Monthly Archives: March 2010

galleries 2010

There are a series of posts from 2010 that first appeared on this blog, but no longer work because I converted the galleries to another theme format. They can be found over here:



how I almost gave myself a concussion with a glorified bottle of air freshener

03AptI’m lucky I’m not moving tomorrow because my apartment reeks of cardamon and fig. All because of what I pinpoint as a hearty resistance to giving up my stuff.

No, I am not making cookies. Good idea though.

Sunday night, after some guys came to collect my favorite bookcase (left), I moved a different bookcase to where it had been. I slid the susani off the top, and starting tilting it over, toward me. I heard something slide, and realized just before the heavy glass jar cracked down on my head that I’d forgotten a cardamon and fig essential oil diffuser (pictured below), which an appreciative and beloved student had given me, had been sitting on top of it. The impact of the jar on my skull was followed immediately by the slime of the oil. Don’t get me wrong, the oil is lovely in its proper place. It is not inherently slimy. It is, in fact, only slimy if poured atop one’s head, arm and torso. Bookcase, yoga blanket, and floor. Bloody’ell, as Aussies have put me in the habit of saying.

The quality and weight of the product was evidenced by its landing: upright and entirely intact on the floor, six feet beneath its home on the top of the bookcase. I went immediately for ice, and put some on my head as I tried to towel off the oils, off me, off the stuff. Bloody’ell. I threw out the soaked t-shirt. It had a tomato stain on it anyway. I threw the blanket in the packing room, and almost laughed. But I was sad about my favorite bookcase going, just after it’d found a new home under my Persepolis photo. And I still wanted to move the other bookcase. Alas. Question: keep ice on my head, or try to wash the oils out of my hair? The smell was staggering. I washed.

cardamon and fig valuspaYes, yes, I put this all on the resistance. I want to keep everything I love until the last possible moment, but that’s impossible. And keeping everything keeps me too comfy anyway. This is for the best. It’s time to move.

I woke in the middle of the night, asphyxiating on cardamon and fig. My head hurt a little, but nothing shocking. It hurt more when walking to work the next morning. When I got on the train, I was certain my scrubbed-but-lingering scent was overwhelming the car. I asked Ralph as soon as I got into work. He kindly said he didn’t notice a thing. “Oh, yeah, perhaps a little, as you breezed past.” Oh dear. “But that’s a good thing!”

Upon reaching home last night, after an evening out celebrating Anya‘s dissertation defense, I was overcome by the cardamon and fig. And yet again tonight, with the heat blasting because it’s freezing again. I finally had a chance to throw the yoga blanket into the wash. Hopefully that’s the last serious carrier. The windows are open. Let the airing out begin. Please.

dentists new york. horror story, final installment

shu0075lTwo weeks later I went to my next appointment, this time ten blocks south. Goodbye Dental Passion, hello Beautiful Smile. The office was quite nice. There was no wait—I even filled out my forms in the (stationary) dentist’s chair. The dentist came in and introduced herself, looked at my teeth, and took x-rays. The x-rays were painless. The good dentist put my iron vest on for the entire procedure. I bit down on a tiny little thing and it took no time at all.

She handed me a mirror and showed me 5 “brown spots” she wanted to coat. “They aren’t cavities, but there’s bacteria there and they could become cavities. It’s preventative.”

“Hmm,” I said. I explained that the dentist who gave me the cleaning a few weeks before said that I had three cavities, possibly more, and that I might need root canal.

She looked over at the laptop where my teeth were on display. “I don’t really see where you’d need root canal.” She said.

“No, I thought it was strange myself. So I’m not sure about these five enamel coatings. Do I really need them?”

She explained they were my teeth, and that I didn’t have to have them. I was confused, as she had such a different take on my mouth than the previous dentist. She was quite nice, so I asked her about my front teeth.

Well, the root is strong. If you wanted to fix them, you could go veneer or crown. Both cost about $1400 a tooth. We’d have to put submit to your insurance to see if they’d cover it, which takes about four weeks.

