Inspired by Steven Seagal: Going all out with acupuncture

I’ve been out on my own for about eight weeks now and have largely been looking inward and assessing how to start cutting back on the event production and focusing on movie making. Meanwhile, I’ve been trying acupuncture a couple times a week at the Southwest Acupuncture College here in Boulder. I’ve been balancing out the western medical approach that patched me up with longer term eastern medicine tune ups.

Steven Seagal treated himself with acupuncture and moxa in "Hard to Kill".

Steven Seagal treated himself with acupuncture and moxa in “Hard to Kill”.

I’m no stranger to acupuncture. I went to Dr. Pao at the Ruseto Center here for many years but decided to try some others. He keeps track of his patients by first name in a big notebook. Dr. Pao treated my gout many years ago. That was a case of successfully blending western and eastern medicine.

The SWAC has students supervised by instructors develop a treatment for me. It’s sort of like going to get inexpensive haircuts at a beauty school. I’ve had a couple hack jobs there – the worst haircut was when I was talked into getting one at a beauty school in Mexico. So far, the acupuncture school has been a good experience.

I’ve been going a couple times a week for my interstitial pneumonia and the post herpes neuralgia.

The treatment room at the Ruseto Center is a little more spartan than those at the Southwest Acupuncture College.

The treatment room at the Ruseto Center is a little more spartan than those at the Southwest Acupuncture College.

So far, I’ve settled in with Ted and his students – who specialize in Japanese traditions and Michael and his students who specialize in Chinese traditions. I think mixing perspectives is a good way to see what works the best. Like Western medicine, acupuncture is a balancing act with a good share of “hit and miss.”

There’s a Steven Seagal movie called “Hard to Kill”. He comes back from being in a coma and uses acupuncture to make himself better to take on the bad the bad guys. Today, I had the moxabustion treatment, similar to what Seagal administered to himself in the movie.

The moxa is a paper stick infused with various herbs. It was stuck onto the acupuncture needle and heats up the needle and then the skin supposedly moving around my qi. That’s the Chinese approach.

I had the moxa directly burning on my back. The swelling in my ankes and hands went down after the treatment.

I had the moxa directly burning on my back. The swelling in my ankes and hands went down after the treatment.

The guy who is learning the Japanese tradition lit the moxa and applied it directly to the skin on my back. They also used a Vietnamese technique called guasha which entails scraping my skin with a baby food jar lid. It is a more general treatment, but the swelling in my ankles and wrists went down shortly thereafter.

My liver and gall bladder temperature needed to be lowered and my large intestine pulse needed to be balanced out. I have noticed a couple positive changes in my digestion from that direct moxa treatment.

I’m convinced that western medicine is pretty good at dealing with acute issues like helping broken bones heal and otherwise patching things up, but not so good at systemic tune ups.

My western docs don’t think anything is interrelated, whereas my eastern docs think everything is interrelated. For instance, eastern docs say that the lungs and skin are related in that the lungs are the internal organs closest to the “outside” because of air that gets inhaled.

That makes sense to me, but how it all works makes no sense at all.

Memorial Day 2014


My uncles George Sakata, Rich Ohashi and Vince Ichiyasu were members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. My uncle Jake O’Hashi also served in the U.S. Army.

CHEYENNE, WYOMING – Memorial Day is upon us again. When I was a kid growing up here, the Japanese had a big carry-in picnic at Holliday Park – lots of sushi rolls, teriyaki chicken, abalone salad – bento box type food.

I think because this park is closest to the cemetery is why we all met there.

A couple of the guys brought over boxes and boxes of flowers. After the first go-around of food, everyone went over to the Lakeview Cemetery and placed flowers on all the Japanese graves. There wasn’t much reminiscing that happened, but that was just the “inscrutable oriental” way.

The Cheyenne Japanese community used to be fairly large. One of the gathering places was the original City Cafe that was run by Mrs. Shuto and later her son, Tommy.

lakeview japanese head stone

The Japanese grave markers in the Lakeview Cemetery. I grew up in the Cheyenne suburb Cole Addition Japanese Ghetto – Nakano, Kubota, Shiba and O’Hashi. It was also the home for several Greek families – Contos, Hatanales, Talagan, Mears.

Occasionally, my family went over there to watch black and white samurai movies and listen to music. In the back, the old guys were screaming and hollering during their rousing game of hanafuda (flower cards) that also involved slapping the thick cardboard cards on the table.

I didn’t learn how to play. I don’t think the rules were written down anywhere back in those days and I didn’t understand Japanese if someone tried to explain them to me.

Since I happened to be in town, I stopped over and decorated my family’s graves at the cemetery east of Cheyenne on the old Lincoln Highway. I overshot the exit on I-80 and on my loop back on Highway 30, I picked up a hitchhiker named Chris. He’s from Huntington, WV home of Marshall University (“We Are Marshall”).

suspect hynds building

Cheyenne’s finest questioning a guy sitting in front of the Hynds Building during the Cheyenne International Film Festival earlier this week.

He was walking back to the Pioneer Hotel from his job as an irrigator on a farm east of town. it would have been at least a 10 mile walk for him. He was lamenting about the high cost of housing in Cheyenne and that the Pioneer meets the needs of men who have jobs, but can’t afford traditional housing. He’s only been in Cheyenne for a month, but has noticed the discrimination that the Pioneer Hotel residents and homeless people face.

