Tag Archives: Problem Solving

A Message From Your Medicine Cabinet (Part 2)

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The American Recall Center, in celebration of “Patient Safety Awareness Week,” is holding a “Medicine Cabinet Clean-Out Challenge.” For this event, they have asked a few “influential bloggers” (their words, not mine) to write an article about responsibly using your medications and sharing some personal experiences. They asked yours truly to participate, and I was more than happy to oblige. I know it is coming a couple days late, but today’s article is the piece I wrote for their “challenge.” I hope you enjoy it, and that it makes you think about your own pharmaceutical use. 

In the first part of this article, you started learning about how important it is to be a responsible consumer when it comes to pharmaceuticals. We are quite fortunate to have so many incredible drugs right at our fingertips, but these life-improving medications can quickly become dangerous, life-threatening poisons if not used in the proper way. When we left off, we had covered the first aspect of being a responsible consumer by discussing how to properly store your medications. You also began reading about the second component of proper drug use, taking your medicines correctly. Due to the powerful, and potentially dangerous, effects that your meds can have on you, it is vital that you take all of your medications properly, because mistakes can be extremely harmful, and sometimes, fatal. This is something that I had to experience firsthand several years ago, and in an effort to drive this point home, I am going to share my story with you today. I will then move on to the final aspect of responsible pharmaceutical use, properly disposing of your medications.

Scott Drotar Patient Safety Awareness Week
The National Patient Safety Foundation celebrates “Patient Safety Awareness Week” every year by trying to educate people on the safe use of medications.

My second experience with taking my medications incorrectly was a much more serious situation than my first, which you read about in part one, and it is the main reason I am so careful with my meds today. About four years ago, my chronic pain got much worse, and I began working with my doctor to try to find a combination of painkillers that would better control my discomfort. Over several weeks and after trying multiple “cocktails” of pain meds, we eventually found a three drug combination that worked well. After a couple weeks of being on this mixture of painkillers, my pain was under control, but some strange things started happening to me. I first started seeing and hearing things that were not there. Initially, it was barely noticeable, but over time these imaginary sights and sounds turned into full fledged hallucinations. Over time it got so bad that I could not always tell what was real and what was not, and I thought I was going crazy. I was obviously terrified by this, and after speaking with my doctor, I thankfully found out that I was not losing my mind, but I was damaging it. It turns out that two of the painkillers he had put me on could have dangerous interactions that cause seizures in certain parts of the brain. In some cases, these seizures can cause audiovisual hallucinations. While I feel fortunate that no permanent damage was done and everything went back to normal after I stopped taking one of the drugs, this was a very dangerous drug interaction that could have had much more dire consequences. Even though my doctor and my pharmacist should have caught this potentially life threatening drug interaction before it ever happened, in the end it is my life and well-being that is at risk, so I am responsible for being knowledgeable about the medications I am taking. And once again, if I had merely taken a few minutes to read about my medications before taking them, I could have avoided this entire situation. I hope this story helps you understand how important it is to be a knowledgeable consumer when it comes to taking your medications, and that it is your responsibility to make sure that you are taking your drugs in a proper and safe manner.

Disposing of Your Medications

In addition to containing the instructions for safe and proper use of your medications, the paperwork that accompanies every medicine you obtain also has pertinent information about how to dispose of your drugs correctly, which is the third aspect of being a responsible pharmaceutical consumer. While we do not often consider how we should dispose of our unused meds as an important part of using our medications, this is a critical aspect of responsible drug use. One of the main reasons we do not think about the process is that you usually take the entire container before drugs expire. Every now and then however, you will find that a drug you rarely take has reached its expiration date, or you will try a prescription medicine that does not work and switch to a different drug before finishing the first, and in these types of situations it is important to make sure that you discard these expired and unneeded medicines in the proper way. Depending on the type of medication being discarded and where you live, the guidelines for how to best dispose of various drugs can differ, so it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the specific process in your area. While the rules do differ by region to some extent though, there are some general steps that you can follow to get rid of your unneeded drugs in a responsible and safe way.

Scott Drotar Medication Disposal
Proper medication disposal is an often overlooked aspect of responsible drug use, but it is a critical part of using your medications correctly.

The first step to proper drug disposal is to be aware of your medications’ expiration dates, which can be found on the container’s label and the accompanying paperwork with the drug. Just like food, medicine does go bad after a certain length of time. The shelf life is different for every drug, but most meds that are taken orally and are not refrigerated last at least six months, if not longer. As I said before, since most meds have such a long lifespan, you will usually finish the entire bottle before they go bad, but occasionally you will have drugs that last beyond their expiration date. Once again, just like food that has reached its “use by” date, if a medicine has expired, it should always be discarded. You should never take expired medications, as they often have lost their effectiveness and could be dangerous for consumption. It is always best to properly dispose of the expired drug and get a new, fresh supply. This will not only ensure that you do not take a potentially harmful expired medication, but it will also guarantee that the drugs you take will have the potency and effect that you expect.

Once you have identified that one of your drugs has expired or should otherwise be discarded, the next step is to properly dispose of the medicine. Since depending on where you live the guidelines can differ, before you discard any meds the first thing you should do is talk to your pharmacist or contact your city’s trash service office to learn about any local guidelines for proper drug disposal. For example, I used to live in a city that had a “drug take-back program” that would allow you to bring in any unwanted medication to a certain, pre-designated location, and they would take the drugs and properly dispose of them for you, no questions asked. Once you are aware of any local regulations, the next step is to consult the paperwork that is with the medicine. If there are any specific instructions for discarding the drug, like flushing it down the toilet (never do this unless specifically stated), it will be clearly identified and explained in this documentation. If there are no specific instructions listed, you can safely throw away the unneeded meds in the following manner. Remove the medications from their original containers and put them in a resealable plastic bag. Next, add a large amount of any unappealing, inedible substance (dish soap, kitty litter, coffee grounds, etc.) to the bag and mix it with the unwanted medications. This will make your discarded drugs undesirable to animals and unusable to people who may be dumpster diving. You can then dispose of this sealed bag in any trash can. Following these general rules will ensure that you are doing your part to properly dispose of your unwanted medications, and it will complete the process of being a responsible pharmaceutical consumer.

Scott Drotar Expired Medications
Medicine, just like food, has a shelf life, and it is important to properly dispose of your expired medications.

I will admit, for me personally, this is the part of being a responsible medication consumer that I struggle with most. I do not like wasting anything, whether it be time, food, or medicine. On top of that, I am a bit of a pack rat, and I can always come up with some outlandish, hypothetical reason to hang on to something. These personality traits often make it difficult for me to get myself to throw away unused prescription drugs that I stop taking before I finish them. I always think to myself, “What if I end up trying this medication again in a few months at a higher dose? Why waste such expensive medicine?” Even though I know I should discard the old meds, these thoughts have caused me on occasion to save my unneeded prescription drugs long after I stopped taking them. The funny thing is that I have never had a situation arise where I actually wound up using any medications I have saved “just in case,” and I always end up throwing these drugs away a year later anyway, when they finally expire. While this may not be the best way to go about things, I do always follow the proper guidelines for disposing of my meds, even if I do it a year late. I am a work in progress, I guess.

Final Thoughts

You are now fully equipped to become a responsible pharmaceutical user. You have learned how to correctly store your medications, and you are more aware of the dangers associated with taking your medicines in an improper way. You also now know how to dispose of your expired and unneeded drugs in a safe and responsible manner. Following the information contained within these three aspects of responsible medication use will allow you to take advantage of the huge health benefits that modern pharmaceuticals can provide, while also ensuring that you are doing so in a safe way. Remember that it is up to you, as the person using these medications, to be knowledgeable about your meds and how to properly use them. Take the time to read the documentation that accompanies every drug you buy, because spending a few minutes reading these pamphlets could be the difference between life and death. My final piece of advice is to use common sense and trust your instincts. If you ever get even a tiny feeling that you may be using a medicine improperly, do not take it and consult your pharmacist or physician. If you do that, and do your best to follow the guidelines described above, you will not only be a responsible consumer of pharmaceuticals, but you will also have a much happier, healthier life.

