i blame george

less than 24 hours until george w is on his way back to a retirement filled with brush clearing, so i’m taking this last chance to blame him for an troubling miscarriage of justice.

in our previous visits to new zealand we had spent almost all of our time on the south island – the greener, wilder and more action packed half of nz – and when we were planning to move here we always assumed we would live on the south island.

then we ended up in wellington and have been keeping ourselves busy on the north island for the last 18 months. but our first trip to the south island was on the books for march. and it was a big one – the milford track.

the milford track is viewed by many as the finest walk in the world. the track is limited to 90 walkers a day and reservations open up each july 1st for the following year. last july i jumped on the booking system the minute it opened to secure our reservation for this march. even better jackie’s brother from chicago was able to join us for the tramp.

but unfortunately it is no longer in the cards for me – and i’m confident that somehow this is w’s fault.

my recovery from my fracture is progressing along – but not fast enough to allow me to go on the tramp.


adding a super sized dose of salt to the wound – the NY Times featured the Milford Track in this weekend’s Sunday edition.

A Walk Through New Zealand’s Watery Wild

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day 50 update.

yesterday i went to the fracture clinic for my 7 week check up. x-rays all looked good and per my 20 year old doctor i’m now allow to start gradually bearing weight and should be crutch free in 2 weeks. now on my first day i can bear up to 7.14% of my weight.

it’s good to start fighting gravity again.

it was supposed to be my 6 week check up but the day before my original appointment i got a letter from the clinic that casually mentioned that my appointment has been shifted back *5 weeks*. i think the nurse could hear the panic in my voice when i called and appealed for something much sooner since she was able to find me an appointment later in the week.

good thing since i was starting to get a bad case of cabin fever. if i had to wait 5 weeks i knew a big wheel was in my future.


voorjaar heeft afgeveerde

spring has sprung.

today we went to the botanical gardens to see a bit of the spring festival. the highlight today was the tulips. the 25,000+ tulip garden was established in 1948 as a gift from the netherlands in appreciation for kiwi hospitality given to dutch refugees during world war ii. each year as part of the spring festival they sponsor a small celebration in the tulip garden. koffiekoeken all around!

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it was great to get out of the house and enjoy the beginning of spring.

kudos to the jboss for reserving one of the free scooters that are provided by the council at various spots across the city. i don’t think i would have enjoyed the day if i was trying to get around on my crutches.

that said i admit i found it a bit embarrassing. i probably shouldn’t have – but you can always count on little kids to say what’s on their mind. “daddy – why is that man riding in the car?”

the scooter pickup/dropoff was at the cafe at the rose garden, so whilst jackie went to fetch the car i was able to sit and enjoy the sunshine and a band playing the garden.

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extra bonus for the day was a comically bad local band that was playing at the sound shell.

really bad. nick winters bad.

SNL Bill Murray’s Star Wars @ Yahoo! Video

trust me, this is for your own good

significant progress since i’ve been back in wellington.

last week i had an appointment at the fracture clinic to meet a local orthopedic and have my staples (33!) removed – and today i went to my first physio appointment.

i’m not allowed to bear any weight on my leg for another 3+ weeks so this session is focused on restoring range of motion and preventing my leg from wasting away.

my physical therapist is very good. yes, yes – very good. did you hear that nurse? i’m telling everyone how good you are just like i promised.

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most of the session was just stretching, but at the end i spend some time on a pilates machine. not surprisingly it was a bit unpleasant – but quite dramatic improvement after just the first visit.

consistent with my experience through this entire ordeal, there is no charge for any of this care and no paperwork. just a focus on recovery.

this has led to a bit of an epiphany for me. if a little island country in the middle of the south pacific can provide quality health care for all it’s citizens, it proves what can be done – and [editorial warning] it just seems immoral for any country that has the means to not provide for the health of its people.

somehow what i see as a success others see as something to fear and mock.