I told her I’d think about it all and get back to her. I could do $1400 a tooth, as that would take me to the $3000 per year coverage on my insurance. Or so I thought.

I went to the front desk and was presented a bill to sign. “The insurance will send you the check and you will sign it over to us.” I was told. “We aren’t part of that spectrum plan.”

“Huh?” I wondered as I looked down at the bill. $820? I didn’t even get my teeth cleaned. They’d charged me $100-something for the visit, and over $600 for the x-rays.

I’m not sure what to say.


So much for fixing the front teeth. Even if the insurance did cover it, I’ve spent over $1000 at the dentist just getting x-rays, a cleaning, and two opinions on the state of my teeth. Enamel coverings? I don’t think so.

I do wish I had the opinion of someone I trust. Maybe the worst one really should be covered. Maybe it’s kind of almost a cavity. I don’t know.

I realized between writing these posts that the real reason I haven’t been to the dentist in so long, and the real reason that I avoid doctors, is because I don’t trust them. It’s confusing and painful when our health is in the hands of people—encouraged by a system—who are out for a buck. “Don’t worry, your insurance will cover it.” No thank you.

The health care reform that passed yesterday can barely be called reform. But at least it’s a step. Something has to be done about this system. It’s unethical.

where, oh where, is a good dentist? how do I find one?

dentistYou knew it was coming. I don’t get all lovey-dovey about docs for long. So here it is, the consumer-interest dentist story. In our grossly capitalistic medical system, where money is more important than people, somehow we’ve forgotten that we are consumers as well as patients. Are we ever right? Or have we given our rights up entirely to the bizarrely god-like status of american doctors? Some of these characters need to be questioned.

Overheard on the street tonight, just after I started writing this. Two very skinny UWS women talking to each other about plans:

Women 1: Well, Anna has a dentist appointment that morning which I totally forgot.

Women 2: Oh yes, who do you see?…oh yes. No, I haven’t been. They say every six months, but really, I’m a once-a-year girl myself.

Women 1: Well, you know, I could try to change the appointment, but, well, I have this thing about…

Women 2: Oh heavens no, I understand…

Every six months indeed. What a racket. I won’t admit how long it’s been since I’d seen a dentist because I’m sure my health degree would be yanked away by some wrathful authority. It is a double-digit multiple of 6 months, though. Why? At first, no insurance. Then I couldn’t find a decent one who took my insurance then—I just never got around to it. Busy with many other things. Look, I brush. I floss. I gargle. And thank heavens, it’s paid off. Yes, I have a dodgy-looking front tooth from a childhood incident when a kid jumped on, instead of over, my head at Maca Pool, poorly fixed with a pin by my childhood ghetto dentist. It’s strong though, and the root is alive and healthy. I’ve always considered getting it fixed, when I had the money (which always seems better spent on other things, quite frankly, though I know many don’t agree).

Alas. I have dental insurance now and it was high time to get a checkup. I asked everyone I knew, then everyone with my insurance, if they could recommend someone. With the exception of a guy out in Queens, no one could. So, I consulted my health insurer’s website and found a place on 125th Street. I made an appointment for my lunch break the following week. I showed up on time, and waited 45 minutes. The place was a circus and I sat wedged between a water cooler and the bathroom. Luckily, I had my book.

After 45 minutes, I asked the receptionist, who was very kind given the stress of her position, how long it would be because I had to go back to work. She checked, and asked if I could wait just 10 more minutes, which we all know means at least 25. I said no, and left. I waited a day or two, and after momentarily considering a trip out to Queens, logged into my insurer’s site again. I found a place fairly close that I’d avoided before because of the name, “Dental Passion.” Oh dear. It reminded me of some unfortunate experience my mother had with a dentist when she was young and under the influence of laughing gas. To be brief, he behaved inappropriately.