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Di$abl€d (Part 3): Medicaid I

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Before I get into the meat of today’s post, I want to say that I am a proud American, and I feel extremely fortunate that I live in the United States. I am thankful that I was born in a country where my physical limitations do not automatically make me an outcast of society. I am also grateful that our government has implemented programs, such as Medicaid, Social Security and Disability, and Vocational Rehabilitation Services, to help individuals with disabilities overcome the obstacles they face. That being said, this does not mean that I necessarily agree with the way these programs have been implemented or managed, and it definitely does not mean that I agree with how the American government has treated the disabled community in general. Despite the fact that I may disagree with some of the decisions that have been made by the government in regards to disability rights and such, I still greatly appreciate everything that federal assistance programs have done for me. I know that without the assistance of these programs I would have never been able to achieve everything that I have or live the happy, successful life that I do. So if I come across as angry or overly harsh throughout this series, it is not that I am unappreciative or un-American, I am merely exercising my right to free speech/press and trying to create positive change for the disabled community.

All of the numbers and information I will be presenting in this series are based upon my own life and research. Private insurance and Medicaid benefits can vary greatly from plan to plan and state to state, respectively. While my experience may not be universal, it will still give you a good general idea of how these programs work in the real world.

At this point in the “Di$abled” series, you are well aware of the huge financial burden that the medical expenses associated with having a physical disability can be. You also learned in the previous entry about the large amount of relief that private health insurance coverage can provide for the disabled community, but that there are often insurmountable obstacles that either eliminate this source of financial assistance for disabled individuals or at least limit its effectiveness. For those people who are unable to obtain private insurance and/or require additional financial help with their medical bills above and beyond their insurance coverage, the federal government has created multiple programs to assist physically disabled individuals with their extra expenses. The most well known and widely used of these medical assistance programs is Medicaid. This program is available to any United States citizen who is determined to be physically disabled and not have the financial means to afford all of their medical needs. While this sounds great in theory, and this program does do a lot of good for the disabled community, in practice you will see that there are definitely some problems within the Medicaid system that make this program far from perfect.

Scott Drotar Medicaid Eligibility
You must be deemed both medically and financially eligible in order to receive Medicaid benefits.

Medicaid was created as a part of the Social Security Amendments of 1965 signed into effect by President Lyndon Johnson. According to the HIAA, Medicaid is a “government insurance program for persons of all ages whose income and resources are insufficient to pay for health care.” It is obviously much more complicated than this, and there are a few other eligibility requirements, but in a general sense this is what the program was designed to accomplish. It provides medical insurance coverage for people who cannot afford their medical expenses, at little to no cost for the recipient. A unique aspect of this assistance program is that, although it is federally funded, each state is given the autonomy to administer their Medicaid funds however they deem best. This has the effect of making the Medicaid financial eligibility criteria, benefits, and physical disability determination process different from state to state. While this flexibility does have the positive result of allowing each state to make the most effective use of its funds, as you will see, the huge differences between states can be a large obstacle for many people who require these services. Even though every state is different to some degree, you will still gain a good understanding of the pros and cons of the Medicaid system by reading about my personal experiences using these services. If you would like to find more specific information for your state after hearing my story, you can visit the official Medicaid website at www.medicaid.gov.

When I think about the Medicaid program as a physically disabled person trying to lead a happy, successful life, there are two main aspects of these services that should be discussed. These two key ideas that need to be addressed are the eligibility requirements to receive services and the benefits that are provided. In terms of eligibility, there are two types of criteria that must be met in order for you to be approved for Medicaid assistance. You have to be deemed both medically and financially eligible before you can receive services. This is a lengthy process that involves obtaining numerous medical and financial documents, as well as filling out a more than 20 page application booklet. Once you complete this mind-numbing circus of bureaucracy and are finally approved for this program, you then have to become familiar with what benefits your state provides and how to use them to cover your medical expenses. This involves both understanding what your benefits are, and also finding health care providers that will accept Medicaid as payment.

Scott Drotar Medicaid Application
The Medicaid application booklet is a 20 plus page document that you have to complete in order to be approved for services.

In order to receive Medicaid services, you have to meet certain medical requirements. Medicaid is designed for people with minimal financial assets (the financial eligibility criterion that is discussed next) who fall into any of the following categories: children, pregnant women, parents of eligible children, people with disabilities, and the elderly. In most cases, the medical requirements for eligibility are very similar to the requirements for receiving Social Security benefits (SSI), and by being approved for SSI, you are frequently also automatically deemed medically eligible for Medicaid. Basically, you have to prove that you are physically unable to work enough to support yourself financially and cover your medical expenses. This process usually involves having your doctors write letters and fill out forms detailing the severity and limitations of your disability, which are then mailed to your state’s Medicaid office where it is reviewed. Making this long and time consuming process even more complex is the fact that, on top of each state having its own set of rules, there are usually several different medical assistance programs within the Medicaid system for each state. Every subgroup has its own set of eligibility criteria and benefits, and depending on your specific diagnosis and financial situation, you will need to apply for one of these plans. This means in addition to getting approved as medically eligible for Medicaid services in general, you also need to understand the separate benefits programs for your state and apply for the correct one. For example, in Kansas there are separate plans and benefits for developmentally disabled children, called Home and Community Based Services (HCBS), and for adults who are severely disabled but can still work, the Working Healthy Program. Even though I do qualify for Medicaid benefits, if I were to apply for any program other than the Working Healthy Program, due to my specific set of circumstances I would be denied services.

Once you have taken the time to educate yourself on your state’s Medicaid programs, obtained the necessary medical documentation from your doctors describing your disability, and have filled out the medical portion of the Medicaid application booklet describing your physical limitations, you are halfway to reaching your goal of being approved for services. Now that you have met the medical criteria, you must also show that you meet the financial eligibility requirements before you can receive your benefits. This involves filling out several more pages of questions in the Medicaid application booklet, as well as gathering various financial documents from your employer and your bank. In Kansas, you are required to send in 90 days of bank statements for all of your accounts, three months worth of pay stubs, and documentation of any other income (like home business income, trusts, real estate, etc.) when you apply for benefits. Since Medicaid is designed to give assistance only to people with “low financial assets,” you are trying to prove that your financial situation is insufficient to cover your medical expenses resulting from your disability. While every state is different in terms of what “low assets” means, in my experience it basically means that you are living month to month paying your bills, but you have no extra money beyond that. You have to have next to no savings or emergency money in the bank (typically the limit is $2,000 in liquid assets), and you must make just enough money to survive, in order to qualify for services. A more specific definition that several states have adopted is that you are only financially eligible for Medicaid if your income is less than 133% of the poverty line (roughly $30,000 for a family of four). While it does make sense to only provide these free, medical benefits to people who truly need it, the strict financial eligibility requirements that must be met to receive services can put some disabled individuals in a very difficult situation.

Scott Drotar Working Healthy
The Working Healthy Program is designed for people who are disabled, but still would like to work without losing their Medicaid benefits.

For many disabled people, these strict financial requirements you must meet in order to receive Medicaid benefits are a major, and possibly insurmountable, obstacle that prevent them from getting services. In my case for example, I am severely, physically disabled and could never afford all of my medical expenses, but I can still work and earn money despite my limitations. In some states, the financial eligibility criteria would force me, and others like me, to choose between working, making a living, and contributing to society without any Medicaid benefits and not working, sitting at home, and living on disability checks with benefits. Basically, either way I end up broke and sitting at home living off the government waiting to die. You surely agree that neither of these options is especially appealing, and thankfully there are some states, like Kansas, that have started Medicaid programs to give people like myself a third choice. I am able to work, actually earn and save some money (I cannot save a lot), and still receive Medicaid services thanks to a program called Working Healthy. Under the Working Healthy Program, if you are medically eligible for benefits, but are still able to work at least part time, you can still receive benefits, so long as you do not accrue too much wealth ($15,000 in liquid assets and roughly $35,000 earned a year in Kansas). This is a wonderful program as it is a winning situation for everyone involved. I get to lead a happy, fulfilling life as a functioning member of society without having to give up my Medicaid benefits, my employer gets a good employee who helps his business, I pay taxes on the money I earn that helps the government, and the government can then put more money into Medicaid funding. Everyone who is involved gains something through this program, and this is obvious by the number of other states that have adopted similar options. I know Kansas was the first state to start this type of coverage roughly a decade ago, and now more than 13 states have developed similar programs.

