Friday, August 25, 2006

A Letter from Our Marine

My Dearest, Sweetest Mother,

How are things back on the farm? I had a lot of fun with Dad the other day. I think its awesome how he's here so often. I love spending time with him when we can. It's good for me to see my Dad every so often out here. When I hang out with him even for a couple hours I can loosen up and I don't feel so stressed. It's so late/early here now. It's 3:30 a.m. I haven't been able to sleep. Tomorrow is my last day (well today actually) and I can't believe that it's been four years already. I've gone through so many changes and I've been through so much, both good and bad. It's almost overwhelming to think about them. I thought I would be excited on this day, though. I thought I would be so happy and feel weightless. All that may soon come, but right now I'm just sad that I'm leaving I guess. There are so many things that I wanted to do in the Marines that I didn't get to do. I couldn't do another four years - the little things I don't like about it would drive me crazy. I just have to make sure I do well because I'm not going back into the Marines ever...unless they call me back. I want to use what I've learned to better myself and life. I'm really going to miss it though. I can never forget that 'once a Marine, always a Marine.' I feel like I'm leaving a lot of people who depend on me. At the same time, I'm losing my friends, the guys who I've been through so many hard times with. People that I've taught and mentored, people that have taught me and mentored me, and all the people who look up to me as a Sgt and a man mean so much to me. It's different than family. It's different than friends. I knew that this day was coming. I knew that this life of a Marine would someday be memories. I tried so hard and I did well, but I could have done better. I wish I could just be satisfied with myself for once, then maybe I could be happy and enjoy my final hours in the Marine Corps. I'm so happy to think that soon I'll be home. I've missed everybody so much from the day I left. I love you and I'll see you soon.

Sgt P

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Glitch

This morning I sent an email to AETNA, asking if there was a determination for a cochlear implant for my right ear. Here is what I got this afternoon:

"Thank you for using the Aetna Navigator website to contact Aetna Member Services. Our records indicate your coverage through Science Applications International Corporation ended on August 11, 2006. Please contact the employer's benefits office if you feel this information is incorrect. They can contact our Employer Services department to make any needed changes."

Needless to say, I was not happy about this turn of events at all. The one thing that I was afraid of happening has happened. A glitch in insurance coverage while waiting for determination for a CI. There was a chance that this would have happened while waiting for determination for my CI last year but it didn't. Steve has been trying for over a year to convert to a different status at work but we should still be able to have insurance coverage through COBRA benefits. His company finally decided to do it this month! So, I quickly sent Steve several text messages and copied him on the email and asked him what was going on. He took action right away and made a few phone calls and found out that the paperwork was sent out on Tuesday (the 22nd). I had a dentist appointment yesterday and have A/V therapy tomorrow and we need to be covered insurance-wise. I replied to AETNA's email letting them know that the information they had was incorrect and that we should still have insurance coverage. There was another reply in my mailbox tonight:

"At this time, we have notified been notified by Science Applications International that the COBRA coverage is in effect."

It's funny how quickly things get moving when WE check on things. Steve sent an email letting me know that we should have our paperwork for COBRA in the mail by this weekend. I am trying so hard to be patient and want to have faith and trust that everyone is doing their job like they should. But that isn't always the case. Insurance companies are difficult enough to deal with without extra problems. We have to submit our own paperwork now. I don't mind doing that. I just want to know what is going on in a timely manner. I'll be busy tomorrow getting our "Insurance Project File" set up and organized.

