we would have paid in a doctor’s office (and the procedures the doctor performed could have easily been provided in an office — we only went to the ER because it was so late), and a lot more than an urgent care / sub acute facility would have charged. But note well, all those considering moving to an isolated rural community: THERE ARE NO OTHER OPTIONS in many such places. The closest urgent care to where we lived in Illinois was 35 miles away…or roughly double the distance to the closest ER. Much like the crazy prices we paid for electricity, the crazy ER prices seem to be a hidden “tax” that’s charged to enable these services to be offered at all in such isolated places.

But one little thing continues to bother me. We got the final bill the other day, and something jumped off the page: a grammatical error that even my fourth grader knows better than to commit. See if you can spot it:
Each of us has certain things that particularly grate his nerves. For me, as a writer, it’s seeing it’s used in the place of its (and vice-versa, and variants such as “Dog’s For Sale”). And it’s one thing to see this kind of error on a hand-painted sign. It’s quite another to spot this error on a statement from a medical facility asking to be trusted to save the lives of one’s family members. I found myself wondering, If you people can’t tell the difference between a contraction and a possessive, how can I trust you with the health and safety of my family members?

I’m probably making a lot more of this than it deserves, and part of my indignation at their grammar is probably due to frustration at the still-outrageously-high amount they’re charging. But I think there’s a lesson here for us all: make sure you get the little things right. People do notice when you don’t — and those little things shape people’s perceptions of your abilities on the big things.

Trouble Smoothed Over

A brief post-script to my previous post about the neighbor’s dog, which had broken in and killed several of our chickens:

Things seem to be going better. The boy’s parents came over that same night, introduced themselves, and apologized profusely on the boy’s behalf. The boy himself came over the next night and also apologized; all three of them assured me they’d be keeping the dog tied up during daylight hours, when our chickens are out. So far, we haven’t seen the dog again. I’ve heard him howling a bit in protest, but it sure beats hearing chickens squawking in panic.

The kid has his own landscaping/snow removal business. Friday night, we got a couple of inches of snow. After apologizing for his dog’s behavior, he jumped in his truck, lowered the snowplow, and cleared our entire driveway and parking area. This was an enormous help for us, as our driveway is quite long.

So…it’s unfortunate we had to get off on the wrong foot with our neighbors, but hopefully everything’s on track now.

Trouble with Neighbors

I got to meet the neighbors today, and it wasn’t the way I wanted to be introducing myself. Two doors down, there is an older couple. That couple’s daughter and son-in-law live in the house next door to us. That family’s 20-year-old son, in turn, lives with the grandparents two doors down. It’s a bit confusing, and I don’t quite understand the whole thing yet, but the reasons are irrelevant.

All I know is the 20 year old has a dog that may not be much longer for this life. The dog is a large mongrel, about a year old, clearly still getting the puppyness worked out. He seemed thrilled that we moved in with two dogs, and our Scooter especially likes playing with him. With no fences between the properties, he roams over here several times a day.

The chickens acted frightened of him, but he seemed to leave them alone. Until today, anyhow. Both our dogs were in my office building, and I was walking over to the house. There was a loud commotion in the chicken yard, and all of our poultry (chickens, ducks, and geese) were fleeing and making a huge racket. One chicken in particular was screaming in distress, so I ran to my office and grabbed my 12-gauge shotgun. Back behind the chicken yard, the neighbor’s dog was going to work killing that particular chicken. As I approached, shotgun in hand, a funny thing happened: a 4×4 pickup truck with two young men came barrelling across our property. They jumped out and yelled at him, and the dog dropped the chicken.

Thinking this was the 20 year old neighbor, I waved the shotgun and explained that I was intending to scare the dog off with a warning shot (not kill him).

The young man replied, “Oh, he’s not my dog. We just saw him killing this chicken, and wanted to stop. He belongs to _____, two houses down. If it was me, I’d put a bullet in this dog’s neck.”

Just then, the three of us started looking around. There were FOUR dead chickens scattered about. Of course, these were this year’s pullets and were just now starting to lay. All that investment, and the whole egg laying career ahead of them. As the dog was still hanging around, I fired my warning shot above his head; that finally got him running for home. We talked for a bit more, all made our introductions, and they advised me to go speak with the grandfather of the dog’s owner — and take the dead chickens with me.

I did, and the grandfather promised to speak with the dog’s owner and see what could be done about containing him. I felt bad that this was the way I had to meet the neighbors; fortunately, Mrs Yeoman Farmer had already stopped by and introduced herself, so we didn’t get off entirely on the wrong foot.