We are finally through our “brief, simple” discussion of what Medicaid is and the eligibility criteria for receiving these benefits. As you can already see from how much information you have just covered, this is an extremely complicated topic. My head is practically spinning from covering all of this federal bureaucracy, so I am sure that you are mentally saturated as well. So that we can both give our full attention to the rest of the information on Medicaid still left to discuss, I am going to stop here and finish our conversation in the next post in this series. In fact, this whole notion of the complex nature of these medical assistance programs is actually a topic that will be discussed in that article, when we cover more obstacles to receiving these services. We will not only discuss the obstacles, but also the benefits that the Medicaid program can provide the disabled community to improve their lives.

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“We Have The Technology.”

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Scott Drotar Microchip
I have always had a fascination and curiosity for technology and anything with a microchip.

My entire life I have been a huge uber-geek when it comes to computers and technology. Ever since I was 4 years old and got my very first Apple II computer, courtesy of the Make A Wish Foundation, I have been hooked. Not only have I always been interested in figuring out how various gadgets work and learning to program in as many languages as I can, but I also realized at a fairly young age that modern technology had something special to offer me due to my disability. It became obvious to me early on in my time tinkering with computers, and later on the internet, that in the virtual world of microprocessors and internet protocols my physical limitations were no longer a disadvantage that I had to overcome. For the first time in my life I was on a level playing field with the people around me, able-bodied and disabled people alike. I realized that learning as much as I could about programming, operating systems, and computers in general that I would be able to create an environment where I could operate on the same level as everyone else. Not only does technology level the playing field for me, but it also provides me with the tools to prevent my disability from limiting my world as my body gets weaker with time, which is something that I was reminded of during last year’s Holiday Season.

I have discussed in some of my earlier articles about how travelling long distances is difficult at best when you have a severe, physical disability, even if you are fortunate enough to have your own wheelchair accessible vehicle. One of the effects of not being able to make long trips is that I cannot go to visit my friends and family who live in other parts of the country. Whether it be visiting my old college roommate, attending my 10 year high school reunion, or going to one of my best friend’s wedding, unless it is less than a few hours drive from my apartment, I am probably not going to be able to make it. This could definitely make it difficult for me to maintain relationships and have a fulfilling social life, but thanks to the recent technology boom and my fascination with anything containing a microchip however, this is fortunately not the case. By taking advantage of some of the new features available on our phones, tablets, and the countless other “big kid toys” in our lives, I have been able to find alternative ways to keep my social and professional worlds from being restricted to the greater Kansas City area and maintain a very fulfilling social life.

While I have been aware of my use of technology in expanding my world for a long time now, during the Holidays last year this is something that was really brought to my attention. The Holidays are a time to be with friends and family, and since my loved ones are scattered all across the country, not being able to travel very far makes it difficult for me to share this festive time with some of the the most important people in my life, at least in person. Thanks to several different technological features that are now almost commonplace on most technological devices, I was able to share my Christmas celebration with all of the people who make my life so great. Touchscreen displays for example, which are pretty much a standard feature now, have helped those of us with weak muscles more use of technology, as they require far less pressure and range of motion than previous control options. Live video streaming, available free through programs like Skype and Google Hangout, allow disabled individuals who cannot travel the ability to still be present at any event nearly anywhere in the world, at least in a virtual sense. I was able to still share the Holidays with several of my old dorm brothers thanks to video chatting, despite the fact that they live hundreds of miles away. Even the recent advancement that allows anyone to purchase nearly anything without ever leaving their home has been a major improvement for people with disabilities. I was able to have wonderful gifts for my family, wrapped beautifully and waiting under my Christmas tree, without having to put my body through the physical toll of going out in the cold, subjecting myself to millions of new germs, and risking spending my Christmas in a hospital bed, thanks to the amazing service of websites like Amazon and Overstock.com.

Scott Drotar Social Media
The social media boom has helped open up the world for many physically disabled individuals.

I am so thankful that the various technology companies have inadvertently improved the lives of thousands of disabled people over the last several years. As they have worked to develop more and more new features before their competitors, they have also been giving new levels of freedom and independence to people with physical limitations. Although these companies will probably never realize it, and it will definitely not show up in their stock values or quarterly reports, organizations like Apple, Samsung, and Google have allowed people with severe, physical disabilities achieve goals and experience things that would have never been possible without the developments in technology that they have produced. These advances, which are so often thought of in terms of dollars and cents, to people like me are so much more than that. Being able to chat with one of my best friends about his new job and getting to be a part of my loved one’s Christmas festivities without ever leaving my home are things that are so special that I could never put a dollar value on them. These features have given me a happy, fulfilling life that I am so proud of, and that is something that is priceless.

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Di$abl€d (Part 2): Private Insurance

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Before I get into the meat of today’s post, I want to say that I am a proud American, and I feel extremely fortunate that I live in the United States. I am thankful that I was born in a country where my physical limitations do not automatically make me an outcast of society. I am also grateful that our government has implemented programs, such as Medicaid, Social Security and Disability, and Vocational Rehabilitation Services, to help individuals with disabilities overcome the obstacles they face. That being said, this does not mean that I necessarily agree with the way these programs have been implemented or managed, and it definitely does not mean that I agree with how the American government has treated the disabled community in general. Despite the fact that I may disagree with some of the decisions that have been made by the government in regards to disability rights and such, I still greatly appreciate everything that federal assistance programs have done for me. I know that without the assistance of these programs I would have never been able to achieve everything that I have or live the happy, successful life that I do. So if I come across as angry or overly harsh throughout this series, it is not that I am unappreciative or un-American, I am merely exercising my right to free speech/press and trying to create positive change for the disabled community.

All of the numbers and information I will be presenting in this series are based upon my own life and research. Private insurance and Medicaid benefits can vary greatly from plan to plan and state to state, respectively. While my experience may not be universal, it will still give you a good general idea of how these programs work in the real world.

Scott Drotar Private Insurance
Private health insurance is the best type of medical coverage in most situations, and it can greatly improve the lives of disabled individuals.

In the first entry in this series, you learned what an enormous obstacle the medical expenses that arise from being disabled can be. The large costs of many medical necessities, like wheelchair accessible transportation, attendant care, and prescription medications, put a large financial burden on disabled individuals, as well as their families. The extra costs that the disabled community endures due to their physical limitations are frequently more than they can reasonably afford, and this often leads to individuals receiving substandard care and having a lower quality of life. Fortunately, there are both private sector and federal assistance programs, such as private insurance and Medicaid, that are designed to help alleviate some of this financial stress. While these organizations do not completely eliminate the strain of these expenses, and there are often still large out of pocket costs even with the assistance of these groups, they do give many disabled individuals the opportunity to live fulfilling lives and become functioning members of society. In the next few posts in the “Di$abl€d” series, we will be discussing the pros and cons of some of these assistance programs. This begins with today’s article about private insurance programs.

Both of my parents being public school teachers, which made them state employees, meant two things for my family financially. The first was that they would be grossly underpaid, as all educators are, and the second was that they would have great benefits. One of these benefits was access to high quality health insurance coverage at minimal cost. For as long as my folks have been employees of the John Glenn School Corporation, my entire family has had great insurance. After we paid the monthly premium and my yearly deductible, 80% of all of my medical expenses are covered by my private insurance. While not all of my medical needs were always approved and 20% is still a sizeable amount of out of pocket expense sometimes (like after 15 days in the ICU), having private health insurance of this caliber gave my family enough financial relief to get me all of the medical care I needed, while also allowing us to maintain a middle-class lifestyle. To give you an idea as to the enormous amount of money my private insurance has paid for my medical needs, only taking into account my home nursing care and pain medication, every month they pay over $25,000. That means, just for those two things, that since I have moved to Kansas they have shelled out over $1,500,000. This is an enormous amount of money that my family could never have afforded on our own, and I am extremely grateful that I have access to such quality medical coverage, as it is definitely not the norm. In fact, of all of the other physically disabled people I have met over the years, I have never ran across someone with private insurance as good as mine. Thanks to my excellent health care coverage, I have been able to see the best specialists, have my own wheelchair accessible vehicle, and purchase multiple power wheelchairs, none of which would have been possible for my family financially without the assistance of our insurance plan. There is little doubt that the great health insurance I have had over the years has contributed greatly to the independent, successful life I have created for myself, and without this assistance the lives of my entire family would have been much more difficult.

