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So what is a newyorksubalien...

I’m a New York subalien. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly legal – it’s just my loving other half, official alien that he is, comes with a so-called “supermodel” visa that apparently denotes him as one possessing extraordinary abilities (falling asleep within 5 minutes of sitting down in front of the TV, remembering only 2 of the 3 items on a mental shopping list and not knowing where the dishwasher tablets live after 2 years in our apartment are just some of his many talents).

The same visa leaves me extraordinarily unable to possess that most American of entities - a “social” i.e. a Social Security Number. Calling it a “social” makes it sound like the password to some party-filled, fun-packed lifestyle. That’s not far wrong as without these all-important 9 numbers, you pretty much can’t have a lifestyle at all - no bank account, no credit card, not even a driver’s license.

So what does a subalien do? Well, like over sub life forms waiting for evolution to give them a leg up on the ladder of existence, I have plenty of time to observe and these, dear reader, are my observations…..

Monday, May 9, 2011

Trying to keep mum about Mom's Day

Yesterday the Subalien family observed their traditional annual abstinence from that quintessential Big Apple tradition – Sunday brunch. Given brunch here seems sometimes to cover all forms of restaurant eating from 10 am to 5 pm this was a big sacrifice in our household. But it was Mother’s Day in our new planet and, as a result, the most popular day of the year for Americans to dine out according to the National Restaurant Association. Think Valentine’s Day but with crying two-year olds at every table.

I had actually been trying to hide the fact from the offspring as I'm in the "Mother's Day only matters when you're no longer living with her" camp. I’ve been greatly helped over the years by the fact that it has been celebrated at different times in our various planetary hops. My first few were in Brazil (second Sunday in May) and to be fair, those I did enjoy as Mini-Mum was obviously too small to feel any need to do anything but her Brazilian crèche did. So I am the proud possessor of a number of T-shirts with increasingly larger handprints and verses in Portuguese which I am keeping for posterity.

Back to the UK and a return to the fourth Sunday in Lent. Those years were easy as being Irish (and no longer living with her), Mother’s Day was apparently obviously designed as a day of celebration for my mother. Need I say more.

Then to France and a switch to the last Sunday in May. There they truly celebrate mothers – so much so they actually give out medals at local town halls for their (literal) contribution to society. The “Medaille de la Famille Française” dates back to 1920 when the award was created to help rebuild the population after the 1914-18 World War. Like all good medal ceremonies, there’s a bronze, silver and gold. Bronze for four or five children, silver for six or seven and the gold for those courageous mothers who have brought up eight or more little darlings (in the nomination form, they leave space to put in the details of up to 15 children).

Those still working their way towards such dizzy heights can all the same expect flowers, perfume and lingerie (after all, this is France). The last year we were there, a huge billboard campaign suggested that if you really wanted to spoil her, the ultimate gift would be a one-cup espresso coffee machine. Just what you need when going for that gold medal - something to keep you awake.

Now we’ve come full circle and we’re back to the second Sunday in May. Here they don’t give out medals but the President does issue a special proclamation. The cards abound and the restaurants have their special “Mom’s Day Brunch” menus on show weeks beforehand. But as the alienettes are past the kindergarten-present-producing-factory stage, I am usually confident the event will pass my little darlings by.

This year I was helped by the fact Superalien’s and Male Mini-Me’s UK football team was playing a crucial match that day and so they were dispatched to the local Irish pub to drink Irish tea (honest) and have an Ulster fry. But they returned, bearing gifts and out came the handmade cards, worked away on in secret. Mini-Mum’s was a work of art and a message to break your heart; Male Mini-me’s had a biology textbook picture of aforementioned blood-pumping organ and the following greeting inside -

Hope you have a wonderful Mother’s Day
PS Most hearts drawn on cards are inaccurate so here is an accurate one

Between the two of them, I think they got it covered.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Finding out the true cost of an arm and leg in the planetary healthcare system

I now know what they mean when people comment that healthcare in Planet Big Apple can cost you an arm and a leg.

I’m also realising it will be no mean feat to make it through our planetary visit with all our body parts intact. This is not because the locals have openly displayed any desire to conduct biological experiments to discover why our teeth are so crooked and our brows so furrowed. It is simply that in our current home, how sick you are appears to depend to some extent on which insurance plan you possess and what procedures it covers.

Take our annual check-ups, for example. An admirable institution and one I fully appreciate is a good idea now that Superalien and I are starting to look increasingly like ET. However on our last visit, surprisingly both of us were independently advised by our charming general practitioner that our alien hearts were murmuring and that we should have an echo cardiogram.

Just by chance, said doctor had recently installed the necessary device in another one of his offices and when I turned up for my appointment, it would appear from the number of other patients waiting for the same test there is a lot of murmuring in our neighbourhood. Perhaps all this low-key coronary chatter is why New York is the city that never sleeps.

Thankfully, as you may have guessed, both our alien murmurs magically had disappeared and there was no need to remove said hearts. My shoulder however is not so fortunate. To be fair, I have actually seen the golf ball-sized (it looks that big to me) lump of calcium which is preventing me from being the obviously brilliant American football thrower I will become once it is removed.

I’ve seen it because it’s there in the MRI images they took when I was stuck for 30 minutes in a very noisy torpedo tube. In my local neck of the woods, Norn Iron, the waiting list for an MRI scan is years as the number of machines we possess you can probably count on one hand - here, that’s as many as can be found in medical offices on just one street. My experience ran like this.

Very nice assistant: “The doctor would like you to have an MRI so we’ll just clear it first with your medical insurance”
Me: “Actually I’m a bit claustrophophic. Is it really necessary?” (Remember this is to do with my shoulder).
Very nice assistant: “Well you can have this other – oh, but I’ve just found out that you are covered for the MRI so that would definitely be best”.

I made the appointment for the next week (I was busy the next day, not them). The whole thing took an hour. Just like the National Health.

I’m also battling to hold on to my teeth. I can understand why, with the preoccupation over pearly white dentures, the locals may be inclined to tear the whole lot out. But this would not be covered in the medical plan. So they’re starting small and my trusted dentist is currently concentrating on getting three out which will allow him to crown another.

This of course has nothing to do with his recent move into enlarged premises. In the same way that my optician who has also moved up and out in the world (office-wise that is) has just decided my eyesight is bad enough to require highly specialized, highly expensive eye-glass lenses. Lenses that are described by my medical plan as only necessary for those who have had corrective surgery. Perhaps she was going on the fact that I was rubbing my eyes and blinking – but only after looking at the bill she presented, almost all of which I had to pay.

We were in fact forewarned. At the famous “cultural" seminar we attended on landing, we were told that when asked their 5 most important goals in life, Americans included being a better healthcare consumer. We had no idea what they meant – literally. At the time we envisaged they meant being up-to-date on the latest treatments or making sure they went to the doctor more regularly. How naïve we were then.

Nearly three years and two medical plans later, I’m still a rookie who gets stung for the non-covered high performance glass lenses but at least my soon-to-be-downsized shoulder is not going to cost me an arm and a leg. That’s because I’m writing “Not this one - the left shoulder” on them before I go into the operating room!
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