I’m a dog lover myself, and can’t imagine intentionally harming one other than to put it out of its misery. But if I ever again catch that dog even looking at my animals funny, all my inhibitions are going to go away.

Ready. At Last.

Finally, all the gifts are wrapped and the tree is up…and we’re about ready to call it a night.

Yes, believe it or not…the tree didn’t go up until late this evening. We didn’t even get the thing until Sunday, and it remained outside until the night of Christmas Eve.

Are we procrastinators? Trying to save a bunch of money by getting one of the trees they desperately give away at the end of the season? Nope. Though I must confess the cost savings are nice, we’re above all simply trying to draw a very bright line distinction between Advent and Christmas. We’re sick of all the stores putting Christmas decorations up on November 1st, and playing Christmas music beginning Thanksgiving weekend, and then taking everything down on December 26th. For years now, we’ve been trying to carve out in our own lives a “space” for Advent and a completely separate “space” for Christmas, without getting the two confused.

During Advent, each night before dinner we light candle(s) on an Advent wreath and sing the first verse of “O Come O Come Emanuel” before saying grace and eating. The kids move Mary and Joseph one step closer to the stable on their special Advent calendar. There are no Christmas decorations or music of any kind; this is a time of preparation, not celebration.

Then, on Christmas Eve, everything switches. The tree goes up, the nativity scene goes up, and the advent wreath/candles/calendar all go back in the box. We decorate the tree, put gifts under it — and then leave all the Christmas decorations up until the Baptism of the Lord in January.

It was Mrs Yeoman Farmer who suggested we begin these traditions, several years ago, and I am grateful that she initiated them. It’s wonderful having a real Advent and a real Christmas, with each one observed in its own special way.

The bottom line: don’t be afraid to be countercultural. It’s a great way to live. Especially at this time of year.

Goodbye to Guineas

Yesterday, with mixed emotions, I butchered both of our remaining Guinea fowl. At one point, we had dozens of the birds; the idea was to employ them for their bug-eating prowess. However, as time went by, we discovered their downsides: Guineas are always half-wild, extremely difficult to catch, and even more difficult to contain. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer grew increasingly irritated with their tendency to fly into her garden and take dust baths in her recently-planted beds. I managed to buy them a reprieve from the chopping block last summer; I’d grown rather fond of them and their antics, and didn’t want to see our farm without them.

But even I have come around now. It’s not so much a matter of seeing Guineas as pests — it’s more a matter of letting go of my attachment to them. And besides, guinea meat is delicious…and we figured it would make a nice treat for Christmas Dinner.

So, Saturday night I plucked both of them off their perches in the barn. One put up quite a fight, and made me chase him all over the building before I could corner him. The other allowed himself to be surprised, and went quietly. They spent their last night in a cardboard box, and then I dispatched them Sunday morning after Mass.

Was it hard to pull the trigger (or knife, as it were) on them? Sure. Butchering chickens and ducks and turkeys isn’t difficult; we have so many of each, they’re more or less anonymous. But with only two guineas, they’re “part of the crew” in a way that no individual hen or duck ever is. And it was tough knowing that with them gone, there would be one less type of critter in our menagerie.

But it’s not like I’m in mourning for them or anything. No way. I’m happily looking forward to Christmas Dinner!

You Go, Girl

Lest any doubts still exist as to children’s absorbing the political orientation of their parents, I offer the following incident.

One of eight year old Homeschooled Farm Girl’s books had a discussion today about the importance of being democratic on the playground. It was the usual stuff about giving everybody a turn, allowing everyone to have a say about the rules, and so forth. At the end, there was an assignment:

9. Write a short paragraph about how you can be more democratic.

Homeschooled Farm Girl used only a small portion of the allotted space. Her paragraph was very concise:

I don’t want to. I’m Republican.

A Morning with the Sheriff

Next stop on the “becoming a Michigan resident” tour: the Ingham County Sheriff’s office, to register my pistol. It seemed a bit “big brother-ish” to be presenting a firearm to the police and seeking permission to continue owning it. But every state has its own gun laws, and I wanted to make sure I was following them from the start. As soon as I can complete the requisite training course, I plan on getting a concealed carry permit (in my opinion the way in which Michigan gun laws are far and away better than those of Illinois); my pistol would need to be registered then, anyhow.

And even before then, suppose I had to use the gun to defend our family against an intruder. After the incident is over, and the police arrive to make their report, what do you suppose the first question will be? “Could I see your registration certificate for that handgun?” And, “I, uh, came here from out of state and didn’t know I had to register it” probably will not suffice as an answer. At least long guns need not be registered, so I guess Michigan laws are still a whole lot less intrusive than they could be.