MCCAIN: Well, I want to make sure we’re not handing the health care system over to the federal government which is basically what would ultimately happen with Senator Obama’s health care plan. I want the families to make decisions between themselves and their doctors. Not the federal government.


after a lifetime of advertisements from the personal injury lawyers i was well into making my list of people & organizations that had done me wrong related to my injury – and who *owed* me.
– the companies that made the skis & the bindings. i saw no warning that i could break my leg anywhere on those products.
– the ski rental shop. no explanation possible except flawed equipment and setup. nice try trying to hide this with the “friendly” staff (aka merchants of doom).
– the ski resort. fat cats making fortunes whist their customers lie strewn across their injury park.
– motel we stayed near the resort. the photos in the brochure were all smiling people enjoying their day skiing. no photos of folks on backboards being taking away in a toboggan by ski patrol. clearly bait and switch.
– ski pants manufacturer. they seemed nice and soft and i assumed would protect me from harm.
– china. i expect all that weather engineering they were doing for the olympics had an impact on us here in nz making the ice particularly hard.

but then i remembered that in new zealand coverage for my accident would be covered by the accident compensation corporation (acc) which provides personal injury cover for anyone legally in new zealand in return for losing the right to sue for damages. doh!

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i guess that’s a fair trade off. but i still think i’ll miss my day in court with the obligatory crutches and neck brace.

the acc experience shows what can be done when the lawyers and insurance companies are out of the picture. funded by payroll deductions (1.16% of salary) and auto registration fees ($204.78 / vehicle) acc covers all medical & rehab expenses and any lost salary.

as soon as we submitted the hospital provided acc forms they called right away to set up a time to drop off equipment to make life at home easier (for me a shower seat and a grabby thing to pickup items out of my reach). my acc case officer called the next day to discuss when i would be able to return to work and what support i would need as i recovered. she said their experience with my injury was that it would 84 days before i would be fully recovered. since by tuesday i was totally bored and was ready to start working from home we agreed that i didn’t need any lost salary coverage. my case officer then reviewed the other items they could help me with – taxi rides to & from work and medical appointments, any prescription medication costs, follow-up gp & ortho visits, and support for any home chores that are normally my responsibility.

my acc coverage list
– rescue helicopter
– emergency room
– surgery
– 3 days recovery in the hospital
– prescription medications
– home aids
– subsidized gp follow-up visits
– orthopedic follow-up visits
– physio
– taxi rides as needed
– home support (not required)
– lost salary coverage (not required)

total cost to me so far: $85 for the private clinic at mountain, my gp visit and some panadol (tylenol).

ward room 17

i got out of surgery early friday morning and was taken up to join the other surgical patients in ward room 17.


while the care i received was top notch, i have no doubt that anyone who is used to us hospitals would freak out upon arrival at the ward room. more than slightly dinged up institutional green paint on the walls, no bathroom, no tv, no phones – just beds and a sink.

this wing of the hospital was due to be torn down in october (not up to current earthquake code) so i understand not wanting to investing a penny more than necessary – but it was more than a bit grim.

friday and saturday passed slowly with the goal of getting off the serious pain meds and getting out of bed for my first physio sessions. i was amazed with surgery early hours friday they had me out of bed and on my crutches by friday afternoon. i also got my first chance to see the x-rays of the repair.

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despite the facility not being too flash, i have no complains about the care. the nurses were great (my primary day nurse was serrie – from the netherlands) and the anaesthesiologist stopped by twice to ensure everything was going well and the pain management was under control. i didn’t get much of the orthopedic surgeons time, but i’ll focus more on that when i am back in wellington. the equipment and meds all seems top notch – and that’s where i’d prefer they spend the money.


oh – and the hospital food did not disappoint. it was *horrible*. really.

for my first several meals the arrived without my input. each meal had a large container of whole milk. i did grow up on 2%, but i haven’t had a glass of milk in 30+ years and have only skim on my cereal. so i made sure i didn’t check the milk box when i selected my breakfast. only to discover the next day that “rice bubbles” are rice crispies and i had no milk. mmmm – rice crispies with no milk…

the other gem on the menu was “seasonal vegetables (no windy)”


come sunday i was itchin’ to go home. by early afternoon we had our discharge materials and were on the road.

it was great to be home.

catching a break

this week is our first planned vacation since we arrived in new zealand and we decided to spend 2 days skiing on my rapaheau and then 2 days in the resort town of taupo.

