Category Archives: Health

A mouse in the house

I’ve made no secret about my struggles with anxiety. I worry. Constantly.

Less than two weeks after moving into our new home, and I’ve come to the conclusion that homeownership, while wonderful, has extended my list of worries by about a mile.

At the top of my list? A MOUSE. In my kitchen. At least one, probably more, likely living behind the dishwasher. Tony came face to face with it last night before it scampered under the counter behind the dishwasher.

After the mouse encounter, I seriously considered packing up and moving in the middle of the night like the family in “The Amityville Horror.” Because seriously. IT WAS A MOUSE.

So far it’s been suggested that we get a cat or set up traps. But the idea of finding dead mice freaks me out way more than a live mouse. I mean, I used to have hamsters when I was a kid. This is no different, right? Except he feeds himself. And doesn’t require a cage.

I’m not sure a cat would help anyway. My parents live in front of a corn field, and they used to get field mice in the basement in the fall when the weather started turning colder. We had a cat — a very lazy cat who didn’t seem to mind the mice. In fact, my bedroom was in the basement, and I distinctly remember waking up to see a mouse getting into the cat’s dish while the cat lazily slept next to me.

I like the alternative even less. A cat who actually hunts mice? When I was a kid, I had a neighbor whose cat was a skilled mouse hunter. It wasn’t uncommon to find a random mouse head on the porch. No thanks.

Not to mention, my husband is deathly allergic to felines, and it stands to reason that our son will be, too.

I don’t suppose there’s any magical, humane solution, is there? Because I was just kidding about letting the thing roam my kitchen as a pet.

Please, help, Internet! I don’t want to move again. But I also don’t want a mouse for a roommate.

Learn first aid to save money and avoid trauma

Let me start this by saying I would never condone risking the health of yourself or anyone in your family to save money, no matter what the cost. My family’s health is our top priority, and we will spend whatever is necessary to keep all of us well.

That said, emergency room visits are outrageous. Even with good insurance, our copay is $200 for an ER visit. If we were uninsured or paying 100% out of pocket until we hit our deductible, a single trip to the ER for something simple could easily cost over $1000. Not to mention, you’ll often sit in the waiting room for hours. Before spending that kind of time and money, you need to know that the injury really does warrant a trip to the emergency room.

Last Friday while packing some glasses, Tony accidentally broke a glass in his hand, and it cut him. It was deeper than the average “put a Bandaid on it” cut, but it didn’t look deep enough to require stitches. Again, if I really thought he was seriously injured, I wouldn’t have questioned taking him to the hospital. But we just didn’t know.

Judah was already in bed, and we were in the middle of packing and moving. The last thing either one of us wanted was to sit in an ER for hours for him to be bandaged up and sent home.

Both of our moms are nurses, so I put a call in to each of them. The consensus seemed to be that based on where the cut was on his hand and the fact that it wasn’t terribly deep, he would probably be okay with some butterfly bandages.

I’d never done anything like this, and I was incredibly nervous. The last thing I wanted to do was screw it up. My husband is better at this sort of thing than me, but he couldn’t do it one handed, so it had to be me. We put pressure on it with a clean towel, and he sat with his hand elevated for about 30 minutes to stop the bleeding. We cleaned it well, applied the butterfly bandages, and put Bandaids over it to keep it clean.

I think the bandages could have been applied better by someone with more experience, but it seemed to be good enough, because a week later it’s healing well. He will probably have a scar, because I didn’t get the butterfly bandages quite tight enough. But because of where it is on his hand, it won’t be easily visibly.

Would they have given him stitches? Maybe. Now that it’s healed, it looks a bit deeper than we thought. But it seems that in most cases, the only reason a clean cut with no jagged edges or increased risk of infection would need stitches is to stop bleeding or minimize scarring. If you can get the bleeding to stop and it’s not in a place where a scar would be noticeable, a butterfly bandage will fix the problem most of the time. If you’re skilled at applying butterfly bandages, scarring can sometimes even be reduced with a butterfly bandage because there are no jagged Frankenstein lines from the stitches.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I need to take a first aid class. Part of our problem is that we were clueless. We could tell the wound wasn’t too bad, but we still weren’t sure if stitches were necessary. I can see how that doubt and fear would be even greater if the wound had been on our young son.