While I have been extremely fortunate that I have had quality private insurance since I was about 5 years old, I do not want to give the impression that my experience with private health insurance companies has been nothing but rainbows and butterflies. Although having private insurance has greatly improved the quality of life for both me and my family, as well as having played a large part in giving me the opportunity to achieve my goals, it has not always been easy. Anyone who has ever had private health insurance knows about the irritating clerical errors that lead to problems with your coverage. Those occasions when something is denied for payment purely because it was entered incorrectly into their system, and you have to spend hours bouncing around their automated phone system getting things corrected. While I did have to deal with these frustrating moments, at least they could be corrected in an afternoon. In addition to these irksome moments, for people with physical disabilities there are a couple much larger issues that can occur, and they both can have the disastrous outcome of you losing your coverage. These two hurdles are the problems of preexisting conditions and lifetime maximums.

Scott Drotar Preexisting Condition
When my parents first started working at John Glenn School Corporation, they had to wait 18 months to see if their insurance provider would cover me despite my preexisting condition.

Thanks to President Obama, we have all heard of the problems that having a preexisting condition can cause when you are trying to get health insurance. Basically, private insurance companies say that they will not pay for anything related to health problems you had before you purchased their insurance plan (a preexisting condition). For someone like me, who has been afflicted by a genetic disability since birth, this would essentially mean that I could never get health insurance. Fortunately for me though, there are provisions and regulations that are designed to help with this major hurdle for the disabled community. In my case for example, when my parents first started working at John Glenn when I was 5 years old, even though they had a family plan for private health insurance, I was not covered. Before the insurance provider would pick me up and cover expenses related to my disability, I had to go 18 consecutive months without being admitted to the hospital. If I did not make it the full 18 months, the clock would start from zero again whenever I got discharged. Obviously, this was a very tense period for my family.

Thankfully, I was able to make it the full year and a half on my first try, but it was still definitely a very stressful and trying time. Not only was there the mental stress of seeing whether I would stay healthy long enough to gain coverage on our family plan, but there was also a large financial strain during this period. Since a stay in the hospital costs thousands of dollars, and with my health being so fragile and unpredictable, we had to purchase COBRA insurance during this period in case I would get sick. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) requires employers to provide access to health insurance coverage for a period of time after employees switch jobs or are laid off. This sounds great in theory (and it has its uses), but since employers do not have to subsidize the insurance premiums under COBRA, the insurance is very expensive. This meant that on top of paying the premium for our family insurance coverage, we also had to pay the much larger monthly premium for my COBRA insurance each month. While everything worked out for us in the long run, this was a significant hurdle that could have had a huge impact on my life. Hopefully, with the progress that has been made in regards to preexisting conditions through “Obamacare,” this enormous obstacle will not be an issue for the next generation of disabled individuals.

The second major issue with private insurance coverage for people with physical disabilities is the problem of lifetime insurance maximums. Whenever anyone signs the contract for their private health insurance, somewhere in the fine print there is a section that says how much the insurance company is willing to pay over the entire life of the plan (lifetime maximum). These maximums vary greatly from plan to plan and between providers, but usually the lifetime maximum is around $2,000,000. For healthy, able-bodied people, this number is not important because you will never need more coverage than that. For individuals with severe, physical disabilities though, this number can be reached fairly quickly, and even within just a few years in some cases. Going back to the $1,500,000 that my insurance company has spent just in the last five years on my home nursing care and pain medications, you can easily see how quickly this maximum can be reached. When you take into account hospital stays, medical equipment, and all of the other medical expenses disabled people have, it is obvious that this is a huge problem. Even if disabled individuals are fortunate enough to have private health insurance to begin with, due to lifetime maximums they would run out of coverage long before they no longer need it.

Once again, there are some regulations in place to try to help the disabled community overcome this financial burden created by their physical limitations. Luckily, there are laws that state in certain situations that if a disabled person cannot get health insurance as good as the coverage they have through their parent’s plan, then they cannot be denied coverage due to age or lifetime maximums. In my case, this basically means that unless I can find another insurance carrier that will ignore my preexisting conditions and give me the same level of service I have now (fat chance), that my parent’s insurance company cannot deny me coverage. This is why I am still on my family’s insurance even though I am over 24 years old (the normal age cutoff for dependents on health insurance) and have reached my lifetime maximum several times over. Again though, this is not the norm, and very few disabled people have access to insurance coverage as good as mine. I have met numerous individuals who hit their lifetime maximum and were forced to drastically change their lives due to losing coverage. This is a major problem facing the disabled community, and it is definitely something that needs to be addressed in the near future so disabled people can live without fear of running out of coverage.

Scott Drotar Obamacare
Obamacare is trying to remove some of the obstacles preventing the disabled community from obtaining private health insurance.

Private health insurance is by far the best insurance option as far as what and how much of your medical expenses are covered. In cases like mine for example, my insurance company has spent millions of dollars over my 28 years, and this has allowed me to lead a happy, fulfilling, and independent life. Due to obstacles like preexisting conditions and lifetime maximums however, this type of coverage is not a long-term option for a lot of disabled people. While I have discussed a couple of the major hurdles for the disabled community in receiving private insurance, I have only begun to address all of the problems with private health insurance that face these individuals. I hope that my words have made an impression on you though, and that you have a better understanding of how difficult it is for disabled people to get and keep private health insurance, only exacerbating the financial burden their disability causes. In an effort to alleviate this strain on disabled people who cannot find private insurance or who reach their lifetime maximum, the government has created several federal programs to assist with medical expenses for the disabled. One of the most well known of these federal assistance programs, Medicaid, is the topic of the next post in this series.

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Setting Boundaries

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Scott Drotar Purple People-Eater
I am a huge “people-pleaser,” not to be confused with a “flying purple people-eater.”

I have something I have to tell all of you, but it is not going to be easy. I have not addressed it explicitly thus far in my Roll Models articles or talks, but I have decided that I need to be open with you. If I am going to share my world with you, then I need to share the good, as well as the bad, in order to give you an accurate depiction of my life. I hope this will not change your opinion of me, but I will totally understand if you see me differently after this post. I better just do it before I lose my nerve, so here it goes. My name is Scott, and I am a “people-pleaser.” That is right. I, Scott Drotar, your wise, witty, wheelchair-using wordsmith, is a “people-pleaser.” Not only that, but I am probably one of the worst “people-pleasers” in the world. I have a compulsive desire to please others and make people happy. I have a problem saying “no,” volunteer for things even when I have a full schedule, and often burn the candle at both ends. I fear missing a deadline and “dropping the ball” on a project more than death. My drive to help others live better lives even caused me to create (at least partially) my own speaking program and website to motivate and inspire as many individuals as possible, and if that does not scream, “people-pleaser,” I don’t know what does. However, I know that admitting I have a problem is the first step to coping with my issues, so I am here telling you today that I am a “people-pleaser.”

Ok. I know that this is a bit over-dramatic, and I do not mean to make fun of addiction issues or recovery groups, but I am a bona fide “people-pleaser.” When I get the sense that someone is not happy with something I have done, I get this physically ill and uncomfortable feeling throughout my body. I do not know why I get such a strong physiological response, but when I say “no” to someone, do not meet someone’s expectations, or otherwise let someone down, I get these horrible, sick feelings. I get this nauseated feeling in the pit of my stomach, my breathing gets shallower, and my body gets

Scott Drotar Setting Boundaries
Growing up, my siblings and I were always being told to think of others before ourselves.

flushed and sweats like a sinner’s on judgment day. While I do not know why it happens, I do have a good idea of how it started. Growing up, one of the things that my parents were constantly preaching to my siblings and I was the importance of thinking beyond ourselves. They were always telling us to put the needs of others before our own and to focus first on the happiness of the people around us. These altruistic ideals are something we all need to learn, and they have been quite valuable throughout my life, but it is important to remember to keep things in perspective. Just like everything else in life, you need to find the right balance. If you are only ever worrying about the well-being and happiness of others and completely ignoring your own needs, you will end up being just as bad off as people who only think of themselves. Sure, people may like you a lot more than these greedy, self-serving individuals, but you will not be any better off since you are not addressing your own needs. By constantly giving to others all the time, you will end up burnt out and miserable from ignoring your own wants and desires. This is not only bad because you deserve to be happy, but also since in giving too much of yourself and burning out in the short-term, you will no longer have the drive to help improve the lives of others over the long-term. In order to help others as much as possible, maintain your own happiness, and avoid fizzling out and imploding on yourself like a dieing star, you have to learn to set boundaries.

