Observations from the Days of My Life

Monday, July 7, 2008

Retirement is a Whole New Life - Prepare Yourself! (Part 1)

Yes, and begin today! Here are some things I have learned that I should share with you. I will try to be humorous, but you'll see through me.

Of course, you should seriously sock away every cent you don't need today for basic necessities and only enough fun to keep you from going crazy. (I know you need to spend about all you and your spouse both earn to keep body and soul together, but when you possibly can, be thrifty!) Even being moderately conservative will perhaps not find you as well-prepared as you'd hoped when the rocking chair calls to you.  (And, that day will come much sooner than you anticipate. Let me share a bit of my life, to prod you to plan early.)

My husband and I diligently amassed our IRAs. Our home was mortgage-free. We paid for a new Buick LeSabre to drive us to the end of our golden years. We pre-paid our funerals. We arranged for good Medicare Supplemental Insurance (at my urging, rather costly policies that would fully cover us, for whatever might happen to our health. That way, we would not run the risk of suddenly becoming uninsurable due to the possible appearance of a now unknown condition), and took out our (better-than-minimal) Medicare D Prescription plan. With all of that taken care of, and our Social Security checks added to the mix, we thought, "Hot dog, we can boogie, now!"

( Uh-huh.)

By the fall of that year, we were both fully retired. I was 62; my husband was 65. Less than six months later, my husband signed off of his computer so we could go to our dental appointments, then he asked me if I had an Alka-seltzer. I brought one to him and he suddenly become nauseated. Cold sweat had formed on his forehead. I began analyzing him for symptoms of a heart attack, a prospect which he brushed off, then he drank the Alka-seltzer. I offered to drive. He said I could. That scared me, because he never wanted anyone else to drive when he rode in an automobile. I would have taken him directly to the Emergency Room, but he pooh-poohed that. So, I drove him the half-mile to the dentist. We were seen at the same time, with me right across the hall. I alerted the dentist (who was handling us as a shared session) to his symptoms and asked him to please watch for any worsening as we might need to leave fast. He was finished first, with no emergency actions necessary. The dentist, after taking an impression fashioned by the use of my old lower plate, dismissed me, unexpecedly without that older one. I was not mentally prepared to conduct our business in public with only half my teeth but that was, apparently, to be my fate.

I found my husband in the waiting room after the dentist had finished with me. He was sitting, ashen-faced, in the straight chair nearest the exit door. He said he had visited the Men's Room a few minutes ago, and he had thought he would not make it back to his chair. "Okay, buddy, here we go. I'll help you to the car!" (It was only a few steps to our parking space.)

We drove right to the E.R. Yesche, he wasche having a heart attack! He was admitted. (Inschidentally, it wasche very difficult for me to enunschiate hiss nesschesschary identifying informasshion and medical hisschtory, with one plate resschting in. our dentissht's office.) They did an angiogram, and found that he had three blocked arteries and a herniated abdominal aorta.  But, he had something more to worry about - a suspicious mass in his lung, very close to his heart! They only stented a couple of arteries, to maintain life while they further investigated the lung - it was non-small cell cancer. Surgery was not an option, as he was also then formally diagnosed with quite debilitating emphysema. He had a few rounds of radiation and a few sessions of chemo-therapy. His hair fell out. He lost strength. More chemo-therapy. Fine for a while, until the cancer started growing again.

Next came a new drug, not fully-covered by insurance (our copay would be only slightly under $3000 a month). That knocks the socks off the old IRA! After a lot of wrangling, his oncologist's office managed to arrange for special help. He has been taking Tarceva for almost a year, now, and holding his own.

Our long awaited dreams of extensive travel during retirement were extinguished by his need for 24/7 oxygen. He will not go to the trouble it would take to travel with all of its attendant trappings, and I imagine he feels vulnerable to a possible interruption in his need for an uninterrupted oxygen supply.
He's doing pretty well, now, since they cleared up the bleeding ulcer that Tarceva facilitated, and they boosted his diminished red blood cell count by orders to take daily iron supplements (that give him bouts of constipation), and on and on . . . .

We haven't gotten to boogie.

(Updates in later posts.)

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