I’m sure we’ll encounter many bumps and cuts as Judah gets older. I want to know more about first aid not only so I can know whether professional medical care is required, but so I can provide him with basic first aid instead of rushing to the ER for every little thing.

When I was a kid, my dad was excellent at patching us up. He was an expert butterfly bandager. When I was 7, I busted my chin on the side of a dresser when he was out of town on a business trip. He later said he probably wouldn’t have bandaged it himself, because the chin is such a tough place to heal without stitches. My mom rushed me to the ER. We waited forever, and I was panicked and scared after my sister jokingly told me they were going to stitch me up under a sewing machine. She was trying to make a joke, but I took it literally, and I was terrified.

I think in most cases, getting first aid treatment from a parent at home is less traumatic and scary for a kid than a visit to the hospital. If I can learn to provide that basic care for Judah myself, we can avoid putting him through a traumatic ER visit unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Learning first aid can also prepare you to provide first treatment for serious issues that require professional medical care. Driving to the hospital or waiting for an ambulance takes time, and it’s important to be able to take the right steps immediately after an injury.

I’m looking into first aid classes now. Even if we pay a good chunk of change to learn these skills, I think it’s valuable beyond the money we’ll save in ER visits.

Photo credit

5 simple switches to lower your grocery bill

Ever since I started living frugally, one of the areas of my budget that continually leaves me feeling guilty is groceries. My husband is the cook, and he has extremely expensive tastes when it comes to cooking. I gave up trying to convince him to live on a beans and rice diet to save money a long time ago. To be honest, the idea of eating as cheaply as possible doesn’t appeal to me much, either. I absolutely admire those families who can feed four people for $50 a week, but we’re never going to be one of them. (We average about $60-$70 per week for the two of us. Judah doesn’t count yet.)

That doesn’t mean we’ve given up on saving money at the grocery store, though. We’re always finding little ways to cut costs without sacrificing the quality of our menus. Here are a few of the ways we do it.

Split chicken breasts

We cook with chicken a lot, because it’s versatile, healthy, and relatively inexpensive. We try to buy chicken breasts when they’re on sale, and stock up. A big way to cut costs on chicken breasts is to buy split, bone-in chicken breasts instead of boneless skinless chicken breasts. They require a little extra prep work, but they typically cost half as much as boneless skinless chicken breasts, so it’s worth the effort. Bonus: you can use the bones in homemade chicken stock.

Homemade chicken stock

At $3-$4 a quart, packaged chicken stock is one of the biggest rip-offs in the grocery store. For the cost of a bunch of celery, a bunch of carrots, an onion, some garlic, and discarded chicken bones, you can make gallons of the stuff. Just put aside the bones from split chicken breasts or the carcass of a whole roasted chicken. We keep them in a plastic storage container in the freezer until we’re ready to make stock. We make a few gallons every other month or so, and freeze them in 1-quart storage containers for later use. It is time-consuming, but not labor intensive. Just make sure you start in the morning on a day when you’ll be hanging out at home so you can keep an eye on it and skim it every so often. You can find our recipe for homemade chicken stock here.

Frozen vegetables

In the summertime, fresh vegetables are cheap and plentiful. This isn’t the case in the winter. You’ll pay a fortune for fresh vegetables that have been trucked from across the country. It’s bad for the environment, and they’re typically poor quality anyway. When vegetables aren’t in season, we buy frozen. They’re not mushy like canned vegetables, and freezing generally leaves most nutrients intact. Broccoli, corn, peas, spinach, cauliflower, and carrots are all delicious.

Spinach

Salads are a great way to sneak green vegetables into your diet, but Romaine is also one of the most expensive things per pound at the grocery store. Instead of paying for Romaine, we typically buy spinach instead. Unlike nutritionally void iceberg lettuce, spinach is full of vitamins and nutrients. It’s cheaper than Romaine, though. To save even more money, you can blend spinach and iceberg for a full salad that’s still nutrient rich. We also use spinach instead of pricey fresh basil for a milder version of pesto.

