The place to come to wag more and bark less...

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A High Cost of Living With Health Care? No Way!

Over the past few months, the subject of healthcare has been relatively remote in my mind. After it was pulled off the table three months ago by House Speaker Ryan, the healthcare reform bill all but up and hibernated for a while.

A month ago or so, the long-awaited subject re-surfaced, this time as a healthcare bill reared its ugly head in the House. From the outset, it seemed like perhaps the most cruel and poorly thought out set of ideas that had neither "health" nor "care" in mind in it's creation.

This bill was informally described as a sham that house legislators threw together with the idea that the Senate would fine-tune it prior to voting, then approving, then presenting to the president. Nobody seemed to take it seriously.

Understandably, as a Medicaid recipient, I looked toward the provisions set forth in the Senate bill in terms of what it meant to me, alone. After all, other than my beloved service dog, Sophie, I am a household of one.

So, I watched and waited with interest to see what our great minds in DC would come up with.

Over the past few weeks, under which this bill has been created in secrecy by a GOP caucus, I have paid very close attention. And, like many Democratic senators and my fellow countrymen, I expected something that was worth the wait.

In fact, no such worthy bill was introduced two or three weeks ago. What emerged instead was what I can nicely call a bloody waste of time and, as I'm far more inclined, to less gentlemanly consider a terrible insult to all Americans. Those with a pulse, anyway.

Given that any bill affecting Medicaid benefits would also affect me personally, I am inclined to take legislation in this regard personally.

It's irrelevant whether I am someone who is "Living on the dole," or "Living off the system." I am brand-new to Medicaid, having been introduced to it as a supplement to my Medicare benefits through Social Security disability, and cannot conceive of being without it now.

Without this additional Medicaid benefit, which covers my medical co-pays, I would not survive month-to-month.

This evening, however I watched a YouTube video of Senator Al Franken presenting to the Senate results of a town hall meeting in his home state of Minnesota.

In it, he articulately described the term "survive" in its most elemental form; life and death. He made the straightforward and logical case for what Medicaid means to people in general before mentioning two specific cases.

The first story was that of a young man, now 17, who was born 15 weeks premature. Franken mentioned how the newborn's arms were so underdeveloped that his mother's wedding ring could slide right over one of them.

More complications facing the child quickly became clear, from cerebral palsy to a condition that allowed fluid to collect inside his skull, causing brain damage.

Within the first 24 hours of the child's life, Franken stated, the hospital afterwards informed the parents that costs of the childbirth exceeded $1 million. It'd added a further traumatic realization, he said, to an experience he described as already harrowing.

For the record, the boy recently passed his first college-level course and one day aspires to work at the hospital that saved his life at a time when he was as vulnerable as any human being can be.

But because of Medicaid, he is thriving today.

Then, Franken mentioned another constituent, a woman who, like me, survived a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

She was on her way to work in her SUV, hit a patch of ice, and the rest is history. But it's her conclusion that stuck with Franken and, also with me right now.

The woman said that her experience, though not fatal, brought home the fact that any of us at any time are only one accident away from needing medical care, or one diagnosis away from hospitalization, or even just a trip to the doctor.

Without Medicaid, as in the case of the two aforementioned people, overwhelming medical bills would add even greater stress to the experience of being injured or ill.

That, in itself is reason to reject the most recent addition of the Senate bill, which cuts over $800 billion in Medicaid funding.

In an America where there is little to find in the White House in terms of exemplary behavior in anyway, shape or form, the lack of Republican majority support for this healthcare bill is a comfort.

It shows me that, despite the embarrassing circus the Trump administration has portrayed to Americans and the world alike, the United States leadership might still show that it can, in fact, come from a place of good sense.

That's not just good news to Americans who, like me, depend on programs like Medicaid and Medicare for our very survival.

Rather, it's good news to everyone, anywhere who looks to the United States as an example of a democratic system, one ultimately governed by a time tested system of checks and balances, that works for, not against its citizens.

Though the final scenario has yet to play out, I'm hopeful that legislators, like Franken, will disregard partisan ties in favor of human compassion. At the very least, putting aside reelection aspirations so they may do the right thing.

Friday, June 23, 2017

I'm Not a President, I Just Play One on TV

What is wrong with this guy?

In only four months’ time, the US has seen the rise of a blindly self-serving autocrat. Some, who rely upon his mere presence to pursue their own interests, kowtow to this man’s whims and placate him with patronizing words.

Despite the seemingly endless ego-stroking on display in DC, all involved compromise whatever sense of decorum they have to achieve their agendas.

The president himself, along with his entourage of sycophants are normalizing a wildly distorted definition of decency, honesty and good faith.

