Sunday, November 17, 2013

“Cancer Conundrum”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Cancer – not for the faint of heart.

From my earliest childhood days, I always associated cancer with the maternal side of our family. It seemed that this awful affliction was more prevalent among relatives from West Virginia. Grandma McCray succumbed when I was only eleven. Uncle Ronald passed later. The disease was all too common across Appalachia. I learned to fear its presence as a dreaded foe that took away those I loved.
So when my father confessed to us that he had developed colon cancer, in the 90’s, we were undeniably shocked.
A medical crossing over of sorts? It seemed unthinkable.
He made a doctor’s appointment before telling any of us, to avoid causing undue concern. Eventually, battling this malady involved three different surgeries, over a period of several years. He was left with a permanent colostomy.
This experience made me truly understand the fragility of life itself. As a result of complications in 1997, he reached the point of death. We literally stayed up all night at the hospital, with members of a local church. We prayed for his life to be spared.
With daybreak, God was merciful. He survived against the odds.
While watching him fight to be healed, I mused over lyrics from a favored poet and musician, Lou Reed. A composition from his recording ‘Magic and Loss’ depicted this sad situation with great authenticity:

“I see the Sword of Damocles
Is right above your head
They’re trying a new treatment
to get you out of bed
But radiation kills both bad and good
it can not differentiate
So to cure you, they must kill you
the Sword of Damocles hangs above your head.”

Later, a cousin on my paternal side, close in age to myself, developed similar issues. He had a cancerous tumor that was all but impossible to treat. All of this caused a great deal of personal anguish and family stress. And of course, an enormous amount of medical bills.
When I reached the age of fifty, my doctor urged that a screening for this particular kind of cancer be performed, immediately. In view of my family history, her advice seemed logical and prudent.
Emotionally, I prepared myself for the screening. It was a step to be taken with some trepidation and a mood of sobriety. Yet one undeniably necessary to preserve my health.
But when I spoke to a claims administrator about our workplace insurance, this plan was derailed.
“Not allowable,” she said, dryly. “It is an unneeded expense.”
I assured her that my genetic history with the disease was extensive. Both brother and sister had manifested pre-cancerous polyps in their colon.
“Not allowable,” she repeated. “We will not cover the cost.”
I was struck by the fact that my insurance came through a labor union that had lobbied extensively to elect candidates who supported President Obama’s ‘Affordable Care Act.’
“How is it possible to deny such a procedure?” I asked.
The claims administrator was very specific.
“Unless you are bleeding, we will not pay,” she observed.
Carefully, I explained that when my father manifested such symptoms, he was well beyond early detection. His cancer proved difficult to treat and returned even after radiation and chemotherapy. It literally brought him to the brink of oblivion.
The cost, in physical and monetary terms, was staggering.
“We will not pay,” she repeated.
In the next year, two other employees at my workplace met a similar fate. Though they also had extensive histories with the affliction, our insurer would not cover a screening.
It represented the most frightening proposition – health decisions being made not by a trusted family doctor, but instead, by a faceless administrator in a faraway office.
Even a simple blood test for prostate cancer proved to be too costly for this insurer. After my doctor requested the check, I received a bill for $1274.00, to be paid immediately.
While making arrangements to satisfy the cost in installments, over the course of a year, I remembered the words from the claims office.
“We will not pay.”
In current terms, this situation left me at odds with both doctor and family.
My personal physician was adamant that the procedure be performed, immediately. And my cousin from Gallia County admonished me to have a colonoscopy, no matter what financial peril resulted. Yet I remembered an uncle who admitted that having the screening left him in debt for thousands of dollars.
Having survived a near-miss with bankruptcy while having knee surgery, only four years ago, I felt uneasy about encountering another money mishap. Still, not having the procedure seemed a bit like playing Russian Roulette.
There was no obvious solution.
I pondered getting a different job. Other stores where I had worked as a retail manager offered a different benefit plan. But the poor economy would make that kind of move hard to accomplish. Moreover, with system-wide reform on the horizon, it might not matter.
The clock was ticking. And I felt afraid.
Cancer? Inside my body?
Tick tick tick.
Another brush with bankruptcy?
Tick tick tick.
The Sword of Damocles? Swinging like a timekeeper’s pendulum?
Tick tick tick.
Grandma McCray. Uncle Ronald. Cousin Rob.
And too soon, myself.

