a thought

Just finished reading Rodger Kamenetz’s The Jew in the Lotus, which made me think seriously about my love/hate relationship with spirituality. Here’s the part that stood out for me the most:

…to my surprise, I saw a thangka [a Tibetan devotional painting] depicting a dakini, or goddess, dancing next to a large Jewish star. In tantric Buddhism, the six-pointed star is a symbol of the cervix. This is a coincidence worth meditating on. In Judaism, the star is proudly displayed on the flag of Israel. It represents the magen david, the shield of King David. A shield is the outermost layer of protection, what one thrusts out to the world as a mark of identity and a sign of God’s protection. A cervix is in a sense an esoteric part of the body, hidden within, a mystery, the neck of the womb, the channel through which all life emerges. It is purely and uniquely feminine.

In part, this coincidence shows once again how Jewish and Tibetan culture have common historical influences. The six-pointed star originated in ancient Mesopotamia as a symbol of fertility. It did not become a specifically Jewish symbol until the late Middle Ages. The same symbol came into India with the Aryans, where it represented Shakti, the Mother. It entered Tibet along with the teachings of the Hindu tantric tradition.

Think about that next time you put on your necklace. It’s common for women to wear shields. What if it were as common for men to wear doors?

Between You and Your Doctor

I find it just wonderful that conservatives are still pulling out the “A government bureaucrat between you and your doctor” canard in their fight against health care reform. I guess I can see that argument working during the Clinton years, when things weren’t quite as bleak as they are now (although, being a teenage dependent with two well-off parents, I never had to worry about health insurance during the Clinton years, so what do I know?). But relying on it again now? Balls, folks: that takes some.

For a little under twenty years, I’ve been dealing with chronic pain. (No, not my back problems. I’m going to refrain from discussing my specific condition itself in order to keep the focus on the politics.) Because this condition is hard to diagnose and often misunderstood, I’ve gone without treatment for most of my life. In fact, the only two times I’ve had regular treatment for it were in college and grad school, when I had the twin luxuries of student health insurance and autonomy from my parents. In college, the doctor I found was well-meaning, but ineffective. In grad school I had a great doctor, and together we started to make progress. But then I finished grad school.

For about a year, I went untreated again until a flare-up made me realize that I needed to find a doctor despite the cost. My husband and I did some budgeting – I currently subscribe to Blue Shield’s cheapest plan, which only covers basic exams and major disasters – and found a doctor who charged a sliding scale. She was awful. For a few months, I went untreated again, and had another flare-up. It turned out that a friend of mine has a similar condition, and she gave me the name of her specialist.

Here’s where the story gets interesting.

I made an appointment with the specialist – and loved her. Within ten minutes of our first appointment, she’d described my condition with eerie accuracy and outlined what sounded like an effective treatment plan, with options that I’d barely even known about. Her bedside manner and level of expertise were terrific; she put even my grad school doctor to shame. At the end of the appointment we talked money. My current insurance didn’t cover regular office visits, so I’d be paying completely out of pocket. I gulped at her office visit fee – even paying for that first appointment was going to be interesting. I talked to my husband and we agreed that I’d have to get a new insurance plan. If we ditched the cable, the Netflix subscription, and a couple other amenities here and there, we could pay more for something better.

I looked at other Blue Shield plans while my husband looked at Kaiser. I figured that while I was getting a new plan, I might as well search for something that covered maternity. I looked at plans going up to $200, $250 a month – nope, nope, nope. Blue Shield doesn’t like its members having babies.

Meanwhile, my husband found a Kaiser PPO (at least, we thought it was a PPO, but I guess that’s kind of rare for Kaiser) just barely within our price range. It was $139 a month – yikes, but okay. It had a fairly good maternity plan. We called their office to find out if this doctor was in their network. They didn’t know. They gave us a regional number to call. We called. No, this doctor was not in their network.

Next we tried Blue Cross. I don’t even remember what plan we eventually found, because the whole website was so labyrinthine. We didn’t bother calling them before we filled out the form because, hey, everyone takes Blue Cross, right? The application took all morning – and we even left off in the middle because I needed to dig up some old information.

Later that day, I talked to the doctor to reschedule our next appointment, since it was taking so long to find a new plan. I asked if she took Blue Cross (just to be absolutely sure – because everyone takes Blue Cross!). “Uh, some of their plans,” she said. “I don’t know, some but not others. It’s all very strange. I don’t even handle that part of it.”

We called Blue Cross. No, the plan we’d selected didn’t cover her. Were there any plans in our price range that did? Tappa tappa tap, pause. No, there were not.

So we went back and called Blue Shield, told them I was already a member. We asked for any plans at all that covered this one doctor. Damn the cost! We’d use our savings! We’d move into a smaller apartment! We’d rob a bank if we had to! What was the doctor’s name again? We spelled it. Nope, they said. Blue Shield of California does not cover this doctor at all.

We called the doctor again, canceled the appointment, told her we just couldn’t afford her. I still owe her for our first (now useless) meeting – $150 down the drain. I cried, I was so disappointed. All that work, all that hope, for nothing.

I’ll probably never know why no insurance plan would touch her. She wasn’t some bizarre, esoteric practitioner or anything; my best guess is that only employer-paid plans cover her. But when I hear conservatives trotting out the specter of “a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor,” I have to laugh. Because right now, at this moment, I am gritting my teeth through 20-year-old pain while the doctor who could have treated me goes about her business 2 miles from my apartment. Bureaucrats are standing between me and my doctor.

On the one hand, if conservatives are going to try to block affordable health care, the least they could do is come up with a less insulting argument. On the other, I guess it’s to my advantage that they’re making themselves look like total idiots.

We’ll go ahead and give Pacificare and Aetna a call, but I think my course of action now is to go for the original Kaiser plan we found and hope that there’s a doctor as good as this one in their network. (Of course, the maternity coverage raises some troubling questions. Does Kaiser have midwives? Doulas? Birthing centers? Will I have to give birth on my back? But I’m not pregnant, so I can cross that bridge when I come to it.) If we ever get a national health plan in place, then sign me up – but I’m not holding my breath. My one wish for those who oppose it is that they someday experience health insurance that is comparable to mine.

(A note on comments: because I know what types of comments posts like these tend to receive, I am declaring myself Queen Tyrant on this thread and will delete offensive comments without warnings or justification.)

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Wash Your Hair!

Did you know that a lot of shampoos contain the exact same cleaning agents as laundry detergent? Sulfates and other harsh cleaning agents work by stripping your hair of all its nutrients and oils. If you have curly hair, which is usually pretty dry, this leaves it brittle and exhausted. Then you have to put in loads of conditioner to undo the effects.

Screw that. Here’s a recipe for a homemade cleanser from Lorraine Massey’s Curly Girl, which I found out about from the lovely Whit. Simply take the juice of one large lemon, mix it with your usual amount of conditioner, and pour it through your hair. (I like to massage it in a tiny bit.) Then rinse it out.

“But wait!” you might be thinking. “You still have to use store-bought conditioner! That’s not self sufficient!” I’ll admit that I myself use store-bought conditioner on my hair. But you don’t have to! The Internet is full of conditioner recipes.

Curly Girl also contains instructions for using baking soda and water to clear out product buildup. I found the lemon recipe more effective, though. If your hair is really dry, you may only have to use the lemon rinse once or twice a month (although you should still cleanse your scalp every few days – see the book for details). And remember that your scalp produces natural oils for a reason. If the tiniest hint of oil around your roots is unacceptable, then that says more about your culture than your hair.

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