A lot of people figure that everyone “retires” on their own terms in their proper time. That hasn’t been true in our world. Certainly not in Garry and my world. Garry lost his job because the company he worked for decided to move on without “the old guy.” I lost my job because my bosses son needed one.

Many of the people I know were “laid off” which feels exactly the same as getting fired, except there’s no legal reason for it. They just feel like doing it. In Garry’s case, it was clearly age-related. In mine, it was just smarmy.

I’ve known at least half a dozen people who got forced out of jobs they’d held for as long as 40 years. They had no preparations for retirement, no significant saving, and no plans. They all figured they’d work until they hit the official “date” … but it didn’t turn out like that. Not even close.

All the awards you want … but no pension you can live on.

Garry, after 31 years at channel 7, was shown the door in literally five minutes. When he came home, he looked like he’d been bludgeoned. I should mention that Owen lost his job during the same week. It was a hell of a week.

I hadn’t been at that job for very long, but the boss had me “showing the kid” how to do the job. Sneaky. I was in my 60s. There wasn’t another job waiting for me and I was ill.

For two years, we lived on what Garry got as his union payout. No medical insurance — and I kept getting sicker. He was miserable too. He was terribly depressed and demoralized — while I was wondering if I was going to die.

He went to rehab. I found a doctor who would treat me for free and actually invented a surgery to “fix” me because I was very broken. We had no money. To keep afloat for those two years before Garry got his pension and I got disability, we refinanced the house multiple times which bloated the mortgage payment to an impressive amount we couldn’t pay. There was the HARP Program — which Obama started. The problem? The bank didn’t have to let you into the program. Great program, but all you could do was beg. Weird, right?

I had been negotiating with them for months. When finally I got cancer in both breasts, I called and said, “Well, now I have cancer. Can we please get into the program?” I think I actually shamed a banker because a couple of months later, our mortgage payment dropped by $1000 a month. That was the beginning of survival.

I found a doctor who treated me for free. A hospital that never asked for payment. A bank program that cut our mortgage in half. Finally, Garry started getting Social Security and his (very small) pensions … and I finally got Social Security Disability. We went from having no money (blessings on food banks everywhere) to almost being able to make it through a month.

I remember the day when we no longer needed the food bank. It was a small, but meaningful triumph.

Garry stopped drinking. I didn’t die.

These days, when I hear how people are melting down over getting laid off from their jobs and basically losing everything. I’m sympathetic … but mostly, I figure they’ll get over it. Not immediately. Eventually.

You have to get over it. It’s a terrible time. We went for two years without any income. None. Zero. Nothing. Whatever little we had put away disappeared. Somehow, we survived and damned if I know how. I got any help I could from anyone who gave help. I don’t even know how I did it.  We are both alive — and we still have the house. At some point, Mass Health (our version of Medicaid) kicked in. It was the idea on which Obama built his medical plan.

It was designed by our Republican governor. That’s one of many reasons it baffles me that the GOP has been so against it. It was their program.

When this was taken, I weighed 93 pounds. An XXS was too big for me. I wore a size zero and it was loose. It was not an attractive look.

Most people don’t get to retire like in the movies, with or without the gold watch. We get ditched, usually around age 59, typically 6 months before pensions fully vest.

For all of you who got dumped because you got “too old,” yes it was illegal to let you go. It’s call ageism, but it’s done all the time. You can sue, but unless you’ve got money to live on while you sue, by the time you get paid off — and you will get paid off — you’ll be up to your lip in debt.

Did we have mental meltdowns? Sure we did. That’s why Garry needed rehab. I would have been more melted down, but I was trying to save my life and it was sheer luck I bumped into a doctor who introduced me to another doctor who took me in. I was days from my demise by then.

I developed a sort of yellow-green complexion. Which was also not very attractive

If you have had a life calamity and everything gets taken away, it will take a couple of years before you pull yourself together. It’s not just your finances that take a hit. Your soul gets maimed. Your self-esteem goes down the tubes.

