Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bombs in My Old Neighborhood.

I have a long history with the Boston Marathon; my first in the early 70’s was a revelation to me. I was behind the wheel of the Fairbank’s owned WKOX news car. ‘KOX at the time was the only broadcast outlet allowed to have a vehicle on the course. There I was in the station’s Mustang with Bob Bruce and Bill Galvin, driving right behind the “Statie’s” motorcycles and the photographer’s truck, positioned just ahead of the lead runners from the start in Hopkinton all the way to the finish line on Boylston Street in Boston. Every town you pass through on the course has its own unique way of cheering the runners on, from the beer drinkers at the Happy Swallow in Framingham, the Wellesley girls cheering, the families along Heart Break Hill, the crowds in Kenmore Square and the final turn onto Boylston Street and the finish line…the smiles, the cheers, the encouragement for the runners, more cheers for everyday runners than for the elites who were right behind our news car.
The Marathon, almost 40 years ago offered no prize money, it was and still is run by the BAA, a lot  has changed but the people along the course haven’t. I know people who have witnessed the marathon every Patriots Day of their lives. It’s always been much more than a road race. It’s a way of life, a part of life a celebration in the only state in the Union that still celebrates Patriot’s Day.

Later, I lived and worked in the part of Boston where the bombings took place yesterday, it hit me hard. I know those streets, walked them every day, I used to get my glasses and contacts at the store that the first bomb went off directly in front of. I worked in the Prudential Tower, just across the street from where the 2nd bomb detonated.

I read earlier today that Boston is a tough town, but “once you’re in, you’re in”, how true that is. I live in California now, but I’m a Boston guy and have been since my early 20’s. I’ve gone to see the Red Sox and the Marathon on the same day. I’ve sat in the VIP stands and watched the race’s finish. Jan and I have watched the runners on Comm Ave from our roof deck. We’ve walked through the smiling crowds to get a beer and a sandwich in the middle of a Patriot’s Day afternoon as the last runners chug down Boylston to the finish line.

The Marathon, until now has been a celebration of a 117 year old race, a city, its people and the tens of thousands of people from all over the country and the world who come to run in the “Boston” to cheer for the runners, fast and slow and to be embraced by the people of Boston and all the towns along the route. This has had an effect on me that I could never have predicted; one of my first thoughts yesterday was “good thing the fire fighters of Engine 33 are close at hand.” Jan and I thought of our friend Mary who manages a restaurant right around the corner from the blast. So many friends and neighbors, so close, including Mrs. Lee at King Lee cleaners a block away on Newbury, the guys at DeLuca’s market, so many, so close.

Boston is a tough town, but under the toughness is a big, damn heart. Boston is where our country began, where the first shots of the revolution were fired, where the tea was dumped, the city where the British fled from the guns on Dorchester Heights, the town where Ben Franklin swam in the Charles and learned to write and print. Tough town, tough people.

Go to Boston some time, walk the history on the Freedom Trail, sit on a bench on the Common and contemplate it and take a look at the people. They’ll get through this and next year, on Patriot’s Day there will be another Sox game and a world class marathon to celebrate. They are too tough and too big hearted not to.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Day I went Blind, a few more thoughts.

Yesterday after revisiting my hour of going blind, I thought about it off and on all day. I think one of the reasons I didn’t panic was, even though I was self-employed at the time. I had good insurance. My plan paid 80% of all costs up to 300k. My bill was 80 thousand plus for the 4 days.

How would I felt if I hadn’t any insurance at all? How would I have done if I knew I could have lost my job because I couldn’t get to work? What if I knew I wasn’t getting any pay because I worked for a company without any sick leave policy? How would I felt the day I left the hospital with a 17k bill hanging over my head if I made the median household income of (In Mass) of just over 60k? It would have been a third of my income in that scenario? How would I have paid it?

A few years ago there was a new bankruptcy law passed, typical of congress the hearings heard from the corporate side and not ordinary people who were affected by the laws changes. We heard the same old folderol about; people ducking their bills, running up huge credit card balances and walking away laughing, the picture painted was one of everyday folks taking advantage of American businesses. When the bill passed the credit card companies, the banks got what they wanted and the public was screwed in the deal.

