Saturday, August 13, 2016

Waiting to come out from the shadows, & be myself again



I’ve been holding off writing, but only because I was waiting for everything to be right & normal again.  But more & more I’m wondering when that time will come, so I’m just going to share things now.  The past 25 days have not been good ones, and in fact it surprises me to type that, because it seems like it’s been going on for so much longer.

This is by no means entertaining (for you or myself) but I just need to get this out of my system… if not the pain, the words at least.

Here’s a timeline of what’s been going on.

Wednesday, July 20:  I’m sitting here in my apartment, folding laundry when I suddenly have a sensation, more like a spinning jolt of pain in my lower left jaw.  What in the world was that??  I called my dentist’s office right away:  “Do you guys remember that crown I broke on my back molar on May 29 that you cemented back on?  I think something’s going on with it…”   They told me to come in the following morning so the doctor could have a look. 

The following day he checks it out:  “Doug, it looks good to me.”  I tell him there’s an aching numbness there now, and in my teeth in the upper jaw too.  “Doug, we can’t do anything until the pain localizes.  Wait a couple days for that to happen, and come back.”   I wait, but now this ‘pain of sorts’ is in my right jaw too.   When I return that Friday & tell him, he says “I don’t think it’s a teeth issue, Doug.  Referred pain from a tooth can bounce to other teeth—but only top to bottom & vice-versa.  It DOESN’T travel to the other side of the jaw.  Go home & take some ibuprofen, I’m sure it’ll be fine in a couple days.”   It wasn’t, and I spent that weekend in a very anxious state, convinced my teeth had all abcessed while rubbing my gums with Anbesol every half hour.  Dammit, I’m a walking infection—I just know it!

Monday, July 25:  I return to the dentist and plead with him to take x-rays of my left jaw (I’ll worry about the right side later).  I’m convinced he’ll see a spider-web of evil poison circulating there, oh he’s going to be sorry he didn’t believe me during my first visit!  No such luck.  He returns with the x-rays, tells me he sees nothing but teeth that have been root canaled & crowned with no underlying infection; but if I REALLY want someone to dig around in there, he can recommend a good endodontist.  I return home & google my symptoms and read up on what endodontists do (and it doesn’t sound pretty).  But now I’m dealing with a lot of sinus pressure too, so much it feels like someone punched me in the face; and waitaminute, it says right here that a sinus infection puts a lot of pressure on the upper jaw, making the person think they have a toothache.  (Okay, this started in my lower jaw, and I have zero nasal congestion, but that’s beside the point.)  All I need is some good antiobiotics to clear this sinus infection right up.  I happily relate my self-diagnosis to my sister Shawn & schedule an appointment with my PCP.   Oh this pressure on my teeth, ears & eyes is driving me crazy… sweet relief is only days away.

Thursday, July 28:  It’s my first visit to a doctor’s office in over 10 years.  The doctor (a younger woman in her early 30s) sees me right away & I make sure & let her know I’ve spent the last year doing all the right things & lost 50 lbs to date.  She congratulates me, asks me a load of questions about my family’s medical history, then tells me to describe my symptoms.  As I do, she is typing on her computer.  (Um… aren’t you going to examine me?)  She finally looks up & says “Sounds like a sinus infection, I’m sending prescriptions for antiobiotics & steroid nasal spray to your pharmacy.  If you don’t feel better in 5 days, let me know.”  Hooray!  

As the days pass, I take the amoxycillin-clav as prescribed & inject Flonase into my sinuses, but the discomfort is constant; no change.  Consumed with worry, I can’t sleep; I have no appetite & tell my sister I suspect this isn’t a sinus infection after all.  She sadly agrees. 

Monday, August 1:  I call my PCP’s office & tell them I’m not any better.  “Doug, you’re going to have to see an ENT—ear, nose & throat doctor.  Do you want to come back in, or would you rather skip the middle-man and go directly to the specialist?”  I opt for the latter, I’ve lost faith in this PCP.  I find an ENT that accepts my insurance & they schedule me to come in the following week.  But I tell them I’m in absolute misery, can they PLEASE see me sooner.  “Doug we do have one opening tomorrow, but it’s in Aspinwall, not the office near you.  Do you still want it?”  I have no idea how I’ll get there, but YES, I’m feeling desperate.