Tea

Water is the cheapest, healthiest beverage you can drink (especially if you filter it yourself instead of purchasing bottled water). If you want a little flavor, though, tea is an excellent frugal alternative to expensive coffee or soda. It costs pennies per gallon. For a little extra flavor, you can add some sugar or (my favorite) fresh lemon juice.

What are your favorite simple switches to cut grocery costs?

Photo by B tal

Public Service Announcement: Your child safety seat probably isn’t installed properly

I like to think I’m a pretty intelligent lady. And I know I’m cautious. Especially when it comes to my 3-month-old bundle of adorable, Mr. Judah Michael.

I read manuals. I always follow instructions. I take the rules very. seriously.

So when I installed Judah’s car seat back in November, and I couldn’t find a location in my area that did child safety seat inspections, I was extra careful. I followed all the instructions. I read the warnings and the rules. I felt pretty confident that Judah was safe and snug back there despite the fact that I didn’t get an expert to look things over. The seat we chose was super easy to install, and I didn’t think it was possible to screw it up too much.

When we installed his car seat base in our new car Tuesday, we were pretty frustrated with the thing. Judah’s seat has a handy level indicator built in. You know the seat is level when the bubbles line up between the little lines — like the level keychain everyone’s dad has on his keyring that he never uses, because seriously, how often do you need to level something? Unless you’re a carpenter. Or a professional picture frame hanger. In which case, you probably level things all the time. But I digress.

Anyway, we couldn’t get the bubbles to line up in the right place, and I was fairly certain it wasn’t installed correctly, so I made an appointment today and headed over to AAA, where car safety seat inspections are performed for free.

I discovered the leveling problem was one of many.

She showed me adjustments that I didn’t even know existed on the seat. She informed me that the seat belt securing it in place was WAY too loose. She adjusted the straps securing him, because they were a bit too slack. She reminded me of the dangers of unsecured debris in the car (this wasn’t a problem in my case, because my brand new car was free of any debris, but I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past.) In short, I got schooled on car seat safety.

All of this is to say: Even if you think you’ve been as cautious as possible, even if you followed every direction in your instruction manual, it’s worth it to make an appointment with a car seat safety inspector in your area to double check.

I know what you’re thinking. “Pfft. How hard can it be? This dummy just didn’t read the instructions.”

But guess what? 3 out of 4 safety seats are installed or buckled incorrectly. And the other 1 out of 4 people probably took the thing to an expert for inspection. Because I am telling you, I READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. I have never willfully disregarded a warning in a manual ever in my life. And I still screwed up my car seat installation.

Don’t be stubborn. Just go get it checked out. It takes 15 minutes, and it’s totally worth it.

Resources for a dairy-free lifestyle

It’s so overwhelming to consider cutting an entire food group out of my diet.

I was already struggling to meet my daily calcium requirements, especially as a nursing mother. This is just going to make things that much harder. Not to mention, I love cheese, you guys. Like seriously love cheese.  This dairy-free thing is going to take some serious commitment, and it’s going to be challenging. I never thought I’d voluntarily give up gouda. Oh, the things we do for our children.

To make things easier on myself, I’ve compiled some resources — many of them shared by my lovely friends and readers and some of them discovered through my own research.

It seems this dairy-free thing is quite common these days, and lots of women have been in my situation with a nursing infant who has a dairy intolerance. If anyone else is able to feel a little less overwhelmed at the idea of a dairy-free diet through these resources then all the better.

First and foremost, I found this list of non-dairy calcium sources to be incredibly helpful. Without milk, cheese, and yogurt, meeting your daily calcium requirement is a little more challenging, but it can be done! And don’t forget to take a daily calcium supplement just to cover your bases.

Kelly Mom also shares some tips on meeting your daily calcium requirements without dairy.

This list of vegan baking substitutions offers suggestions for what to use in place of milk and other dairy products in recipes.

I was absolutely thrilled when I discovered that one of my favorite recipe sites, All Recipes, has a special section for dairy-free recipes. Their search engine makes it easy find dairy-free recipes with ingredients you have on hand, and user reviews make it easy to find meals that actually taste good.

