Thursday, May 31, 2007


nun dollsI am considering applying for a job in a Catholic health system. The online application system won't let me fill anything out until I swear (in electronic form) that, if hired, I will act in such a way which is consistent with their mission statement. Which, naturally, contains lots and lots of references to specific beliefs.

This seemed a little too much like a credal oath to me, and out of place for a self-professed equal opportunity employer. So I emailed them to inquire exactly what it means to endorse this statement.

girl with menorahI spent a long, long time crafting my email. I hemmed and hawed over whether I should describe myself as "not Catholic" or "not religious"; or whether I should leave my own beliefs out of it altogether.

Mrs. Gerbil found it amusing that I'd spent so much time wordsmithing. Her suggestion: "Will godless Jews be considered for this position? Please advise."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Understanding the system

Mrs. Gerbil is always after me to remember that not everyone knows how The (Managed Care) System works.

I usually regale her with at least two work stories each night. Sometimes I just need to de-brief a particularly stressful call; but more often than not the first line of my tale is, "Oh, my God, I had the most ridiculous call tonight." (It should go without saying that I never vent any identifying information--but there, I've said it anyway.) And then Mrs. Gerbil gently chides me for forgetting that the average person does not grok The System.

Hell, sometimes I don't even grok The System. But I will admit that I have a low tolerance for certain types of lack-of-grok, viz.:

Calling the emergency line for a non-emergency. It's 10:30 on Friday night and you have just realized that one of your claims was denied. You call the phone number on your insurance card, press 8 (a prompt clearly demarcated for emergency use only), and demand to know why your claim was denied. I will only inform you that this is a routine matter which is handled during business hours only. Perhaps hearing this will anger you; but unless your claim status poses a risk to yourself or others, it's not an emergency.

Calling the emergency line for a non-emergency matter which has nothing to do with mental health. You go to the pharmacy on a Satuday afternoon, and lo and behold, your co-pay for Lipitor has changed. You call your medical carrier, but they are closed. You hang up, call again, and select the prompt for mental health services. (Huh?) And then you press 8 and demand to know why your Lipitor suddenly costs $50. I will only inform you that you have reached your mental health insurance and we do not have anything to do with your prescription benefits. Perhaps you acknowledge that you just pressed prompts randomly to get a live person; but alas, I have no more information about your Lipitor than you do.

The guess and check method. You are calling about a hospital admission. You have not actually determined who the insurance carrier is, as you haven't bothered to look at the person's insurance card. So, you take a wild guess, and (because you are wrong) you think I should give you the correct information. Perhaps I do know whom you should be calling, and I might even transfer you if you're nice; but there is a reason that triage has already xeroxed the card.

I can't believe you just asked me that. If you work for a hospital, you should know how The System works. Please do not ask me to describe the difference between an HMO and a PPO. Perhaps you are new; but honey, this really makes my teeth hurt.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Strange bedfellows

Hormel Foods is having a drawing for a Toyota Prius.

Yes, you read that correctly. The folks who bring you Spam, that archetype of artificiality, are raffling off a hybrid.


No purchase necessary!

Friday, May 18, 2007


Mrs. Gerbil and I have a bad habit of going to the corner store in the evenings for a pint of Breyer's A&W Root Beer Float ice cream. We indulged said habit last night. On the way out of the store, I pointed out the top headline on the Contra Costa Times, which read as follows:

Warming called security threat.

Mrs. Gerbil and I were both struck by the absolute absurdity of the story. But whereas my first thought was "Well, there's a way to get the federal government to pay attention to global warming," Mrs. Gerbil's was "Oh, my God. That's a real newspaper, isn't it."

(In Mrs. Gerbil's defense, here in Alameda County, the Contra Costa Times isn't a very popular paper. The same niche is filled here by the Oakland Tribune, which has made several aggressive attempts to court our readership. Alas, we are loyal to the San Francisco Chronicle.)

But still, the idea that global warming might possibly attract the attention of the current administration seems more appropriate for The Onion than for real life. On the other hand, if the powers that be predictably get their very powerful panties in a bunch about national security, then why not try to spur some action on social issues by fabricating connections to terrorism?

I've already pondered the connection between marriage equality and national security. I'm sure someone else can spin the United States' failing health care system as a threat to national security. And then there's the state of public education (not to mention the cost of higher education). It should be pretty easy to work in the future of Social Security--I mean, they already have a word in common.

Any takers?

(PS: The point of terrorism is to make people fear your next move. In a twisted way, it's kind of like panic disorder--which, at its core, is the fear of having another panic attack. I know I'm not the first to say this, but I think it bears repeating: declaring a "war on terror" means you've already lost. Food for thought.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I can't believe I'm blogging about this

Paris Hilton's psychiatrist, Charles Sophy, says she's "emotionally distraught and traumatized" from receipt of a 45-day jail sentence.

