Some Rough Sledding IMG_1607

I didn’t much want to be a drag over Christmas, nor be one of those tiresome old men (and women) who bore your eyeballs out by talking tediously about the slow decay of their bodies, as if they were play-by-play announcers at a sporting event called “Increasing Decrepitude”.. So I kept my bad health to myself, which is pretty darn melodramatic. It’s a bit like that old Crosby, Stills and Nash song, “Almost Cut My Hair.”

I almost cut my hair
‘Twas just the other day
It was gettin’ kinda long
I could-a said, it was in my way
But I didn’t and I wonder why
I want to let my freak flag fly
And I feel like I owe it to someone

Must be because I had the flu for Christmas
And I’m not feelin’ up to par
It increases my paranoia
Like lookin’ at my mirror and seein’ a lit up police car
But I’m not givin’ in an inch to fear
I promised myself this year
I feel like I owe it to someone

When I finally get myself together
Get down in some sunny southern weather
Find a place inside to laugh
Separate the wheat from the chaff
‘Cause I feel like I owe it to someone.

And to be honest, I’ve always been pretty good at melodrama. For years I was sure every cold was lung cancer, (likely due to some internalized guilt I felt over the huge enjoyment I got from cigarettes). At age seventeen I was sure I was going to die at age seventeen like the poet John Chatterton. At age 26 I was going to die at 26 like Keats. Then I was going to die at 29 like Shelley, and then at 36 like Byron, and then at 39 like Dylan Thomas. However by then it was starting to get a bit old. One can only flop around like a dying fish for so long before people stop taking you seriously.

This is not to say I myself wasn’t still serious. Life is never quite so beautiful as it is when it is tenuous, and slipping away through your fingers. And anyone who knows anything about all the crud I’ve been through over the years has to admit it is a miracle I’m still alive.  However, for the most part I’ve quit the melodrama of flopping about like a fish. For one thing, I’m too old to die young. Where’s the glamour of dying at 62?

Though I privately view each dawn as a bit of a surprise, (as I don’t expect to still be here), and though privately I may view each new liver-spot on the back of my hand as melanoma, publicly I now deem it best to avoid anything that looks like complaining. I have no business complaining, as I can still wield a maul and spit wood at age sixty-two, as my pals get their knees replaced. However I did complain to my doctor. (I think, in some ways, that may be what doctors are for.)

Over the past six months I felt like my get-up-and-go got up and went. I might have shrugged that off as aging, but also I seemed to lose a quarter pound every week, despite eating well. It triggered my old habit of assuming I had lung cancer, especially as I seemed to catch every cold the kids had at our Farm-childcare, whereas for years I’d seemed totally immune despite being slimed constantly by their runny noses. When the most recent cold led to congestion in my lungs I decided to pester my doctor. Imagination isn’t always a poet’s friend, and it is good sometimes to get the smack-down of, “You are perfectly healthy. Stop being such a fool and worrying so much!”

Unfortunately he didn’t say I was perfectly healthy this time. I had chest X-rays, and they showed a “shadow.” So he scheduled a Cat-scan, which gave me a week or so to worry, before the Cat Scan was analyzed and my lungs looked OK. Then I was on cloud nine, but later my doctor called me back, because way down at the bottom of the Cat Scan he’d noticed a bulge on my left kidney. There was a second Cat Scan, and then a biopsy of my kidney, and cancer was discovered. Part, or all, of the kidney has to come out. Merry Christmas.

Oh well. I figured it was a sort of Christmas miracle that the cancer was discovered, when I had absolutely no complaints about my kidneys, and wasn’t looking in that direction in the slightest. Still, it was hard to bite my tongue and muster the proper cheer for Christmas.

I didn’t even tell my wife, at first, but there’s no fooling her, as she tends to read me like a book and can see phony cheerfulness in me even when I have myself fooled. And also I am part of a bunch of old coots at my church, and we pray together and are honest about our heartaches. And one of those fellows turned around and prayed with his family, and his son happens to know one of my sons, so that son soon knew, and before you could shake a stick everyone knew. A small town is proof that the only secrets that stay secret are those that are known by one person alone.

It wasn’t so bad. Some people did get awkward, and some did behave as if cancer is contagious, but I’m old and expect no better from my fellow mortals. What I didn’t expect was people I hardly know, and didn’t think of as prayerful people, to come up to me and tell me they would be praying for me. I am not always the most courteous of people, and can be a bit brutal with the Truth, and if I expect any sort of prayers it might be the prayer that I get hit by a truck. It was really touching to receive unexpected expressions of caring.