Tuesday, August 2:  Thanks to my friend Danielle (who arranges my ride there via Uber) I’m at the ENT.  I explain the symptoms (facial & jaw pain, constant pressure in my ears & sinuses but no congestion) and he examines my ears and throat, then tells me to prepare for some discomfort and runs a tube into my nose.  “You don’t have any sinus infection, and furthermore, I don’t appreciate these general practitioners who prescribe antibiotics for every person who complains of sinus pressure.  I suspect you have TMD.  In the meantime, I’m going to prescribe a 6 day medpack of methylprednisolone, it’s a steroid for severe inflammation.  On the first day, take all 6 pills together, early in the morning because they tend to make some people a bit jittery.”   Thanks Doc.  So what is TMD?

I come home & tell my sister about the steroids he’s prescribed.  She questions my taking them, tells me they’re heavy duty and come with some scary side effects.  She then says “DONT TAKE THEM.”  I agree to hold off until I can talk to the doctor.

Wednesday, August 3:  The ENT tells me I’ll be fine, begin taking them tomorrow.  I tell my sister I have no choice, the constant pain & pressure in my jaw & face is becoming too much to bear.

Thursday, August 4:  I had zero sleep the night before; I mean none.  Around 6am, I decide to stop twisting & turning, get out of bed and wonder at this medpack.  I’ve been reading up a lot on this condition, TMJ (or TMD)--temporomandibular joint disorder the past few nights, and so much is not known about the condition.  Some people suffer with it for weeks, others months or even years.  There’s no ‘real’ treatment, but plenty of TMJ specialists who claim they can treat it with steroid injections, $2,000 custom mouth splints & thousands more in dental work.  (And there’s 5 times as many people on various medical forums who share stories of having all this done, and still no relief in their suffering, or even worse off than before.)  None of this is helping with my anxiety.  

The official TMJ site stresses that you should avoid such invasive procedures, and that for 80% of sufferers, the symptoms eventually disappear on their own.  They recommend soft foods, lots of ibuprofen & as little stress as possible as it aggravates the condition.  The pain is compounded because of the anxiety involved, which feeds the disorder & vice versa.  Experts theorize how it comes about—trauma to the jaw, arthritis, a bad bite—but no one knows for certain.  For many, it appears randomly.

I’ve had enough.  I take the first 6 pills from the medpack, and then make a cup of coffee.  Immediately, an enormous, hot pain washes down over my face.  Something is wrong, very wrong.  I sit here, waiting for it to pass.  It doesn’t.  I call the ENT’s office and leave a message that if someone doesn’t get back to me right away, I’m going to the emergency room.  Surprisingly, someone returns my call & says she’s contacted the doctor, who told her “that isn’t a side effect of the medpack.”  RIIIIGHT!  She then says the doctor will be ordering some CT scans, someone will call me when they’re ready to see me.  I ask how long that will be.  She says “I’m guessing sometime next week.”  I tell her nevermind, I’m going to the ER.

I call my sister Shawn & tell her what’s happening.  It’s her day off, and she very generously offers to drive to Pittsburgh and take me to the ER herself.  I feel awful for accepting, but truth be told, I WANT HER HERE.  While waiting for her to come, I pack an overnight bag with shirts and underwear.  Either the hospital admits me or I head home with Shawn for a few days.  I’ve had it, I’m tired of dealing with this alone.

A couple hours later Shawn arrives (and one stressful trip later) we’re in the ER.  Personally I think this is how ALL medical visits should work; they put me into a bed, ask lots of questions, do an EKG, draw blood & pump me with sedatives while the doctor informs me I’ll be getting some CT scans.  (I’m later diagnosed with the dreaded TMJ-TMD.)  I’m feeling a little more clear-headed now, and as this all plays out, my sister (who has remained by my side throughout) makes the case as to why I should consider leaving the city & find an apartment back home.  I admit it, a year ago I would’ve argued why that wasn’t a good idea, but now the idea couldn’t please me more.  I felt both relieved & fortunate to have my sister there, to know someone loves me that much, and that I don’t have to be so alone anymore.  