Anyway, he went to the cemetery with me while I decorated the family graves before I dropped him off at the Pioneer. He was looking forward to the extra day off after toiling in the fields. As we passed a convoy of Wyoming Highway Patrol, we both agreed that Memorial Day weekend would be a good time to be on foot and not driving a car.

When the Issei and Nisei generations started passing on, the Memorial Day picnic tradition pretty much stopped.

I was curious about Memorial Day and how it all got started. This is what wikipedia has to say about it:

original memorial day

The first Memorial Day was observed in Charleston, SC after the Civil War.

“The first widely publicized observance of a Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War was in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865. During the war, Union soldiers who were prisoners of war had been held at the Charleston Race Course; at least 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves.

Together with teachers and missionaries, black residents of Charleston organized a May Day ceremony in 1865, which was covered by the New York Tribune and other national papers. The freedmen cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled,

“Martyrs of the Race Course.” Nearly ten thousand people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the war dead. Involved were about 3,000 school children newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools, mutual aid societies, Union troops, black ministers, and white northern missionaries. Most brought flowers to lay on the burial field. Today the site is used as Hampton Park. Years later, the celebration would come to be called the “First Decoration Day” in the North.”

I don’t think Memorial Day became “official” until several years later when the politicians took hold of it.

ohashi grave

I haven’t been in town for Memorial Day. I stopped by today and decorated my parent’s and the other family head stones.

There are still a number of Sansei in Cheyenne and the surrounding area, including my sister, some cousins and myself. My uncles and aunts and the Nisei generation don’t have the energy they once had for organizing any big activities like the Memorial Day picnic. Every year, I think about getting in touch with everyone, but I don’t have the energy for it either.

This has nothing to do with honoring fallen soldiers – but from here on out, Memorial Day will be memorable for me since my autoimmune health issues began shortly after I finished the Bolder Boulder 10K foot race in 2013. I’ll let you know how the acupuncture treatments are going.

Bolder Boulder Update

alan bolder boulder 2014

I ended up taking a swig of O2 coming up the final Folsom Hill, I’m still swelled up from the steroids.

After tapering off the steroids for my lung problem, It was an unknown adventure. My neighbor Henry drove my across the sidewalk neighbor, Jim and I to the Bolder Boulder start point. I was unsure how far I could make it since my practice is NOT to train for races. The only training has been occupational therapy walking from place to place.

When I dug my shoes out of the closet last night, I noticed that they didn’t quite fit right. My ankles are still swelled up for some unknown reason and the muscle mass of my feet was also less than it was – nothing a little cinching up won’t fix The last time I trained for a race was for a 5K in Lander many years ago, when I twisted an ankle. Since then, I’ve just taken my lumps during the real thing.

After making it past the first mile, I felt like I’d be able to finish the course. My practice is to film snippets of each of the  bands along the route, which slows down my pace a bit. My mission is to complete the race before the mop-up crew gets out there.

I’m 15 pounds lighter than I have been, but carried my oxygen bottle just in case. I did have to take a few boosted breaths midway up the Folsom Hill on the way into the stadium. Other than that, I felt pretty good. In the past, even last year, around the 5K mark, the interior part of my knee joint would begin to hurt and my thighs would cramp, but not today. I attribute that to eating better and not having so much crud built up in my scrawny muscles.

Part III – I got my handicapped parking permit the other day – and shot a movie

Who would have thought. The Affordable Care Act open enrollment period is ending soon and from what I gather, there’s been a big flurry of people trying to get signed up, including a bunch of young people to counter balance us oldsters.

I think the news and fake news people forget that who we’re talking about here is 15percent of the labor force who are schmucks like me who are self-employed or otherwise don’t have another source for insurance as a benefit, compared to the 85 percent of the workforce covered by employer benefit plans, Medicaid, Medicare or another program like Romneycare in Massachusetts

It will be interesting to find out the final enrollment numbers are after the March 31st deadline passes. There are a lot of data to crunch so I’m not holding my breath as to when they will be known.

Back to reality.

I got my handicapped parking permit the other day.

They can be good indefinitely or for three years. Mine is for three years. The best guess is that I will be better before then, but you never know.

I also have the option of a handicapped license plate. After talking to a guy in the county clerk’s office, he advised me against it since they can get stolen and I’m not quite ready to give up my old plate number.

I didn’t see the day that I would ever need one. I took the weekend to check out the handicapped parking scene as part of my occupational therapy which was to make a movie.

I organized a shoot for a short called “Caught Up in the Moment” which I wrote based on a short story by a facebook pal, Mark Trost, who lives up in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota. The movie is called “Caught Up” the other was too long.

It was cast in a couple days, the locations were set up a few days after that and the crew was skeleton. I checked out the handicapped parking situation at the Dangerous Theatre where we shot. Turns out the theatre is in a warehouse district and there was scads of parking.

The theatre is owned and operated by Winnie – the actor I cast as Jane in the short movie. Her character is a chain smoker, and the space worked perfectly for that character quirk.

Movie? Did I say we’re making a movie?

Whenever I talk about movies, it always entails some script analysis.

So bear with me.