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“News Busted”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Writing about current news stories is thrilling work. Analyzing events as they unfold provides the sort of adrenaline rush that few other experiences can provide. But when the reporter becomes part of the story itself, the natural discipline of a journalist is exploded.
Viewing a ‘perfect storm’ from the inside is disorienting and overwhelming.
Such a happening transpired in my own life, recently.
While heading home to Geauga County from my ‘real job’ I listened to a talk radio broadcast by Clyde Lewis. He spoke about the kind of subject matter that once occupied legendary broadcaster Art Bell. Mentally, I was prepared to arrive home, pop open an adult beverage and enjoy my supper. This routine had become well-established in my life.
Writing projects often took shape in such late hours. But I could not have expected the inspiration that was about to arrive.
The road ahead was dark. Empty shadows obscured the landscape southeast of Thompson. Restless deer waited for a chance to wreak havoc with those traveling in the night. Shadows fell from the trees with shades of moonlight. But nothing suggested a detour from the ordinary.
Then, an emergency vehicle flew past. And another. And another!
When I arrived in my rural neighborhood, the residence park was lit up with flashing, strobe-effect colors of red and blue. Vehicles completely blocked the roadway. Sheriff’s Deputies were everywhere. First responders waited in the electric fog.
My first thought was that there had been a fire. Such incendiary events were all too common among the boxcar residences in our locale. But this supposition proved to be wrong.
A familiar neighbor approached my truck. “You won’t be able to reach your house,” he advised. “Better try to go around the back road.”
I squinted for a better view. “What happened?”
“There was a shooting,” he whispered. “The husband is dead.”
Suddenly, my body clock stopped. Every extraneous thought disappeared. I went completely numb behind the wheel.
“Is it safe in here?” I whispered, while looking straight ahead.
“The police have everything under control,” my neighbor said, with a nod.
It took a moment to regain my concentration. I turned right and circled around the back of our park, taking the long route toward my driveway. People were literally standing in the street, sharing wild speculation about what had transpired.
At home, my dogs were in a rowdy mood.
After a couple of minutes, I joined the nervous group of gawkers. No one had actually witnessed the tragic event. Someone observed that it had been a desperate act of self-defense. I recalled seeing the late husband sitting in his yard chair. Now, that seemed like a vision from many years ago.
Reckless conversation began to flow, under cover of darkness. It made me nervous. I avoided saying too much while the police were investigating. Someone remembered that the couple had suffered from marital distress, in the past. Another thought the husband had limited mobility, and walked with a cane.
An ambulance took the wife away. Much later, the coroner arrived. Eventually, only a few of the original crowd remained. About 1:30 a.m. this small group finally surrendered to fatigue.
The air had turned cold. I went inside at long last, to have my after-work meal. Both dogs were frantic. I took out my iPhone and began to text.

“You won’t believe what happened tonight...”

There were no replies. Everyone I knew was asleep.
Over the weekend, there was no news coverage of the happening. Residents in the neighborhood waited with nervous anticipation. I wondered quietly if the shooting was simply too far ‘off the radar’ of traditional information sources?
But on Tuesday, an avalanche of coverage appeared.
As I was getting ready for work, my neighbor called. “They’re here!” she screeched. “They’re here!”
I barely escaped as a WOIO-19 news crew cornered her for an interview. Like myself, she could offer little useful information. We did not know the couple involved. No one heard anything on the fateful night in question.
Still, the reporter jammed a microphone in her face.
I couldn’t help thinking of Paul Harvey’s famous tagline:

“Stand by for news!”

Friends began to text as I was on duty at my ‘real job.’ Questions were numerous. I pleaded ignorance and assured everyone that I was safe.
After work that night, I read a story about the incident on the Maple Leaf website. There was a link to the 911 call which had already been posted on YouTube. An eerie sense of calm had returned to the neighborhood.
I walked the dogs about 11:00 p.m., with disbelief still scattering my thoughts. Peering into the darkness, I wondered about the families involved.
I prayed silently, for God’s tender embrace.
And then, back inside my house, I began to write.