I could go on a snarky little rant to the effect of "oh, how traumatic it is to be held accountable for one's actions." But I'm not going to go there.

Instead, I ask: Did Dr. Sophy obtain permission from Paris to release information about her mental state, or even to acknowledge that she is receiving treatment from him? Did she consent to the disclosure of the length of her treatment by Dr. Sophy (apparently, 8 months)? Did he specify the reason for the disclosure in his request? Did he discuss with her the possible risks and benefits of his report?

The story here is drawn from "court papers," which I guess are a matter of public record unless marked otherwise. But it seems to me to be a giant violation of Paris Hilton's privacy for the Associated Press to distribute her personal health information--her own historical lack of concern for privacy notwithstanding.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Enjoy the hold music

Thank you for calling The Afterlife.

If you know your party's extension, please dial it now.

For heaven, press 1.

For hell, dial extension 666.

For purgatory, please stay on the line and someone will be with you as soon as possible.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Confession: I am the world's biggest lightweight

I'm allergic to California.

California grassWell, I'm allergic to a lot of things in a lot of places, but California is home to some special type of grass which, I believe, was created especially to torture me. Allergy testing has shown that, indeed, I am ridiculously allergic to California grass. California grass decided to bloom on Tuesday.

Holy crap, did that ever suck.

I broke down and took some Benadryl before going to work. Benadryl and I have a very strained relationship. I will not take the stuff unless I absolutely need it, for it gives me a hangover. Thus: I won't resort to Benadryl unless I'm miserable because it makes me miserable in a completely different way.

Yes, folks, I am a diphenhydramine lightweight.

Between 11 am and midnight, I took one and a half adult doses of Benadryl. I took just enough at work to prevent both sneezing and falling asleep during calls; and enough at bedtime to give me the soundest, most excellent sleep I've had in weeks.

But late Wednesday morning I was still having difficulty forming my thoughts into coherent paragraphs. In the middle of the afternoon, I retreated to bed and took a nap. Mrs. Gerbil called during my nappy-nap and asked for a ride home from BART. On the way there I started to wonder if maybe it wasn't a good time to operate a car or other dangerous machinery, as I couldn't focus on anything less than three car lengths ahead. Against what better judgment I should have had, I didn't hand over the keys for the ride home.

By 6pm I was dizzy and ready to go back to bed, but unlike previous instances I decided that perhaps this was not the best course of action. It had been 18 hours since Benadryl last touched my lips, more than 2 of its half-lives, and this wasn't my usual hangover. I called the NurseLine that comes with our health insurance and was advised (a) to call my doctor and (b) not to get back behind the wheel. So I paged the provider on call, who informed me that (a) there should not be any Benadryl left in my system; (b) even if there were, there's no antidote; and (c) I should probably never take Benadryl again.

tiramisuBeing reminded yet again of my eternal lightweight status made me a very sad, and somewhat embarrassed, sleepy little gerbil. So, Mrs. Gerbil took me out for a nice Italian dinner. We discovered tiramisu to be quite an effective antidote. They don't call it "pick-me-up" for nothing!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Public transit story #19: Chivalry is not dead

On Saturday morning BART was full of people going to the Giants-Phillies game. Lacking a place to sit, I found myself a place to stand.

"Excuse me, miss, would you like to sit down?" asked a boy of no more than 11 years of age. He rose halfway out of his seat before I could answer.

I was very touched. I thanked him for the offer but insisted that he keep his seat. He seemed a little disappointed at first, but then he beamed shyly when his dad (and various other passengers) complimented him on his gentlemanliness.

It's thing like this which maintain my faith in humanity.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Young at heart

Just because I have completed a ridiculous amount of education does not mean I must forsake adolscent humor.

Seriously, those gnus have got it goin' ON.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Potty potty potty

Yesterday I walked by a certain Portolet, which I'd managed to walk by about 15,000 times without noticing what I noticed yesterday.

portoletThis Portolet is on someone's treelawn a few blocks from our house. It's been there for quite a long time (thus my 15,000 walkings-by) and is probably there on account of all the construction on that block.

It's a pretty standard-looking Portolet. It's electric blue and brown, with a peaked, translucent roof. Like most other things in this part of town, it's decorated with a smattering of completely illegible graffiti.

So, no, nothing seemed immediately unusual about this Portolet. But upon closer inspection, I found a most mysterious specification printed upon its label:


Assuming they are not clowns, how do you fit ten people in a Portolet?

It's a potty emergency!Well, I suppose that when you gotta go, you gotta go.

Either that, or what the label should say is

CAPACITY: What comes out of 10 people.