Further, these revised concepts are not subtly introduced, but hammered in like a red-hot rivet and left to cool. If ever our mindset is to be freed of this new mentality, it'd take a considerable paradigm shift for each of us. That, and very likely a blowtorch, too,

Since these norms of honesty and forthrightness are being stretched to a barely recognizable version of their intended meaning, our culture is slowly but surely assimilating them as our “new” normal.

But this is where, as a culture, we're conceding our mindset, modest and humble though it may be to adapt to the role model we're used to seeing in the White House.

Instead, we're finding ourselves duped by a master whose only real skill is heavy handedly duping others to do his bidding.

And, my, how accomplished he is, making his administration look productive by signing a multitude of executive orders.

These, however, are merely photo-ops designed for broadcast or publication by reporters in the corporate-controlled media outlets he vilifies as “scum” and mere peddlers of Fake News.

In the face of all evidence to the contrary, the president and his minions, despite their rhetoric espouse a critically flawed agenda that can only end in disaster.

We citizens, who’ll be left to pick up the pieces, will find ourselves united in the sharing of a common trauma, which we'll only survive with the support of each other.

How could we have let this happen?, we'll ask ourselves. More important, we'll (hopefully) wonder how to keep it from recurring.

As a nation, we will emerge scarred and with a tarnished international reputation. But, like the Whitewater, Watergate and Clinton scandals (and many more), we will emerge.

It won't be much, but it'll be all we’ll have to work with at first. Along with the strength that the confidence to overcome brings will, hopefully, come wisdom.

Only then will all Americans be able to take a collective, deep breath and get back to the business of life once again.

This experience has been a horrific violation of our national trust, and it may leave a residue of governmental distrust for the next generation.

But the absence of this autocrat-and the nightmarish energy he carries-will one day be behind us. Not until then that the United States will return to its philosophy of governance of the people, by the people and for the people once more.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Diff-Ability is empowering, but safety still rules!

While most of us have heard the phrase that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, the abstract meaning can sometimes be overlooked. It's the sort of thing that can happen despite having the best intentions of protecting yourself from a sports injury, for example.

Case in point: While out on a mountain bike ride about a week ago, I went through my usual safety checklist. My helmet, my shoes and a glove to protect my right hand were all on, and away I went. This time, though, all my usual precautions weren't quite enough. With the drier weather came more cyclists and once-firmly packed trails became sandy.

Being new to riding a mountain bike once again and with only one arm at that, I concentrate more on my steering than ever. But the slick tires with a higher inflation pressure felt downright slippery, and that can equal danger. It's time again for tires with some tread and without as much pressure. Presto! I've got a safe ride once again.

Details like these I consider "rookie mistakes," because I'm so used to road cycling from my pre-accident days. My learning curve on a mountain bike is still steep. Plus, even though I haven't forgotten how to ride a bike, riding with only one hand (and off-road, no less!) is something brand-new to me. I literally am learning how to ride a bike again.

It's all part of being diff-abled, and I accept and understand it. It's a great way to turn those rookie mistakes into a habit of thinking about things in a safer context.

So, while people I meet on the trail often stop to cheer me on as I pass by, I'm nonetheless reminded that being diff-abled is great - but there's no need to add to the challenges I've already got!

So, everybody, happy trails! And, as I like to say tongue-in-cheek, Keep the rubber side down!

Friday, June 2, 2017

What happened to your arm, mister?

It's fairly common knowledge that disabilities take many forms, seen and unseen. But, since I can't snap my fingers and undo my disability, it's become sort of a hobby to have a little fun with it.

It's my disability, I reason, so I can make light of it. Nobody else can, however, not without the express written consent of the National Football League. See?

The first thing I think that identifies me as disabled is Sophie, my service dog. In fact, people notice her. That's right, Her.

The fact that she's a service dog usually comes second and, if I'm noticed at all, it's often as a distant third. Even then, it's only to ask “Can I pet your service dog?”

I've been known to tell such people “Oh, ha ha ha, she's not my service dog, I'm just watching her for a friend who's visiting Oklahoma for the next six months.”

Playing second fiddle to my dog is something I've grown used to and quite proud of, too, even though I make sport of pretending otherwise.

And Sophie's a smart one to be sure. Her toys are marked “genius level” right on the package, for crying out loud. I almost feel like a half-wit standing in line, waiting to buy one, mostly because I know she's smarter than I.

She must be. Even with my fingers and my power tools I don't think I could ever remove the treats I put in there. Sometimes, in a fit of frustration at being unable to thwart her genius-ness I really cram things in there. She just seems to relish her abilities even more.

My only fallback is to remind myself that I still have the upper hand in making her complicit with some of my hare-brained schemes. It’s a bit like the movie Rain Man. Guess which part I play.

My constant trying to outsmart a dog kinda makes it sound like life's just one, big Looney Toons cartoon, right? Well, if I'm lucky, it will be. And lately, I've been pretty lucky, and I have the new season to thank for it.

