Death by a Thousand Cuts

gray medical equipment lot

Photo by on

With Jack safe and well-cared for in the San Francisco VA community living center (skilled nursing), I should be relaxing into a less chaotic and demanding life.

But, somehow, despite my attempts to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, my center swirls, shifts with each day’s small challenges. Losing a partner of over twenty-five years is tough.  And when that spouse is still alive and swings wildly between loving you and hating you, often within the same day, the grieving process is complicated beyond comprehension.

My financial situation is safe now, but at the time of Jack’s death, that will change radically. Jack has a terminal disease whose progress I cannot stop. So, in addition to the emotional grief of losing him, there is the worry that at the time of his death, I will be forced to sell my home.

So, while Jack struggles to adjust to his new circumstances, I too try to create a new life for myself and wonder daily if I will be able to do so. I’m sixty-eight. I need a job I can do and do well until I am at least eighty.

Nothing daunting about that challenge.

Still, it’s not the big hits that hurt,  it’s the tiny cuts.

For example:

For the last eighteen months Jack was home, he had an Alert One medical alert system. A little button that hung around his neck on a lanyard. It went off automatically if he fell, and he could push the button to get help if I was not home. This allowed me to go to the store or run short errands while knowing he could call for help if he fell. And he did fall. A lot. If you’re considering getting one of these medical alerts you should know that, if the company calls in a request for help to get you or your loved one up from a fall, you will be charged about $200 by the emergency team. If, however, you call 911 yourself, there is no charge when the EMT comes to get you back on your feet and access the damage of the latest fall.

I do not know why this is. No one at either Alert One or the billing unit has ever been able to explain it.

Jack has been in skilled nursing since April. I don’t think it is much of an exaggeration to say that I was a hot mess for a good long time after he left. However, for each and every one of the seven months since he’s been gone, Alert One has hit my checking account  for $60. Each month I called and told them Jack was no longer in the home and we no longer needed the service. Each month they informed me that they could not cancel the service unless I returned the unit – a small button on a lanyard and a charger. Without the return of the unit, the only way to stop the service was to pay Alert One the replacement cost – $559.95.

Each month I paid the $60 for a service I did not need, because I simply could not afford the larger $559.65 charge.

I know.

I’m not proud of the way I handled any of this, but honestly, there was so much going on with getting Jack settled in the VA facility, with trying to figure out my new financial situation, that I just paid the $60 and continued to search for the unit. It was all the energy I had to deal with the situation at the time.

In an attempt to bring in a little money, I am turning what used to be my en suite bedroom into an AirB&B rental. While cleaning Jack’s old room, in which I am now settled, I found the Alert One unit. At the back of a desk drawer, in a blue hospital sock/slipper, under a pile of Jack’s medical records. No idea why Jack put it there, but at this point, who cares? I found the thing.

So, I called Alert One, spoke with supervisor, Tiffany, got detailed instructions on how to return the unit to them, and paid $23.75 to send it on its way.

That was on October 11th.

Three days ago, I went on-line to check my bank account and Alert One had hit my account for $559.95.

I called them.  Gave them the name of the person who signed for the unit at their end.

The unit had a broken prong and therefore I must pay the full price for its replacement. So sorry and please thank your husband for his service to our country.

$60 for seven months is $420. Plus $559.95 is $979.95.

For a service I informed them I was not using and asked them to cancel.

This particular cut is deep, and while it is about the money. Of course it is. That’s a lot for me to just throw away, or more accurately, have stolen from me. But, it’s also about the rudeness, the greed of a company whose business is supposed to be helping the elderly and instead preys upon the very people they purport to serve. A company who actually had ethics would, it seems to me, have allowed me to make arrangements, when I first called and cancelled the service, to pay off the cost of the unit on a monthly basis. They might even have charged a more believable replacement fee for the unit.

This cut feels deep. So, I’m bleeding on Alert One a bit here. Advising against using their service and frankly, my recommendation if you use any of these medical alert services is to set up a special checking account for the sole purpose of paying them. That way, when your loved one no longer needs the service, you can simply close that account. And, yes, I am aware that if you have a loved one who is falling frequently, the last thing you need is to spend additional time and energy to set up a special account in order to stop the crooks from stealing your money. But that appears to be the best option.

As for me, this too shall pass. Life is good regardless of greedy companies or worries about money. Jack taught me that best revenge is to live a good life. Well, I paraphrase.

Jack’s exact words were to live a good life and bury the bodies deep.


About Author and Speaker Pamela Foster

Pamela Foster is a speaker and author. Her first book, Redneck Goddess, is available at local bookstores and on Amazon. Her second book, Bigfoot Blues, will be available in August 2012.
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4 Responses to Death by a Thousand Cuts

  1. Beverly Litzinger says:

    Surely you have a friend who is a lawyer who can send this company a DEMAND letter for the return of at least some of your money. This is absolutely horrible and these people need to be stopped. Perhaps the Attorney General of California’s office could help. I would give them a call; they specialize in companies abusing Seniors! Love you and GOOD LUCK! Don’t let the bas—–get you down!

  2. Kim says:

    I’d probably contact the Area Agency on Aging or a VA liaison for assistance. Give ’em hell!

  3. Staci Troilo says:

    I can do nothing but send virtual hugs and offer up many prayers—things I’ve been doing for a while now. So sorry this happened, Pam. ❤

  4. Hey Baby, I’ve gotten six letters from Social Security in the last week, telling me I’ve overpaid them and that they are cancelling my check until they reclaim the overpayment. Each letter states a different overpayment amount. My God, we are like ants beneath their giant feet.

    If you come up with a way to make money till you’re 80 and need a partner, let me know, lol.

    A big hug, Alison


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