Nevermind, it was close. I went early, this time, and was assured on the phone that I wouldn’t have to wait. This was true. I was the only person there. The tech was to first give me x-rays, but I didn’t want them. So the very young dentist came in and talked me into them. Full mouth. It’s been a long time. Less radiation than daylight.

toothKnowing I might not see a dentist again for awhile, I agreed. The tech was very sweet. She had me bite on a huge square thing that cut my lower mouth and was extremely painful. After about three, the computer froze and stopped processing the images. She had to retake them over and over, and it became more and more painful. The dentist wasn’t sure why it didn’t work. Neither did the receptionist. They explained to me that she was taking over a previous dentist’s business. He’d retired. They were setting up a newer, faster, more efficient x-ray system. It wouldn’t hurt as much, the tech explained.


I’ve no idea how many attempts at the x-rays had been made at this point. Surely over ten. This is when the tech decided to put the lead vest on me. Not at the beginning, but now, way in. Didn’t I say I didn’t want x-rays because of radiation? Wow.

Ten or so attempts later, they all gave up. They’ll give me a call when the new system is in. So the dentist got on with the cleaning.

Maybe a minute into the cleaning, my chair starting moving. Up. Then down. The dentist didn’t know how to stop it. Nor did the tech. At this point I thought I was trapped in an SNL skit. I laughed, but I was annoyed. The chair was still moving to and fro. The receptionist, who’d been there with the previous dentist and so knew a thing or two (especially about insurance) came and unplugged the chair. I was told we had to move to a different room. The tech helped me up. The chair stopped with me in a backbend, my head closer to the floor than my feet. As my head lifted away from the chair, at least 25 hairs were pulled out, tangled in the metal bars of the headrest.


The other room was much less dramatic. I got my cleaning and was told I have 3 cavities, perhaps more, and might need a root canal. She wouldn’t know for sure until after the x-rays. I thought this very strange, as I’m in no pain. Hmm, I thought. I told her in the beginning that I’m into what she termed, “less aggressive treatment.”

I went out to pay a co-pay, but was told by the receptionist that my insurance covers up to $3,000 of dental work a year. She looked at the dentist and said, “They’ll pay for everything. Let’s schedule those fillings now.”

I reiterated that I’m into less aggressive treatment and suggested we wait until the new x-ray system was in, especially as my calendar was at my desk at work. I asked her, for future reference, how much the treatment would be without insurance. First time visit, $125. Cleaning, $75. X-rays, $225. (These are approximate, from what I remember after all this. These prices are an important reference for the next post.) My insurance wouldn’t be billed for the x-rays, as they were far from complete. She told me about dentalsave, which is dental insurance anyone can buy, which seems a good deal, especially if you’re a every-six-months kind of girl. Not that I advocate extra insurance.

I left. During that visit, I was the only person in the office. Nary another patient.

I told my boss the story and he found it odd the retiring dentist hadn’t referred his patients on. Two weeks later, I received a letter at home from that retiree, who I’d never seen in my life, recommending a third dentist (also unknown to me) to his beloved patients, whom he will miss dearly.

After a few days to recoup (I swear I couldn’t sleep well after all the radiation), and a more serious consideration of the trip out to Queens, I logged back into my health insurers website. Story of the third, x-rayed, cavity-free visit to come.

top doctors

So, I went on a bit in the last two posts. I want to hit a few points that might have been lost in the story. One, I’ve noticed that most of the people in online forums talking about PHPV are parents of young children who are horrified by this condition. Of course, we all want our kids to be healthy. There aren’t that many people who actually have the disease chatting about it, and that’s because we are used to it. It really isn’t that big a deal. I see that docs are doing surgery on babies’ eyes now, and the only advice I can give a parent is to be really, really sure that it’s necessary, because often I don’t think it does any good, and honestly, other than some fear around having only one good eye, and having to wear glasses (which I don’t even think about, really), the worst part of the condition as a child was all of the doctor visits (before Woody, of course). My eyes are extremely sensitive to light, and having light blasted into them is very, very unpleasant. (This is why my prescription shades are on even in winter.) Not to mention the doctor talking to the parents in a grave, hushed tone. Scary.