This handy cheat sheet outlines “hidden dairy” ingredients (pdf) that you should avoid on a dairy-free diet (it’s not as simple as avoiding foods with “milk” and “cheese” in the ingredients list.

There’s even a dairy-free diet page at About.com, which is a good place to find the basics if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

After several hours of research, I’m not feeling quite so overwhelmed anymore. I’m even somewhat excited at the prospect of coming up with new meal ideas to fit our new dairy-free lifestyle. I won’t lie; life without cheese and chocolate and the occasional decaf non-fat no-whip mocha will be a struggle, and I’m not convinced that almond milk and rice ice cream will satisfy my dairy cravings. But it’s temporary and it’s best for my baby. So I shall carry on.

All I have to say is, I better start losing this baby weight quick if I’m giving up ice cream, cheese, and chocolate, or I’ll be writing angry letters to the Weight Loss Fairies.

Photo by amuckin77

Slowly reentering the land of the living

I just realized it’s been two weeks today since we brought Judah home from the hospital. Really? It’s only been two weeks? It feels like a lifetime.

It’s amazing how difficult it’s been for me to do anything but care for Judah in those two weeks. Considering the fact that the boy can’t even roll over at this point, I’m shocked at how time consuming he’s been.

For the past two weeks, I’ve spent the majority of my time just holding him. I couldn’t get away with putting him down for longer than 15 minutes without a complete meltdown. Sometimes he’ll accept Tony as a substitute long enough for me to take a shower. Tony has become pretty good at juggling a sleeping baby with grading papers or getting his own reading done.

We’ve settled into sort of a routine now, and Judah is letting me get away with putting him down for a little longer each day. I’m finally starting to get to other tasks around the house. Yesterday I was able to finish several loads of laundry and vacuum the apartment. Today I finished the huge stack of dishes that overflowed from the sink and consumed an entire counter in my kitchen. They were small tasks, but they felt like major victories.

We’re both adjusting. I’m getting used to life with a newborn; he’s getting used to life.

I can’t complain, though. He continues to be a remarkably easy baby. He wakes me up every couple hours to eat, but he goes back to sleep immediately. I feel criminally well rested considering the fact that I have a newborn. And of course it doesn’t hurt that he’s so stinking lovable.

Last Friday we got out of the house to run a long list of errands, and you wouldn’t even have known there was a baby in the car seat I carted around from store to store. He was quiet as a mouse.

Physically I feel better than I have since March. I’m finally free from the constant nausea, heartburn, and pain that became a daily reality for me throughout pregnancy. Emotionally I’m struggling a little. Caring for a newborn can feel so isolating and demanding, and the post partum hormonal roller coaster certainly doesn’t help matters. We’re getting through it, though.

Tony has been wonderful. He’s up with us for most feedings, and he’s continued to pick up my slack with household chores despite the fact that his work schedule has been unreal as he gets closer to the end of the semester. At the end of this week, he’ll finally get some time off for winter break (three whole weeks!) It can’t come soon enough.

This morning we finally started transitioning to cloth diapers. For the next couple weeks we’ll continue using disposables at night partly because I’d like to get used to cloth during the day before trying to deal with them at night and partly because we’re still going through the case of disposables we received at the shower. I’ll be updating with a full report once we’ve had a chance to get used to them, but so far so good.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks for your patience as I take my own version of maternity leave. Regular posting will resume soon, I promise.

So close yet so far away

Today I’m 37 weeks pregnant. That means I’m medically considered “full term.” At this point, baby is pretty much done with all of his major development. For the next few weeks, he’ll just be gaining weight.

Since big babies run in both of our families and rough estimates from my midwives have already determined he’s likely on the large side, I’d really rather he didn’t stick around too long to gain too much weight.

