Bravery

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me
How big your brave is
–Sara Bareilles, “Brave”

 

I moved on Thursday last week and it’s been hitting me all weekend at random intervals: I did it. I got out. It’s done.

Then, this morning, I got in the car to go to work, the above quoted song came on, and I started to cry. There was a way out. I did let the light in.

I showed him how big my brave is. I showed myself how big my brave is.

It turns out that my brave is pretty goddamn big.

This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my whole life – and I’ve gone through some pretty shitty times – but it has taught me more about who I really am and what I’m really capable of than anything else I’ve been through. Divorce is terrible and awful and demoralizing and ghastly.

Divorce is also empowering.

I never knew I had it in me. But, GODDAMN, look at the size of my brave.

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Wonder Woman Ain’t Got Nothing On Me

Ok, so I’ve been a wee bit absent here. Given what my last post was about, I’m sure you can understand why.

The divorce slogs ahead. It’s not going all that well, to be honest. I’m not allowed to talk specifics as to why (the lawyers would be pissed if I did) but let’s just say that what has happened so far could have happened without the expense of $15,000 in professional fees. I sometimes think it would have been faster and easier to sue him for divorce, move out, and file for emergency support. But that’s water under the bridge at this point.

However, there is some movement and the big news is that I am moving out. Scot dragged his heels long enough that I threw up my hands and decided enough was enough. I found a house for rent near to where we live now, I took a loan from my parents (because they are wonderful people who are bailing my ass out), and I move December 1st. I can’t wait. The house is just the right size for my needs, there’s room for the kids, and the dog has a big yard. I signed the lease last week and I will have keys a couple days before the move date. I can’t wait. It’s going to be exactly what I need.

A clean break. A new start. For the very first time in my adult life, I will have a place of my own that is MINE and mine alone – I’ve always had roommates or a husband.

On the work front, things are also improving. One of the other results of the divorce process is that the timetable for me to take my CPC (Certified Professional Coder) exam was accelerated. I would have preferred to wait until life settled down a little bit because, HELLO STRESS, but certain parties insisted that I needed a second job – this one full time – and so I dove into exam prep.

The CPC exam is no small thing. It’s a 5 hour and 40 min exam consisting of 150 questions that cover ICD-10-CM, CPT, HCPCS, medical terminology, and coding conventions and guidelines. You have to score 70% or better to pass and only 40-50% of examinees do so on their first attempt. It cost me $800.00 in fees and books just to take the exam. So, there I was, in the middle of the most stressful and difficult time of my life, about to take an exam that was no easy task on the best of days.

I took the exam on November 12th. I walked out feeling like my brain was mush. I used almost the whole exam time and I did manage to answer every question. Still, I had no clue how I did. One woman I met there was on her SIXTH attempt at passing.

I found out today that I passed. I am officially a CPC. I am also officially a Certified Bad Ass Lady. (CBAL, for short.)

I am now on the hunt for a full time job. I’ve applied to six jobs in the last few days and will be putting more time in on that as I go along. The faster I get a job, the better off this whole mess will be, the faster I will be able to get the divorce finalized.

In the meantime, we had an election here in the United States. And I have two words to summarize how I feel about the results: We’re doomed.

I’m not trying to be funny when I say that. I mean it, sincerely. We are so incredibly fucked as a nation. I’m wondering how long it will be until they try to deport my ass because only 3 of my 4 grandparents were born here. The real question is where they would deport me to. I have equal claim to four countries; if they choose Ireland I might not mind so much.

Anyway, over the last few months I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned that I’m even stronger than I knew. I mean, I knew I was strong when I was holding up the whole family single-handedly. But I’ve found out that I can do SO MUCH MORE than that. I’ve proven to myself that I can do any goddamn thing I put my mind to. I am a force to be reckoned with.

I’ve learned that there were a million little ways I let Scot dictate how I lived my life. Things like never going anywhere there is likely to be a large crowd and thus avoiding anywhere during peak times. Things like being scared to find my way around by myself in the city I’ve lived in for FIFTEEN YEARS because he made me scared to do it. Pittsburgh is not an easy city to navigate, this much is true, but it’s not as hard as all that. GPS is a wonderful invention and I’ve learned so much more of this city in the last 3 months than I learned in the previous 15 years. What the hell was I so afraid of?!

I still have a lot of work to do with my therapist; there’s still trash that needs to be bagged up and left at the curb. But I’m miles better than I was even 3 months ago. I’m finally beginning to accept that I don’t always have to put myself last. It’s ok to take care of myself and my emotional well being. It’s not only ok, it’s necessary for me to be a good parent.

