If They Did The Math

In 1999, my wife Emily and I purchased our first home together just before our wedding in May of that year.

It was a cute little Cape Cod style home on a quiet street in Penfield, NY, with lots of trees and gardens in the yard. (see picture at the top of the page)

Since we shopped for, and purchased the house in early spring, we really had no idea what the yard would look like come summer. Once things started to sprout, bloom and leaf out, we noticed something odd. The majestic forty foot tree in the middle of the back yard had no leaves.

Not knowing anything more than the average person about trees, we optimistically hoped that perhaps this tree was (literally) a late bloomer. No such luck.

By the time we got three weeks into June,
it was clear that the tree was dead.


We called a “tree guy” who, after determining that the tree had been hit by lightning, formally pronounced our tree deceased. Furthermore, for the tidy sum of $600, he offered to cut the tree down and haul it away. Our cute little house did not have a fireplace, so we had no use for the wood.

Tree Guy noticed my cringing as he spoke the $600 figure and offered some advice. He said, “call your homeowners insurance company, they sometimes will give you money to remove a dead tree.

Well he was right.


I called USAA and even though the lightning strike had taken place before we owned the house, they would pay a 1-time claim of (wait for it) $600 to remove the dead tree. The lady explained that since the tree was large and fairly close to the house, they would rather pay $600 to remove it now than pay $6,000 or more to repair our house should the tree ever fall into it.

All in all we were sad to see the tree go, but happy that we had removed the risk of a dead tree punching through our bedroom wall during a windy storm. The insurance company did the math and writing a check for $600 was in everyone’s favor.

Fast-forward nine years.


In 2002, we moved to our current home. In the summer of 2008, we decided to remove an aging, gray-stained deck and replace it with a flagstone patio and an outdoor kitchen. The project was going to take all summer and would be accomplished through the combined efforts of some highly skilled craftsmen and some brute force labor provided by Emily and me.

Before any positive construction could begin, the old deck and the surrounding concrete sidewalk would need to be removed. After a giant dumpster was placed in our driveway, I rented a jackhammer for a day and got to work.

I soon realized why breaking rocks with a hammer was a common punishment for prisoners.


As unpleasant as it was, progress on sidewalk removal was slow but steady. By the time the sun set on the 1-day jackhammer rental, the sidewalk was out and in the dumpster.

The following Saturday I had decided would be “demolish the deck” day. I enlisted the help of my friend Dane, who seemed excited about the idea of swinging sledgehammers, and wielding a sawzall while enjoying a few beers in the springtime sun. The Saturday morning sky was bright blue as Dane and I began the task of deconstruction. Emily was working at the hospital, so I had all four kids home with me.

Their ages at the time were:
Charlotte–7, Lewis–6, Oliver–4 and Lawrence–3,
what could possibly go wrong?


Dane and I went to town.  Within the first hour we had the railings off and we were halfway through the diagonally nailed decking, but there was a problem. We were ripping and pulling at a fierce pace, but all we did with the wood was chuck it into a pile next to the deck. Furthermore, the kids were starting to complain about “being bored,” as young kids will.

The four Naz kids at Charlotte's 1st communion.  Right around the same time this all went down.

The four Naz kids at Charlotte’s 1st communion. Right around the same time this all went down.


So, I went into the garage, grabbed four pairs of Lilliputian gardening gloves, and called the kids together. I told them that if they worked in pairs moving the pieces of wood from the pile to the dumpster I would buy them McDonald’s for lunch. Problem solved.

The kids worked like an army of ants carrying loads that seemed to defy the laws of physics. And although Dane and I were adding to the pile at an impressive clip, the kids work working even faster.

Ah, the power of the Happy Meal.


By the time noon rolled around, Dane and I were pulling the last of the main joists off the house and the kids had nearly cleared the pile. I declared the McDonald’s challenge met… and then it happened.

Running around where the pile-o-deckwood had been, my six-year-old son Lewis stepped on one of the few remaining boards in the yard. He stepped on it with such vigor, that a #10 nail protruding from the board pushed through the bottom of his red foam “croc” shoe and right through his little foot. The nail was so deep that after I heard the scream, I looked over and saw him lifting his foot and with it rose the three-foot 2×4, firmly attached.

It was the 3" number 10 that found its way into Lewis' foot.

It was the 3″ number 10d that found its way into Lewis’ foot.


