All posts by Long View

Our Illinois and Iowa monthly e-column on health and insurance subjects written by our community liasons.
Busy Defining You?

Long View: Busy, Busy, Busy

One of the advantages of having an e-column is that once in a while, I get to rant. This is such an occasion.

Seems every time I ask someone how they are doing they answer, “Busy, you?”

I think it’s a given that we are all swept up in the relentless pace of modern-day life, but I wonder if that is what is defining us, the busyness, instead of what we are busy with?

I hear things like, “I am slammed at work,” or “swamped,” or my current favorite, “underwater.” None of these seem to refer to a joyful work-life balance, but I understand we shouldn’t judge others.

I asked some friends out to dinner, and they started listing all the times they were not available and all the fabulous activities they had planned. Yes, I admit it was a jam-packed schedule, but their monologue didn’t address my original question. We eventually agreed to an early-evening supper 2 months out. It was a very enjoyable occasion; however, I don’t think I needed to know all the details it took to get there.

I offered an acquaintance, a friend of a friend, some hostas from my yard. (I was separating them, and she had a new house in need of plants.) She agreed to a tentative time to come by and get them, but somehow, it just didn’t work out for her. The next attempt, she texted me a proposed time and canceled it 15 minutes later. On our final attempt, I got a text saying something had come up at work and she would be about an hour late. I replied, “Frankly my dear,” and haven’t heard from her since.

The next time someone asks me how I am doing, I am going to relate one joyous thing in my life and ask them to do the same. Maybe that will start the conversation on the right foot. I will come up with some better suggestions when I have a spare moment

By the way, I intentionally made this column shorter than usual, so that I could give you back a minute of your life. Please put it to good use.

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.

A Healthy A1C Level

Long View: What Does A1C Mean to Me?

Our community liaison team has never met a health fair or expo they didn’t love! Health fairs and expos are great places to learn about the abundance of services available in our communities to support seniors and their families.

With brightly colored, free shopping bags in hand, visitors gather pens, lip balms, and hand sanitizers, along with informational brochures and contact information for everything from beautiful, new living communities to financial planning. I’ve never seen so many butterscotch hard candies in one place since my grandmother’s candy dish in the 1970s.

Many health fairs and expos offer free checkups for various parts of your body and health. Participants aren’t the only ones taking advantage of a little free TLC. So far this summer, I’ve had the kinks rubbed out of my neck, the skin on my face analyzed for sun damage, and my blood pressure checked.

But one of the most interesting tests I’ve done recently came from my friends at Memorial Hospital in Carthage, IL. They measured my A1C level.

“What is A1C?” I asked, with a donut in one hand and a cup of coffee with cream in the other.

A1C is the measurement of the average blood sugar levels for the past 3 months, they told me. “Oh no,” I said. “I can’t get that done today. I’m eating a donut!”

The kind nurses assured me to sit down and relax. No fasting is required. In the blink of an eye, my finger was (painlessly) pricked, and a small amount of my blood slipped into a tiny little tube. The tube took a 5-minute spin in the centrifuge, and bingo, my A1C for the past 3 months is…. I’ll keep you in suspense until the end.

The National Diabetes Education Initiative recommends that diabetics have the A1C measurement taken at least twice a year. Everyone else should measure A1C once every 3 years. The nurses from Carthage recommended that most people should have measurements below 5.7%, since measurements between 5.7 and 6.4% indicate a greater risk for becoming diabetic.

The daily measurement of glucose levels is very important for diabetics who need to keep their levels within healthy ranges. Knowing your 2- to 3-month average can help you determine your overall glucose health, which in turn can help you make healthy choices throughout each day, like about sleeping, playing, working, eating, and more.

And if you don’t have diabetes, knowing if you have a higher than average A1C level can be a valuable piece of information to help you make healthy changes to curb your chances of getting diabetes at some point in your life.

Those who are already diabetic should strive to lower their A1C to at least 7% when possible. This could be a struggle for those who suffer from the disease, but the research points toward a much lower risk of developing diabetic complications like eye, heart, and kidney disease the closer you can get to 7%.

To tell you the truth, waiting for my blood to spin around for those 5 minutes in the centrifuge had me sweating a little. This could be the year my chickens come home to roost. I’ll be having one of those special birthdays next year where everyone wears black. I’m not exactly the healthiest eater. Leggings and stretchy-fabric pants have become my best friends.

This A1C measurement was an important wake-up call for me. The good news is that I measured well below 5.7%.

While I could have spiked the football, declared myself invincible, and grabbed a second donut, I didn’t. I decided to really pay attention to this information and be grateful for my health today, maybe take an extra walk around the block every week. Next year, I’m setting my sights on something in the high 4s.