This year has been miserably hard in so many ways but I’m finally starting to climb out of the worst of it. There are times I thought I was going to be trapped in this place forever. I was convinced he would never let me out. But I found my strength. I found my resolve. I found out that being a bullheaded, stubborn, redheaded Taurus is one hell of thing to be.

Look out, world. Here I come.

Becoming A Medical Coder

As I near the completion (finally!) of my certification in medical coding, I’ve had some people ask me about my schooling and how I got here. It made me ruminate on the ways in which all the disparate things I’ve done before now have neatly come together into this one profession.

To start, I grew up the daughter of two veterinarians. My Dad owned a vet clinic and my Mom worked first as the vet on staff for their county animal control and then as a relief vet in private practice. (Mom and Dad practiced together before my sister and I came along.) So, medical jargon was the norm in my house. Mom and Dad discussed surgery over the dinner table at night; we listened to Dad take emergency calls from clients; I helped at the clinic every now and then; I watched and assisted as my Mom or Dad spayed/neutered various pets of mine.

My Dad even put stitches in my toe once. But that’s another story entirely.

When I went to college, I studied Archaeology. I have a BS in Anthropology from Michigan State University. I concentrated on Classical Archaeology – Rome and Greece – so I took two years of college Latin. (I graduated before I could start taking Greek.) I also enjoyed Physical Anthropology, in particular Human Origins, which includes a fair amount of anatomy knowledge. The summer between my junior and senior year of college, I completed an archaeological field school that taught me the process of how a dig works.

During the summers of my college years, I worked for the local urgent care in the billing office. I wasn’t a coder or biller then, I was just a general office grunt but one picks up more than just one’s own job if one pays attention. And I did. I gained knowledge in the workings of insurance companies, how claims are filed, medical records keeping, etc. This was in the days before the electronic medical record so it was A LOT of paper management.

When I graduated from college, I made the decision not to go to graduate school. It’s a long story that is partially bound up with the guy I was supposed to marry and didn’t, but suffice it to say that the world of academia wasn’t really something I thought I could successfully navigate. I still think that – the required political maneuverings would have me eating my foot in about 2 seconds flat. That’s assuming I didn’t tell my advisor to stuff it somewhere in the Ph.D. process.

Instead, I worked a series of clerical/administrative assistant type jobs. One of those jobs was as a legal secretary for a law firm that did largely subrogation law. That’s insurance law. Before motherhood, that was the hardest 40 hours a week I ever worked. (Motherhood, however, is the real butt kicker.) The work was incredibly detail-oriented and fast paced to boot. I had no experience as a legal secretary at the time so I had a steep learning curve. But I learned A LOT from that job, not just about the law, and I’m glad I did it.

When I left that job, it was to move cities, come to Pittsburgh, and get married to Scot. I worked for Carnegie Mellon for 4 years as a faculty assistant. I supported 10 professors, all of whom had a claim on 20% of my time. You do the math.

I lost that job in a layoff when I was newly pregnant with Liam – just 7 weeks along. I worked a temp job or two while pregnant but ultimately decided to just be a stay at home parent a few months before I was actually a parent.

That snowballed into a decade at home, at the tail end of which I decided to go back to school to become a medical coder.

I did my program entirely online through AHIMA – it was entirely self-directed and self-paced. I had intended to be done with school by October 2015 – when the ICD-10 code change became effective – but life circumstances prevented that and I’m about 9 months late to the party. Code change was a big deal, with many places scrambling to find coders certified in the new code set in time for implementation. I knew the job market would be open to me, even as a newly minted coder, because I focused my efforts on learning the new coding system just as it was about to be implemented.

I also picked up a part time job that allowed me to gain some experience while I was finishing school.

So how does this all fit together?

