Saturday, September 26, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Two patients limp into two different medical clinics with the same complaint. Both have trouble walking and appear to require a hip replacement. The first patient is examined within the hour, is x-rayed the same day and has a time booked for surgery the following week.
The second sees his family doctor after waiting a week for an appointment, then waits eighteen weeks to see a specialist, then gets an x-ray, which isn't reviewed for another month and finally has his surgery scheduled for a year from then.
Why the different treatment for the two patients?
The first is a golden retriever.
The second is a senior citizen with an HMO.
It would be funnier, if it wasn't true.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
Answer: Although the Social Security system definitely faces challenges, the program isn't just going to disappear. At some point, the government will have to shore up the program, which could include moves such as increasing payroll taxes, raising the retirement age for younger workers and dialing back benefits in some way. But, while there are no guarantees, I think the chances are remote that people in or nearing retirement will see a significant cut in benefits.
So I don't think the question you should be focusing on is whether Social Security will be there, but how satisfying retirement will be if Social Security is your only source of income.
You can judge that for yourself by going to Social Security's Retirement Estimator, which will show you the monthly benefit you're now projected to receive based on your work history. When you see that figure, I think you'll agree that while you might be able to live on Social Security alone, you won't want to unless you don't mind a real no-frills lifestyle.
Which brings me back to the first part of your question: Is it too late to open a retirement account now?
My answer is emphatically no. You're always better off doing something than doing nothing. That doesn't mean you can put yourself in the same position you would have been in had you saved and planned for retirement your entire career. That's not realistic.
But even at this late stage you should be able to improve your retirement prospects in a meaningful way, if you commit yourself to the effort and follow these suggestions.
Crank up your savings, pronto. It's not enough just to open a retirement account. You've also got to fund that account with as much money as you possibly can every single year until you retire.
If you have a 401(k) or similar plan at work, that's the best place to start. Aside from the tax advantages that effectively boost your savings effort, a 401(k) directs your contributions from your paycheck into your account before you can get your hands on the money and spend it.
Most employers will also match a portion of what you save -- usually 50% of the first 6% of salary you contribute -- which allows you to leverage your savings effort even further. If you don't have such a plan, open an IRA.
Saving even modest amounts regularly can make a difference. For example, if you start investing $500 a month in an IRA now and earn a 7% annual return, you would have roughly $54,000 at age 65. Granted, you're not going to live large on that sum. But you're certainly better off having fifty grand in addition to your Social Security income than having no cushion to fall back on at all.
Delay retirement as long as you can. You say that you're going to retire "in a few years." Sorry, but I don't think that's a very good plan for someone in his late 50s who has set aside zip for retirement. You can significantly increase your chances of achieving a more comfortable retirement, though, if you retire later rather than sooner.
Why? Two main reasons.
First, the longer you work, the more you can save and the more time your nest egg has to rack up gains and grow. For example, if you follow the $500-a-month regimen I mentioned above to age 68 instead of 65, the extra three years would result in an account balance of $86,000, or nearly 60% more than you would have at 65.
The second reason it pays to stay in the workforce is that you can postpone taking Social Security, which increases the size the check someone your age will eventually get by roughly 8% a year (although you get no increases by delaying beyond age 70).
In fact, your eventual Social Security benefit may increase even more since, aside from credits for delaying retirement, adding additional years of earnings to your work history can also boost the amount your receive. This combination of a larger nest egg and a bigger Social Security check can mean the difference between scraping by and enjoying retirement.
Keep working during retirement. Even people who have saved enough to retire comfortably often decide to work in retirement to stay socially engaged. But in the case of someone like you who's getting a late start on saving, the case for finding part-time or seasonal work is even more compelling. The money you earn is money that you don't have to pull out of savings, which means your nest egg has a greater chance of lasting longer and providing greater security in the later years of retirement.
Of course, your ability to find work in retirement will depend on what kind of skills you have, what level of pay you're willing to accept and the overall health of the economy (which, obviously, isn't so great now).
But by checking out sites that cater to older job seekers such as RetiredBrains.com and RetirementJobs.com, chances are good that you'll be able to come up with some type of work that can supplement your Social Security.
But to paraphrase Bogie in Casablanca, none of this talk will amount to a hill of beans if you don't get started right way. So open that retirement account ASAP and start salting away as many bucks as you can. And don't stop until you retire, preferably later rather than sooner.
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Saturday, September 12, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Sunday, September 06, 2009
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Originally uploaded by dehmystic
Today at lunch my cell phone rang and the caller ID said Mizzou Vet Hospital...my heart caught in my throat. Even though I know Linus is gone seeing that ID pop up just brought back the anxious feelings I'd get when they would call with an update.
I answered it and it was Dr. Selting. She wanted to go over the final report on Linus. Since we were at lunch with coworkers I opted to call her back. Of course then that's all I could think about so as soon as we got back I put in a return call, hoping to reach her.
Luckily I was able to reach her and find out why Linus did not make it.
First off she said he had a lot of abnormality in his tissues. Primarily the cause of his decline was something called D.I.C. or disseminated intravascular coagulation. Basically, it’s a clotting problem that leads to the formation of small clots throughout the body. These clots then pull any remaining clotting factors from the blood and cause bleeding problems. She mentioned that the blood sample pulled just before we euthanized would not clot. D.I.C. is secondary to other causes, meaning it occurs when other problems are present, like cancer.
Also discovered were some small metastases in his lungs. These were too small to be seen on an x-ray and it's not clear whether the IL-12 treatment would have affected these or not. In Dr. Selting's opinion, the presence of these shows he would have succumbed to cancer eventually.
Another odd finding was belly muscle damage. It was not consistent with trauma or bruising but may be associated with the D.I.C.
No brain metastasis was found. So the neurological problems he initially had were not related to any cancer there.
Tests showed the pneumonia was resolving, there was no trace of bacteria.
Tests on his spleen and bone marrow both showed that his body was trying to produce the necessary blood components. Dr. Selting thinks this is why we saw some improvement, then when the D.I.C. got too bad those organs could not compensate enough.
There is still no firm explanation for the excessive edema but it too could be part of the capillary leak and/or D.I.C.
All in all, while we were hoping for a cure or a reprieve, the truth is he showed many signs that the situation was not going to improve and the pathology information just proves that.
Euthanizing him was the best choice we could make at the time as there was no way to combat all the problems in his little body. At least we don't have to feel like we gave up on him. It's also better to know that his cancer had metasticized because we agonized over not just choosing surgery when truthfully that would not have helped in as much of a way as we would have expected it to given the spread.
Processing all of this has reopened the pain of our loss. I think that's normal, and I know that we'll get a point where we aren't as weepy when we think about it. There's no time limit on grief, is there?