When I was in my first semester of graduate school, since I was new to the quantitative psychology program, had almost no knowledge of theoretical psychology, and had a much different background than my colleagues, I felt like I had something to prove. I felt like I needed to show everyone that I belonged and could be an asset to the department. In an effort to prove my worth, I would volunteer and sign up for anything that I was even remotely qualified to do. When my boss would start looking for people to handle certain jobs at our weekly staff meetings or email the entire department looking for someone to take on a new client, I would be the first to speak up or hit reply. As you can imagine, after a couple months of signing up for anything and everything I could, my plate was very full. It got to the point by mid-semester where I had zero free time or personal life, and if I was not in one of my own classes, I was working on something for a client. I was well on my way to burning out, and if I had continued much longer this way I am certain I would have (probably ending my academic career), but thanks to some wisdom from a professor, I was able to avoid this unpleasant fate and learn an important life lesson.

I was sitting in a lecture hall the week before Fall Break waiting on one of my classes to start, and as I was quietly sipping my Starbucks latte, the professor walked over and asked how my first semester of graduate school was going. I told him that I was enjoying myself and thought I was doing well in my courses, but I was still struggling with finding enough time to complete all of the projects I was working on. He smiled and said that time management was a big part of grad school, and then asked me what projects I was currently helping with. I started going through my mile-long list of current projects, and after about the sixth one, my professor stopped me. He said that I had more projects going than he did even as a tenured professor, and that I was definitely doing way too much for a first year graduate student. He then went on to ask me who had assigned me to all of this work. I shook my head quickly and told him that no one had assigned these projects to me, but that I had volunteered. I added that I thought as the new person in the department and being “low man on the totem pole,” that I was supposed to volunteer a lot and show people what I could do. At this point, a gentle smirk came across my professor’s lips as he said that I had things “completely back-asswards.” He then gave me two great pieces of advice. The first was that the people that mattered already knew what I could do, or I would not be there in the first place (a universal idea that we all forget occasionally). The second, and more valuable, nugget of wisdom was the importance of setting boundaries.

My professor explained to me that in academia, one of your most valuable commodities is your time. There is only so much time in the day, and you will always end up having more work to do than time allows. Unless you can learn to set some boundaries, you will end up going crazy as you painstakingly try to do everything for everyone. If you do not protect your time today by learning to say “no,” you will not have the drive or mental faculties to say “yes” later on when you do have time. It is all a matter of having the ability to help as many people as possible in the long run. It is much better, both for you and others, to help on a few less projects every year, but be around for four years, than to help on every project this year, but burn out and leave after this Spring semester. Having it explained to me this way, as a cost and benefit type problem, really put everything in perspective for me. I realized that you have to balance your “yes’s and no’s” by setting boundaries, in order to get the best result and participate on the most projects.

Scott Drotar Totem Pole
As the “low man on the totem pole” in my first semester of graduate school, I rarely said “no” to a project.

As important as my professor’s sage-like advice was for surviving my grad school career, it was only after I thought about his words for a few days that I realized their real value. It turns out that this same concept about protecting your time and setting boundaries is applicable to nearly every part of life. Just like I needed to say “no” to some projects early on in my grad school career in order to maintain my sanity, graduate, and achieve my long-term goals, you also need to create and sustain limits in all of the other areas of your life if you want to be happy and successful. By developing boundaries you will be able to better prioritize your life and maintain a healthy balance even when you are being pulled in a thousand different directions. Whether it is turning down a “happy hour” invitation from a colleague to have family dinner, or saying “no” to your boss’s request that you stay late to watch your child’s dance recital, your boundaries will ensure that you do not get beaten down by life or lose sight of what is most important to you. Developing these limits, learning to say “no,” and remembering that long-term success is most important, will make you feel much happier and fulfilled with your life, and since you will be better equipped to help others in the long run, it will improve the lives of others as well.

I am a “people-pleaser,” and that will never change. The feelings I have to make everyone around me happy and not disappoint others will never completely go away. Like any other compulsion or addiction though, you can learn to manage these feelings and live a happy, successful life. Developing good boundaries, and sticking to them, will go a long way towards controlling your “people-pleaser” urges. If you too suffer from this horrible affliction, take the time to really think about the wisdom my professor shared with me. What areas of your life are making you feel burned out? What parts of your life are you ignoring because of other obligations? Make a list of what aspects of your life are the most important to you, and then create boundaries that ensure you devote your time to the right things. If you develop good boundaries, and stick to them even when it is hard, you will no longer be a slave to your urges as a “people-pleaser.” You will enjoy a long, happy life with your loved ones, and better yet, in the long run you will be able to give more of yourself to others.

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A Recipe For Success: Trust Your Tastebuds

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As a result of my spinal muscular atrophy and the damage it has done to my body, I have to be very careful when I am eating to avoid choking. With my disability weakening the muscles used in swallowing, along with all of the scar tissue from my trache surgeries taking up extra room in my neck, there is not a lot of room for food to go down my esophagus. One of the ways that I have adapted my diet to overcome this obstacle is by keeping my food as soft and moist as possible. I accomplish this by putting sauces, dips, and other condiments on pretty much everything I eat. These sauces help moisten my food, while also acting as a sort of lubricant to help things slide on down to my belly. Since I put some sort of condiment on nearly every bite I take, it makes sense that as I have gotten into cooking I have started experimenting with making my own sauces and dips. I have developed, and I would nearly say perfected, my own delicious recipes for various condiments ranging from a tangy honey mustard to an Asian sweet and sour sauce to, most recently, my own blazing buffalo sauce (which is available on my Pinterest Cooking Board). The last few weeks, as I was working on my buffalo sauce recipe and going through the process of gradually modifying it until it was just right, I realized something. I realized, as I was tinkering with my concoction one little bit at a time, that the process for modifying and developing your own sauce recipe is extremely similar to the way you should go about monitoring and adjusting your body’s health, mood, and overall well-being. Furthermore, by learning this process in the kitchen, you will then be able to apply it to your life in general, which will help you be both healthier and happier (plus you will have some kick ass sauces).

The first step in developing your own sauce recipe is to find an existing recipe to use as a starting point. You can get this jumping off point through the recommendation of a friend, out of a cookbook, or by finding a well reviewed recipe online. All that matters is that you think the recipe will at least be similar to what you want your final product to be. After selecting your starter recipe, you should make the sauce exactly as the recipe describes without any alterations. Once it is done, taste the sauce several times to really get a good idea as to its flavor profile, and then put it in the refrigerator overnight and give it another taste the next day. This is important because many sauces change quite a bit after being allowed to settle for a few hours. Now that you have a working knowledge of what this recipe tastes like, as well as what needs to be improved upon, it is time to really start cooking. With my buffalo sauce, I knew that my starter recipe needed more heat (surprise, surprise), and it needed to lose the harsh, vinegar-like aftertaste that lingered after each

Scott Drotar Cayenne Pepper
I knew that adding more cayenne pepper would increase the heat of my sauce, but a little spice can go a long way, so I needed to go slowly.

bite and made the flavor seem very acidic. It is always important in altering a recipe to tackle one thing at a time, and since I knew that adding more heat was as easy as adding more cayenne pepper spice than the starter recipe recommended, I did that first. I added a pinch more cayenne pepper, then gave it a taste, added a pinch more, gave it a taste, and just continued this process until it was as spicy as I thought it should be. Next I needed to find a way to get rid of the overpowering, vinegar aftertaste. Thanks to my knowledge of kitchen chemistry and flavor profiles, I knew that milk products often work well to tone down overly acidic and spicy flavors, so I decided to substitute some of the vegetable oil in the starter recipe with butter. This would maintain the high fat content that the oil provided, while also inserting some dairy to diminish the acidic flavor ruining my sauce. Once again I worked up slowly by adding a teaspoon of butter, giving it a taste, add another teaspoon, give it a taste, and so on. Eventually (two tablespoons of butter later), I found the right mix of vegetable oil and butter, and my sauce was finished. It was a great consistency, had just the right amount of heat, and had a good flavor that left you wanting more. In other words, it was the perfect buffalo sauce.