For the most part I just went on dealing with details, which will be a bit harder as I am not suppose to do any heavy lifting for five weeks after the operation. This will involve some serious adjustments to the routine of the Farm-childcare, not only because a farm involves grunt-work, but small children like to be hoisted, and like to take flying leaps and land on your stomach without warning, when you are reading a story on the couch.  I’ll likely have to hire people and take a hit to my profits, right when I need to come up with six-grand (as that is the “deductible” in my insurance.)  An operation doesn’t mean you do less, it seems.

It would be nice if insurance companies would go out of there way to make things easier for the client, but apparently they need to make all sorts of extra work to justify their existence. When my father first started work as a surgeon in 1946 he had a single secretary, and many country doctors wrote out their own bills. Much of the increase in medical costs has nothing to do with medicine, and everything to do with parasitic lawyers, and countless layers of bureaucratic confetti. Rather than cathedrals, our cities tallest towers are built to the false god of insurance, which I tend to grumble only ensures we are more miserable than necessary.

Of course I had to go through my own gauntlet, which all too many are quite familiar with. Here is part of an email I sent to friends:

The surgery was all set to go on January 5 when Obamacare stepped in, and I had to deal with a series of insurance-company-voices on the telephone that would have made me angry, but the bureaucrats sounded so much like characters on “Saturday Night Live” that my sense of humor kicked in. Basically they were telling me that due to clause 20446B (or something) of my policy I couldn’t use Catholic Medical Center, where my surgeon does 95% of his operations, and instead I had to wait until he could do the exact same operation at a different hospital, which might not be until February. I stressed this might not be a good idea, as the cancer could spread farther during that time. I was assured it was a good idea as it would keep rates lower, (and so forth).
The discussion was made all the more difficult by the fact I never could get the same person on the phone twice, and had to go over everything from the start again and again. But this did allow me to make my story better and better. Maybe I even started exaggerating a bit, which I assume the Lord will forgive me for, given the circumstances. I didn’t say it was a fact that the cancer would spread, but implied that if the surgery wasn’t done on January 5 it might cost the insurance company a heck of a lot more. The mention of money did seem to impress them, and I got sent to other people, who sent me to other people, (with long intervals spent listening to bad music on “hold”,) until I finally talked to someone who did mention there was such a thing as a “waiver”, which might allow me to use Catholic Medical Center. All I needed was fifteen forms filled out by my Family Doctor’s office, and for Doc himself to find time in his busy schedule to personally call them and grovel a bit.
At this point they were wearing me down, and I was deciding maybe it was God’s Will to put things off until February, but I did mention the situation when I was up at Doc’s office, and this is where a “God-sighting” occurred. At Doc’s office H—- (who he has had to hire to deal with insurance and nothing but insurance) was none too pleased to hear I had learned about the “waiver”, for she had been on the phone herself, but hadn’t been able to get anyone at the insurance company to release this secret information. Now she abruptly had a full head of steam, and went charging into the Obamacare bureaucracy like an NFL fullback.

In the old days it was the men who wore the shining armor and were the heroes, saving the maidens in distress, but times change, and in a hopeless bureaucracy perhaps it is the women who are the heroes, and save distressed old geezers like me. My Oh my! How the fur did fly! It would take too long to go into all the funny details, but in the end H—–, and a woman named D—– at the surgeon’s office, took on all the Saturday-night-live-voices at the insurance company and basically left them in an exhausted heap. I was filled with gratitude, because we had run out of time, and everything had to be done in four hours to still have a chance to do the surgery on January 5, and there was no way I could make all the phone-calls myself. It was simply a case of a rescue coming right out of the blue, when I never expected it, and I thank God for working through H—– and D—–, (and have thanked both of them profusely).

(In case you are wondering, a “God-sighting” is when, in a loveless world where most people seem out to make life more difficult, you run across an unexpected example of love and kindness and generosity or (sometimes) sheer good luck that makes what you expect to be difficult far easier.)

In any case, this is just my long-winded way of explaining why I won’t be posting much for a while. If all goes well I may be going nuts in a couple weeks, suffering cabin fever and itching to do stuff like shovel snow (that I used to complain about) but all I will be able to do is go for walks, and post too many posts. So let’s hope all goes well.


  1. Wishing all of God’s best blessings to you and your family. I will be keeping you and your family in my prayers, Cancer is a word no one likes to hear and something you do face alone. I’ve been cancer free 6 yrs now and hope to stay that way. Sarah

  2. Caleb
    We are sorry to hear about your illness and wish you the best outcome.
    If we can be of any help Grace can call any time.
    Tom (Matty) and Karen Johnson

  3. Caleb,

    Am sorry to hear the bad news. Am hoping they caught it early and that the outcome will be OK. That is why it is important that they do the surgery as soon as possible. It is hard to believe that they would would even consider making you wait under the circumstances.