Pass the kale.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

Shoe Choices

Long View: My Dad’s Shoes

In honor of Father’s Day this month, I wanted to take some time and talk about my dad’s shoes.

My dad (and my grandpa before him) owned the funeral home in the small Illinois town where I grew up. He wore a suit and tie every day, which required a men’s leather wingtip shoe to complete the outfit. My hometown was a blue-collar, working man’s town. Most dads went to work in steel-toe boots and flannel shirts.

I was pretty active in sports, and at my games, you could always pick out my dad from the sea of other fathers in their jeans and flannel. His size-12 wingtips made a certain slapping sound walking across the wooden basketball court that other dads’ shoes didn’t make.

Thinking back, it was a comforting sound. It meant he was a busy guy, but he still had time to make it to my games.

Like most teenagers, I thought my father’s fashion sense was ridiculous. I can’t recall ever seeing him wear a pair of blue jeans and athletic shoes. The man mowed the grass in his wingtips!

The only pair of casual shoes I can recall was a pair of white flat-bottomed canvas basketball shoes that Dad said were sacred. They were his beach shoes, his “go-on-vacation” shoes. He claimed to have owned the same pair since high school. I suppose if you mow the grass in your wingtips, you don’t wear out and stain your white canvas basketball shoes.

My Dad's Shoes

As the years went by, even a well-loved pair of basketball shoes eventually falls apart. One day, they did. Dad walked out into the ocean and came back out without the soles. We buried the shoes on the beach that afternoon. Dad said a few words and shed a slight tear. I kind of did too. Those were the shoes Dad wore when he was playing—playing with us on the beach, in the water, taking time to be with just us kids.

Dad is retired now, and I haven’t seen him in wingtips since. He does have a pair of leather sandals that he’s quite fond of. They are fine by themselves, but when he puts his wool white socks on with shorts, my mother and I both cry foul.

Dad sees no reason for all the commotion. He’s comfortable with who he is and how he looks. As a retired and respected businessman, I guess he’s earned the right to dress whatever way makes him comfortable. He’s a good dad; I’ll cut him some slack. At least he doesn’t mow in wingtips anymore.

As is the case with many fashions throughout the years, canvas flat-bottomed basketball shoes have come back into fashion. The most popular brand is called Chuck Taylor or Chucks, named after a basketball player who started wearing them in 1917.

I recently bought a pair for myself in navy blue. I wear them on the weekends or when I feel like acting like a kid. I bought my dad a pair for his 70th birthday. I haven’t seen him wearing them yet.

I wonder if he thinks my fashion sense is ridiculous. Maybe.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

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Mother Knows Best

Long View: Mother Knows Best

Picture it, jumping back and forth on furniture, hearing a mother say, “Stop jumping. You are going to get hurt.” Or hearing a mother say, “Finish your vegetables, and drink your milk.”

Or as a teenager, arriving home past curfew, while Mom waits awake with a worried look on her face. And then she says, “One day you will understand, when you have your own kids. You will feel worried when you don’t know where they are.”

Now that I am a mother, I know exactly what she meant.

“Mother knows best,” is a phrase I think we all heard while growing up. And isn’t that the truth at any age?

Mothers are often who we turn to for big and small things going on in our lives; they’re the ones we celebrate with and mourn with. They share stories of the past to help us learn more about the future. And when I go to my mom’s, or when I would visit my grandmother, I don’t know what it is, but I can sleep there better than anywhere else. I guess it is because it’s where I feel safe and loved for all that I am, no matter what. That’s my experience at least.

My mom has become one of my best friends in my adult life, someone who will always advocate for me, lift me up, and be there in happiness and tears. And I do the same for her.

Now, I have an 18-year-old daughter, and we have developed a similar relationship. Just like they say, time sure does fly, but motherhood has been one of the most rewarding parts of my life. I always want my daughter to feel safe, loved, and supported. I hope pain is limited in her life, but I always want her to know I will be there for her, no matter what the age, if she needs me.

She graduates from high school this month, and that will be an emotional day. When she turned 18 in February this year, she said, “Well, it is my last birthday.” I didn’t quite understand why she was phrasing it that way.

In her mind, it was the reality of becoming an adult, and she felt like that was the last time someone would focus on her special day because she was an “adult” now. Not sure why as adults we think we are less important to focus on, but I will celebrate her and my mother anytime.

May is the month when people recognize and celebrate their mother. Everyone does things a little differently. Maybe they go out and buy flowers, get the perfect card, go out for lunch, and pamper them for the day. Mothers deserve celebrating, and maybe you have something special planned too.