There’s a big difference between screenplays and just about any other written form. Novels have the advantage of giving the reader insight into what’s happening in a character’s mind and generating hundreds of gray pages.

I’d say most writers – probably myself included – don’t want their words changed, but I’ve become okay with it, if the story stays in tact.

Screenplays have to portray words and thoughts through visuals and action. One mistake to avoid is writing characters who talk too much which, more times than not, entails rewriting and truncating the original words and likely adding different words – especially when using other source materials.

I don’t think writers like that so much. William Faulkner said something like, writers have to learn how to kill their darlings. Novel writers, pretty much, have as many pages as they want to get across their story. Good screenwriters kill their darlings, bad screenwriters keep them all in their work and cluttering up the story.
Screenwriters have, in the case of this short film contest, around 10 pages and for a feature around 90 pages. When I have too many darling lines or scenes, I don’t kill them, I put them aside for other projects. This is based on one page equaling a minute of movie.

Had I wanted long dialogue, I would have written a stage play. Oh and another big diff, novels are set in the past, screenplays in the present.

In the case of the “Caught Up” project, the 10 pages of source material I had is an excerpt from a much longer work. I didn’t have much context for the characters.

Mark seemed to be religious and I left that, but there needed to be a little more, so I used his character also for exposition. Since the movie had to be set in Wyoming, he became a University of Wyoming professor in the Space Sciences Department, and also an avid UW sports fan, of which there are many in Laramie.

Jane was pretty much a chain smoking writer with a love – hate relationship with Mark. She’s left in tact.

I cast Winnie (Jane) and Brainard (Mark) because they have a natural rapport – turns out they have worked together before. In a character-driven story like this, I’d rather have nature rapport than trying to get two people to develop it.

Enough Robert McKee screenwriting gibberish.

As mentioned previously, my Eurovan has been in and out of the shop for the past few months with major and mInor repairs. I gave it a work out by driving the Eurovan to Denver, which gave me a little more confidence in the vehicle.

Anyway, the Dangerous Theatre is in Denver – 2nd and Bryant, just off I-25, as mentioned before, is owned and operated by Winnie. Turns out Brainard Starling is actually a rocket scientist.

The movie will be entered in the Wyoming Short Film Contest. The main rule is the story has to be shot in Wyoming. I’ve had three films finish as the runner up and five in the top 10, so I think I have the formula down. The grand prize is winner take all $25,000.00 for the next film made in Wyoming.

The day started at 6am for me and I had a production assistant, Ian Glass, to help me load out all the gear. I used to be able to schlep everything, but now now. I probably should have had a strong back or two help me all along.

The shoot went smoothly from 9am to 2pm on Sunday. My style is run and gun and we finished an hour early. We’ll see how the edit goes.

Needless to say, I was tired when I returned to Boulder.

I’m still on oxygen from time-to-time, mostly when I exert myself too much or exercise. If I exercised more I probably wouldn’t exert myself so much through daily life.

I took Ian for a meal on the Pearl Street Mall and there were no handicapped parking spaces near Illegal Pete’s and the Parking garage was closer.

We had a pretty good talk. He’s just back from Argentina where he taught English and has an interest in film and video production and is trying out lots of different roles. He also may find a new place in the world to teach English – he’s an English / humanities major.

We also talked about college majors that do no good when out in the labor market. My degrees are in biology and political science. No wonder Ian and I connected, we’re academic square pegs trying to fit into a job pool of round holes.

Trader Joe’s.

I did make it over to Trader Joe’s in Boulder today for the first time. A new one here that opened up at the 29th Street Mall. I’ve previously been to one in Acton, MA and NYC just down the block from my friend Tom Crisp.

They’re not very big, but mostly carry their own brand of food.  Trader Joe’s marketing effort is a push and pull between being a healthy food store and a run of the mill store. I think they are mostly known for their pre-prepared dry and frozen foods, which by definition aren’t that healthy because of all the preservatives that are required and are over packaged.

Since being down and out, I’ve been having groceries delivered from King Soopers (Kroger’s) for the past couple months. I’ve become more aware of grocery prices.

I must say that Trader Joe’s prices for some items are less than the other places – but maybe it’s for stuff that a guy really doesn’t need to be eating like potato chips, but I mostly buy staples. A gallon of milk at Trader Joe’s was $3.29, which is comparable to other places.

I did find bargains on rye bread, oranges, frozen fruit and a few other things. That’s saying something since Boulder has a huge number of food stores: 2-Safeway; 2-Kroger’s; 2-Sprouts; 1-Alfalfa’s; 3-Wholefoods; 1-Walmart Marketplace; 1-Target; 1-Lucky’s Market (indie).

One thing I did notice when I got home.

I decided to have a pan-Asian breakfast: instant Thai rice noodle soup and kimchi. Trader Joe’s sourced the noodles from a company in Thailand, but not exactly the most enviro-friendly food.

There was the cardboard cover, then the cellophane wrapper around the bowl, then the plastic bowl with the styrofoam covering.

Inside the bowl were the food stuffs including two cellophane bags of oil and other veggies and a foil bag with the spices. The soup cost 99cents and I’m pretty sure it will cost more than 99cents to sort through all the packaging that ended up in the regular garbage. I was able to recycle the cardboard cover and the bowl.