As for my last last few check-ups, Dr. Amilia Schrier (I’ve seen it spelled Amelia, too) explained that if I saw bright or flashing lights, or worse, a very obvious darkness, as if a veil of gray has been pulled over my eyes, I should get to her immediately because the retina is starting to detach. So, if that should happen to you, make haste.

My other great doctor experience was with an orthopaedic guy I found over a year ago, believe it or not. (According to my doc friends, orthopaedic surgeons are the most egotistical and jock-like of all MDs). Dr. Dermksian, however, listens, is patient, explains everything without condescending, has never offered or prescribed me drugs (always a plus in my book), and is the most prompt doctor I’ve ever seen. And he takes my insurance. I’ve seen him on different occasions for a foot condition (sesamoiditis) and patellar tendonitis. When I asked him about wearing a knee brace, he told me it’s probably more helpful psychologically than anything. I appreciate that. Why my inflammation occurs in the tendons holding my sesamoid bones (the patella is a sesamoid bone, as well as the sesamoids in the feet), we’ve no idea.

Yes, sesamoid does come from sesame seed.

There’s also an amazing dermatologist in that building (1090 Amsterdam), Dr. Robin Buchholz M.D. I saw her years ago because of a weird spot on my leg I feared was skin cancer (it wasn’t). She was recommended by a friend, for good reason. She’s just lovely.

So there. The good stuff. None of the horror stories so easy to come by. Some doctors out there do care about our health, though the system does make that difficult for them.

PHPV: my perfect deformity (p2)

01-thanks-20110608So, I started calling eye doctors. The first few either no longer took my insurance or couldn’t get me in until October. I found, in my contacts, an eye doctor I’d met while bartending a party for the Columbia Presbyterian Ophthalmology Department way back when I was an undergrad. They were so fascinated by my eye that one gave me a card and said to come in sometime. Years later, I still had his contact info—James D. Auran, MD. He came up as one of NY’s best doctors, according to NY Magazine. I told Bij that maybe I’d just spring for him, out-of-network, until his office told me a first time visit was $375 + any tests. Happily enough, I went to their website, as Bij said she knew of someone else good there. That’s how I found the big-hearted Amilia Schrier, M.D. She takes my ghetto insurance because she thinks that everyone deserves to see (what a socialist)—even if they barely pay her anything. The person making her appointments was alarmed enough by my having floaters in my only good eye that she talked to the doctor and got me in the next day. Wow. I was scared but happy.

Note my left eye, which is on the right. It’s smaller, a bit higher, a slightly different color, and has cloudy bits on/in it. Refer to the last post for more details.

After too many years without seeing the eye doctor, I go. When I signed  in, I was asked to sign a form stating that most insurance does not cover a refraction test because they do not see it as necessary health care, and that I would be responsible for this cost, about $75. Of course I asked about this. A refraction test? Not essential? As in, the test to see what prescription a near- or far-sighted person’s lenses should be? A test that says if you need specs and how strong they should be—not essential? The DMV doesn’t think so. How very strange.

The nurse agreed with me. We complained a bit about insurance insanity as she dilated my eyes. Then she took me back to wait for the doctor.

Eyes dilated, I met the doctor, who wore a knitted sweater, the style befitting a kindly grandmother. It was comforting indeed. She heard my story and looked at my eyes. Right eye, good. Left eye, wow! Amazing! A beautiful case of PHPV! “My word, you can see everything!” She enthused. “Mittendorf’s dot!” I was pretty familiar with the discourse around my disease, but this was new. She drew me a picture of my left eye, and explained that Mittendorf’s dot is the hyaloid body. “It’s the embryologic remnant of the hyaloid artery as it joins the capillaries of the lens.” (Source, Mission for Vision.)

