A Birthday Request, So I Can Keep Going
Thank you for the birthday wishes that are already, a day early, coming in. I’ll do my best to respond to each individually, but I want to update everyone on what’s been going on behind the scenes to get to this point. It’s been a helluva year – and a lot of this is essential context for understanding what I’d like for my birthday! (Or, for the tl;dr crowd, you can just scroll down to the section headlined “My Birthday Wish.”)
Mind you, making it to 60 has been no sure thing at several points this year. I’ve basically taken this year off from writing (other than social media) in order to deal with near-continuous health crises. In February, a hospital-induced infection caused my transplanted kidney to fail, *and* a side effect of the antibiotic they gave me to treat the infection caused an ankle tendon to rupture and my being unable to walk on that leg for two months.
By the beginning of April, while my ankle was finally starting to heal, I needed to go on dialysis (basically, an artificial kidney machine) and was admitted into the hospital for what essentially became a ten-week stay in which, among other things, I lost 40 pounds I didn’t have available to lose, and sunk into unconsciousness and delirium on two different occasions. The problem wasn’t the dialysis; it was that the kidney failure caused odd side effects with my other non-native organ, my pancreas. That included, among other things, ten straight days of hiccups every couple of waking seconds (THAT was misery!), and a solid month of blood pressure so low I literally could not sit up without risking passing out.
The medical staff at UW finally figured out that my previously transplanted pancreas – was connected to the problems, and so I had a major surgery at the end of May to essentially rewire my original 1994 transplants. And, amazingly, it worked. I’ve been working hard to recover and get my strength back ever since. Because…
Next Week’s Big Surgery
While the UW medical staff was trying to figure out why I couldn’t sit up, an MRI uncovered a wholly unrelated problem: compression of my spinal column at my neck by a (benign) growth that, left untreated, will cause paralysis. I’ve already had three other major surgeries this year; this will be the last of the gauntlet, scheduled for the end of next week. It’s a relatively simple procedure (they keep telling me…) and I’ll be out of the hospital in a couple of days – but I’ll be recovering at home in a rigid cervical collar for at least two months. They’ll be taking out a disc and replacing it with a cadaverous bone that will take at least 6-9 months to properly fuse with the existing, adjacent vertebrae. Lifting of anything much heavier than a milk carton for the next half year is out. My gait worsened radically in recent year – hopefully the surgery will help fix that.
And, with that surgery looming – they originally suggested doing the surgery on my birthday, which I graciously declined – I had another major turd land in my birthday punch bowl over the weekend. But that requires more context. Scroll past this if you’re getting tired of reading…
A Stable Place to Live?
Last year, my mother passed away at age 93. We weren’t particularly close – I left home very young – but I stayed in touch regularly throughout her abusive 53-year marriage to my father, and helped her navigate unfamiliar legal and financial work in the aftermath of my father passing in 2001. I was her only immediate family surviving, and it turned out that she did nothing but sit on the investments I made for her almost two decades ago – even when I was homeless and ill and she could easily have helped. But I inherited the bulk of it after she died, and it was enough that we could actually consider buying a stable place for ourselves to live. It’s not like Revel or I will ever have this chance again!
So that’s what we did; the other major development this year is that in February we bought an undervalued condo in Seattle’s North Beacon Hill neighborhood, with enough money left over to absorb minor repairs and move-in costs. The homeowner dues were relatively high, and a “special assessment,” for one year only, to cover the cost of roof repairs was far beyond our monthly income, but we had a remaining cushion to be able to afford those terms.
So we swallowed hard and did it! We closed on the condo in mid-February. But we couldn’t move anything immediately, because the elevator was being repaired. And then we had a couple weeks of snow and ice, which made access to the building treacherous. (It’s on a hill, overlooking The Jungle in far north Beacon Hill.) And then I was in the hospital for months, delaying our move and piling up medical bills besides. Then, when I got out of the hospital and moved into the new place, Rev had to wait two months because she got seriously ill and didn’t want to risk infecting me. We’re paying on our old apartment AND the new place this whole time. And on, and on. This fall, we’re finally moved in, but getting things arranged and organized around our disabilities has been rough going with our physical limitations. Rev has done most of the hard work (because I can’t), but her multiple sclerosis makes it slow, exhausting work.