When anti-medical care legislators say “no one dies from lack of medical care,” that’s bullshit. Lots of people die without care. They don’t get written up because they aren’t in the hospital or seeing a doctor. They just die. Kids, old people, and all the others in the middle.

Why am I talking about this?

Because those of us who had this terrible disaster overwhelm us need to know we aren’t alone. It wasn’t just us. It’s lots and lots of people many of whom used to be solidly middle class before their world collapsed.

So try to remember one thing:

It gets better. Somehow, some way, it gets better.

THE TIMELINE – Marilyn Armstrong

Finally, last night, I figured out that I’ve got between 10 and 12 years to live. It would be great if it were longer, but that’s pretty much what I’ve got and I want to live them well.

The math isn’t complicated. Hopefully, I’m finished with cancer. As much of my gastrointestinal tract has been removed as can be removed. My spine is completely calcified and most of the time, I can barely move.

The valves and Pacemaker they put into my heart are stamped and dated. They have time limits and the clock is ticking.

I’ve got two replaced heart valves: the mitral and the aortic.. Both are made from animal parts (valves?) and have an average life of 15-years. I’ve had them for nearly five years. They can last a little longer — sometimes as much as 17 years or as few as 12. Four down, let’s say ten to go?

Then there is the Pacemaker. The battery runs out in about 10 years, at which point they will want to open me up, remove the old pacemaker and replace it with a new one with a new battery. I think maybe since they have made major improvements in Pacemaker technology since they put this one in me four-years-ago, I could have this one replaced with one of the newer ones. Better batteries. And not metal.

That way, I wouldn’t have to wait until my eighties when I doubt I’ll want to go for heart surgery, minor or major.

My post surgery heart pillow; You grab it and hug it when you need to sneeze or cough, it is supposed to make you feel better. It doesn’t.

The valves are a larger problem. I know they are making progress designing replacement heart valves which last longer and work better, but whether they will be ready for me – in this lifetime – remains to be seen. As it stands right now, I have about 10 years. Maybe 12. After that, it’s time to say goodbye.

Unlike most people, there’s an actual clock ticking in my chest. Optimism will not make a difference. The timeline was created the day they did the surgery — five years this spring. The best I can do with it is pay forward on the Pacemaker (if they let me) and hope for the best with the valves.

Meanwhile, I am coming off a two-week remission of pain and misery using Prednisone.

I know Prednisone has a lot of side effects, especially for a woman my age with heart issues. Nonetheless, this two weeks using Prednisone has been the best two weeks I’ve had in years. I’ve been able to walk upstairs. Down is harder because it’s a balance issue, but I can walk upstairs. Slowly, but I can do it. I’ve been able to sleep in a comfortable position … which means I’ve been able to sleep.

I can get out of this chair without pushing myself up with my hands. I didn’t have to limp between the kitchen and the bathroom. In short, I have felt like I’m really alive. Now that I’m down to my last four tablets, I have been doing serious thinking about how I want to spend these next ten years.

I probably can’t take a full run of all-the-time Prednisone. That would more than likely wind up ending my life sooner rather than later … but maybe intermittent Prednisone? Like two weeks on, a month or six-weeks off? If I’ve got a limited lifespan, I would like to live it. Enjoy it.

I want to be able to move and not spend most of my life fending pain.

I’ve run out of options. I can’t take any NSAIDs. I am already taking narcotics light and I don’t see heavier doses as a direction I want to take. It doesn’t make the pain go away and it makes me stupid. What’s more, I’m allergic to most of them.

So, following the holidays, it’s time for a long, complicated talk with the doctor.

I can hope science will make a great leap forward that will change my future. Otherwise, I would like to make sure I don’t spend the remainder of my limited time battling pain. And you never know. They might find the miracle I need. It could happen.

Sensible ideas are welcome. I have choices to make and it’s time to make them.


My English friend’s daughter, Katie, just had her first baby. She is 37 and has an established career she loves. Because she lives in England, having her baby will not affect her position at work. She gets nine-months of maternity leave and is guaranteed her job back when her leave is over.

For an American, that whole concept is amazing. Women in America are afraid to take the full legal six-weeks maternity leave for fear of negative repercussions on the job.