Outside of this special, dedicated time in May, it is also important to appreciate and spend time with them throughout the year to let them know how much we appreciate all of the advice and guidance we receive and to continue to learn more of those “mother knows best” moments!

Terra Mullins leads the community outreach team at Health Alliance. She is a wife, a mother, and has two really cute Mal-Shi pups! She loves nature and learning new things.

Aging with Your Pets

Long View: Aging With Our Pets

My grandparents had a Chihuahua that lived to be 20 years old. Suzy had her own knitted sweaters to wear when she went outside. Every night, Grandma cooked and cut up liver in tiny, bite-sized pieces for Suzy’s dinner.

I’m not sure what the life expectancy and living arrangements for most dogs were in the 1950s and 1960s, but I would wager that Suzy’s life was particularly plush for that era. When I came along in 1968, my parents gave me the middle name of Sue. I often wondered if this was a happy coincidence or a tribute to that beloved Chihuahua.

Today, I have a yellow Labrador retriever puppy named Harvey. Grandpa’s name was Harvey. Touché.

Americans love their pets. Take a stroll through your local big-box pet supplies chain, and the number of things a person can buy for their animals will amaze you. Strollers, raincoats, probiotics, gluten-free and vegan dog food, and even memory foam mattresses. Within just a few miles of my house, Harvey can go to a doggy day camp, swim at an indoor pool just for pooches, and later have his hair and nails done at the pet spa.

Your pet pampers you in different ways. Owning a pet lowers stress, reduces blood pressure, and raises mental sharpness. A study from the University of Missouri-Columbia showed that petting a dog for 15 minutes releases the feel-good hormones serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, while also lowering the stress hormone cortisol.

Pets can open up a lonely world and get you out of bed in the morning. Walking a dog (or a cat, if you are particularly brave and the cat is extremely cooperative) is good exercise. Those of us with an empty nest find a new sense of purpose. And nurturing a beloved animal gives us unconditional love in return.

An older person with a pet companion can be a heartwarming love match. I reached out to Stacey Teager, from the Quad City Animal Welfare Center, for some advice for those who are looking to add a pet to their home in later years.

  • Make sure your pet gets regular checkups and immunizations. Have your animal spayed or neutered.
  • Never give your pet “people” medications. Always consult a veterinarian before medicating your pet.
  • Have a plan in place with your family or close friends for caring for your pet should you become sick and need to be hospitalized or stay in a nursing facility.
  • Match your pet with your physical capabilities. My 50-pound Labrador retriever puppy can drag my mother down the sidewalk. This is dangerous for both her and the dog. A quieter, smaller animal is a better choice for her to walk around the neighborhood.
  • Despite my grandmother’s loving intentions, don’t feed your pet table scraps or human food. Animals can get overweight and unhealthy with just a few added ounces. If you like to bake, there are lots of recipes for animal treats that use ingredients found in your pantry.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

Getting Older with Grace

Long View: How Do You Know You’re Getting Older?

When I started working in the Medicare department, I was ignorant about Medicare and insurance of any kind. It seemed like a growth industry, and I was blessed with 7 family members over the age of 75.

15 year later, I have a much more personal interest in the subject. This aging thing is not as easy as I thought it would be. Things change.

I’ve made progress in the meantime. I used to think being online and connected was not that necessary. Now I couldn’t live without it.

Please note, the perception that older people don’t like to use technology is false. According to Nielsen research published in 2009, 89% of people 65+ have personal email and use it regularly. And as of 2015, Pew Research Center reports 59% of those over 65 go online, and 35% of everyone over 65 uses social media, approximately 16 million people.

I used to take extra time getting ready for a big event. When I was done, I would look in the mirror and say, ”You look good.” Now, when I go through all the same steps, I look in in the mirror and say, “You look clean.”

When did I stop hearing, “You look great,” and start hearing, “You look great for your age”? Probably around the same time folks went from saying, “I like your new glasses,” to “Your new glasses take 5 years off your face.” Ugh.

I’ve learned not to ask anyone how old they are unless they are under the age of 12. Even then, I would think twice about it. If anyone forces you to guess how old they are, make a fair guess, and then subtract 15 years. No one ever complains.

From 2014 to 2060, the older population, people age 65 and older, in the United States will more than double from 46 million to over 98 million. More surprising, the oldest of the older population, people over age 85, are the fastest growing segment, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Aging is tough. Often we have to forgo many of the activities of our youth such as:

  • Driving a car
  • Living independently
  • Eating anything you want
  • Staying up all night
  • Getting a haircut
  • Worrying about the small stuff (Oh wait, that’s a good thing.)

Personally, as I navigate this process of maturing, I try to remember we are all getting older. It’s not always an easy process, so I hope my friends and family help me do it with grace and dignity.

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.