And this weekend, the turd landed: the condo’s board wants to not just continue but to sharply increase the “special assessment” in 2020 – and sharply increase our monthly homeowner dues, which were already relatively high for a no-frills building. Between those fees, property taxes, and utilities – not even counting regular maintenance for an older condo – it would, at nearly $2,000 each month, eat up most of our (fixed) disability income. Add in the cost of health insurance, prescription drugs, and other medical co-pays, not even including the debts I racked up this year (fortunately not catastrophic – I had reasonably good insurance), and it’s about a thousand a month more than our disability income. Have I mentioned that we like to be able to eat? That’s another expense.
The thing is, I’m going in for spinal surgery in ten days. Even if we decide we have to sell this place, how could I move before, at best, next spring? And we’d like to stay here. It’s set up well for us physically. We can make it work to fit our limitations, and it’s a good community and a good location medically. This is where we’d hoped to be for years. How can we own property outright and be unable to even borrow against it? (My bad credit – medical debts again.)
My Birthday Wish
Well, there’s two. The first, of course, is that I want to keep living – preferably with way less drama than 2019 had. But I’m kinda doubting that any mere mortal has the power to grant that wish. (If any of you reading this *DO* have that kind of power, please PM me, lol…)
The second is that we need enough of a financial cushion to buy ourselves some time to figure out how to stay in our home. My best guess, at present, is that’ll take at least $10k from…somewhere. I don’t expect all that to show up for my birthday (though I wouldn’t object, either!). But a cushion, and time, might help me recovery from surgery, and ensure that we can pursue housing solutions.
It’s early days yet, and there are still other options – for example, we could negotiate a deal with the condo board, we could seek a variance from the board to take on a roommate, etc. But having more cash on hand to cover costs is going to be necessary in almost any scenario. And neither of us have the strength, or health, to get through being homeless again.
So that’s what I want for my birthday: Cash, so that we can keep this stable, safe place to live in 2020. Thanks for reading all that! There’s a PayPal button at geov.org. My mailing address is, still, P.O. Box 85541, Seattle WA 98145. Questions? firstname.lastname@example.org, or PM me via Facebook. And thanks for your help and support, now and through the years!
The Luckiest Person
I don’t want to be too negative here – I really do consider myself one of the luckiest people alive (to paraphrase Lou Gehrig’s famous Yankee Stadium speech). I should have died at any number of points in my life – yet here I am. White male privilege helped, of course. Also, I’m lucky for some of the same reasons Gehrig cited in his speech – the remarkable, loving support in recent years of my wife, Revel, even as she copes with her own debilitating disease; and that I’ve had over two decades as a visible figure covering local politics, supported – emotionally and sometimes materially – by people who really seem to appreciate what I do. I intend to keep doing it as long as I can. Once I get past this next surgery andam well into the recovery process, I’m really looking forward to launching some exciting new endeavors that are already being developed.
If you had asked any of the medical professionals, treating me 25 or 30 years ago, what the odds were that I’d make it to 60 years of age, they’d have laughed in your face. I generally don’t do a big celebration for these milestone birthdays. The exception was my 50th, a decade ago, when we did a big blowout fundraiser (for Eat the State!, a community newspaper I helped publish for many years) where fellow journalists, activists and old friends roasted me in good fun. (You can still find the video of that event online if you look…) Part of the calculus of doing that event was not knowing how many more round numbers, if any, I’d reach.
More “typical,” health-wise, was my 40th, which fell just a few weeks before WTO. I was recovering from double pneumonia and a collapsed lung after when a surgeon doing a routine biopsy had somehow punctured it (leading to one of the more memorably painful weekends I’ve ever had, with a chest tube reinflating the lung). Yet I was still in the center of both organizing the downtown blockade that came to define the anti-WTO protests, and writing about and reporting on it all. (I’ll write more next week of my experience of that remarkable time, as part of the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of WTO. Stay tuned.) That’s what, independently, Revel and I have learned to do in coping with long term, chronic illness: Don’t let the pain and setbacks define you. Keep doing what you love. And we do.
So here I am, at 60, still able to do the things I love with the people I love. Your gift would help make that possible – and help relieve a whole lot of stress – in 2020. Thanks *so* much! Now, this coming year, let’s get that f**king Child King out of office. Ya with me?
Love & resistance. Always,