I’ve recently read that many women in America are choosing not to have children because motherhood would adversely affect their careers.

Women have to fight harder to establish themselves professionally and prove they are as good as the men they work with. Therefore, they don’t want to give up the gains they fought for make by having kids. They shouldn’t have to, but apparently, mothers are routinely treated with prejudice throughout corporate America.

Mothers are not viewed or treated like childless female workers or even male workers with kids. Mothers’ loyalty and commitment to their professions are always questioned.

Corporate life leaves no room for a family life. At least not for women. Mothers in the workforce have a terrible time balancing work and home life. They’re afraid to give any priority to their families, which creates tremendous stress. And hurts families.

There are other benefits Kate has as a new mother in England which American moms don’t have.

The English National Health Service, though stretched to the limit, still offers invaluable services to mothers of newborns. Kate can call an experienced midwife whenever she needs advice. When Kate was worried about nursing, a midwife with an expertise in lactation issues came to Kate’s house. She sat with Kate while she fed her daughter and offered advice and support. This would have been invaluable to me but is unheard of in America. I would have to find my own expert and pay for her services.

In addition, the midwives, as well as the GP’s in England, pay close attention to the new mother’s mental health. They are on guard for any signs of postpartum depression. This is considered a major part of postnatal care in England. Not in the U.S.

The National Health Service also offers something called the Lullaby Café, a place for new mothers to meet each other under the guidance of a trained midwife. The professional is there to answer questions, offer advice and comfort, as the voice of experience. I would have loved to have something like this when I had my first child. Mommy And Me ‘classes’ were just playgroups, not healthcare.

The new moms in my group had to compare notes and figure things out on our own. Truly the blind leading the blind. We also had to pay for our group activities, until we could form our own groups and meet in each other’s homes.

For Kate, her group experience is both free and educational.

So if you’re going to have a baby, especially if you also want a career, you’re better off if you’re British than American. Given our broken and morally corrupt healthcare system, that’s hardly a big surprise!



FOWC with Fandango — Setting

Yesterday’s setting was Garry’s first post-surgical checkup at UMass Memorial. Today’s setting is going to be (in an hour from now) our regular family guy to see if we can get his blood pressure a little lower

Doctor’s office in Douglas

Mostly, it’s good news.

We discovered that he has residual hearing in his right ear and more of it than we expected. This is a good thing because it will make getting “natural” sounds in his “implanted” ear easier. The device with his own hearing will give him better highs and lows.

He won’t get all his super-high-tech equipment until August 24th, but the doctor is pretty sure he’s going to have good hearing fast. Like maybe immediately.

A sunny day in the backyard while the temperature is almost 100.

No one can explain how in the world he got Blue-Tooth from my speaker without external equipment, but he did. My speaker also has a small transmitter and Garry was wearing powered headphones, so something happened. But regardless, once he has all the rest of the gear, it won’t happen without special equipment.

Definitely the right shirt for the season. Do you think the extreme heat may have something to do with being tired? It’s really hot out there!

The incision is healed and all the wires and magnets and coils are in the right places in his head. Neat and clean. I’m trying to get him to send me a photograph of it, but we haven’t figured out how to turn the x-ray into a photograph. Yet. But I’ll keep trying. It’s really interesting.

Garry is very tired. He thinks it’s because he’s a “right-side” sleeper and that’s the ear that had the surgery. He hasn’t been able to sleep in a comfortable position since the surgery, but he can at this point if he wants to since everything is nicely healed.

He also looks sleepy all the time. I think he’s still got a bit of hangover from the anesthesia. He also needs to get back to doing normal stuff, including exercise. Sitting around all the time isn’t his most healthy choice.

Now, we wait another 18 days and then — magic.

He’s ready to go now and I don’t blame him, but they won’t put the technology in place until everything is 100% healed, so they always let it go slightly over a full month. Just to be sure.

Meanwhile, to keep him sane, the Red Sox are winning and it keeps him from watching the news and getting completely crazy.