Scott Drotar Buffalo Sauce
I knew that substituting some butter for some of the vegetable oil would improve my buffalo sauce, but I needed to trust my tastebuds to know how much.

If you look back at this process for modifying and developing the perfect sauce, you will notice that I probably tasted the sauce, in various different forms, at least 30 times. I let my tongue and tastebuds be my guide as I moved closer and closer to my perfect, final product. I did not jump to Google, some other recipe, or another person to try to find a way to improve my sauce. I just let my body guide me. It was recognizing this that caused me to realize that this “taste test process” is very similar to the way that I keep my body in proper balance throughout my day. In order to make sure that I am in good shape physically and my mind is well centered emotionally, I am constantly checking in with my body to see how I am feeling. I listen to what my body and brain are telling me and adjust my actions accordingly. When I feel like my lungs need a break or my hips hurt a lot, I do not go to the internet or look in a book to find a way to fix things. I just trust what my body is telling me and follow my instincts. Just like following the guide of your tastebuds is a gradual process, I take what my body tells me and make small, minor adjustments until my body says that is just right. By trusting my body and following this same method that produces a perfect sauce with my overall well-being, I am able to maintain the best possible balance within my body throughout the day and get the most out of each and every day that I can.

Developing the perfect sauce recipe is not an easy task and can be quite time consuming, but if you trust your tastebuds you will eventually end up with a delicious product to enjoy. Likewise, keeping your body and mind in the proper balance during your day is not easy either, but if you listen to what your body is telling you and go with your gut, you will end up in a place where you are both healthy and happy. This may be a lengthy process on both counts, and you may have to endure tasting a lot of bad sauces and withstand some discomfort along the way, but this method will get you to the best possible outcome both in the kitchen and in your life. Remember that you are an expert on your body, and even if you do not realize it consciously, your body knows what it needs, so trust it. Just like you would not let someone else tell you what your favorite flavor is (you would trust your tastebuds), do not rely on someone else to tell you what is best for your well-being and happiness. By applying this gradual process, you will end up well fed with a great taste in your mouth ready for the next bite, as you sit back and smile, healthy and happy, wanting more out of life.

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If You Can’t Take Muhammad To The Mountain,…

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The Braun Corporation creates mobility solutions for people with physical disabilities.
The Braun Corporation creates mobility solutions for people with physical disabilities.

Today’s post is located on the BraunAbility Blog website. I discuss how my disability has impacted, not only my life, but the lives of my entire family in major ways. Thanks to my amazing parents, siblings, and the incredible bond we share however, we always find a way to focus on what is really important in life and make things work. By working together and combining our efforts, the five of us are able to overcome the obstacles presented by my physical limitations and lead fulfilling, happy lives together. 

***There was an issue with posting this article on the BraunAbility blog, as they are in the process of remodeling their website, so I am posting it here instead. My apologies for any confusion.***

Even though I am fortunate to have a van with a Braun hydraulic lift that allows me to travel as I please, this does not mean that my disability does not still present obstacles that make it difficult for me to travel, especially long distances. Without even considering the logistical issues that come with venturing far from my home, like arranging lodging that will meet my needs, finding a caregiver to travel with me, and being sure to pack enough medication and medical supplies, the physical toll that spending all day travelling has on my fragile, weak body is an issue that can make driving great distances very tough on me physically. While I can easily recover from shorter trips in my van, the cumulative effects of the repeated abuse from spending hours getting tossed around on the road are much harder on my body. Due to the nature of my disability and my chronic pain, every crack, pothole, and bump I hit during these long days on the highway hits me like a body blow from Mike Tyson, which for short trips is not a big issue, but withstanding this over an extended period of time is a completely different story. The total effect of repeatedly getting bounced around for hours on the freeway often results in me having to spend two to three pain filled days recovering for every day I spend on the road, so unless my destination is something really special, the trip is probably not worth it. Since I cannot travel long distances and live more than 600 miles away from my family, you may think that I lead a very isolated life having no way to visit my family for holidays and such. And for most people this may definitely be the case, but thanks to my incredible family and by making the most of the distances I can travel thanks to having my own vehicle, I have been able to not only maintain, but improve, my familial relationships and enjoy a fulfilling social life despite my inability to spend long days on the road.

Up until a couple years ago when my body could no longer handle the long drive to my parent’s home, like most families, during the Holidays my siblings and I would all trek to my parent’s house to spend time together as a family. These were always fun visits as they allowed us to practice our family’s Christmas traditions, escape from our busy schedules, and retreat for a few days back to the simpler times of our childhood. Two years ago however, it was fairly obvious that me making the 12 hour drive home was not a good idea, which meant that we could no longer all get together at my folks like usual. My phenomenal family however, was not about to let my inability to make this lengthy journey stop us from enjoying the Holidays as a group, so they adopted the old saying, “If you can’t take Muhammad to the mountain, you bring the mountain to Muhammad.”

Instead of everyone journeying to my parent’s house in Indiana, my loving mother, father, and siblings all travelled to my home here in Kansas City for Christmas. This allowed me to avoid having to spend all day on the road, while also letting us celebrate together as a family. While they were making arrangements to head my way, I was making the most of the mobility my van provides me to create the most festive atmosphere as I could for them. Having my own vehicle allowed me to make the necessary trips to do things like pick up the ingredients to make our favorite Holiday treats and shop for tinsel, lights, and other items to decorate my apartment. My ability to make these short trips allowed me to cook the same foods that my mom would have made back home and decorate my apartment like Santa’s workshop at Macy’s, which created a Winter Wonderland for everyone to enjoy. My family’s willingness to modify our Christmas celebration to accommodate my disability, along with me maximizing my mobility to run errands and such, allowed us to have a wonderful Christmas together despite the obstacles posed by my physical limitations. While doing all of this allowed us to continue our family customs, spend Christmas together, and enjoy the Holidays though, the most important thing was that even though we were not in the same city as usual, we were all together. In the grand scheme of things, this is really all that mattered in the end. Regardless of where we meet, so long as the five of us are together we know we will be happy.

This was our second year of holding our family’s Christmas gathering at my apartment, and I am happy to say that this year was even better than the first. Not only did I avoid having to spend a long day getting beaten up on the road, but we were also able to carry out our family traditions of putting up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving night, opening gifts one at a time Christmas morning, and watching our favorite Holiday movies (“Elf,” “Christmas Vacation,” “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” etc.) together as a family. Even though I would like to think it was my improved decorations and other preparations that made our family Christmas so great this year, the truth is that the ornaments, garland, and Santa shaped sugar cookies had little to do with it. It was our strong family bond and our ability to focus on what I can do instead of what my disability takes away that really made the difference. In the end, the thing that makes the Holiday Season feel so special is that we are all together around our family Christmas tree on December 25th. No matter what city we are in, how many miles of tinsel we hang, or how much Christmas fudge we make (and eat), so long as the five of us get to wake up Christmas morning and sit together around our tree, it will feel like Christmas.

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Break Some Rules

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Scott Drotar Fisher Rigatta
Building the best boat, or worst anchor, for the annual Fisher Rigatta is one of the many ways that ND students show their dorm pride.