Elizabeth Warren, the Mass Senator, was teaching at Harvard law School at the time. Warren was surprised to find that an objective study of the causes of bankruptcy had never been done. All of the info was from the corporate world. Warren headed up a study that looked at the real world of bankruptcy and found a completely different picture than the one painted during the hearings. One of the things that stood out was 54% of all individual bankruptcies are caused by illness, leading to massive medical bills forcing families to make choices on whether to eat or pay bills. Huge amounts of credit card debt was run up by these families and when the bills were finally looked at in detail, the purchases were for food, gasoline and other necessities of life. When things got worse for these families, they paid car payments, rent and mortgages and utilities on credit. With the new law, the credit card debt wasn’t dischargeable, you may be bankrupt but you still owe Visa and Mastercard.

Bankruptcy in the corporate world is an entirely different story; ask my wife she went through it twice when she flew for US Airways. US Air got pay concessions, a huge piece of the employee’s retirement fund invested back into the company so the executives could “save” the company. When they got through it with the help of the tens of thousands of employees, they re-organized and as soon as they could bankrupted the company again and got rid of pension obligations completely, cut insurance and pay again, closed bases and gave the CEO a big raise and bonus. The pensions are now operated by the feds (that’s you and I, by the way) Jan’s retirement is less than half of what she signed on for and paid into for over20 years.

People in our country are more interested in Dancing with the Stars than the real issues we face.

My hospital bill was 80k for just over 4 days; did I get better care than I would have gotten in Toronto, London, Paris or Oslo? No I didn’t.

We need to pay attention and not be distracted by shiny objects and stupid social issues that lead us away from real solutions. The answer in my mind is to stop chanting USA! USA! USA! and get our representatives to pay attention to what we want and need.

The gun lobby has won on the bodies of dead children, 90% of Americans including a majority of gun owners, republicans and NRA members want tough background checks, we aren’t going to get them. We aren’t going to get them because congress pays attention to lobbyists and business, the game is rigged and we are the losers, but hey USA! USA! USA!


Monday, April 8, 2013

The Day I Went Blind

At 80 miles an hour I lost all vision in my right eye, the eye just stopped working. I was in the left lane on Route 128 west of Boston. I worked my way over to the right through traffic and stopped my old Range Rover on the shoulder. I turned on the emergency flashers and sat there. I wasn’t panic stricken; it just seemed odd not to be able to see at all with my right eye. No half vision, no blurred vision, I couldn’t see anything, period.

I sat there for a few minutes and then one-eyed drove to a meeting at my lawyer’s office in the Wellesley Office Park just off 128 on Worcester Road. I got there on time, we discussed an upcoming zoning meeting and I left within an hour. I said nothing to my lawyer about what had happened. During the meeting, a sliver of vision came back, a narrow slot of vision on the side of my eye close to my nose.

After the meeting, I got in the Rover and sat behind the wheel for a few minutes. I drove from Wellesley down Route 9 to my home on Marlborough St in the Back Bay. On the way, I stopped at a traffic light near the Chestnut Hill Mall and another sliver of vision opened, this time it seemed to be in the middle of my eye and was only partially open, like a window with the shade halfway down. I pulled into the parking lot of a Starbucks, bought a coffee and while I was paying for it, my vision slowly returned. Tiny individual slots appeared and slowly opened, one by one. By the time I was back in the car my eye worked normally. I felt strange, but very detached from the entire process, almost like I was watching it happen on a movie screen to someone else. It didn’t feel like it was happening to me.

At home, I took the dog for a quick walk and then sat down on the sofa. Jan was in the air on her way home from Charlotte. I decided to call my eye doctor at Mass Eye and Ear. I told my doc what happened and he said to come over right now. I wrote Jan a note, left her the car keys and gave my dog an ear rub and a cookie. Locked up the condo and took a cab to Mass Eye and Ear.

Dr. Foster did a quick examination of my eye, brought in a neurological ophthalmologist to examine me. After a half hour of tests, they determined it had nothing to do with my cornea transplant. I was on my way to the emergency room at Mass General. I had more tests.  By 4 in the afternoon I was in a bed on the neurology floor. I was being pumped full of blood thinner. I left Jan a message on her cell phone telling her where I was and what I thought was going on. She was landing in an hour.

The head resident came in to my room; he looked about 15 years old. He told me I’d had a stroke incident, a minor one. He explained his diagnosis, a small piece of plaque from an artery had broken loose and had lodged in one of the arteries that provide blood to the optic nerve or to the eye itself and had shut off the vision temporarily. He said the good news is, my eye was working. I asked him what the bad news was, he said, you had a stroke and we haven’t assessed if there is additional damage yet or where the problem originated. He left.