In other news, our Marine son, Sargeant Christopher Lee Pullins, will be FINISHED with his career in the U.S. Marine Corps on Saturday! He is looking forward to starting a new life but has mixed feelings about leaving his friends at Camp Pendleton in California. He saw several of his buddies leave for Iraq this morning at 2 a.m. He hopes to head back home to Tennessee around September 5th. I plan to set up a bedroom for him and clear out some space for his "stuff" these next two weekends. It's hard to believe four years have gone by already. It wasn't that long ago that I was in tears (and constant prayer) when he left for Iraq and again when he came back to the states. We are proud of our Marine. It will be nice to have him "home" safely again. Keep him in your prayers, too.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Insurance Update

I'm currently in Ohio visiting my family for a family reunion. Tried to call home this morning to find out how things were going but got the voice mail instead. I decided to go ahead and put in the password to listen to messages and the first one was from Dr. Merwin's nurse, Teresa, which was received on Thursday afternoon after I left the house. I understood enough to know who was calling and that it was about my second implant, insurance, a letter and something about next week. She had a lot of information and was talking too fast. I saved it because I didn't want to miss ANY of the message or get it wrong and wanted to have another chance to listen to it. Then had my sister, Kathy, call back to find out what exactly was said in the message. Teresa said that they had an answer from the insurance company but did not know if it was a "yes" or a "no" and that a letter was on the way. It will arrive sometime next week. She also said that if our request was denied that they would continue to appeal on my behalf. So, that is progress. When I get home, I'll be able to read her message on my CapTel phone and fill in the parts that I didn't understand. So, we do have some news - just don't know if it is good or bad. Keep praying!

This is my last "trip" for awhile so when things settle down, I'll be able to write more. Went to a family reunion today and it was VERY NOISY! We have a lot of relatives that love to talk and they all talk at once! But, I asked the family to sing our family song, the Doxology instead of the prayer before we ate and it was so pure and beautiful to my ears. We sang it again before the evening meal. God is so good, all the time. And all the time, God is good.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A CI Moment at Work

I heard a "new" sound today! Haven't heard anything new for a while so this was exciting for me. . . (and crazy for everyone else!) There are many sounds around me at work (typing on keyboards, phones ringing, people talking, departments and extensions being paged, fans humming, copier printing copies, encoder machine encoding checks, printers running, and so on). My desk is near several doors and over the last few days I started hearing a new quiet, small vibrating/shaking sound along with all these other sounds every time the door to the accounting department was opened and shut. We've been having trouble with the air conditioner in our department this week but the noise wasn't coming from that. I asked Cindy, my coworker, if she could hear that "new" noise, too. We opened and closed the door several times and heard it when it closed shut. We thought maybe it was the closer on top of the door but that wasn't it. There is a box with a fire extinguisher next to the door and a sign was sitting on top of it. Removed the sign and still heard it. Then, Cindy realized that it was the fire extinguisher rattling INSIDE the glass box next to the door! No one had noticed it before until I said something. That door is opened at least 500 times a day!

Response #2

I replied to Aetna's first response to me asking how long I can expect to wait for a determination on their part since they had received the pre-authorization request from Dr. Merwin. Here is their second answer:

"This is in response to your recent inquiry regarding the time frame involved in a preauthorization. The preauthorization time frame can vary depending on if all the appropriate medical information is received on the initial review but generally can take up to 30 business days. Once our review is complete you and all parties involved will receive a letter with our determination."

I KNOW that Dr. Merwin sent the preauthorization sometime this past spring which was March or April. This is August. It has been MORE than 30 days. Go figure. Now is the time to let them know I'm still here and waiting "patiently." Romans 8:25 says, "But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."

On a different note, went to A/V therapy today. I hadn't seen Susie in a month because she was on vacation and then I've been gone. We worked on s and sh sounds (did better on those) and m and n's. Still have trouble telling the different between words like me - knee, mat - gnat, mood - nude, moose - noose, etc. Susie says that there is a slight difference in the pitch between the m and n and that I will eventually get it. She also read me some stories and I did almost perfectly on those. It just gets better and better and takes time, practice, and repetition.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Response from AETNA

I wrote to Aetna yesterday asking if they had received my doctor's request for pre-authorization for my second implant. Here is the response that I received by email today:

"We have received the pre-authorization request for a cochlear implant, and it is currently being reviewed. I apologize for the delay."

That is all. I'm going to write back and ask them when I can expect an answer. . .