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Friday, November 01, 2013

“A Digital Escape”

Geauga County and the Golden State closer than you think.

Regular readers of this column will be very familiar with my long-distance connection to legendary California guitarist Davie Allan. We have corresponded for many years and I have written dozens of features, letters and e-mail notes about his amazing career.
I have personally lobbied music mogul Mike Curb, producer Harley Hatcher, movie director Quentin Tarantino, Fender Musical Instruments and Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, on his behalf.
In bygone days, Davie sent an autographed, vinyl copy of his ‘An Arrow Escape’ LP as an example of career-broadening ideas that had sometimes taken hold. It was a gem worthy of praise. In a sense, the record heralded a Rock infusion that would later be manifested in the modern Country Music genre. Today’s listener might not flinch at such guitar wizardry amid images of rural culture. But in 1983, it was a different world.
The man known as ‘King Fuzz’ for his use of audio distortion offered in this release a detour into high-energy Americana. While little-known to many fans, it remains an artistic statement unique and unexpected for someone associated with fretboard mayhem, two-wheeled choppers and cult films.
Recently, Davie contacted me over the Internet, to report that he had revised and re-released this decades-old artifact. In the message, he offered pertinent information about the downloadable document:

“Here are the 2013 album notes: This marks the 30th anniversary and first official release of my 10 track country album plus a new bonus track. It has been remixed and remastered. In 1983 I decided to take a break from my instrumental career and focus on my love of ‘old’ country music. I collaborated with several friends (most notably, Rick Korenthal, my co-producer on this album). I only do download albums now (aaarrgghh!!). I didn’t tell Rick that I was remixing the album. After he heard it he called and actually thought I had done some new vocals and guitar parts. He was floored when I told him that I just repaired and remixed the album (plus I added one new recording … the old album was 10 tracks). By the way, Janine came up with the title that was a takeoff on the term ‘a narrow escape’.”

I was shy to admit not having purchased a music file, before. Especially because I owned an iPhone. Reluctantly, I confessed my Luddite status:

“Davie – I have never (heretofore) downloaded music for money. Paying $9.99 for something I can’t hold physically and use at my own discretion seems completely foreign. Is this a viewpoint rooted in my generation? Probably. Kids have no problem with this… I struggle onward.”

King Fuzz did not criticize my slowness to adopt the technology. Instead, he encouraged all the members of his fan forum on Yahoo! to check out the new edition of ‘Escape.’
Weeks passed and I still had not acquired a copy of the recording. Finally, Davie posted a personal plea to close members of his devoted community:

“As you know I’ve sent every CD to you for free and I wondered (since “Retrophonic 4″ was my final physical album) if you would help out by downloading the new (“new” meaning re-mixed, etc) album? Thanks!!!”

I was embarrassed. Indeed, he had sent every new release to my mailbox since the 90′s. It was an absolute privilege to listen and write reviews, in return. During the summer of 2009, before going south to be with my father during cancer surgery, our last stop in Geauga County was at the Chardon Post Office where I received his newest CD in the mail. It was a good omen which helped carry me through the experience.
I wrote a heartfelt message to my guitar hero:

“Davie, This will sound like an excuse, but… I upgraded my iPhone to iOS7. To do so, I needed space, so I temporarily deleted messages and my music. I had no idea how frustrating that would be. My version of iTunes was not updated (on my computer) so it would not recognize my phone. Then I could not reload my music. Had to consult iPhone tipsters on the Internet. (I listen to music via my phone.) This required several days of fiddling after work. I believe it is fixed. Phone and computer. Okay… An Arrow Escape on iTunes? I loved that LP, very different. Eager to hear the update. The link says CD Baby… I will check it out.”

But instead of downloading the album through the site he provided, I clicked on iTunes through my phone. It seemed like the easiest way to get a copy. After a bit more work, I was able to receive the download and start listening. I cheered the arrival of this first digital file in my next message:

“Davie – Bottom line is, after much fiddling with iTunes, my iPhone, my computer, and my customer account (a process of several days) I downloaded the revised ‘An Arrow Escape.’ Smiles all around as I listen. Relief.”

Postscript: Amusingly, while researching this column I learned that ‘An Arrow Escape’ was the title of a 1936 Terrytoons animated short, which was based on the story of Robin Hood.

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