I had kimchi already fermenting in the fridge.

Oh, I did finally get to use the handicap parking permit at Trader Joe’s.

If anyone needs a passenger driving anywhere, I’m your guy.


NOTE: This is likely the last part on this topic unless something drastic happens – positive or negative in the upcoming couple weeks. I have figured out that one good thing about facebook, is there is this note / blog function that operates outside the timeline and the front page. I’ll write things from time to time as the ghost of newspaper writers past move me.

Part II – What a long strange trip it’s been

Things have been getting better. I’ve been out of rehab for almost almost four weeks and I saw on the news over 4million more people have signed up for Obamacare since I did back at the end of December / beginning of January.

I started to drive last week, which has been liberating. I’m still not quite sure of the clutch foot in my VW van. I’m likely to get an automatic transmission vehicle and have been renting one for a week and getting around pretty well. I’m looking to lease a car.

Meanwhile, the Eurovan started right up after sitting fallow since December 16th. I’m able to push in the clutch and drive it. I have a love – hate relationship with it, though. It’s been nothing but trouble since the day I bought it, but luckily much of the failures were covered by warranty.

There still are some quirky things happening when it starts up. I take it to the garage on Sunday to get it looked at. Who knows when it will be out of the shop. I’ll check on Wednesday.

As for now, the car lease quest is now a waiting game hoping for a better deal. The one in December that I missed was zero down, 24 months $197 for a Ford Focus. The best I’ve been able to find now is zero down, 36 months $239 for a Subaru Legacy sedan.

I digress.

Meanwhile, I figured out that the main reason doctors get sued so much is because healthcare is imprecise at best. Hit and miss guesses based on the best information available at any given moment is the only way to figure out what’s wrong with someone.

Once a doctor and patient weigh the information and with a high probability have figured out what’s happening, the same process is followed for treatment. Patients who aren’t proactive and involved in their health care and rely on docs to make decisions make a huge mistake.

I’ve learned that a person really needs to be a strong advocate for themselves because doctors, nurses and everyone else in the health care environment could give a rat’s ass what’s happening with each individual patient. The squeaky wheel gets the bed pan was my mantra.

I’m still going through ‘dialing in’ process for my treatment. I don’t think I’ll ever be back to where I was before June, 1, 2013 – but who knows?

I’d say the “armchair patients”  who haven’t been in the healthcare system lately and think that modern medicine choices are black and white need to get sick to experience it themselves.

So far, so good on that front.

The things I notice these days, are public places that aren’t universally accessible. I stayed at a bed and breakfast as a break from hotels the other day.

It’s in an historic building and there were two concrete steps to get up to the yard, then four concrete steps to get to the porch. Once inside I had to navigate six stairs to one landing then four more stairs to the second landing.

Whaddya gonna do?

Truckin, Im a goin/ home. whoa whoa baby, back where I belong …

Part I – I tip my hat to the nurses who tended to my butt wound and Obamacare!

These are a few of the machines I was hooked onto over the course of two months.

In the fall, I wrote some of my perspectives about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At that time, little did I know how close all those would be to home until I enrolled under ACA and was also a recipient of more than my fair share of medical care during the hectic transition.I have been one of the self-employed people who has had the same insurance carrier for the past several years. My insurance was routinely “cancelled” when the company changed the terms and conditions, deductibles and more times than not raised the premium prices at the end of the year.

I could either take the new plan or be cancelled. I always opted to stick with my carrier, but had to call up every year to see what options I had. Generally, I settled for higher deductibles to keep my payment close to what it was before. The insurance industry is a big legal ponzi scheme, if you ask me, but thank God I have health insurance!

… and I knew I wasn’t going to get dinged for a preexisting condition.

People who are shocked or surprised that their policies are routinely changed tossed out letters from their insurance carriers as junk mail.  In March of 2012, I was informed that my insurance would be grandfathered under the ACA if I wanted to go that route.

Pioneer that I am, I set up an account on the Connect for Colorado Health website and after a few delays and glitches, was a approved for a way better plan from my existing carrier for less price. So I was “double-covered” with my existing policy and my new ACA policy because I didn’t quite trust the new system.

I was finally able / gained confidence in the ACA to cancel my medium deductible plan, retroactive to January 1, 2014, which was a good thing.

I have to chuckle when I see the political action groups, particularly on the right running ads on TV about the small minority of folks who claim to have fallen through the cracks when they didn’t take care of their health insurance business during the one year window during which they had a chance and, of course, Obama and all the other socialists are to blame for their current misfortunes.

You know what?

Obamacare, socialism, public / private partnership – whatever you want to call ACA, have nothing to do with reality. Health care reform only has to to do with people like me who were flat on their backs pushing the hospital room call light hoping a nurse’s assistant will come by to empty the urinal or patch a bed sore. Truth is, Obama, Cruz or any other politician can’t help anyone, let alone improving advice individual patients get from their doctors and their staffs. Anyone who disfavors ACA because of a website hasn’t been sick lately.

Before I get into the gory details, I have to tip my hat to health care workers in the trenches, namely nurses and certified nurse assistants. The world wouldn’t turn without them. I’ll jump ahead a bit and say that I’d never really had a hospital stay before and after being flat on my back for six weeks, I couldn’t walk, stand, wipe my butt – but nurses and CNA’s were there to meet my every need, particularly when I got very low and bummed out.