At the University of Notre Dame there are no fraternity or sororities allowed, so as a result of this the dorms take on a lot of the characteristics that are commonly associated with Greek life on other campuses. For example, every residence hall adopts a charity, has its own mascot, and has a rival dorm to rally against, and these types of activities cause students to take a large amount of pride in the hall they live in. One of the main ways this dorm loyalty becomes important is through interhall competitions between rival dorms. Whether it is playing interhall sports, building the best boat for the annual “Fisher Rigatta,” or just being the loudest cheering dorm at pep rallies, you always want to beat your rival residence hall. While it is always in good fun (at least, usually…), most students want nothing more than to dominate and embarrass their rival dorm in any way possible. This drive to show dorm superiority, coupled with copious amounts of alcohol, can cause lapses in judgment in overzealous students that sometimes leads to misguided, but well-intentioned and often hilarious, dorm hijinks. These harmless, college pranks are not only a great source for entertaining stories, but they are also wonderful examples of the importance of breaking some rules every now and then.

This story may or may not have allegedly taken place on the University of Notre Dame campus during the Winter of 2009. I will let you decide as to the validity of this epic tale. Just like on “Dragnet” though, “Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is [possibly] true. Only the names have been changed [or omitted completely] to protect the [mostly] innocent.”

While I was at Notre Dame, I spent all four years living in the best dorm on campus, Keough Hall (Go ‘Roos!). Our rival dorm was the inferior, second-rate dorm, O’Neill Hall. One of the things that these lesser mortals do every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas is hang a giant wreath (symbolic of the “O” in O’Neill) that is covered in lights and probably 10 feet across from the third floor of the building. This heavy-handed, tacky display of Christmas cheer is sort of their trademark, along with being all around worse than Keough. After four years of staring up at that precocious ring for a month every Holiday Season, one courageous student had had enough. It took many days of careful planning, but eventually he came up with a plan to rid campus of this Seasonal eyesore. He took it upon himself to put this plan into action and assert his dorm’s dominance once and for all.

Scott Drotar O'Neill Wreath
Ridding campus of the O’Neill wreath that taints South Quad every year was the goal of our mission.

The mastermind of this daring endeavor knew that he would not be able to execute a plan of this magnitude alone, so he put together a crack team of fearless, loyal dorm brothers who possessed the skills necessary to pull off this feat of hall pride. In total, it was a four man crew, two men to infiltrate O’Neill Hall and discretely lower the wreath and two outside on the ground to quickly carry it away. The first step of this master plan was a week of both real-world and online reconnaissance to gather the necessary details to determine when to put this plan into action. After memorizing the path taken by Notre Dame security every night and looking through the O’Neill Hall website to find a time when a dorm function would be going on (so most of the residents would be occupied), we found the perfect time to strike. O’Neill was having a talk from a hall alumnus that was being catered by Pizza Hut and Buffalo Wild Wings, and if there is anything more certain than Keough being superior to O’Neill, it is that college guys never miss pizza and wings. That was the perfect hour long window to execute our Holiday heist.

It was a cold, windy night with a foot of snow on the ground when the time came to put our plan into action. It was myself, as a lookout/mastermind, and “Matt” on the ground, to whisk away the wreath once it was lowered. Heading deep into enemy territory under the ruse of joining a study group were “Don,” who was the inside lookout, and “Rick,” who was going to release and lower the wreath. Once the security guard made his nightly pass, we started to move in. The security guard was 15 minutes later than usual, which only left us 30 minutes before the dorm function was over, but that should have been more than enough time. Everything looked good as the cold weather left the snow covered ground deserted, and the majority of O’Neill’s residents were busy feeding their faces with free food. “Rick” had unplugged the wreath and started working on releasing it from the building, and we started thinking we were going to pull this off, when we hear “Don” say quickly over the com, “Enemies coming! Abort! Abort!” I look up at “Rick” through the third floor window, and I see he and “Don” hurriedly getting things plugged back in, as I hear “Oh, #@$?!” come over the airwaves. Then I hear a muddled, barely discernable conversation between “Rick” and a gang of O’Neill guys asking what they were doing there. “Matt” and I high-tailed it back to Keough, thinking our comrades were at best captured, and at worst getting pounded by a throng of angry, stuffed O’Neill guys. Thanks to some quick thinking and an even quicker tongue however, “Rick” and “Don” joined us back at Keough later that night, unharmed.

Scott Drotar Break Some Rules
Two alleged members of the team of loyal Keough brothers who were willing to break some rules to do what they believed in.

We may not have been successful in ridding campus of this circular eyesore and striking a winning blow for Keough over its rival, but this mission was by no means a failure. Through our efforts to hack the O’Neill website, infiltrate another dorm under false pretenses, vandalize a residence hall, and break a ton of other campus rules, we may not have accomplished our goal, but wewere successful in so many other ways. We successfully came together as dorm brothers and formed a bond that connects us to this day. We successfully managed to protect each other and not get our asses kicked or arrested (a minor miracle). Most importantly, we created memories that we will always remember fondly and recount with a smile. If we had not had the courage and willingness to break some rules for what we believed in (even if it was just dorm superiority), we would have missed out on this adventure that is one of my most cherished college memories.

I am not saying you should be this rebel that ignores all rules, but I do think it is important to break a few rules from time to time. By taking this risk for a common cause, despite the fact that it was “forbidden,” my dorm brothers and I ended up with a bond and experience that we will carry forever. The next time you feel yourself pulled to break a rule or two to do something you believe in, have the fortitude and strength to go for it. Remember, it is often easier to ask forgiveness than permission, and if you are fighting for what is right and you really believe in, you can never fail. Even if you do not successfully complete your mission, like me and my loyal compadres, you will be successful in forging friendships and creating cherished memories that will last a lifetime. Isn’t that worth a possible slap on the wrist?

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A Recipe for Success: Low and Slow

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Scott Drotar Secret Barbecue Rub
Covered with my secret barbecue rub and cooked “low and slow,” my ribs don’t even need sauce.

Over the last few years as I have been enjoying my journey through the culinary world, I have learned a lot, had tons of fun, and prepared some tasty creations (as well as some bad ones). While I have developed numerous skills to use in the kitchen and accumulated countless recipes though, without a doubt my forte when it comes to cooking is my barbecue, specifically my Kansas City style barbecue ribs. I can and do barbecue in several different styles, but my dry rub, Kansas City style is by far the best. My ribs are so moist and tender that when you bite into them the meat just melts in your mouth like butter, and this is while your tastebuds are exploding with delight at the smoky, sweet flavor engulfing them one by one. People have even referred to my delectable ribs as “heavenly meat candy.” Unfortunately, my dry rub recipe is a closely guarded secret that even my own mother does not know, so I cannot share it with you, but I have shared a KC style BBQ recipe on Pinterest that is very good and similar to mine that you will really like. Even more momentous than sharing this recipe however, which is saying a lot since I love barbecue, I am also going to pass on an incredibly important life lesson that you can learn by cooking good barbecue.

On the surface making good barbecue seems pretty simple. You just buy some baby back ribs, lather them up with sauce, and throw them in a nice, hot oven, grill, or rotisserie. Yet it seems like people who use this method always end up with a bunch of ribs that are tough, dry, and flavorless and always wonder why. Now, there are several things wrong with this bare bones, Neanderthal-like approach to barbecuing, but by far both the most costly and most common mistake is that they cooked their meat too fast and at too high of a temperature. Ribs need to be cooked slowly over low heat in order to remain tender and juicy, and by heating them up to 250° F or more (baby back ribs only need to reach a temperature of 175° F to be safe to eat) you are basically turning your great cut of meat into tasteless rubber. That is why every self-respecting barbecue cook remembers the rhyming phrase “always barbecue low and slow.” As critical as going “low and slow” is to making great barbecue though, it is possibly even more crucial in your life, especially when dealing with difficult situations.

When I got my trache when I was 15 years old, my life changed drastically overnight. In addition to just trying to recover from my near death experience, I also had a lot of new things to get used to and had to teach myself new ways of doing certain tasks. One of the things that was very difficult and frustrating to relearn to do was swallowing. As you can imagine, after having your neck sliced open and tubes put in, your throat can be a little sore, making swallowing pretty painful. Also, since I had been medically sedated for several days, it had been a long time since I had last eaten anything by mouth, and like any other muscles, the muscles in my throat had gotten weaker. This was especially dangerous because I was recovering from pneumonia, and if I aspirated (fancy, medical term for “swallow down the wrong pipe”) anything into my already weak lungs by not swallowing correctly, the infection could return. At the same time however, I also needed to consume as much food as possible, because while I was fighting for my life I had lost around 20 pounds. My weight of only 48 pounds when I was admitted was so low that my parents were actually questioned by a social worker from the hospital to make sure they were not neglecting to feed me. I had to get some weight back on quickly to regain my strength and fully recover, but eating was both painful and dangerous due to my difficulty swallowing. You can easily see how this put me in quite the pickle.