  • I grew up in a medical household. That meant that when it came time to learn anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, and pharmacology I started with more that just the basic working knowledge of “the heart has 4 chambers.”
  • Between growing up as I did and taking two years of Latin, learning medical terminology came easy to me.
  • Archaeology taught me analytical thinking. An archaeological dig is nothing more than a large puzzle in three dimensions. You have to be able to take disparate elements and piece them together to form a larger picture. Abstracting medical records to code them out is no different. You look at the full record, extract the relevant information, and turn that into codes that report the full picture of a patient’s illness.
  • Working in a medical billing office is pretty clearly relevant here. I saw HCFA forms and how they were filled out. I learned how to keep medical records. I learned the convoluted ways in which insurance companies work.
  • Working at the law office and at Carnegie Mellon taught me time management and attention to detail. There is nothing so important in coding as the details. The biggest improvement in ICD-10 is that it includes expanded specificity. Oh? The patient is a diabetic? Type I or Type II? Insulin dependent? Any neuropathy? All of those questions affect the code chosen. You have to pay attention.
  • Then there’s my current job. It gives me experience I wouldn’t otherwise have had. I code, I bill, I call insurance companies, I maintain medical records, I stay aware of HIPAA compliance.
  • Last, motherhood. There is nothing so hard, so stressful, so exhausting as being a mother (or a father, but I’m a mother so that’s my experience). There are a thousand skills I use in raising my kids that translate to the workplace.

I’ve done so many different things in my life but it seems they were all leading me here. Finally, at the age of 40, I am on the cusp of having a REAL career. It took me a long time to get here.

My parents have always said that no education is ever wasted and they never made me feel like I wasted mine (or their money) for getting a college degree in a field I don’t work in. It turns out they were right; it wasn’t wasted. It was just one more step leading me here.

Back To School

I’m sure you think this post is going to be about the kids. After all, it’s back to school time for the kiddos – it would only make sense. But, no. This one is about me because I’m the one going back to school.

A little background on me for those that don’t know. I have a B.S. in Anthropology from Michigan State University. My concentration was Classical Archaeology (this means Rome/Greece). I did a Field School while in college so I actually know how to do the physical work and science of archaeology. I still love my chosen field of study.

But I didn’t go to graduate school. When I got out of undergrad, I just didn’t have the dedication of continue school, I wasn’t focused enough, and I wasn’t willing to put up with politics in academia. Unfortunately, there’s not much I can DO in my field without graduate school. So, I went out and got a job in the clerical field. I moved around a lot for a few years after college and worked a number of different jobs. I eventually landed in Pittsburgh when Scot proposed to me and I got a job as a faculty assistant at Carnegie Mellon. I worked there for 4 years until they laid me off when I was 7 weeks pregnant with Liam.

I’ve been a stay at home mother ever since.  I’ve made a couple of attempts to go back to work but they haven’t worked out at all. It just made more sense for me to be home with the kids. It’s not always been the easy path but it felt like the right one.

Now, I am looking toward the time when I will have both kids in school. I’ve made it through those difficult early years when I wanted to be home with the kids as much as possible but I will soon be exiting that portion of my life. In addition, I feel like I’m finally on top of this whole Domestic Diva thing. Given those things, what the hell am I going to do with myself when they’re gone at school all day?

Plus, let me be honest – my brain is bored. Not to be uppity but I’m not stupid. I graduated college With Honors. After all these years at home I’m starting to feel like I need to feed my brain again. Part of that is because my kids are older and more independent. They don’t suck me dry like little vampires of need anymore. (Adorable vampires of need, don’t get me wrong, but certainly energy sucking.) Because of that, I can now focus on more than just getting from one end of the day to the other.

To that end, I’ve decided to go back to school to get certified in medical coding. I can do the entire program online at my own pace. There are a lot of things about this that make sense for my life. I know I can do school without the structure of a traditional classroom. With Jamie in preschool, I will have set time alone that I can work on schooling. Once I’m certified, there are a lot of jobs available in this area – many of which allow you to work from home. Also, there is a transition to a new coding system coming up in October of 2014 and there is a huge lack of people qualified in the new system. So I’m going to make myself qualified.

Even if my life doesn’t allow me to work full time, I’m getting to a point where I *could* work part time and still be home to get my kids off the bus. Ideally, I would like to work from home but I recognize that this may be something I have to earn with experience in the field first.

My first step in the process is to complete a basic Anatomy and Physiology course. Given that I’ve worked in medical offices, have a background in Latin (thanks, archaeology!), and grew up with two veterinarians who discussed surgery over the dinner table, I’m hoping that this will be fairly easy for me so that I can ease into the way that online schooling works. I ordered the book for the class and it should be here tomorrow; once Jamie starts school after Labor Day, I’ll register and get started.

I find that I’m excited about this and that shocks me just a little. It’s not like medical coding is a subject that engrosses me the way that archaeology does.  But I’m detail-oriented enough to find the intricacies of the subject to be interesting. I never thought I’d want to deal with school again – class, and studying and tests, UGH! – but I’m ready. I wish I didn’t have to wait another couple of weeks to begin.