I also have to thank Diana Helzer, who stopped in at the hospital most days advocating and helping me out in Boulder following my hospital and rehab stays. She was reluctant to help, but is an unsung heroine.

This raises another big topic of self advocacy. Being flat on my back, I was complacent and didn’t advocate for myself as much as I should have. Diana was a big advocate. She questioned and kept on the nurses and doctors. She brought over one of our neighbors, Nicki and Evie who also had experience advocating and was a big help, particularly early on when I was first admitted. I can’t say enough about having a strong advocate.

Over the course of the fall and summer, I was being treated for various types of pneumonia and eventually went to the hospital. I was quite out of it because I had lost a lot of weight – eventually 30 pounds – had no energy or stamina, and no appetite. What happened next is a bit of a blur, but, my lung doctor did a biopsy to figure out about my pneumonia.

Did I mention the morphine pump?

Meanwhile, I was on steroids which led to a perforated ulcer and stomach contents were leaking into my body cavity causing sepsis. I don’t know this as a fact, but I’ve been told that I was not given much chance of making it through the emergency surgery to patch up the ulcer – mostly because of the lack of eating and general indifference, translated into “failure to thrive.” I read through my medical record and I was also classified as anorexic.

So I have this emergency surgery and am being fed pablum through a tube bypassing my stomach and intestines while the ulcer patch heals. This causes me to lose weight and strength. I’m flat on my back between ICU and a regular hospital room for six weeks.

Since my parents died a few years ago, celebrating the winter holidays have been different every year. I wrote a stage play about this which was produced by Hitching Post Theater a few years back – i’ll have to dig out that story. This was no different being being in a hospital with the second tier help on duty.

This stint in the hospital was good in that when the biopsy results came back from the University of Michigan, the results sort of figured out about my lung condition as being an auto immune pneumonia now being treated by steroids, which is a good thing – particularly for those of you who had to deal with my hacking and coughing over the summer and fall.

Not so good with the ulcer recovery, I still have a rubber tube sticking out of my stomach that is due to removed in a week. So getting to the bottom of my pneumonia was good, the state of my physique, not so good. Then I was kicked out of the hospital.

Meanwhile, I can’t stand, walk or otherwise take care of myself and I’m lifted into a wheel chair and strapped into an ambulance to go to rehab at this place in Denver. Not being able to move on my own, I start sliding out of the wheel chair and bouncing around like a rag doll. I felt like the dead guy, Bernie, in that bad movie “Weekend at Bernies”. The driver pulled over at the cooking school on Quebec and got me repositioned before getting to the rehab center in Glendale, which is a neighborhood in Denver.

The rehab center was an hour from Boulder, served mostly geriatric patients and I was the youngest one there. It was good meeting some folks from Denver. This rehab center has it figured out. Everybody there gets about an hour or two of rehab each day and the other 22 hours, they feed everyone high protein and lots of carbos. It got a little monotonous plotting out the day based on meal time.

I wanted the full rehab center experience and took an arts and crafts class. Everyone there had Orange Crush Mania!

I wanted the full rehab center experience and took an arts and crafts class. Everyone there had Orange Crush Mania!

I am totally amazed that I received enough physical and occupational therapy after two weeks to walk out – albeit with a walker, compared to when I arrived as a total invalid.

My diet now is simple – eat anything, particularly high protein and sweet stuff. I’ve been eating a lot of rare steak and ice cream floats. So far, I’ve gained back about 15 pounds.

Now, I’ve been out of captivity since the first week in February and getting stronger every day and back in to the swing of things. Being self-employed, I had many ongoing projects.

I think it’s also an Asian thing to be totally self reliant – but this experience has taught me that it’s okay to ask for help. Many thanks to Michael Conti and Barbara May for keeping mud in my entrepreneurial cracks over the past couple months.

After being out of rehab for a week, I attended the Boulder International Film Festival over President’s Day weekend – i’m on the BIFF Board of Directors. It was my first outing “off campus” since Dec. 16th – prior to this, I was in an ambulance, hospital, ambulance, rehab center, in my condo. I’m also back in the editing booth – I cut together a tribute to Shirley MacLaine that screened Saturday night at the BIFF.

It’s been a big wake up call for me, particularly about big picture issues – mostly around downsizing and relationships with people. Small picture issues, I’m now more serious about plotting out some exit strategies for projects I head up and handing off projects to others and getting ready to “retire”. It’s still going to be a long road ahead, I still consider myself “disabled” and will likely be recovering for awhile. I may be out and about, but I anticipate plenty of limitations. I encounter steps and small inclines and places without banisters or elevators that I didn’t before.

Many thanks to those of you who stopped by to visit, sent cards, flowers, texts, emails and other well wishers. My message to President Obama and Congress? Keep muddling through the ACA debate. There’s no turning back.

What a long strange trip it’s been!

My Experience with the Affordable Care Act

I’ve had health insurance since my first “real job” in Gillette, Wyoming back when Sen. Ted Kennedy was touting universal health care and had Richard Nixon not screwed up with Watergate, would have joined forces with Kennedy and we wouldn’t be having this Obamacare fight today.