Scott Drotar Weight Loss
After my weight loss during my time in the hospital, my dog, Jorey, weighed more than me.

I realized that putting the weight back on was going to be a gradual change, since even without any swallowing issues it is only recommended to gain a few pounds a week. I also knew that there would be setbacks occasionally, and that I could not let myself get discouraged or frustrated if there was a day where I just could not eat much because of my throat. This also needed to be a slow process, because if I tried to eat too much, too fast I could end up doing serious harm to my already fragile lungs. Keeping all of this in mind and focusing on the long-term was my way of keeping my emotions low and remembering to take things slow, which would give me the best chance at successfully gaining weight. The importance of adopting this “low and slow” mindset is readily apparent when you contrast it with a more “emotional and fast” approach, as happened between my mother and I.

After I was released from the hospital and returned home, my mom was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted and raw from the horrific experience of nearly losing her son. As a result of this, she did not have the energy or mental ability at the time to see my weight gain situation as I had, which caused some tension between us. In her mind, even though I was home and no longer in danger of losing my life at any moment, I was still on the brink of death. She was convinced that if I did not get my weight up immediately, I was going to end up back in the hospital, or worse. While she understood that swallowing was painful and I was having to learn a whole, new way to eat without inhaling my food, my mother still was fixated on me eating as much as humanly possible. It was not that she could not understand or comprehend the difficult balance between gaining weight and swallowing correctly that I was facing, but her emotions had taken over and convinced her that if she pushed me hard enough I could gain 20 pounds in only a couple of weeks. Our differences in how we saw the situation I was in, my “low and slow” and my mother’s “emotional and fast,” created quite a bit of friction between us, and it even resulted in a lot of tension, some tears, and even a few major blowouts. Thankfully though, after a couple weeks my mom slowly got more rested and regained her control over her emotions, and with the help of my father as mediator we were able to sit down and work things out. Once she understood that my “low and slow” mindset was not me taking the situation lightly, but instead my way of creating the best chance for successfully gaining back some weight, she felt much better and supported my gradual approach. With us now on the same page as far as how to best fatten me up, I was able to successfully put on almost 12 pounds in the three months before Winter hit.

Scott Drotar Low and Slow
One of the most important things to remember to make great barbecue, and manage difficult situations in life, is to take things “low and slow.”

This story from my life is a perfect example of how keeping your cool and taking things gradually, going “low and slow,” can be a critical part of getting through difficult circumstances in your life. Chances are, if I had adopted my mother’s mindset and tried to gain back all of the weight in one meal, I would have ended up damaging my throat, slowing my recovery, or back in the ICU with pneumonia from aspiration. By taking things “low and slow” on the other hand, I was able to safely get back to a healthy weight in a relatively short amount of time, which definitely played a large part in my overall recovery from this tough period in my life. The next time you are getting ready to put some ribs on the grill, remember this story about my mother and I and be sure to cook your meat “low and slow.” It may take some patience and seem like a silly way to barbecue, but by maintaining this cooking method you will end up with ribs that are moist, tender, and full of flavor. More importantly, the next time you are presented with a difficult situation remember to step back and take things “low and slow.” If you keep your emotions in check and realize that great things often take time, you will find success much more easily. Just one more reason why barbecue is one of the greatest things ever. It not only excites your palette and fills your belly, it also carries important life lessons that will bring you success and happiness long after the bones are picked clean.

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A Recipe for Success: Spice Things Up

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Over the last few years, I have discovered that I really like cooking. It is a lot of fun to get in the kitchen and create something new and delicious for people to enjoy. As I have been learning my way around the kitchen and developing my culinary skills beyond merely boiling an egg, I have realized that cooking is a great analogy for life. Many of the things I have had to learn to become a better cook are some of the same lessons that you must learn in order to lead a happy, successful life. In an effort to share some of these life lessons from the kitchen with you, I am going to be running a new Roll Models series called “A Recipe for Success.” Today’s post, “Spice Things Up,” is the first entry in this group, and I will continue to publish articles from this series periodically. All of the recipes I reference in these posts will be available on my Pinterest cooking board with my comments, so that you can try them if you want. More importantly than passing on my culinary advice however, I also hope to pass on some of the valuable insights you can gain about life as you journey into the world of cooking. And if I happen to create a new chef or two along the way that is just gravy.

Scott Drotar Boiled Egg
Up until a few years ago, this was about the extent of my culinary knowledge.

When I first started getting into cooking before I could barely even tell a sauce pan from a colander, I thought that cooking was merely looking up a recipe and following the instructions. I could not have been more wrong. While selecting good recipes and being able to follow them are a small part of being a good cook, this is something that anyone who can read could do, but you all know that not everyone can cook. In order to actually cook, you have to be able to go a step beyond what is written on the recipe card and be able to modify and alter the directions to improve the dish and make it your own. This is what separates working in the kitchen and cooking, and while this may seem like a very trivial distinction, I assure you it is not. There are lots of things you must learn in order to move over from using the stove to cooking, but the first and most important, lesson is to adopt the right culinary mindset. You have to have the confidence and curiosity to experiment with new foods and techniques, so that you are willing to go beyond the recipe and create something new. As crucial as this fearless, inquisitive mentality is to becoming a good cook though, it is an even more important part of living a happy and fulfilling life.

A perfect example of how important this curious and courageous nature is in the kitchen occurred just the other day as I was breaking in my new Dutch oven by trying a new recipe. The dish I was making was a chili mac and cheese that had rave reviews on Pinterest, so I thought I would give it a try. After I read through the list of ingredients and the cooking instructions, I realized though that if I made the dish as it was written, I definitely would not like it. I will not go into the specific details here (they are on my Pinterest board), but there were ingredients included in the recipe that I do not particularly like. Thanks to my cook’s mindset however, I was more than willing to make some changes and try to modify it to fit my tastes. I did not know how it would turn out or if it would even be edible after my alterations, but with the right perspective, you realize that the experimentation is part of the fun. I started spicing things up (I love spicy food), taking things out, and even adjusting the cooking temperature as I thought best. My curiosity and confidence to make these changes paid off too, as this culinary masterpiece had plenty of kick and turned out even better than I could have hoped. I never would have been able to make these improvements however, if I had not first developed the adventurous mentality to try something new.

Scott Drotar Spice Things Up
Having the confidence to spice things up not only helped me create a great new dish, but also get the most out of life.

Just as by adopting the right mindset is critical to being able to enjoy cooking and getting better at creating new foods, it is also a crucial part of living a full, happy life. If you go through life only doing exactly what everyone else has done and playing it safe all the time, sure you may not ever make any huge mistakes, but you will also never experience some of the new and exciting things that the world has to offer. You have to have the courage and questioning nature that pushes you to try something different, even if you do not know how it will turn out all the time, in order to get the most out of life. You cannot be afraid to spice things up because it may be too hot to handle, if you want to create the fulfilling, successful life you deserve. Trying new experiences, learning from your mistakes, and taking pride in your successes is all a part of achieving great things and living a full life, and this all starts with overcoming the fear to step out of your comfort zone and spice things up.

My recent culinary adventure with the now new and improved spicy chili mac and cheese is just one example of how you have to have a certain confidence in order to be a good cook. This delicious journey through my kitchen is a great illustration of how this mindset is equally important to your life in general though. By adopting this courageous outlook you may not always know how things will turn out, and you will probably ruin a few dishes along the way, but you will also get to experience and achieve some truly amazing things. Don’t limit yourself by being afraid to spice things up and try a new idea. You will be astonished at how much more you can get out of life, and your kitchen, by adopting this curious, confident mindset. You will not only fill your belly with some great food, but y will also fill your life with some incredible experiences and your heart with happiness.

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