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nice relaxing drive up on wednesday with some great views of the mountain from the town below. we went to a local ski rental shop and had the expected new zealand experience. after a great fitting we are told to keep the skis for as long as we want, and we can return them any time before 10 to avoid being charged for the day – “if conditions don’t look good, just bring ‘em back”

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after an easy drive up the mountain we have our tickets and are on the lifts by 9:30. first run down a beginners slope to ensure we both remember how to ski and then we’re back up for an intermediate run. first half was great. for the second half we choose a route that is a bit icy but doesn’t look too bad. jackie makes it down and i start my run, taking it a bit at a time. half way down i turn and fall uphill onto my right side. nothing spectacular and some something i would expect to happen many time during a day of skiing.

i thought i had hit my tailbone hard, but when i tried to get up i knew it was something else.

my vacation was over.

i signaled to jackie who made her way up. several other skiers stopped to help and one went to get the ski patrol. the first ski patrol arrived to triage and called for the toboggan. after i was strapped to a backboard i was bundled into the toboggan for a ride down the clinic at the base lodge. the ski patrol were great – could not have hoped for better.

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at the clinic i was given a full exam by the mountain doctor and some basic pain killer to take the edge off. he was able to rule out simple things and said he thought it like “something boney”. the primitive xray machine at the clinic was not conclusive but it appeared that i had a fractured femur – the big bone that runs from your knee to your hip and is *hard* to break. this earned me bonus points and a trip to the hospital in the rescue helicopter. after a quick 20 minute flight i was at wanganui hospital. jackie followed in the car after going to gather our stuff from the hotel, checking out and returning our skiiing gear.

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the emergency room, xray (and i’ll later see operating theatres) are all brand new and state of the art. as expected i spent quite a bit of time waiting, but after an assessment from my 12 year old doctor that i did in fact have a broken femur i was given a bit of morphine and transfered to the orthopedic surgical ward for immediate surgery.

and here was were we traveled through a time tunnel. one minute modern state of the art – the next 1950’s rural russia. i was assigned ward room 17 that i shared with 3 others. no bathroom, no phone, no tv. decorated in classic state hospital green. the shared toilet is down the hall. the patient’s lounge features a lazy boy that would have turned away by the local salvation army, 2 other random chairs and a tv that only receives one channel (i expect it was purchased from ussr surplus and previously only featured soviet military parades)

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there was one surgery ahead of me so i had a bit of a wait before being wheeled down to the operating theatre at about midnight. soon after we met the anaesthesiologist and surgeon. the surgeon explained the injury (NOF – Neck Of Femur) and the intended remedy. we were greatly relieved to hear he was putting in a plate & screws. the alternative of replacing the femur head with a prosthetic was a dreaded possibility. the surgeon answered all our questions, then marked (and signed) the leg to be operated on. i was wheeled into the operating theatre soon after and was out at about 2 in the morning.

after a short shop in recovery (i woke up *freeeeeezing* – they had to use radiant heaters to stop me shaking) i was back to my little slice of russia in the ward.

let the healing begin.

we find these truths to be self evident

  • that insurance companies are not really as interested in your well being as they claim in their marketing

nz has national heathcare coverage for all but with all such plans sometimes you can’t get seen or treated when you would prefer – and that’s *now!*. so there is a private insurance market that provides access to speedier access to some services. with the national plan covering all acute and emergency care, and the acc system covering all accident related care, companies like southern cross can offer private insurance policies for a few bucks a week. for just me it was nz$17 fortnightly – a bit more when we added the jboss.

as expected they don’t cover pre-existing conditions and you have to complete detailed survey of your medical history when you join. but this is where the trouble begins. to quote the sales person “we can’t afford to provide coverage for conditions that members knew about before joining but chose not to treat.” sure – that’s fair. problem is that the claims adjusters don’t see it that way. the fine print of the policy says any “signs or symptom” – not diagnosis. so sprained your ankle in 3rd grade? that would be listed as “lower leg treatment” and anything lower leg related would be denied. nice.

so – since we have full coverage with the national plan and we’re not paying that much for the private insurance it is not a huge deal – except that we’re more than a bit disappointed that 1) the sales staff are clearly misrepresenting the coverage and the company’s treatment of pre-existing condition makes the policy worth much less that we expected. quite frustrating when you get stiffed by a big company and are basically told – those are the rules, take it or leave it.