Nonetheless, back in 2010, I received a letter from my insurance carrier – Kaiser Permanente – that since I had coverage before ACA went into effect, my policy was “grandfathered” and could keep it or change it with no repercussions from any “pre-existing conditions” that I had or may develop in the future.

I just heard several thousand Kaiser Permanente policy holders got their pink slips that their coverage doesn’t meet the minimum requirements of ACA? What kind of coverage is that? Like a barbecue grill warranty at Walmart? The ACA naysayers have been finding stories about us self employed people who have had their policies handled. What’s the big deal? For the past 10 years, my plan has been cancelled like clockwork on December 31st. If I want to reup, the policies are similar, but the price has always gone up. I’ve had to increase my deductible over the years to keep a reasonable price. ACA or not, my carrier will be cancelling my policy December 14, 2014 as usual and every year after. But at least they can’t kick me out for some medical reason.

When ACA was in its infancy, my premium price dropped, not a lot, but a few bucks. Meanwhile, there was no national health care exchange, but many private ones out there. Since I couldn’t be denied coverage, I did shop around on a private exchange and ended up finding a less expensive plan that had a little better coverage from my existing carrier – it’s a medium deductible co-pay plan – and the plan I’ve had for three years or so. Over the past couple years, my prescription prices dropped to grocery store levels ($5 or buy 2 get one free).

Private healthcare exchanges

On October 1, I signed up with the Colorado healthcare exchange. On day one, I had a few problems getting my account set up – I was bumped off the site a few times, timed out a few times, but eventually was able to get a good connection. After all that and to my surprise, there were no plans offered with coverage even close to what I purchased on the private market.  They all had very high deductibles and premiums that were nearly double what I was currently paying. Apparently, the income-based tax credits would lower the costs dramatically, but the coverage is still terrible, at best. The Connect for Colorado Health support has been great. I’ve been called a couple times to help me get finally through the process which has been goo.

I imagine it has something to do with the actuarial tables that show that low-income people tend to have bigger health problems than the general population, which is why all sorts of people are necessary in the risk pool. These “low-end” policies end up costing less with the tax credits applied. If you’ve been denied coverage all these years, this type of policy is probably considered “gold”. The premiums are likely based on the probability that mostly uninsured, ergo unhealthy, and low income folks will be the ones who apply. I also surmise that places like Wyoming that chose to opt out of the Medicaid expansion plopped all those “high risk” people into the general risk pool, which was a contributing factor to higher premiums.

The Mississippi experience

Rural areas lack competition

There are dental plans offered, but none from my current dentist, which is one of the publicly-traded dentists, Perfect Teeth. I may switch over to Delta Dental if after comparing my Perfect Teeth discount program, it turns out to be way better. Kaiser doesn’t offer dental coverage.

I looked around on the Kaiser Permanente site for plans and found one that had a lower deductible than I currently have and the cost was a third less and called about it and found out that I could switch over, but it would expire for me at the end of 2013 and if i kept it, the price would jump up to the Colorado Health Exchange price, which was over double what I currently spend.

The Kaiser Permanente member service representative on the phone said that they figure out ACA tax credit eligibility too. They have an entire staff designated to Medicaid and Medicare paperwork and I would imagine is very good at working through each state to figure out any ACA red tape.

The upshot?

In my case:

– ACA saves me a few bucks on premiums and lots of bucks on prescriptions

– ACA gives me peace of mind about the future because my insurance won’t get cancelled

– ACA covers a whole bunch of people who won’t be using the emergency room staff as their primary care physicians which, in the long, run will keep my premiums lower by putting their risk in their own pool and not mine.

ACA has caught on and will only improve as more people previously uninsured participate. I think that the national health care exchange is good if you don’t already have coverage and income eligible for tax credits. I heard the dead-beat states that let the federal government run their exchanges are missing the boat and the can-do states that tailored their own are having pretty good success.

State run exchanges more successful

Most people have coverage and If you do, I suggest sticking with learning information from your carrier and not mess around with the national exchange. If you’re in the market or curious as to what choices are out there, also check out the private health care exchanges. You’ll be asked for the same personal information as the Obamacare website asks. Like all other internet commerce, be careful!

Alan’s 50 things to do – and after an abrupt halt, hoping to finish in 2014 … 2015 at the latest

alan sand dune

Rolled down a dune at the Sand Dunes National Monument.

I turned 60 in May 2013 and have a bunch of things on a list of things to do. Here is the list of 50 things – some are things I’ve done in the past, others are new things, but I think are achievable. The list is dynamic and may change.Checking items off my list came to an abrupt halt beginning in June 2013.

Riding the Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island was about the last thing that I finished before a topsy turvy ride began with a continuing bout with shingles, then an exhausting summer and fall fighting off various types of pneumonia that eventually landed me flat on my back in the hospital December 16th through January 13th; then in a rehab center until the end of the January.

I rehabbed at home for another month – watched the Super Bowl with a hose sticking out of my stomach. Rather than give more gory details here, check out the note about it, including my successful bout with Obamacare.

Here’s the link to my note “I tip my hat to the nurses who tended to my butt wound and Obamacare!”