The hospital released me that night, and I did go home with Shawn & spent the next few days sitting on her porch swing with a very sore jaw & doing a lot of thinking.  In that time, we even managed to look at a few apartments, and it looks like I WILL be moving back home soon, the end of September (when my lease runs out here).  I even bought a new couch.   And since returning to Pittsburgh this week, I’ve had 3 sessions with a chiropractor who believes he can help.  To be honest, I have my doubts; I had a calm night last night, but as I sit here typing this now.. nevermind.

I won’t sugarcoat the moving experience either, so far it’s been stressful & tiring as I go thru 20+ years of accumulated stuff while taking frequent breaks to ice my face.  I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed & anxious, but I KNOW it’s the right decision. 

I just want to be be happier & excited about it… and my old self again.  Thanks for letting me share, hopefully I’ll have good things to say soon.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The bows & arrows of not so outrageous fortunes: making that first year’s withdrawal

a Doug and his money


This past January, I had a lot to think about; it had been one year since my final paycheck, and my ‘first withdrawal’ plans from my stock portfolio were on hold, due to the market’s historic nosedive right after the New Year.  Luckily, I still had several months of living expenses in my checking account and was able to hold out awhile longer, hoping for some decent recovery in the stock market.

So I watched & waited, and when Wall Street looked a little rosier around the first of April, I took a closer look at my own finances: 

  • ***** in personal checking
  • ***** in emergency savings
  • ***** in 5 year CDs
  • $445,000 in personal & retirement investments

When I left my job in December 2014, my stock portfolio was almost $465,000.  (I hoped it’d be closer to 500K when I was ready to begin withdrawals.)  Not only did it do zilch in 2015, it was 20K lower.  But that’s the breaks, and I had 2-3 months left of living expenses in checking so I made plans for my first sale of stocks. 

I knew I’d need at least 21K to live on for one year & figured on earning about $4,500 in dividend & interest income in 2016.  Would I be safe withdrawing 17K?   

(This was a far cry from the amount I estimated paying myself a couple years ago, but the last year has shown me I need to take a more conservative approach.) 

When it comes to making annual withdrawals from your retirement portfolio, there’s so many trains of thought.  I liked this one best:

Withdraw 4% of your portfolio’s balance every year or 95% of last year’s withdrawal, whichever is greater.

I created an excel worksheet that crunches the numbers, all I have to do is enter the portfolio’s yearly balance in Col B, when I’m ready to make that annual withdrawal.  

Col C will display 95% of the previous years withdrawal;  Col D will calculate 4% of the portfolio’s current value.  Col E will then select the greater value of C or D, showing the amount to withdraw.


Here’s a second spreadsheet with fictitious portfolio balances after year 2016, to demonstrate how they can affect your withdrawal amount.  (I included a big drop in 2021, to show how Col E automatically directs you to take 95% of your previous years withdrawal instead.)


So that’s what I did—sort of.  According to my chart, I was ‘authorized’ to take $17,800 from my portfolio.  But the preceding 15 months had been rocky and it just seemed like a lot to cash out, so I only withdrew 16K instead.

To be honest, I regretted taking that; why did I cash that out in one sitting?  Why not take 8K now & another 8K six months from now?  Or 4K quarterly?  That money could’ve stayed in the market vs. sitting in my checking account collecting dust.   I wished I could put some of it back.

The Final Chapter: “And then along came Brexit…”

Last Friday when Great Britain shocked the world with their vote to leave the European Union and investors panicked the world over, I watched my own portfolio plunge in value & shrugged my shoulders—what can you do.  I was good until 2017 anyway.

The following Monday as the bloodbath continued (the Dow had now sunk almost 1000 points)  I visited a couple investor forums I frequent, and so-called retirement veterans were warning “get out of stocks, go all in cash, this could last a couple years”.  I smelled temporary insanity.  

It’s scary to buy when everyone is selling, but I hadn’t seen prices this low in a couple years so…  the $16,000 I’d withdrawn from my portfolio… I put $5,000 of it back in.