  • that big american companies do the most amazing things, no matter where in the world you are

getting simple office supplies has always been a bit of a challenge at company e2 (an nz subsidiary of a big us company). on your first day you arrive at an empty desk – no pen, paper, post-its. nuttin. when you ask you are pointed to the mail room.

[scene – entering mail room through door off reception. one staff member sitting at a beat up desk reading a checkout counter magazine. buzzing fluorescent bulb over head. office supply cabinet has cast offs from former employees. no new supplies in sight. new employee enters]


[new employee] hello. excuse me. can you point me to the office supplies? i’m looking for a pen and a notebook.

[mail room employee. not looking up from magazine] there. in the cabinet.

[new employee looks in cabinet. finds a few yellow pads and a coffee cup containing some used pens, some with chewed caps] sorry to bother you but i’m looking for an a4 notebook?

[mail room employee. now looking up and pointing as supply cabinet] we don’t supply notebooks. there are notepads there for you.

[and cut]

the best was an email out last week that announced that the purchase of all office supplies – including paper – is on hold until the 30th of june.


a colleague of mine has decided to make the most of it. he has solved the problem – by photocopying (double sided) the last blank page from his existing notebook. for bonus points he has also photocopied the front and back covers of his existing notebook and attached it all together to create his new notebook. i think it’s genius. no one else seems to get the gag.


  • that antony will underestimate the effort to complete our taxes.

despite being level 7 members of the church of quicken and using turbo tax for all it’s worth, every year doing our taxes is a big stress pill / marriage test. yes – ever for the tax master. and every year i think that next year will be easier. even though i knew this year would have some new challenges (me being on the dole for a bit, selling our house, moving to nz and foreign income) i still thought it would be doable.

well – 2 long weekends of effort and we finally have got to the point where we have bought more time.

firstly some background. all us citizens and permanent residents have a lifelong obligation to file and pay their us income taxes. so from now on we get twice the fun. that said the nz systems is a very simple totally PAYE (pay as you earn) and most kiwis have no need to file a return. for us we will have to since we will be earning income outside of nz.

thus the biggest hitch – foreign income.

the us does have a tax treaty with nz, so in theory that should make things easier and allow you to avoid paying double. first problem is to qualify as someone living outside the states you need to met one of two complicated criteria – bona fide residency or physical presence. and of course the criteria for both are byzantine and and we won’t qualify for either until much later this year. *but* – and this is key – once you qualify then your qualification is backdated to the day you arrived. so they suggest that for filers in our situation that we ask for an extension until jan of 2009 when we will qualify for our bona fide foreign residency.

this is one of my favourite parts of publication 54 – tax guide for us citizens and resident aliens abroad.

“To figure the amount of your moving expense that is allocable to your excluded foreign earned income (and not deductible), you must multiply your total moving expense deduction by a fraction. The numerator (top number) of the fraction is the total of our excluded foreign earned income and housing amounts for both year and the denominator (bottom number) of the fraction is your total foreign earned income for both years.”

so after all our effort we have a rough idea of how much we will owe and have the paperwork off asking for an extension to cover us until we can file as bona fide foreign residents.

i’ve now agreed it’s time to bring in the pros. we now have to find a tax advisor who can confidently take on our return before our new deadline.

more pain awaits.


can a vet fix broken teeth?

no real surprise that jackie was quite eager to get up to quarantine to see gromit after his big adventure. added bonus is that is real is a spectacular drive.

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when we walk into gromit’s room just like yesterday he is bouncing around beside himself with happiness. jackie sits down on the floor to be on his level and then i hear the sound that makes my blood run cold. it’s a crunch that i’ve experience myself (with cosmo about 10 years ago) and has no happy ending. gromit has just bounced under jackie’s chin and that crunch was her teeth. i look over and she is now spitting our little white bits.

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(artist interpretation)

now a brief pause while jackie take’s inventory of the damage and we decide if we get to experience nz rural sunday afternoon dental care.

best we can determine 4 teeth have minor chips but nothing serious.

the rest of the time with gromit was great and he seems to be settling in well. we brought him 2 of his favourite toys (snow kitty and a tug toy) and that made him *very* happy. after an hour of serious play time gromit was exhausted and we were on our way back to the city.