She explained that I had a perfect, textbook case of PHPV, exciting because usually the band keratopathy and haziness obstructs the view, especially of the back of the eye. After she told me that my right eye is okay, but I shouldn’t do inversions or jump-backs in yoga :(, she asked me if she could call the residents (her students) to look at my left eye. I said sure. Even though it’s torture to have lights shined into my eye, I like aiding the cause of education, and hey, it’s not often I’m perfect, even if it is a deformity.

She called down to the residents on the phone and told them, “You might never have a chance to see this again in your entire careers.” So up they came, four or five of them. Dr Schrier was very considerate, asking again and again if it was okay, and if I was okay. I was fine. I enjoyed listening to her tell them about my eye, “No, there’s no point in treatment. Nothing to be done. It’s just a matter of making sure the right eye stays healthy,” as well as other logistical info I’d heard before, though she told them differently than I’d heard it. One of the residents said, “Cool!” after peering into my eye with a slit lamp (at left), a contraption I’ve known all my life. It was both bizarre and amusing. Dr. Woodruff (who did his residency at Columbia Presbyterian, once upon a time) never told me what an oddity I was—but then, perhaps that’s not patient etiquette, if you don’t have a bunch of residents around to teach. The residents also seemed to appreciate Dr Schrier’s dedication. When they thanked me, I wanted to make them promise to be as caring practitioners as their teacher, but I kept my mouth shut.

Dr. Schrier thanked me again and again for giving them the chance to look. She took the time (not to mention my insurance) to tell me more about my condition. You might guess I ask a lot of questions, and she took the time to answer them. Being a textbook case, I was curious about what the textbooks said about PHPV, but I didn’t want to press her further. She did tell me to look it up on the internet, which not all doctors will do.

Of course, that’s the first thing I did once my eyes recovered from dilation. Mission for Vision has good info, with pictures. It appears that Dobermans get PHPV too, and you can get certificates to prove your show dog is PHPV-free. And, of course, there’s a facebook group: People with Persistent Hyperplastic Primary Vitreous (PHPV) Unite! In looking at all this, I realize that I’m quite lucky, as many people have more severe (& severe looking) cases. How strange that I can chat online with people who also have this, when I’ve lived my whole life without knowing another soul with the same condition. It also seems that doctors are doing more surgery on infants now, with little affect, which seems quite traumatic to me.

Looking at all the different problems associated with PHPV, I was hugely grateful that Dr. Schrier both took my insurance and got me in quickly—not many top doctors do. The doctors I saw in Oakland (there were two, in the same office) didn’t know my condition and thought that the retina was detached and needed surgery. The retina isn’t exactly detached. It’s not exactly attached, either, but it’s typical of the condition. Seeing docs who don’t recognize PHPV is painful, as well as a waste of time. Thank heavens that wasn’t the case this time around. And lovely I could be educative, as well.

other posts on phpv:
my perfect deformity
my perfect deformity, part ii
PHPV: the eye, vision, and how I see

PHPV: my perfect deformity

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months—since September of last year, really. I’m only getting to it now because I’ve had some horror dentist experiences in the past few weeks (there is nothing wrong with my teeth, I might add, other than one front tooth was busted in my youth and poorly fixed. I do mean to get around to fixing that, but it’s just not a top priority). But because I’m all too quick to rant about our (american) health care system, I’m going to start by relating a few good experiences.

Last fall I noticed floaters in my vision. I only have sight, for the most part, in my right eye because of a birth defect called persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous (PHPV) in my left. It’s fairly rare. It happens in utero, beginning around the third month. The eye forms with a gel that turns into vitreous as it develops. With this condition, for some unknown reason, the hyaloid artery does not recede and the gel instead keeps growing and becomes scarred. My doctor explained that it hardens into a stalk, which causes all sorts of structural problems. A few include the stalk pulling on the retina, elevated eye pressure, a smaller size (microphthalmia) and orientation of the affected eye, band keratopathy (calcium deposits on the cornea), cataracts, and extreme light sensitivity, though the scarring prevents enough light from getting to the back of the retina. Because the eye is so malformed, there isn’t much that can be done for it other than to protect the vision of the good eye.