Monday, August 14, 2006

Look What I Found

I was browsing the Internet last night and discovered that Heather Whitestone just received a second cochlear implant and was recently activated. You can read about it here and here! (Two different articles) Her hearing loss and journey is almost identical to mine and I have admired her strength, courage, and determination ever since she became the first Miss America with a hearing disability years ago. More and more deaf and hard of hearing persons are being implanted bilaterally and recent studies show that two implants ARE better than one. If Heather can get implanted bilaterally, there is no reason why I should not have two, either.

I still haven't heard anything from our insurance company regarding my request for a second implant. I called Teresa, Dr. Merwin's nurse, this afternoon to see if she had heard anything and she hadn't. She said she would call Cochlear in the morning to find out what was going on (they are advocating to AETNA on my behalf) and would let me know. I think I'll send an email to AETNA, too, to find out what the status is.

Michael Chorost, who wrote the book, REBUILT, about his cochlear implant has changed his surgery date for his second implant for the third or fourth time (I've lost track) because AETNA denied his request the first time and he is fighting them. He is supposed to have an answer in two weeks. I've been watching his blog and you can read his latest update here. I've written to him several times by email and he always writes back to me. If he gets approved, AETNA can't say "no" to me!

One of the gals in my SHHH/HLAA group is getting her cochlear implant TOMORROW! I'm sure she is excited and nervous at the same time. Dr. Merwin, my doctor, is doing her surgery and I know she will do great. Say a prayer for Maureen and for her recovery and activation day. Hopefully she'll be activated when our group resumes our meetings in September.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A New Friend!

Steve and I have just returned home from a business trip to Nashville. We stayed at the Opryland Hotel and had a busy few days. I made arrangements to meet a new friend, Jennifer, whom I met online on one of the CI Forums that I belong to. We agreed to meet on Thursday at the Opry Mills Mall. I walked to the mall from the hotel and met her in the food court at 11:30 a.m. I recognized her immediately from her picture on her blog and she looks even better in person! She is tall, too, with a beautiful smile.

We quickly found a fairly quiet booth in the Chili’s restaurant in the back away from all the noise and hustle bustle of the mall. We hit it off right away (I knew we would from her blog and the emails that we have traded back and forth) and before we knew it it was 2:00 p.m! We found plenty to talk about and learned a lot about each other. Jennifer also has a severe/profound hearing loss, is married with five children, and is currently waiting for insurance approval to get a cochlear implant. She speaks very well for someone who can hardly hear and lip reads well, too. We talked about our hearing losses, our families, our struggles and triumphs with different issues. She is also a Christian and is involved with her church and Bible Study. As we talked and shared, I came to the realization that even though we are all different and come from different backgrounds, we are still so much alike in our hearing journeys and have the same goal – we want to hear and “be normal.” Before I got my CI, I was very vain about my deafness and would not admit that I was hard of hearing. I never liked the word, "deaf" and I still don't. But I am. I only knew a handful of deaf and hard of hearing persons because I was not part of “that world.” As a high schooler, I was too embarrassed to let anyone know that I had to go to speech therapy and would skip my sessions. Ever since I started my CI journey I have met many people who are hearing impaired just like me. We all share the same frustrations and struggles when we can’t hear and depend on others to be our “ears” for us. I never wanted anyone to see my hearing aids and would hide them with my hair. I refused go out in public with my hair up or get my hair cut short because I wanted to keep my ears covered at all times. Now people walk around with all these Bluetooth gadgets hanging from their ears, earphones, iPods, MP3 players for all the world to see and they are not even hearing impaired. With my Clearsounds neck loop or T-Link for my phone and iPod, I blend right in. In fact, I would gladly pull my CI in a wagon behind me if I had to because I love being able to hear as well as I do. I showed Jennifer some of my accessories that I use and shared with her about the AT & T relay service online that I use instead of a TTY. (I use it less now that I can talk on the phone but it is still a good backup, especially for those dreaded automated messages.) She even tried my neckloop with her telephone setting on her hearing aid. It was fun to watch her facial expressions as she heard the beeps, tones, and message as I connected her to the Time of Day on my cell phone! She did quite well and heard something about thunderstorms and that it was 2:00 p.m. in Knoxville. We walked, talked, and shopped around the mall and got a treat from Starbucks before she dropped me off at the hotel at 4 p.m. I’ve made a new friend for life and we will continue to stay in touch. When we made plans to get together, I thought she lived close to Nashville. She drove AN HOUR from her home to meet me! I told her that I felt special that she would do that and really appreciated it. Spending time today with a new friend was truly a blessing. I felt like I had known her all of my life and I know we will stay in touch. Thank you, Jen, for a delightful afternoon!