I figured now would be a good time for all of my lovely readers to make some guesses! Here’s some information to help you:

  • I’ve only had two ultrasounds — a very early one around 9 or 10 weeks, and an anatomy scan at 18 weeks which pretty clearly showed a boy. But I guess we won’t be 100% sure until he’s born. (Sure hoping it’s a boy, though, or a girl who really likes blue and green.)
  • Tony was close to 10 pounds at birth, and I’m pretty sure he was born after 40 weeks. I was born on my due date, and I weighed roughly 8 and a half pounds.
  • My belly has measured exactly 2 weeks ahead consistently since they started measuring at around 20 weeks.
  • My original due date was December 5 based on measurements taken during the initial ultrasound. I’ve been told this is a pretty accurate way to estimate due dates, but I felt like the dates were off, so I talked them into pushing my due date up to December 9 to avoid an early induction.
  • *TMI alert* At my appointment last week (11 days ago), I was 2 cm dilated, 80% effaced, and the baby was at -1 station (almost completely dropped). In the past week, changes in his movement patterns and increased pain and pressure lead me to believe he’s dropped even lower. My midwife at this week’s appointment felt my belly from the outside, and said it feels like he’s pretty locked in, so I’m guessing he’s at 0 or lower at this point (completely dropped and in position for birth).
  • Most babies are not born on their due dates. He could come at any time between 37 and 42 weeks. My midwives won’t let my pregnancy go past 42 weeks, so December 23 is the latest he can be born.
  • I plan to let baby come on his own without any induction methods unless it becomes medically necessary, which is unlikely unless I go all the way to 42 weeks.
  • The full moon this month is this Sunday, November 21.

Here are my guesses:

Gender: Boy
Birthday: November 22
Time: 11:30 a.m.
Weight: 8 pounds, 2 oz.
Length: 19 inches

I think that’s more wishful thinking than actual guesses, though. :) Now make your guesses!

Photo by photosavvy

Oh, health insurance. Why must you be so difficult?

With baby due in the next month, I finally decided to stop living in denial and start dealing with the issue of health insurance for him. Unfortunately, it’s not a simple situation. Because I’m currently covered through my former employer’s insurance on COBRA and my husband is covered by a private insurance policy, we’re trying to figure out the most affordable way to provide coverage for the new baby.

I’m waiting on a quote from my COBRA insurance, but I’m pessimistic about cost. When I first started working at the company, the cost to add only my husband to my insurance plan was over $300. That’s why he ended up with a private insurance policy. Not to mention, my COBRA coverage will run out October 2011. I’d prefer that the baby have something more stable.

My husband’s policy was due for renewal this month, so we were also able to examine his coverage and make some changes. We were paying about $175 a month for pretty comprehensive coverage with a $2,500 deductible. He’s had the policy for three years, and he hasn’t had a single claim — fortunately. However, because we have money in savings and most hospitals are willing to work out a payment plan for high medical bills, we decided that we could safely reduce his yearly deductible.

We chose a plan with a $5,000 deductible. Unfortunately, we’ll have to pay 100% of his health costs up to the deductible, but beyond that, he will be covered 100%. So our maximum out-of-pocket costs for a year will be $5,000. Preventative care such as routine physicals will be covered 100% with no deductible. This reduced his premium by $100 a month.

If we decide to add the baby to his policy, their combined premium will be $250 — an increase of only $75 a month for our total health insurance costs. Well-baby care will be covered 100% as preventative care. That means all of the baby’s check-ups and immunizations will be covered with no out-of-pocket cost, but anything beyond that we’ll have to pay up to $5,000. Between our emergency fund and the option of a payment plan for more expensive medical costs, I’m comfortable with carrying a higher deductible. I’m also much more comfortable with a $75 premium increase instead of $300 a month.

This will hopefully be a temporary fix. I’ve been unable to apply for private coverage since I left my job due to the pregnancy — most private plans don’t even offer maternity coverage, let alone coverage for an existing pregnancy. Once the baby is born, I hope to find an affordable private policy for our entire family. I’ve received some quotes for $300-$400 for comparable coverage for all three of us, but until I can actually apply I won’t know any solid numbers.

The application process for private health insurance is long and arduous, so the baby will need to be added to my husband’s policy immediately to avoid a lapse in coverage. My fingers are crossed that I’ll be approved for a private policy so I can reduce the monthly payment I’m making.

Whew.