Anyhow, there I was yesterday morning in line at the Sheriff’s office. Ahead of me, at the counter, was a very nice older gentleman who was also presenting a handgun for inspection. After I mentioned that I’d recently moved here from out of state, he struck up a conversation about the local gun shop. As we waited for the clerk to process his paperwork, he told me all about the place and what they have to offer: huge selection, wonderful indoor firing range (“they open at ten, and I’m going over there right now”), gunsmith services, and so forth. I was actually disappointed the clerk finished with him so quickly. Funny how a common interest in something like firearms, which the general public largely does not understand, can create such an instant bond between two people who wouldn’t seem similar to each other on the surface.

The registration process took quite some time, in part because I didn’t yet have a Michigan driver’s license. However, as mentioned in recent posts, I did have a voter registration card — and I also had that (expensive) dog registration for Scooter. The clerk had to check with her supervisor, but eventually agreed to accept those documents as proof of residency. The “safety inspection” of my pistol (which is what the process is supposedly about) was a joke; she basically just picked up the gun, looked at it from a few different angles, and then set it down. I spent much more time filling out forms, taking a “test” (which was a series of common sense True/False statements about gun safety that any of my kids probably could have passed), and so forth. I was actually surprised they didn’t photograph and fingerprint me, but I guess they’re saving that for when I get a CCW permit.

Anyway, while I was standing there waiting for the clerk to finish something, a very odd (and sad) incident took place. A woman came into the lobby, and asked another clerk if she could talk to a police officer about a domestic issue. The clerk directed her to a deputy, who met with her in another part of the lobby. The deputy, who struck me as an incredibly nice guy and very professional, listened patiently as the woman explained, “It’s my eleven year old. He’s completely out of control, and I just can’t take it anymore. I honestly don’t know what to do. I need the police to get involved, and don’t know how to go about doing that.”

The deputy asked where she lived, and she gave an address in town. The deputy then explained that their jurisdiction only covers unincorporated areas of the county, so she would need to talk with someone on the local police force. “Can you give me a referral?” she asked. The deputy gave the name of an officer, explaining that he works with all the schools and covers all the problems related to juveniles. The woman thanked him sincerely, and then hurried out to her car.

As I waited for the clerk to finish processing paperwork, I couldn’t help reflecting on what I’d just observed. First of all, the woman had appeared to be so average and ordinary: middle aged, middle class, tastefully dressed, well-kempt, well-spoken. She defied the exterior stereotypes that someone might usually associate with “homes that produce juvenile delinquents.” But what had been going on behind the exterior? What kinds of influences was her kid picking up at school? From older siblings? Did he have a father at home? A father who was involved and engaged in his life? There was no way to know, and it wasn’t fair to speculate. But one word kept pounding through my head: ELEVEN. Her completely-out-of-control son, who needed to be turned over to the police, is ELEVEN.

Why is this significant? I have an eleven year old son, too. I know what eleven “looks like.” Or, rather, I know what my own eleven year old son looks like and does. I could not, for the life of me, imagine a child that young and that innocent being so much of a demon as to cause his mother to seek assistance and protection from the sheriff.

I thought about that a lot as I waited for the clerk to finish my paperwork. And I kept thinking about it later, when I was at the local gun shop the man at the sheriff’s office had told me about. As the gun shop guy was getting me registered for the CCW training course, a 30-ish man came in with his son. The little boy couldn’t have been older than three, and was as cute as they come: big eyes, short brown hair, and very shy. As his father looked at rifles and bantered with one of the salespeople, the boy stood close by and seemed to be observing all of us with rapt attention. What a wonderful thing that his father brought him here with him this morning, I thought. Here was a father who was closely involved with his son’s life, spending one-on-one time together at a very young age, and from the beginning introducing his son to the strong, masculine and responsible culture of hunting and firearms. And this particular shop was an ideal setting: warm, clean, safe, well-organized, and staffed by men who were both friendly and knowledgeable. Assuming that the father stuck around and continued building these kinds of connections with his son, I figured the odds of this kid’s mother ending up in exasperation at a sheriff’s office were close to zero.

I walked back to my truck making a mental note to be more creative and forward-thinking about taking a kid with me on errands like these. Each trip to the gun shop, or bike shop, or hardware store, or auto parts store, or salvage yard…each of those trips comes only once, and each of them slips away so quickly. The big temptation, for me at least, is to make those trips and run those errands alone; there are fewer distractions, and fewer things to worry about when I’m by myself. The key is remembering that each of those trips out of the house is more than an errand: it is also an unrepeatable opportunity to share an experience with another little person.