Once again, I felt completely detached from the situation. Never the less I was in a hospital bed, hooked up to monitors and had two IVs in my left arm. At least I was in one of the best hospitals in the country. I had a roommate, another stroke victim; he couldn’t talk or move the left side of his body. He had spittle running out of the left side of his mouth.

Just before 5 the chief neurologist came in the room, he was about my age; he looked at my chart and said in a loud voice, “How are you feeling?” I told him I felt fine. He said, “Good”, I asked how long he thought I’d be here, he didn’t answer and left the room. I looked at my roommate and he held up a note pad that said, Asshole. I laughed and my roommate smiled with the right half of his mouth as best he could. My roommate’s wife came in, introduced herself and her husband, she was Mary Margaret and he was Brian, they lived in Charlestown. She looked exhausted as she sat by his bed and held his hand.

My cell rang and it was Jan, she’d just landed at Logan. She wanted come right to the hospital, I convinced her to go home first and feed the dog, change her clothes and then come over, it took a few minutes but she finally agreed. She called again from home, I asked her to bring me a few things, 90 minutes later she was in my arms. It felt good.

Jan was more worried than I was. Maybe I would be if I felt ill, I didn’t. I had no symptoms, I’d gone blind in one eye and it cleared up in a little over an hour. I told her the docs would get to the bottom of it, she was skeptical and upset. I told her I was hungry, I’d been given a cup of chicken broth for dinner; maybe she could go ask the nurses if I could have something from the cafeteria. When she came back, she said they’d bring me something, they did, another cup of chicken broth. Brian had the Bruins game on, Jan climbed in bed with me and the 4 of us watched the game. I wanted a beer, so did Brian.

A nurse booted our wives at 10pm. The Bruins lost to the Pens. I shut off the TV, Brian laid there and I read. I don’t know what time I fell asleep, I do remember nurses coming and going off and on all night.

I was awake early, breakfast was egg whites, scrambled and a piece of dry wheat toast, I bitched that I was starving and I got a bowl of Special K with skim milk. I was drinking a cup of black coffee when the Chief Neurologist came in with a herd of residents. They pulled Brian’s curtains shut and he ran through Brian’s diagnosis at the top of his lungs, when he finished he turned to me, he shouted, “Good Morning, how are you feeling, today?” He was flipping through my chart, not even looking at me, he turned to the residents and said, “He’ll be getting an MRI this morning and later a CAT-Scan.” They started to leave and I said, “Can I ask you something?” he turned with a scowl on his face and said “What?” I said, “I had a problem with my eye, not my ears, could you hold it down. I heard your entire discussion in the room next door and my roommate can hear every bit as well as I can, you don’t need to shout.” The Chief turned and walked off with his entourage. As they left, one of the residents, a young black woman turned and gave me a thumb up. Brian was silently laughing. I had two scans that day, it was Tuesday

On Wednesday my roommate Brian was ambulanced to Spaulding Rehab hospital, I got up and walked alongside his gurney to the elevator, he was on his back and I was pushing an IV stand with wheels. I shook his good hand and wished him well. I had more scans and several neurological tests.

More of the same on Thursday, one of the residents told me they couldn’t pinpoint the cause, but I was in good shape according to the tests.

My hospitalization continued until Friday Morning, 4 days of tests, more tests and then repeats of previous tests. I never heard more than a loud “Good Morning” from the chief neurologist; my information was coming from medical students, residents and the nurses. My primary care doc was out of the loop even though he worked in another wing of the building. Dan did drop by each day and read my chart to me, offered his take and went home. In reality no one really knew what had happened to make me go blind for an hour. Plenty of theories, no hard facts.

I went home at noon on Friday, Jan was out of town, it was a beautiful day so I walked to Charles Street, had lunch at the Sevens, an Irish Pub on Beacon Hill, I had my first beer since Sunday, a small salad and bowl of stew. Then I walked 14 blocks home. The dog was glad to see me, I was happy to be home. I put all my medicine away crawled into bed and took a nap.

Now you know as much as I do about how I went blind for little more than an hour. My personal share or co-pay for this adventure was $17, 363, including the drugs I took home to medicate myself.

My personal doc’s office manager got a couple of thousand knocked off the bill for non-essential billing.

I haven’t had a problem since this happened in 2000. It scares me more 13 years later than it did at the time.