How funny or witty can you be when reality — your existence — has gone beyond whatever we imagined was the ultimate degree of ludicrousness? When your future expectations have been effectively annihilated?

That we have a horrible government (it makes me ill thinking about it) is bad. Awful. Unspeakable.

But all the little things that should be easy are also obscenely complicated. There’s no reason for it — except the people with whom one is dealing are incompetent. Not because they can’t do the job, but because they don’t care.

Is this all part of the overall feeling we have that our country is going to hell? That trying to be better isn’t worth the effort? We already know we aren’t going to be rewarded because no one cares about the quality of our work.  Or us.

I have learned that when anyone “fixes” something, the new version is going to be harder to use and less functional. This includes hardware and software. It includes medical care. It includes any form of communications. It includes things like logging on to my computer.

I didn’t want to have a password for my computer because no one uses it except me. Garry wouldn’t go near it. It’s too heavy to haul anywhere and I would have to be dead for someone to try to figure it out.

But I gave up. I put in a password. Yesterday, Microsoft sent down a new version of Windows 10 and now, I can choose one of three ways to sign in. I can use my password. I can use a numerical key through Microsoft. Or I can set up facial recognition.

Thanks. If I didn’t want a password at all, why do I now need three choices of new ways to slow down my computer?

I turned off Alexa on each machine on which it has appeared. I refuse to use voice recognition or Skype. It takes me at least three tries to make the robot in the computer understand what I’m saying. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how many times I say it, it isn’t going to understand.

Moreover, I don’t need Alexa to take charge of anything, thank you very much. Please, take Alexa, Cortana, and Siri away. Make them disappear.

I don’t need electronic solutions to stuff that isn’t a problem. If I add these electronic solutions, they will become problems. It’s like the electronics in your car. You don’t have a key, so if the computer malfunctions, you not only can’t drive your car, you can’t even open the door.

Why is everything so needlessly complicated? Why does every simple task involve hours on hold, getting disconnected? Why are they making toilets require Bluetooth or WiFi? Are they going to analyze our shit to make sure we’re getting the right amount of roughage? Do I need the toilet to talk to me?

Why am I arguing with robots or people who know less about the problem than I do? Why won’t people believe anything I tell them?

I’m tired of being mad. Tired of arguing about stupid shit. I’m worn out. I am not ill, dying. I’m not going to have a stroke or heart attack. I’m exhausted from endlessly dealing with a million idiotic things that should not need to be dealt with at all. By anyone.

I’m tired of the incompetence of people who have jobs when so many competent people could use a job.

It’s not merely that we have a stupid government. It’s that we are becoming a stupid country. Not “stupid” in the sense that we don’t have brains, but stupid in the sense that we don’t use them. Brains, that is.

I’m having trouble finding this funny. That worries me. If I can’t laugh, how can I keep going? Laughter is the one thing that makes life livable. Take it away, and life will totally suck.

I used to say when comes the revolution, I’ll be on of the first up against the wall. Right now, not only does that seem likely, it doesn’t sound like a bad idea. It could save me from trying to try making another appointment with a doctor.

Lately, even watching comedians isn’t funny because the news isn’t funny. It’s tragic, sad, depressing. And getting worse. I no longer think it can’t get worse. I’m positive it will get worse. I try not to think about how it could get worse. I just want it to not get too much worse until after I’m gone.

It would be just our kind of luck for both of us to live to 120.


FOWC with Fandango — Kudos

I got a note today telling me that our appointment with the pre-op people on July 9 didn’t appear to exist. UMass has communication problems. No one seems to talk to anyone else around there.

For an entire year, I tried to get an appointment with a medical oncologist for a checkup on my (at that point) relatively recent bout with two different forms of cancer. It never happened.

Every time I got close to the appointment, the doctor’s office called to tell me he had a meeting and I had to reschedule. It happened six times, after which I changed medical plans and went back to a facility that always took care of me.

I never saw the neurologist either. When I got there, they told me I didn’t have an appointment. When I got home, they called me to ask me how come I missed my appointment.