So, as I begin the process of school again, I take with me my father’s oft-shared advice on school: RTPT – Read The Problem Twice – and take no prisoners. I plan to do just that.

Nail Mania

Things have gotten a little crazy with the things I do to my nails.

I’ve painted my nails on and off since college. I tend to keep my toes polished during the spring/summer/fall and my fingernails whenever they manage to grow out enough to look nice. My fingernails have spent large periods of time with nothing on them because BABIES. But I don’t have those anymore.

On the recommendation of a Twitter friend, I started using OPI Nail Envy to strengthen my nails. It works. They still break but not nearly so frequently or so many at once. It’s pretty amazing stuff.

Now, I’ve been painting my nails funky non-traditional colors for a few years now. Particularly my toes. But I’ve started getting really adventurous with my hands.

I started by trying out a color with a sparkly french tip.  This required the little sticker guides to start but then I found out that a rubber band works just as well.

Top: whore of Babylon Bottom: something more subtle

Top: whore of Babylon
Bottom: something more subtle

I learned something doing this – YOU MUST LET THE POLISH DRY THOROUGHLY. If you don’t wait for the main color to dry, you are sunk when you get to the tips. Total mess.

Next I decided to try a two-tone french manicure. I added some little sticker embellishments on the ring finger nail. I’m still debating whether I like this color combo on my nails (it looks better in the bottles) but it was fun to try.

I would have preferred the green be a bit more subdued.

I would have preferred the green be a bit more subdued.

For the Fourth of July I went a wee bit nuts. For my fingers I did a dark blue main color, sparkle tips, and stars on the ring finger nail. For my toes, I did a red base color, a striped big toe, stars on the other toes, and a sparkle top coat over all.

Behold!

Behold!

All of that was drawn freehand with a nail art pen. Hence the not perfect stars or stripes. I still like it anyway.

Now I’ve moved onto something I accomplished with a craft punch and painters tape. I do some paper crafting so I had the punch already. I painted a base color of dark green and let it dry. Thoroughly. Hours worth of thoroughly. (Important step!) Then I used the punch to make a stencil out of the painters tape. I punched a small piece of tape for each nail and then chose a bright pink to use.

Flowers!

Flowers!

The nails are a little messy because the edges hadn’t been cleaned up yet.

These things are all very easy to do, if time consuming. Dry time MUST be built into the process or you end up peeling off the base color with tape when you try to decorate or do tips.

It’s been fun to play around with. Next up: polka dots!

UPDATE: Between the time I wrote this post and it was scheduled to go live, I did indeed do polka dots. Once again I used a hole punch and painters tape. Then, I used my nail art pen to color in the dots. It didn’t come out as well as I would have like – the edges could have been cleaner; the white more fully saturated. So I have some things I want to try the next time I attempt this style.  In the meantime, here’s how it came out!

Polka Dots!

Polka Dots!

The Return Of The Redhead

I grew up with hair that was titian red and I hated it. I mean, I despised it. I hated being teased for it, I hated that it made me different, I hated everything about it. I wished almost every day that it was different.

Then, I grew up and got over it. Then I grew up some more and decided I liked it.  Then I grew up all the way and it became a treasured part of my identity.

That is until I had kids at which point it got duller with each passing year. Instead of going gray I’m simply going dull and boring.  What was once unmistakably red is now headed straight for a dazzling shade of mud.  And each passing year I hate that it’s happening more and more.

I finally gave in and made an appointment to have my hair colored – something I swore I would never do until I was gray.  I didn’t feel like myself and I was tired of people looking at me and saying “Where did Jamie get his red hair?” and being confused when I said “Me.”

Today was D-Day (Dye Day) and I was really keyed up and nervous this morning. I trust my hair dresser very much and he has never steered me wrong but still – this was a big deal!  Also, I was going to have him chop 3 inches off my hair in an attempt to tame its increasingly unruly nature.

I couldn’t be happier with the results.

Before
After

Huzzah! I’m me again!!

Sometimes There’s Nothing Like A Girls Night Out

Or IN, in this case.

Last night I met up at a friend’s house with two other ladies from Twitter for an evening of wine, fun, pie-making and hilarity.

It was heavy on the hilarity, short on the pie-making, and late on the hours.  I got home at 2:30 am.  And it was W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L. I haven’t laughed that hard in I don’t know how long and I haven’t stayed up that late voluntarily in years.

It was exactly what I needed.

So, ladies, you know who are, thanks for a wonderful night. I can’t wait to do it again!