It's June here in Colorado and Sophie and I live in an especially Colorado-y place. We're in the foothills with a campground and reservoir right across the street. No kidding, it's a wet dog's dream!

Sophie believes that the campers, many of them with dogs, are there for her own, personal amusement. There's also a revolving door of ducks and geese, most of which are leading parades of recently hatched mini-me’s, struggling to keep up, through the water.

These little ones grow up fast to bathtub-toy size and beyond. If they didn't, locals tell me, there are plenty of fish that'd love to eat ‘em.

Other little ones have appeared, too. Bunnies, deer, mice, feral cats and even some humans have little ones running around, the latter easy to identify with one finger buried deeply up its nose.

Interesting, isn't it, how nature programs offspring to learn everything they need to know about life from their parents? Indeed, it is.

So, with all the activity around here, there's no shortage of places to go and people to meet, especially when I walk Sophie down to the reservoir for her morning dip.

It's the time when campers, usually stiff from tossing and turning all night because, well, they slept in a camper, come stumbling outside to find something to do. That's when the fun really starts.

For those who are able to look beyond Sophie and notice me, you'll see I'm an amputee, and I'm usually in pain, too. That's because I sleep every night in a camper. I'm just kidding, of course, I don't feel the pain as much anymore.

At the lake, my shorthand for “The Reservoir,” Sophie struts along beside me in her red Medical Alert Service Dog vest. Seeing this, people somehow assume her job is to compensate for my missing arm.

But her real job is to alert me to any seizures I might have. But, like the backup to Green Bay Packers QB Brett Favre, who almost never missed a down-ever, Sophie's got an easy gig.

For starters, I only have seizures when I sleep. But since that could change anytime, I'd want her to know what to do. So we practice, and practice some more.

Our practice routine is legendary. So she has the dream job; of always being there, just in case. And if she's bored, that's fine by me, because it means I'm A-OK.

But what about her helping me as an amputee? If you think about it, and most people don't, in what possible way could a dog help a grown man who happens to be missing an arm?

Make me breakfast, maybe? Well, if I'd be willing to eat some slobbery hunk of duck jerky from a genius toy then I'd be set. But waiting for lunch is by far the best option.

With the possible exception of scaring off would-be muggers, something Sophie's done her share of, especially in Mexico, I can't think of one thing.

How, on one hand she scares off bad hombres yet, on the other hand (or the same hand twice, like me) she attracts kids and sweet old ladies I'll never know.

Those very kids and sweet old ladies, however, I never tease when it comes to Sophie. She wouldn't hurt anyone in a million years unless they were out to hurt us first, something she sniffs out immediately.

Anyway, as an amputee, I find kids just stare at me, often speechless and with a bewildered expression. Their eyes say it all: Just what the hell could've happened to that guy's arm?

For once, I get the attention instead of Sophie, so I let ‘em off easy.

Sometimes kids do ask me about it and, that's okay, of course. I admit, though, if they seem snotty I'll drop my rule and say the first, usually idiotic thing that comes to mind:

“Where's my arm? I thought you had it,” or “it fell off and sank when I was out in a boat and I think a fish ate it,” that sort of thing.

Kids’ll buy pretty much anything you tell them, I've learned, so long as you can keep a straight face. I've also learned to laugh or smile at them before leaving so they don't wake up in the midst of a screaming nightmare.

“Mommy (or Daddy)! There was this giant fish and it had that man's arm sticking out of its mouth…” I hope that never happens, even to the snotty ones.

In general, kids don't ask what happened to my arm. Most often, it's drunk or just uncouth adults. So, I tell them “the dog bit it off and ate it after I accidentally stepped on her tail, then was rude about it.”

Sometimes I throw in “...and she loves the taste of human flesh that's been marinated in bourbon for x-amount of years,” and I guess their age.

Since I've never encountered any children who are both drunk and uncouth, I've never had to consider what I'd do then. It'd probably be the same thing, since kids shouldn't be boozing anyway. Scare ‘em straight, before it's too late, I say.

There's a particularly annoying version of that same question, always from weirdly stoic men, never women:
“Where did you serve?”

It makes it seem like, except in combat, I couldn't possibly have lost my arm any other way.

That question, and the stupid way it was usually asked sticks in my head all the way home from wherever it took place.

As if replaying it aloud and with a dipshitty tone, I say to no one in particular something like:

“How’ja looz y’arm, huh?”
“Yup, musta bin a gernade, yuk yuk yuk.” Or “coulda bin smallarms far, yuk yuk yuk.”

When it comes down to it, I do a pretty convincing dipshit imitation. Must be all that exposure and lotsa practice, yuk yuk yuk.

Somehow it wouldn't surprise me to learn that Sophie has thought about biting off my arm. It's to her credit she hasn't (yet).