I’ve been on my own without reliance on home care nurses and supplemental oxygen for a couple months. Here’s the list of 50 …

1. Get reacquainted with a long lost friend or relative – I’ve started to do this more intentionally, due to a death in the family will be meeting up with a bunch of cousins in SFO. I had lunch the other day with Mary – a friend / colleague I hadn’t talked to in maybe 10 years. Don’t be surprised to get an email or message from me one day!

2. Write a song – I went to a BMI event in Crested Butte and would like to have a famous person perform it.

3. Climb a mountain – My Gillette, WY climbing buddy, Charlie, wants to get back up Devil’s Tower. I think this may be “on” for the Donkey Creek Festival the last weekend of June.

4. Enter the Cheyenne Frontier Days Wild Horse Race – I made a documentary about it. My friend Bob participated – but he was a lot younger. I’ve wanted to at least get on a team.

5. Go to Ecuador / Peru – I have family in Peru. I wonder if they are still there? Ecuador is a haven for Americans. No tourist visa required and the currency is the US dollar. I stumbled upon a pretty good documentary story about Ecuadorans coming to the US seeking the American Dream and Americans going to Ecuador seeking the American Dream.

6. Fill out the application to be in The Amazing Race – May not make the cut but want to get in the mix.

7. Go fishing – I’ve been carrying around the tackle and need to get it out. What gave me the initial bug was going on an ice fishing jaunt on the Art of the Hunt project. A couple pals offered a fishing outing.

8. Play the violin again – Last time I played was a Mozart piece accompanied by my friend Barbara many, many years ago.

9. Learn Photoshop – I’ve been threatening to do this and use Final Cut Pro as a crutch.

10. Take the train cross country – I’ve been one way or the other, but not at the same time. There’s a 15 day Amtrak USA pass that can be had for $439. This may be the way to go and looking for travel companions to join me for all or part of the trek. Next week, I’ll be taking the train from Denver to Penn Station. This comes pretty close to a cross country train ride.

11. Sort through all my junk and get rid of some stuff – I plan to get to this by 2014… 2016 at the latest! I took a bunch of Franciscan-ware to the 2nd hand store the other day.

12. Organize my photos – They are all over my computer hard drive and in boxes. I’ve been finding them in various boxes and using some for Throw Back Thursday pix on the facebook.

alan rain delay rox

Rain Delay Rox v Yanks

13. Get to a baseball game – Haven’t been to a game in a couple years, any game  – Little League, MLB. The Yankees were in town. I was able to get tickets to each game. It was raining like crazy that week. Rockies won the opener. The Yankees won the final two – when they get a one run lead, Mariano Rivera is amazing. He’s supposedly retiring this this. I’ll be in New York for a few days after Memorial Day and will catch the Yankees in Yankee Stadium against the dreaded Red Sox.

14. Eat a big steak in a contest – Watched ‘The Great Outdoors” with Ackroyd and Candy – got a hankering. I doubt I can finish one, but will be fun to at least try. I also saw that the Acme Oyster House in New Orleans has an oyster eating marathon, which sounds more appealing.

15. Crash an Oscar party in Hollywood – Could be there this weekend, but will be in SFO instead.

16. Light a fire with no matches – I have flint, no steel and no technique.

alan kite flying

Flying a kite, which is still in the car.

17. Fly a kite – I recall sending one out of sight as a kid and would like to do that again. It’s March and I picked up a $20 kite from Into the Wind kite store. I was skeptical that an expensive kite would be better than a plastic one. Diana and Mason were the witnesses to this activity up in Commerce City where there is a constant breeze. I’ve flown some kites in my day, but this one went up effortlessly in little wind.

18. Climb a tree – Hopefully, I won’t be evading any wild critters.

19. Navigate a kayak – I saw a documentary about extreme kayaking in Uganda at the headwaters of the Nile. This one may evolve into something else, since I’m not much of a water person.

20. Ski again – I skied last in Vail three years ago at the film festival filming a shot on the mountain with Michael C. Tom suggested skiing a sand dune – now I’d forgotten about that option, which would be different. I know there are places in the U.S. to do that.

21. Skip stones on a still lake – The trick is finding the right stones at the perfect lake.

22. Go to Sturgis on a motorcycle – Was invited by Egija to ZZ Top there this summer. Turns out I didn’t make it to Sturgis this year. Egija had a baby and decided she could either be a mom or be a vagabond videographer. She opted to stay home. Another item that rolls over to next year!

23. Fly in a hot air balloon – Not much of a challenge these days, but would like to film from above.

24. Eat a truffle rooted up by a pig – What’s a truffle, anyway?

25. Go bowling – I like to bowl, but nobody else I know does. I really like to keep score. I did bowl the other day. A young friend Alex had her birthday party at the Punch Bowl in Denver on Broadway. It’s one of those places with a bar, games, and eight lanes. The festivities were cluttered with eating, drinking with some bowling strewn into the mix. There were five bowlers and we didn’t get a complete game finished in an hour. It costs $13 for an hour of bowling, $3.50 for shoes. Nobody in the surrounding lanes knew anything about bowling etiquette. Plus the computer keeps score, which takes most of the fun out of it. There are no pin racks these days. the pins are suspended from wires. The knocked down pins are lifted up and the remaining ones remain suspended on the lane. I did manage to make a couple strikes and pick up a spare or two.