I love meeting other people who are “just like me.” Jennifer and I shared how we have “found our group” to fit in to after all these years of denial. We both belong to several hearing loss groups and are members of CI forums online. We have learned so much from other people who have hearing disabilities and love being able to help and encourage those who have the same struggles and experiences. It is very helpful to have a place to go to have questions answered and get helpful information and advice from someone else who has been there. I’ve said this before and I will say it again. The Internet is my “phone” and lifeline to the outside world and I don’t know how I managed without it. I do remember feeling very alone and isolated because I could not talk on the phone, especially when Steve traveled for weeks at a time and left me home with four young children. If I wanted to talk to someone or make a doctor’s appointment, I had to get in my car to drive there. That was not easy with four young children in tow, especially if one of them was sick or if I was burning up with fever and didn't feel good. We taught our kids how to talk on the phone to relay messages at an early age. Somehow it is just not the same to say “I love you” to your spouse through another person or child or to convey personal information.

In closing, we are all part of one body. God put us here to build each other up and support one another. (Still writing and editing. . .watch this space. . .)

P.S. Jen talks about our visit on her blog, too. Check it out here!

Opryland Hotel and Visiting with Relatives

The Opryland Hotel was very nice and beautiful with lush indoor gardens and landscaping. It has winding rivers with beautiful waterfalls and walking paths in a climate controlled greenhouse atmosphere. It is also a very noisy place. The waterfalls in the different atriums are great for scenery in pictures but at the same time they drown out conversations and make it hard to hear. I really don’t like the sound of water except in some situations and this was not one of them. (If I was in charge of the hotel, I would have the waterfalls trickle or flow at different speeds so that it would be easier to hear and make it a more enjoyable environment.) The open areas have very high ceilings and all the different sounds from the tourists, guests, restaurants, shops, etc. make it extremely hard to hear and have conversations. Steve was in charge of the conference there and said that the group was very disappointed in the hotel. The reception on Thursday night was in one of the open areas and the only way anyone could carry on a conversation was to be within 18 inches of the person they were talking with. I retreated to our room several times during our stay just to have some peace and quiet because it was just too much sound for me and made my head hurt. The constant noise is a power drain on my processor and I usually end up with tinnitus afterwards. I also retreated to the pool twice and swam laps in complete silence to have my “quiet time” there. I don’t know how normal hearing people who work at the hotel can tolerate it day after day. It wouldn’t surprise me if they drove home in their cars in silence with their radios off after being in constant noise all day long.

Yesterday, I spent the day with my aunt Nelda. She was only 12 years old when I was born and we’ve always been very close. Steve and I lived in Wisconsin with our kids for eight years and our two families spent lots of time together. She moved to Nashville from Wisconsin last year to be close to her daughters and grandchildren. She picked me up at the hotel at 10 a.m. We talked and visited for awhile before going to the Apple Barn at the Opry Mills Mall where we shared an apple dumpling and shopped a little. Then we drove around Franklin where she lives and we browsed around a few shops. For lunch we stopped at a charming Victorian teahouse called Lillie Belle's in historic downtown Franklin where we both enjoyed a delicious spinach and Swiss cheese quiche with refreshing Almond Lemon tea.

Then, she took me to her new house and showed me around. We had a wonderful visit and looked at some pictures and took a walk. Later, she dropped me off at Jenny & Kurt’s house (my cousin and her husband) for dinner. Steve met me there after his conference was over. We had a great visit and got to see Jenny and Kurt’s new baby, Ty, and see their almost 2 year old, Kal. It was fun to hear the sounds that a baby and little boy make! We also visited with my Uncle Werner, who was visiting from New Mexico, and cousin, Wendy. Dinner was delicious with brats made the Wisconsin way, snap peas, baked beans, grapes, and Grandma Bergman’s cake.