I ran over to Lewis, quickly assessed the situation and did what any other red-blooded American dad would do… I stepped on the board with my boot and in one rapid motion pulled his foot off the nail… I didn’t even give him the “this is going to hurt” warning, I just did it.

We took the now punctured Lewis into the house, pulled off his croc and looked at the wound. To be completely honest, it didn’t look all that bad. I mean he did have a visible 1/8” hole in his foot, but it wasn’t bleeding and he according to him it didn’t hurt that much. We scrubbed the wound as best we could and slapped on a band-aid.

I went ahead and fulfilled the promise of a McDonald’s lunch and then calmly placed a call to Emily. Well it turns out that puncture wounds like this can be a real problem since you can’t clean as deeply as the nail went. On top of that, there is this bacterium called Pseudomonas that lives in dirt and can lead to a nasty infection if it gets inside a person.

Had the nail rolled through the dirt? It almost certainly had, but it was hard to tell for sure since the inside of Lewis’ foot had wiped it clean. We took him to the pediatrician where they irrigated the puncture wound with water and topical antibiotics. We were sent home and told to keep a close watch on the foot.  Two days later the badness came. The foot turned hot, red and puffy and we could see the redness starting to go up his leg.

Lewis was immediately admitted to the hospital.


Young Lewis spent the next four days in the hospital under the watchful eye of a pediatric vascular surgeon. He received broad-spectrum, IV antibiotics, and several MRIs of his foot. Once the infection was under control we were able to take the boy home. Total hospital bill… ~$15,000.

As the summer wore on, Lewis’ foot quickly healed, while Emily and I put our noses to the proverbial grindstone of the patio project.

After the ten cubic yard “pit” was dug by a skilled man with a bobcat, Emily and I had the job of loading three “lifts” of gravel in descending sizes.

  • First came the #4 which is made up of 1 to 2 ½ inch sized stones.
  • Then came the #57 which contains rocks from ¾ to 1 inch in size.
  • Lastly came the #8 which is made up of pea-sized stones ¼ to ½ inch in size.

After each lift, Josh the stone guy would come by with the plate compactor and mash down what Emily and I had spread. The location where our patio was being built is not directly accessible by a driveway, so the gravel truck could dump only so close…about 30 feet away. So, every evening for a week, one wheelbarrow at a time my wife and I moved forty-five tons of gravel.

Each layer of gravel got mashed down using one of these.

Each layer of gravel got mashed down using one of these.

Yes, that is 90,000 pounds, and every night we could feel the impact on our bodies as we crashed into bed.


About a week after we had moved the last of the gravel, I was walking down the hallway in my office. I pivoted on my right leg to make the ninety-degree turn to my office when I felt a pronounced pop in my right knee.

I’ve been a runner since seventh grade and I know my joints very well. This was something new and rather unpleasant. Most of the time it didn’t hurt, it just felt funny, but every so often my knee would lock in the straight position without warning and I would find myself flat on the floor…not good.

A quick trip to my internist led to a visit with an orthopedic surgeon who showed me a clearly torn meniscus on an x-ray. Several weeks later, I underwent arthroscopic surgery on my knee to repair the damage. Total bill for knee repair…~$6,000.

The finished patio and outdoor kitchen.  Not too shabby.

The finished patio and outdoor kitchen. Not too shabby.


I can’t tell you exactly what it would have cost to have professionals remove my deck and shovel all that gravel, but I’m willing to bet that the figure is well below the $21,000 my health insurance company shelled out that summer.

If I had called my insurer at the outset and asked them to send over some strong men to protect me and Lewis from ourselves, I imagine they would have first laughed and then just hung up on me.

An after-the-fact analysis however, would not have been a laughing matter, at least not to an insurance actuary.


Unlike car insurance companies that charge more for bad drivers, health insurance does not penalize those of us who are aggressive do-it-your-selfers… and for that I am very grateful. My premiums would certainly be higher… if they did the math.  I trust you all to keep this to yourselves, shhhh.


Copyright © 2014 - Stephen S. Nazarian - All rights reserved. (If They Did The Math)

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3 thoughts on “If They Did The Math

  • Great post – you make a good point. Most people think they can save a few bucks by DIYing it or just leaving things as they are (as in “if I just leave the toothache, it will go away”), and while this works a lot of the time, there is that one time when karma comes calling!

  • Enjoying a coffee while the car has a spa day at Duffy’s…I have work to do but would much prefer to have another serving of blog-and this post is an absolute favorite!
    Your loyal readers are eagerly anticipating posts to come!

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