Date          Transaction                                                                                     Amount

06/27/2016 BUY 100.73 shares Total Stock Mrkt Idx Adm $49.64 per share    $5,000.00

Those 100 shares I bought for $49.64 are now worth $53.00 each, and yes their price will go up & down & up again, but the important thing is, I was able to put some of that wampum back into the swim, and at a LOW PRICE.  Smile

Doesn’t this all sound like a major pain?  Sometimes I think I’d sleep better if I’d just kept on working… or stuck my money in a safer place!   The End!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Into each life some rain must fall… but I’d appreciate it if it didn’t fall into my car too

I did it—after all these years, I switched my auto insurance.  Bright & early Monday morning, I contacted Metromile and said I was ready to give their “pay by the mile” insurance a go.   My personal sales rep (Evan) said “Doug, great choice—you won’t be sorry!  We’ll get your Metro Pulse (the mileage tracker you plug into your car) in Express mail today, you’ll be covered effective Wednesday, June 29.”

So the morning of Wednesday June 29 (that would be yesterday) I climbed into my car & drove to the car wash.  I pulled into the next to last stall when I remembered the last time here, another customer had warned me this stall was dry for a reason, the hose was ‘flukey’.   As I’m backing out to get into the next one, the hose hanging overhead catches on my sideview mirror and it’s nozzle somehow whiplashed into my car’s back glass, smashing thru.  (I didn’t know what hit me, I thought someone had shot my rear window out.)   I jerked to a stop in front of the rusty Problem?  Call 412-… sign by the coin machine, fumbled for a pen from my glove compartment and scribbled the number down on my hand.  I then took a deep breath and drove home as carefully as possible, as glass pebbles shook from my hair & from that jagged hole into my backseat.

When I got home & pulled into my parking space, I ran upstairs and tried calling that number on my hand (and got no answer, I let it ring 30-40 times).  I then called my sister Shawn, while Mr. Winn (the Korean who lives up the hall) pounded on my door shouting “Neighbor!  Someone smash your car outside!”

I then called Safelight Auto expecting to hear “We’re on our way!” just like in the commercials--nope, the soonest they can get here is.. Friday??  (But they did give me a better quote than I expected, $314.00 including cleanup & mobile service.)  I headed back downstairs with my camera & some towels, trash bags and packing tape, and prayed for no rain.

wounded warrior


That windshield sun-shade that’s been hiding in my trunk for the last 10 years has finally found some use.  As I laid it across, the rest of the pulverized glass gave way



After (Friday): 

Safelight’s expert repair, I couldn’t have asked for a more professional service.  After he left, I grabbed a couple buckets & gave the car some much needed TLC


So after all this, I come back upstairs to my apartment (to wait for the police to show up and arrest me for leaving the scene of an accident) and there’s a small brown package resting against the bottom of my front door—it’s from Metromile. 

The Metromile Pulse, my ‘Big Brother’ tracker.

I come inside, my answering machine is blinking.  Hi Douglas, Evan from Metromile!  Your Pulse was just delivered, get it plugged into your car right away & don’t get into any accidents your first day!  Ha ha, just kidding Doug… stay safe!


I can feel my pulse

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Someone to watch over me—I’m thinking, I’m thinking



I think it was the timing more than anything.  Back in April, when I was doing my first year of ‘early retirement taxes’, I was horrified to learn I owed $1,000 in federal, state & local (versus the $230 I estimated) and had just picked myself up off the floor when I got hit with another whopper: an ambulance bill (from my trip to the hospital for kidney stones 8 months prior).  It had only been partially paid by my insurance, so I had to cough up $572.00 on top of everything else.

As l sat here reeling, I opened my next piece of mail:  a notice from my auto insurance carrier.  Dear Mr. Morris, your annual premium is due; send $530.00 pronto, Tonto.

I know, I know.  Everyone has bills to pay & everyone who drives has car insurance.  But I DON’T drive—well, hardly!  And they needed to know!

I called Erie Insurance.  Hi Doug, this is Carl.  How can we help you?  “Hi Carl, can you tell me how long I’ve been with Erie?”  Sure Doug, since April 2004.  I told him I deserved a discount.  I’ve never filed a claim, never gotten a speeding violation or even a parking ticket.  I drove a total of 800 miles last year.  I—I even pay extra for roadside assistance and never used it, the one time I needed my battery jumped I called AAA.

