The Nation's Pulse

On the Diddley Patrol

Lives frittered away by detail.

By 10.6.06

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"Our lives are frittered away by detail!" cried Henry David Thoreau. "Simplify, simplify, simplify!"

Thoreau never had to deal with an insurance company, a medical provider, a driver's license bureau, the Internal Revenue Service, or a suburban school system. Pah, Mr. Thoreau! Today, every family needs a designated diddley s--t shoveler just to deal with the details of modern life. Otherwise you get buried in unfinished paperwork, swamped with unfulfilled tasks, and start running in circles trying to get all your household errands done.

Sometimes you still can't do things right.

When we moved back to Massachusetts in late summer, we had to enroll our boys in schools, and schools required health certificates, and that meant finding a doctor and getting the boys an annual physical exam. Suburban parents know you have to make appointments for those exams starting in about June, pediatricians get so backed up. Our boys couldn't get their exams until November. The schools, knowing our situation and knowing that the physicals were pending, let the health forms slide until then.

Second school year rolls around and I make appointments early for the boys to have their exams. We get to the doctor's office -- clever me, I have arranged to have both boys examined at the same time -- and the doc, looking over the paperwork, says, "You can't come for this appointment yet. It hasn't been a year. Your insurance won't pay for it."

A day more than a year, fine. A day less, no go. I had to make new appointments on a carefully selected date. Every year since, the boys' physicals have migrated to later in the year. Our youngest may be getting his 2015 appointment in March.

ABOUT TWO YEARS AGO, my health insurance company began refusing to pay my bills, giving the reason "has other insurance." I had no other insurance. Somebody at the hospital I visit regularly had assumed I had Medicare, which I did not at the time. That one piece of mistaken data metastasized through my health care records, and I had to chase down every single instance of the mistaken invocation and find the person responsible and ask for a resubmission of the bill in question.

So I got plenty of practice for the day when, as it turned out, I was legally required, as an End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) patient, to apply for and get Medicare. And when, inevitably, because my Medicare enrollment forms had not been filled out correctly, bills began to be refused because "patient has other insurance."

OVER LABOR DAY WEEKEND, I got rear-ended. The accident happened at one of New England's ubiquitous "rotaries," circular traffic merges that sometimes occur at inopportune, not to say foolish, places. One such place is the junction of north-south Route 93 with east-west Route 213. At city street speeds, a traffic circle may make some sense. At highway speeds, in a foggy drizzle, one timid driver who decides to stop instead of yield will create a multi-car pileup.

I just managed a panic stop, coming to a halt mere feet from the bumper of the car in front of me. I had time only for the fleeting thought, "That was a close one" when I got banged in the rear, hard. The car that hit me, I could see in my mirror, had the hood buckled and sprung open.

There was nowhere to stop without inviting yet another accident. I drove home and called the Methuen police department immediately, the local jurisdiction. No report of such an accident. Call the State Police, the Methuen desk officer recommended. I did. No report with them, either.

I suppose I should consider that lucky. Imagine the paperwork that might have been involved in a multi-car rear-ender, with multiple drivers and insurance companies.

So I simply had to fix my own car's damage, not inconsiderable, and get my car re-inspected. When I get up from my chair, I'm going to go try to get that done. For the fourth or fifth day in a row. Motor vehicle inspection stations are as backed up as children's doctors.

SO HOORAY FOR MR. THOREAU. Conscientious as he was, he didn't realize how good he had things before making his famed retreat from society. You can go see a replica of his hut near the place where he actually built it, on Walden Pond in Lexington. It looks nice. You could live in it and enjoy it. And then somebody would send you a credit card.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.