26. Learn to scuba dive – Duzer snorkled in the Downtown Aquarium in Denver. He also suggested the urban wind tunnel skydiving place by Englewood, which may end up on this list. I filmed Barbara swimming with sharks there for a possible urban adventure show.  I’ve always been more of a land lover and it’s time to get out of my comfort zone. A trip to Mazatlan may be in order for this one and a stay in my El Cid time share condo.

27. Hunt for fossils – Used to do this all the time when I was a kid, thought I was a young Dr. Leakey.

28. Spend an entire 24 hour day with a total stranger – Who will it be? The closest I’ve come on this one is when Pope John Paul II was in Denver. I happened upon a guy from Iowa who made the trip out. He was lugging around a watermelon to share and I had a knife. We hung around together from 6am to around 9pm.

29. Go sledding – Had a chance over the holidays in Estes Park but chickened out.

30. Finish a screenplay – I have a couple that need some work, “When the Emperor Was Divine” and “Columbine”. I did go through both screen plays and sent one off to friend who was soliciting screenplays.

alan creative genius

I read this book cover to cover.

31. Read a book from cover to cover – I’m obviously not much of a reader. I would have become a better reader had I not been forced to read about fictional characters like Dick, Jane and Sally. I finished reading “So You’re a Creative Genius … Now What?” by fellow introvert Carl King. It was to the point and lots of lists with bullet points, so it fit in with my learning comprehension style.

32. Eat healthier and lose a few pounds – This has been ongoing since January. I’m on the 16 hour fast schedule. So far so good. I’ve lost 1.5 inches of belly fat and holding steady. I’m pretty lean as it is and that has translated to three pounds.

33. Be an extra in a movie or TV show – I was in Catch and Release, but like being around the action. Turned out that I’m co-producing a couple movies this summer. I was contacted by BCDF Pictures about co-producing “Mahjong and the West” which is in production now in Jackson, Wyoming. BCDF has been successful getting films into the Sundance Film Festival, so I’m hopeful this will lead to #49 on this list.

34. Experience weightlessness (zero gravity) – I don’t know if there are any consumer options for this. I am told that it is pricey. I may get on a trapeze with some aerial dancers and experience zero gravity at the height of the swing.

35. Shake hands with President Obama – We probably won’t see him again in CO now that he won.

36. Eat onion rings at Holsten’s in Bloomfield, New Jersey – The last scene in the final Soprano’s episode.

37. Play the piano again – I plunk around from time to time. My music is amongst the junk set for purge.

38. Learn how to cook something new – I have to get out my rut! I did make a noodle kugel in the microwave, which turned out pretty well. I tried my hand at baking and made a couple sweet potato pies.

39. Try lutefisk again – I want to see if it is still as bad as I originally remember it. I found out from a Minnesotan that it can be had by mail order around Christmas time.

40. Organize a party and invite people not in my usual social circles – Who wants to attend? This will likely be a Cole Addition reunion of my Fairview Elementary School friends at the Cole Pool probably during Cheyenne Frontier Days.

41. Make amends for something that’s been bugging me for a long time – There’s one instance in particular…

42. Drop what I’m doing, buy a cheap airplane ticket to where ever and go – This will be ‘go with the flow’

43. Get back to writing thank you notes and not thank you emails – My mom would be proud of me.

44. Grow a plant from seed – Anyone have any good heirloom tomatoes?

45. Learn another language – I should just learn Spanish and Japanese better. My progress so far? When in San Francisco, I picked up a pack of hiragana and katakana flash cards. I read a newspaper from Ecuador to see how much I can figure out before google translating. I’d rather be more intentional about the Spanish, but I learned from immersion, so I’ll brush up by immersion.

46. Stay analog for a week – Easier said than done – how did I ever get along with internet? I accomplished this last week. It amounted to listening the the radio instead of television, facebook, mindless internet surfing; I made a reservation after finding a number in the phone book and called on the land line. Read a book made out of paper referenced above in number 31. I took hard copy directions trying to find Daniel’s new digs near Taos and compared them to the iPhone gps. Out in the middle of nowhere, the written directions were more detailed and the gps missed one of the turns. I’d say my work flow has changed. I was unable to abandon business email and cell phone calls; a few personal texts and a game or two of Words With Friends but other than these analog departures, it was a quiet week.

47. Walk more – I sit in front of this monitor too much. I went on a short hike the other day, which got my blood flowing at altitude. I walked the 2014 Bolder Boulder 10K. I was not sure how far I would make, but after the first mile, I knew I would finish the entire route.

alan cyclone

I rode the Cyclone in Coney Island.

48. Go to the amusement park – I’ve been wanting to get to Lakeside in Denver and ride the Cyclone. I rode the Cyclone at Coney Island. The problem with the modern amusement parks, is it costs too much to enter, like the Elitches in Denver.

49. Get to the Sundance Film Festival – The weather is always so bad and I have a place to stay.

50. Roll down a steep sand dune – coming back from Taos, a stop at the Great Sand Dunes National Park was made. After a short hike, I rolled down for about 40 seconds. Even being on the ground, my equilibrium was messed up and I lost orientation and had to self-arrest midway. Abby and Diana indulged me on this stop. Not knowing what to expect, I’m happy I chose the front side “blue” run, rather than the backside “black diamond”.