Carl got all excited.  Doug, we can’t go any lower!  You’re free to shop around but you won’t find a better rate--you’re already getting a safe driver’s discount!  He said my only option was to drop the coverage amounts to the legal minimum, but strongly advised against it.  Then he asked if there was anything else he could do.


So this morning, I got in my car (for the first time in a couple weeks) and for some reason was reminded of that plea on deaf ears.  I felt frustrated all over again.  After I returned home, I went online & began googling how to lower my auto insurance premiums and came across this little 2 minute video.

THIS WAS EXACTLY WHAT I’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR.  I went to and took a look around, then decided I wanted to talk to a real person & gave them a call.  I got a very straightforward agent (Evan) who asked me a couple questions about my driving habits, then explained how their plans work (you’re billed monthly) with a $20-40.00 base rate and charged 2-5 cents a mile, depending on your quote. 

I told Evan I wasn’t interested in some “bare minimum” insurance, I wanted the same coverage & deductible I currently have.  He said “Good, find your insurance paperwork and let’s come up with a quote.” 


He said “Based on driving 1000 miles a year, you’d reduce your current insurance almost by half, 45%.”  Er… wow.  He explained to me how the device you plug into your car works (it doesn’t check for hard braking or speeding like those Progressive contraptions, it only records miles).  We must’ve talked a good 15 minutes, I didn’t commit to anything (yet) but told him it was very encouraging.

He said “Can I send you a couple links that might help you in your decision?”  Here’s a good article in The New York Times and here’s a more straightforward one in NerdWallet.

I’ve been going back & forth on this most of the day.  What if I suddenly wanted to start driving 50-100 miles a day?  Okay that isn’t happening, but I googled the distance to my sister Shawn’s house and on top of the $14-15.00 in gas it costs for the round trip, I’ll be paying at least $5.00 extra for those 120 miles.  But then again, it’s not like I make those road trips often… and I wouldn’t be getting a $530.00 bill next April.  

But how do I know the monthly base-rate or cost-per-mile won’t increase substantially a year or even 6 months from now?  Evan told me he couldn’t make any promises, but said they were very transparent with their pricing methodology & wouldn’t have their current ranking or member base if they pulled stunts like that.  “Doug… I’d give it a 1% probability of such a thing occurring.”

Aw, that’s reassuring!  Eye rolling smile   I’ve got some thinking to do…


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Big Short(s): From 44 to 40, and falling fast



Well, it was one year ago today that I purchased a couple pair of shorts for the summer from JCPenney.  I was relieved to finally have some pants that I could both button & breathe in, but was depressed over the fact they were a 44 waist. 44!  It was then that I knew I had to make a real change.

These 40w shorts got down there all on their own; so far, 42 lbs lost

By the end of the summer, I’d happily lost enough weight to squeeze into some 42 waist pants (but just barely).  Confident I’d be able to lose a little more, I bought 3 pair and gave those Memorial Day 44s to my neighbor Jim.

So here we are, a year later & the warm weather’s returned.  In April I pulled out my 42 waist shorts and was surprised at how big they’d gotten over the winter.  I should’ve been happier but doggone it they cost me $60.00 & I’d only worn one pair!  I gave ‘em to a friend’s brother, turned around & spent another $45.00 on 2 pair of 40 waist shorts.  A little snug, but still a good fit.  Six weeks until summer, I’m all set.

Well, I thought I was.  This past Friday I put on a pair of those 40 waist for the first time for a trip to the dentist (which is just a 10 minute walk from my apartment).  I felt them sliding down my hips along the way, thought this can’t be happening and then PLUP!  They almost fell right off!  Another step or two & they would’ve been down around my ankles.  I walked the rest of the way with the front of them bunched in my fist, in disbelief.   (That’s them, in the photo.)  I know that’s how some of these kids today wear them, but at my age just wearing flat-fronts is a gutsy move.

So now what.  I refuse to buy more pants, well, at least this summer.  (Besides I’ve seen where those people on ‘The Biggest Loser’ gain the weight back and I’m one pizza away from regaining 40 pounds.)  Maybe I can shrink these down some, I dunno—and that’s what belts are for, from what I’ve been told.  All I know is, I haven’t worn a 38 waist since the 1990s & can’t believe I could be headed in that direction.  But these shorts speak for themselves Smile

Hope everyone has a nice summer ahead


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