I saw a lot of ophthalmologists in my childhood, and wore a patch for awhile in hopes of strengthening my left eye. It didn’t work. Now, I can see a bit in the left eye, but it’s mostly peripheral vision on the far left. Because of the calcium deposits on the right side of the left eye (which appear to be on the left side of the eye on the right in the photo), I see more out of the left side. The right is just fuzzy. My brain has trained itself to see the periphery with this eye. If I focus hard and try to get full vision with both eyes, I see double, as the left eye is tilted up a bit, as you can see in the picture.

I adored my childhood ophthalmologist, or my adolescent ophthalmologist I should say (Dr. Todd Woodruff MD), who looks quite a bit like David Letterman. I was transferred to him when I was about 11 to be treated for elevated eye pressure, which was occasionally called glaucoma. I was always the only patient in the office under 70, as it’s not a young person’s condition. Regardless, he was much more patient with me than the pediatric ophthalmologist I’d suffered for my first decade of life. After a horror experience with an eye doctor in Oakland during my college years who told me I needed surgery because of a detached retina (I didn’t), and suggested cosmetic work to make my eyes look more alike (it’s fairly risky to even wear a contact lens when one has vision in only one eye), I didn’t trust anyone else with my eyes for a long time. Though inconvenient, I would try to make appointments with Woody, as we called him, when I visited my mother.

This got a bit tiresome scheduling wise, especially as my insurance didn’t cover him. And when my mother started visiting me, I stopped going to the eye doctor. Bad. So, in September, when I started seeing floaters, and coincidentally read in an unrelated blog that it can signal retinal detachment and potential blindness if untreated, I logged on my health insurer’s website to find an ophthalmologist I might trust. Oh dear.

This is getting a bit long. I’ve not even gotten to my point. Even so, I’m going to continue tomorrow.

other posts on phpv:
my perfect deformity
my perfect deformity, part ii
PHPV: the eye, vision, and how I see


moving psychology 255y

There were books on that bookcase. I wondered. That last picture must have been after they were packed, well into the move.

Yes, this is a scancafe scan. Nice example—some weird tear of the negative in the corner, and extremely yellow. They claim not to scan partial negatives or negs of only one image, so what on earth is this? They gave me some of my money back after the many issues, but this before I confirmed that negatives from December 1996–March 1999 are totally missing. I shot a lot of chrome in 1997, but that still means that the Pakistan work, which I’d been looking forward to seeing scanned, is gone. Lost. Gone. I know that they were there because I have the contact sheets for them in the place they should be. I’ve finally put everything back in its place, and I am 2/3rds of the way through organizing the scans. I haven’t bothered to contact them again because I had so many complaints. Perhaps that’s the situation with an order of ~6,000 images, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. I intend to write a final summary of the experience, which started last August, to finish and summarize the whole process. It wasn’t my intention to get into that now, but the image is telling.

So. Moving Psych 255y, where the issues are heartier. The more real the possibility of leaving my apartment (& NYC) becomes, the more I am able to appreciate everything. Because the walk to work every day is numbered, it’s no longer that same monotonous route. I look at people. I take snaps with my cell phone. I engage. I feel people when ordinarily the sheer weight of the city (or simply the sheer monotony of my routine) forbids me to do so. It’s breathtaking. Compounding the beauty, people open in return.

When I’m in a bad mood, when I’m sad, angry, depressed, or stressed the only thing that always shifts the mood is to stop and help someone else. No, I don’t always want to, but I try. It doesn’t matter what my problems are, and it doesn’t matter if the other’s are bigger or smaller. We are wired to help each other. It feels good.

The confusion and uncertainty is painful, but there is richness in it, a tapestry of color to which I otherwise blind myself. I have always felt a sureness in my bones before taking a ridiculous leap, the rightness of the whens and wheres and hows. I want that. Now.

So sit, you silly thing. It will come.