I have one more trip next week to Ohio with my sister, Kathy, and her daughter, Elizabeth, for a family reunion and then I’ll be home for awhile!

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Weekend in Virginia

(Above photo from left to right: Brad, Sarah (Matteo's friend), and Matteo)

I spent this past weekend in Blacksburg, Virginia helping Brad and his friends move in their house that they are renting this year at Virginia Tech. It is a cute four bedroom Cape Cod and is just PERFECT for them. I had a great time with Brad even though it was over 90 degrees with no air conditioning! We drove the car whenever we could to run errands or go out to eat just to cool off! My job was to do what mothers do to help their college kids get off to a good start for the new school year. Took Brad to Walmart to buy things he needed for the house. Also, did lots of cleaning, organized the kitchen, picked up trash, etc. while the guys did their parts. It was a noisy weekend with the wind noise in my car for four hours each way, fans running, going to noisy restaurants, and browsing the festival that was two blocks from his house. I do have an advantage and can "take off" my ears when I need some peace and quiet.

Some Habits Are Hard To Break

My faithful readers are getting tired of reading about BUGS. I am so behind in my writing and will add something today. There are a lot of thoughts to share in my head but no one benefits from them unless they are written down. I feel like a Gumby doll being pulled in 20 different directions because there is just not enough of me to go around! Some of you may not even know what a Gumby doll is (my age is showing!) but you can see one here. It is a clay figure that can be stretched several times its size. The summer is flying by and I've made two trips in the last two weeks and have two more upcoming ones in the next two weeks. I usually don't travel four weeks in a row (I don't know how my husband does it every week!) The summer has been filled with swimming, weddings, family reunions, homecomings, family time, guests, and so on. Our oldest son moved back home two weeks ago and we are still "adjusting." (Will explain that in another post.)

Anyway, during my therapy sessions, I discovered why I was having trouble distinguishing the "sh" sound. It is because I am not used to hearing it. I have always pronounced a word the way it was spelled unless someone told me otherwise. Early on, my mother was the one who would chuckle at me and correct me gently. For example, I didn't know as a child to pronounce "sugar" like "sh"ugar. Or "flood" and "blood" was a short "u" sound instead of the long "u" sound. Mom corrected me on those and I've known to say them the correct way. My friends and family have been so used to my speech that I was rarely corrected before my implant and even afterwards. But, now I am consciously aware of the way words sound because I can actually hear them, except the "sh" sound. For example, I was trying to order a salad to go for lunch over the phone and the person on the other end kept asking me to repeat was I was saying. After the fourth or fifth time, she finally understood me. After I got off the phone, Kim, my coworker in the next cubicle came over to my desk and said, "Laurie, it's not "ch"ef salad. It is "sh"ef salad! I have always pronounced the word "chef" with the "ch" sound. No wonder the gal on the phone could not understand me. Kim said "That girl was dumb. She should have known what you were trying to say!" About a week later, Kim caught me mispronouncing another word, which was the word, "machine." Again, I've always pronounced it with the "ch" sound, and not the proper "sh" sound because that is the way it looks when it is written. So, I asked Susie, my therapist, to come up with a list of words where the "ch" masquerades as "sh" sound. Here is what we came up with:

chaise, chef, Cher, chargrin, chalet, chamois, charade, Charlene, Charlotte, chartreuse, chateau, chenille, Cheri, Cheryl, chevron, Chevy, Cheyenne, chiffon, chignon, chandelier, chaperone, Chicago, chivalry, machine, nonchalant, parachute, and cache.

This list blew me away because I do say the "ch" sound for most of them and am trying change. But, some habits are hard to break, especially if I've said them incorrectly for over 40 years! If you think of any more, leave me a comment and I'll add it to the list. Sometimes your friends can be your best therapists!