If you have a job that provides you with health insurance benefits, don’t take it for granted. My husband’s employer doesn’t provide health insurance, and I’m self-employed, so dealing with health insurance is a complete nightmare. I’m just relieved that we found a solution that will keep all of us covered without costing us a fortune.

If you’re currently uninsured, do yourself a favor and look into private coverage. Depending on your medical history, you may qualify for surprisingly affordable coverage. Unfortunately, if you have pre-existing conditions, you may have to wait until health insurance reform takes effect in 2014 to qualify for private coverage. If you’ve been uninsured for at least 6 months, though, you may qualify for health insurance through your state’s high risk pool. You can find more information on your options here.

Photo by mkmabus

Seeing a midwife does not mean I’m giving birth in a hut in the woods

One of the funniest things I’ve noticed throughout my pregnancy is how little people know about midwives — especially young people who haven’t yet considered having children and older people who gave birth during a time when hospital births and obstetricians were pretty much the only option in the United States.

Midwives are still much less common than obstetricians in the United States — in 2003 only 8% of births were attended by midwives. That’s likely gone up in the past 7 years as natural birth has become increasingly popular, but the majority of births are still attended by obstetricians. This leads to a lot of misconceptions about midwives.

I don’t know if it’s because the word sounds New Agey or what, but when I tell people I’m seeing a midwife, they often make the following assumptions:

  • I am planning a homebirth.
  • I am somehow opposed to modern medicine.
  • I’m taking a great risk with my health and the health of a baby by refusing the care of a doctor.
  • I’m a crazy hippie lady who wants to give birth in a hut in the woods.

None of the above assumptions is true.

I’m sure most of you reading this are quite familiar with midwives and what they do, because I have smart readers. But I just want to clarify for my own sanity.

Midwives are modern care providers. They are highly educated nurse practitioners who happen to specialize in child birth and female reproductive health. Instead of medical school, they attend a graduate program in midwifery — a form of medical school condensed to include specialized education in caring for pregnant women and female reproductive health. Because they’re not learning a variety of specialties, their education is shorter, but still comprehensive.

Midwives typically have a different style than obstetricians. Because they are nurses and birth attendants, they often stay with patients throughout the labor rather than showing up to catch the baby at the end. (I’m sure there are obstetricians that also do this, but it’s less common.)

Midwives are also more likely to encourage natural birth practices such as unmedicated birth, but that doesn’t mean they’re not qualified or capable of administering pain medication during birth if you choose to have it. Choosing a midwife does not limit you to a natural birth, but if you want a natural birth, choosing a midwife can make it easier for you to achieve it.

Choosing a midwife also doesn’t mean you’ll be giving birth outside of the hospital. Most midwives have hospital privileges.

Midwives also deliver at freestanding birth centers and some do home births. Freestanding birth centers are sterile, modern medical facilities that are often dressed up to provide a more homey atmosphere than a hospital. They are not huts in the woods. Women who choose freestanding birth centers always have an emergency back-up plan in place to transfer them to a hospital in a hurry in the event of complications. However, complications are rare, because midwives generally only care for women with low-risk pregnancies.

Midwives cannot perform surgery, so if an emergency c-section is required, a surgeon will need to perform it. The good news is, all midwives are affiliated with obstetricians, which means there is likely a doctor on call within their practice who can take over if you become high risk or a c-section becomes necessary. Because they’re unable to perform the surgery themselves, midwives are less likely to push for unnecessary c-sections.

I don’t think home birth is for me, but I would have liked to use the birth center affiliated with my midwives’ practice. Unfortunately, it wasn’t covered by my insurance, so I’ll be giving birth in the hospital.

So you see, midwives aren’t just for crazy hippie ladies who want to birth in a hut. It’s just another option for prenatal care and delivery.

If you’re considering getting pregnant in the near future, and you’re not familiar with midwifery, definitely look into it as an option for you! I have been so happy with the care I’ve received from my midwives. It’s possible that you’ll decide to stick with an obstetrician for your prenatal care, but you should be aware of all of your options in case it turns out that a midwife would better suit your needs.

If you suffered complications during your birth and you’re facing a medical negligence claim, be sure to contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

Photo by jonlarge