I managed to survive those two experiences, but this is a pre-op for Garry’s cochlear implant. I have no more patience to deal with this nonsense. I don’t know what their issue is, but they need to fix it.

I called everyone and got disconnected. Finally, I called the hospital’s general directory and got someone who connected me to the actual doctor’s office and she said she was sure we had an appointment and connected me with the secretary in the office and she said she was also sure we had an appointment. Which means that there’s nothing more I can do.


I have no doubt about the skill of the surgeons or the medical abilities of the team, but I am deeply dubious about the hospital’s ability to manage simple communications with each other.

So kudos to me for spending my entire morning calling a hospital, getting disconnected, and continuing to try until I finally got answers which I hope turn out to be the RIGHT answers.

Grant me a small indulgence as I struggle to get what’s left of my temper back under control because this drives me nuts. I figure when you make an appointment and you show up for that appointment, the next thing to follow will be seeing the doctor (or whoever you are supposed to be seeing). Eventually, someone will tell you what — if anything — they have found.

This has not been the case with UMass Memorial and I don’t understand it. I’m still breathing heavily.

Up in the air, Junior Birdmen. Up in the air, upside-down.


My closest friend has been dealing with her mother’s recurring cancers for two years. The battle is nearing an end as her mom goes into a hospice for end-of-life care.

There is one part of this story that has affected me deeply. It has been watching middle-class people, who worked their whole lives, struggle to afford the medical care they need at the end of their lives. I knew that our healthcare system had serious problems. But I had never seen the effects of these issues, up close, on people’s lives.

My friend’s mom was a nurse and her father was an engineer. They saved some money over the years and were comfortable up until the time they got sick. The dad died a few years ago. His last illness soaked up most of the extra cash that they had put away. So when the mom got cancer, money was tight.

My friend works 60 plus hours a week as an executive at AT&T. Her sister, also local, is the mother of two teenage girls. There came a point when their mom had to go to frequent doctors appointments and chemo or radiation several times a week. The sisters had to take turns driving their mom to her appointments and staying with her through her treatments.

They couldn’t afford to pay an aide to spend several days a week doing testing and treatment runs. If the sisters hadn’t turned their lives upside down to take care of their mom, I don’t know what would have happened to her. If she didn’t have two willing daughters living near her, she would have been screwed.

This situation became a real hardship for both siblings. As time went by, the mom’s symptoms got worse and she eventually needed a feeding tube. That upped the level of care she needed exponentially. After a while, the mom couldn’t handle the feeding tube on her own. So the sisters had to get to her house several times a day to help her.

When the mom needed help getting to the bathroom, the daughters broke down and hired the most affordable aide they could find to come to the house twice a day to supplement the daughters’ visits.

Then the mom became effectively bedridden and they had to hire a full-time aide. They couldn’t afford a fully certified RN. So they found a willing woman with some healthcare experience.

But she is Russian and speaks almost no English. She could communicate with my friend with a translating program on her phone. But she could not communicate with her mom at all. Unfortunately, that’s all they could afford. They were lucky to find anyone.

It’s outrageous that families are left on their own to take care of sick relatives unless they are in the top 1% of earnings.

My friend was lucky she can work wherever she has a computer. So she could get work done at her mom’s house or at the hospital or at the treatment centers. That’s not a common situation. If she had had to show up to work at an office every day to keep her job, she’d have been unemployed long ago.

Which is the situation in which most people find themselves.

So how do average families take care of their sick? Watching my relatively well-off friends struggle, I have no clue how other less lucky workers manage.

Our health care system obviously has serious problems. I understood this intellectually. Watching my friend try to do right by her mom, I suddenly understand the flaws in the system on a more visceral level.

Affordable help should be available to everyone who needs it to care for sick family members. People should not have to suffer extreme hardships just to care for a loved one who is ill. People should not have to choose between their job and their own financial security and caring for a family member.

This situation is outrageous in as rich and sophisticated a country as America. It’s not an issue in most other democracies in the western world. Hopefully, the movement towards universal healthcare here will eventually solve this problem. If we’re all lucky, I’ll live to see enlightened healthcare for everyone in my country. If not, shame on us!