    You will definitely be in my thoughts and prayers.


  4. I’ve been reading here for years but never seem to have anything much to say. I’m going through cancer treatment right now too (breast) and it isn’t fun but at least most outcomes are better these days. At least here it is free – no insurance required and my op was two weeks after the biopsy. Anyhow, good luck with the op and whatever else they throw at you and I hope to see you online again soon. Speaking of insurance agencies, I suppose all that blue collar redundancy had to find a way to live somehow after all the jobs went to China and thus invented paperwork to fill the hole. Well that’s my theory anyhow 🙂


    • Thanks for the kindly wishes, and my prayer is that you are blessed with swift recovery yourself.

      It would be fine to create government jobs for the unemployed if we had the money. What worries me is that we don’t have the money, and are just printing it. I can’t help but feel that printing money you don’t have breaks some very ordinary and down-to-earth rules, and we’ll eventually have to pay the price. The problem is, we are not a foolish little over-spending nation like Zimbabwe, that can print hyper-inflation ten-million dollar bills. When we go down the entire world will have a problem.

  5. Ah man …. so sorry to hear about the big C getting u.
    However as a geezer that got a new cancer free asshole for christmas last year I can assure u there is another side you will see after the 5th when each day seems a little more special than they did before you had such a dramatic encounter with your mortality. Be strong, keep smiling & watch the hospital food which is more dangerous than the cancer IMHO.
    Are they opening u right up or can they get the bad stuff through small incisions?
    What ever u do listen to the surgeon re lifting post surgery … my sister’s buddy didn’t and was back in the OR with a hernia …. it is serious stuff so be a good patient and enjoy the laying about!
    Will be thinking of u on the 5th … best wishes.

    • This particular surgeon is big on small incisions, and articles have been written about how much faster his patients recover.

      You can bet I have thought of you and how patient you had to be as a patient. You are an inspiration.

      Thanks for the kindly thoughts. 2016 will be a better year, I pray.

      • I reread your post and although I had seen your reference to the $6000 deductible I hadn’t given it much thought the first time. That is an ugly financial hit. It seems strange that our countries are as different as they are on health care. Although Canada’s system has problems at least I went through my two surgeries with no financial hit with the exception of the poop bags and hardware for the bags over the 6 months I was tortured with them. That cost was subsidized but only so much per month and capped with a maximum and so I likely dropped about $1500 on that item.
        -24 in Fernie this AM and so I’m not rushing out to ski … I find it tough to have fun at these temperatures and so I will wait until it warms a bit.
        Be good Caleb.

  6. Wow Caleb, My best wishes for you and family. This makes my own ailments seem trivial. Lately I have had a problem with my right side Ulnar nerve which is causing weakness and pain in my right forearm. I had a similar situation with my left arm a few years ago and had to have surgery to relocate the nerve, now i fear I’ll have to go through it all again with the right arm. And on top of having no healthcare, and a drastic reduction in income that is putting me in dire straits, I only can hope for a much better 2016 and coming years for myself and everyone facing unforseen hardships of all kinds. Here’s to a better new year for us all! Thanks for being so brutally honest with your posts, even when the news is bad, it’s still a breath of fresh air! -Andrew

    • Thanks for the kind wishes.

      Nerves are not trivial. They are less obvious, but its no fun to have pain and not even get the sympathy a dramatic wound might get you.

      Let’s figure out some way to get rich this year!

  7. Wishing you a successful outcome and selfishly, a swift recovery to blogging form. I look forward to your quirky yet literary style, caressing words into parcels of pulchritude, pleasing to the mind.
    Love your reference to Dylan Thomas, to my mind one of the greatest wordsmiths in the English language, despite being Welsh!
    I have the BBC CD of Under Milkwood in my car and never tire of hearing Richard Burton’s reading of Thomas’s timeless prose. Very calming in traffic!
    Get better soon Caleb!

    • Thanks for the well wishing. I figure I may have the “time to write” I always used to complain I never had, as I recover. Let’s hope I’m not too crabby.

  8. Caleb,

    Just wanted you to know how much I love your blog. It is very difficult to find an honest and objective analysis of sea ice and other “climate change” related topics, as the subject is so ridiculously politicized.

    You don’t know how much it means to hear the truth presented in a humorous, good natured manner rather than being constantly bombarded with depressing and highly exaggerated “end of the world” propaganda.

    My hunch and my hope is that you will keep posting for many years. Please hang in there because we so much appreciate all that you do!


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