All kidding aside, there's much more to look forward to in the coming months. So don't forget to wear sunscreen and, as always, to come back and find out what's been happening while you were away!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

It's Like Riding a Bike, Only Different

Wow-today was one of my first rides with my most recent, and carefully timed cycling upgrades; SPD compatible shoes.

This careful timing is not just a function of economics. No, I don't currently have the expendable income to upgrade to the latest and greatest bike stuff I grew used to having in my old cycling life.

Nah. I'm just entering my new cycling life and, for the first time since my big crash nearly five years ago, the routine is going to stick. There's no turning back, I'm in the saddle once again!

It feels so good to say that, I could never explain it. It's the same feeling I get on the bike once more, and it's no different than ever.

Which leads me to the real reason I've created a self-imposed timing; it's meant to keep me out of trouble.

Put simply, I know how I think when I'm totally immersed in my focus on the trail, navigating through all the stuff thrown at me and not concentrating on heart rate or muscle power.

The rush from that has gotten the best of me before, and it'll take a supreme effort at times to control it again.

Yes, it's great to be getting into the sport again, and adrenaline feels as good as I remember, but better because I am a survivor. It didn't require anything more than really, really wanting to ride again that's making it happen.

Which means then, that I really, really want it. But what I also want is to return tomorrow to build on what I've done today. And being smart about it is the key.

I've had a hierarchy of upgrades since I began riding several weeks ago, all designed to keep me from getting crazy in a rush of adrenaline and biting off more than I could chew. A one-way ticket to the ainful town of Endocity.

Mountain biking is serious business, and the trail is not a forgiving place. Rocks and stumps don't give if you hit them-but your body will. Cactus is prickly, branches will scratch and tree branches will surprise you in unimaginably insidious ways.

As a one-armed rider, even the least technical of trail sections demand I maintain my grip on the bar. Not until I reach a flat and/or straight section can I free my hand to grab a drink or swat away the bug I'd felt climbing up my neck for the past ten minutes.

But I wouldn't change a thing about it, for the alternative now - hiking or just plain sitting around, killing time - is unthinkable.

For the first time, winding along, feeling the warm wind in my face and the snug smoothness of my cycling shorts once again, I heard myself let out a whoop I'd forgotten once existed inside me everyday.

It just felt so good, like my world felt right again, the way things were meant to be. By my definition, this side of cycling is an esoteric experience that must be achieved to be fully understood.

I look forward to exploring that feeling again tomorrow with, as always, the rubber side down. It's mind cleansing and soul stirring stuff, and it makes me stronger, inside and out.

Also well worthy of mention is the community of cyclists out there on the trails.

Having been a roadie for so long, I'd forgotten the camaraderie that exists among off-road cyclists. Even if it's through sharing the trail, the give and take of stopping for someone climbing a singletrack stretch toward me, just as they'd stop for me, the positivity exists.

Other cyclists will take a few minutes to share their knowledge with me of an untried trail, so I'll know what I can expect as my bike control and technical skills improve.

Hikers and horses, too; we all coexist out there in our mutual enjoyment of the outdoors.

In my experience, I can't recall ever seeing a one-armed cyclist, though I know they've surely been there. Lately, however, I see at least one such rider every time I ride (hee-hee!).

I've grown used to being a novelty out there, and many people have offered encouraging and welcoming words that never fail to fire me up. “Dude, you're a stud” someone told me today, and it makes me laugh. Maybe it's because he was riding the trail with his little girl, who looked to be around twelve or so.

I'm gracious in return, for I've forgotten just how damn strong some riders out there are. While I'm happy to inspire others as a differently-abled, one armed cyclist, it's those powerhouses that inspire me to build back my own strength.

The road is where my best cycling remains to be found, but only on a mountain bike can I develop the strength and bike handling skills that will make me a safer rider no matter where I am.

No trainer or stationary bike can claim as much, and the road itself is no place to break back into the groove of cycling again. It can be a very unforgiving place that could result in a situation from which you won't walk away. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and I ain't going back there again!

That said, I’m happy to report that, when I'm out there, I don't feel fear. It's a function of having spent most of my youth and all of my adult life on a bike. Just two wheels and muscle power is all that matters; once I have that, I can take it from there. I'm a confident yet smart rider who gets the rhythm of traffic and the road in general.

Something that's been beyond my control however, runs far deeper. I've often felt a profound sadness about the very real possibility I might never ride again.

Maybe I couldn't overcome my fears or my physical pain or I'd find myself facing some other demon I'd yet to meet. The idea ate away at me inside like some all-consuming, insatiable tapeworm.

What's more, just knowing my old comrades were out there together, training without me, or seeing a lone rider out with nothing but time and many miles yet to ride always brings back the memories.

But it's not meant to be-I'm free of the demons, free to ride once more. Now, I can bring those old memories to life once again, and things will be the same as ever - only different.