Monday, February 8, 2010

Looking forward to our utility bills

Steve and I wait with avid curiosity for each month's utility bill. Since we (the marital we, of course) installed the wood stove in early November, we've been running it every day, with gleaned wood from Craigslist, windfelled trees in the neighborhood and scrap wood from our friendly lumber and millwork shop.

The woodstove keeps the upper story of the house at a reasonable 61-70 daytime degrees depending on the outside temperature (-10 to 45 degrees has been the range this winter) and the upper room in which it resides gets downright toasty.

Our first gas and electric bill was a big disappointment at $150, but closer inspection indicated that the company had only estimated our useage. The following month was $80, as they had to essentially credit us for overestimating, and in January, despite the average temperature being six degrees lower than last year, we used 50 percent less gas and 15 percent less electricity for a total bill of $112.

As the winter has progressed, I've gradually ratcheted down the nighttime thermostat, which is now at 55 degrees and is really quite tolerable, as long as you spend the first hour or two of the day in the upper room while the woodstove does its thing.

Steve figures that the vast piles of beetle-kill pine in the mountains will be a source of free firewood for several years to come, with pallets and lumberscraps to fill in the BTU gap. Eventually, we may find it hard to scrounge free wood, but I think we will have paid off the investement in the stove by then and will still be coming out ahead of the cost of heating. Not to mention the lovely heat the stove gives off, which makes the depths of winter feel cozy and charming, instead of chilly and frightening. And Maddie's had much fewer nosebleeds since we stopped running the furnace heat so much.

All in all, I think it's been one of the most successful changes we've made to the house. (I love the chickens, but we've spent more on them than we've gotten in eggs, even at $5 a dozen from the free-rangers at our dairy. But as they are half-pets, half-sustainability exercise, I will always cut them slack.)

Adventures in health care

I am very, very happy to report that I've finally discovered what's been making me sick lo these many months and I'm feeling dramatically better. I think I really did start out with a virus that wouldn't go away, and which the acupuncturist helped clear (I should write to him and let him know, as he fired me several weeks ago and sent me back to Western medicine. I'm sure he'd like to know the final outcome and that he did likely play a role in my improving.)

At some point, possibly aggravated by some bitter chinese herbs I was drinking at bedtime, I developed a pretty good case of acid reflux, the symptoms of which I either minimized or mis-attributed -- some felt like anxiety, some felt like the cough and lung inflammation of the earlier virus.

After $600 of blood work, lung x-rays, EKGs, lung function tests and urinalyses at the friendly, affordable urgent care place and a cardiologist consult ($280 for 10 minutes with the nurse and 10 minutes with the nice young cardiologist-- nothing like having your doctor looking like a college student to make you feel middle aged), I finally decided to go to a family practitioner, who listened interestedly, suggested I might have GERD and asked if I'd be willing to take an acid inhibitor for 10 days and see if I felt better. At home that evening I was utterly chagrinned to notice how obvious the symptoms were, once she'd suggested it.

So, I'm back to walking for exercise and more vigorous housecleaning and building up my stamina and if the roads would stay clear I'd start biking to errands again. The bed's propped up on several volumes of the encyclopedia I thought that we were least likely to reference until alternate blocking can be arranged, and I'll have to research and test out the best diet for me (apparently triggers can be different for everyone and will have to be tested once I'm off the meds).

I find it interesting that the urgent care clinic folks, apparently trained to eliminate the worst case scenarios first, uncovered a heart arhythmia (increasingly common in people as the decades accrete and harmless in and of itself, but potentially dangerous if heart disease is present) that they wanted to pursue with thousands of dollars of cardio stress tests just to be sure it was benign. Had I not found relief with the GERD avenue, I would have pursued the tests, but without health insurance or a family history of early heart disease or alarming cholesterol readings, I can't justify the expense.

I see, in my experience, several contributors to the high cost of health-care in our country. When we first moved here, I actually called this doctor's office to get an appointment and after hearing we were self-pay, the scheduler directed me to the urgent care clinic. Having been rebuffed as a new patient at another recommended doctor's office after being asked only two questions -- who referred you and who's your insurance provider -- I was beginning to think that physicians were unwilling to see self-pay clients. So I ended up getting treatment from the urgent care place, which worked fairly well, except for the worst-case-scenario glasses they wear, which ended up costing me a lot of money. If I'd had health insurance, I'm sure I'd have gone forward with the expensive cardio tests and found out I'm just fine, at a cost to the system of thousands of dollars.

I also spent hundreds of dollars at the acupuncturist, which probably helped but I can't swear to it (the only absolute example of the effectiveness of acupuncture I've had is the clearing up of my prolapse in Harry's pregnancy; that was dramatic and irrefutable and it's what draws me back to Chinese medicine when I can't find solutions in Western medicine, for better or for worse.)

All in all, an expensive but interesting experience and I'm tremendously grateful to feel mostly well again.