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Repossessed

3 weeks later ….. and I have changed my mind!!

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 Friday, February 7, 2014Same Year …. New Model

I can’t quite believe it! It has only been three and a half weeks since Mike’s diagnosis of colon cancer; exactly three weeks today since his surgery and now, today, we have just returned from the first day of our running program! Here is my ‘Ode’ to the marvels of modern medicine, the mystery of the human body and the resilience of the human spirit. We are full of gratitude for how it has all turned out.

Mike stayed home from school for only a week and a day. By then, it was all systems go – from that day on, we started walking from 3 to 6 km. in Arad, every day after school. As we all know, walking promotes, among other things, talking….and so, we got to talking every

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day, about how much better Mike was feeling. Every day for him, has brought about small shifts in returning to normal …. food tasting better…..addiction to gum and salt crystal snacking lessening….energy increasing…..but BEST OF ALL….. a return to our previous zest for life…..feeling young again! From there, our talk turned to running and how it just might once again be possible, for both of us. Because, I too, became older and accepted my decrease of energy, putting it down to age……at the young age of 61!! How can that happen you ask? It happens so gradually that you don’t notice it and it affects every aspect of your life, from your relationship with each other and with friends, to the daily routines of life. Life becomes just a bit boring but, because it’s so gradual, you don’t notice. So now, today, I feel like it is the first day of the rest of our lives!!

For the first time, in a long time, I woke up this morning feeling positive and happy! It was 630 am, the sun was shining and the sky was brilliantly clear. It’s been cold and cloudy – unusual for Bahrain. I seem to have unconsciously…. mentally, brushed aside all the exasperations and frustrations of our retirement effort, the shock of Mike’s diagnosis, the added shock of his son Chris’s diagnosis of bone cancer and now it feels like a new beginning. And what is going through my mind is what my father tried to teach me but what I first really learned from Todd, the most outstanding model of this….that life is what you make it…..a lesson I keep learning over and over again!

So …. we headed out the door at around 730 am, new running shoes sparkling, sunglasses and baseball caps in place. We’d been planning all week long, on our daily walks, discussing our training focus, ‘slow and steady’. We decided to do 5 minute intervals; 1 minute of running followed by 4 minutes of fast walking and to do this for the next 2 weeks before increasing it to 2 minutes of running and 3 minutes of walking. Today we did the first 6 intervals – 6 minutes of total running, 24 minutes of total walking plus a good long warmup and cool down, beginning and end. Rewarded ourselves with breakfast at our favorite restaurant, Le Bateau.

Anyways, that’s my update. We continue to live each day as it comes and try to make decisions only when we have to, trying not to think too far into the future.

Tilster

Husband for SALE… My Perspective

My newsletter to friends and family… From My point of view – Tilster

For Sale: One Husband

Recently reconditioned but with a few parts missing, fully functioning with some tender care & maintenance!

January 22, 2014   Just look at those legs!!

PRICELESS!!!

Before I begin our saga, know that we are well. I had to think long and hard, procrastinating about how and when to share with you our latest adventure and how it has played itself out.

In the Beginning

How could you know that a simple blood test and a trip to Starbucks right after, would be the entrance into a dark tunnel filled with fear, doubt, anger, hope and recovery? Now, ten days after entering that black tunnel, we are re-emerging into the light.

As many of you are aware, Mike hasn’t been feeling his normal self lately. We put this down to the turbulence of retirement, allergies, changes of climate and country ….. never thinking it might be anything serious. At the end of September, we returned to Bahrain in response to an urgent plea from our former school; they were seriously short of teachers. Retirement not being quite what we thought it would be, it didn’t take us long to consider the offer and to accept. Within weeks, we were in Bahrain, happy to be back. Mike kept complaining about cold/flu – like symptoms and a burning in his chest so in November, we went to the ENT (ear/nose/throat) who did indeed find severe allergies and treated Mike for them. We decided to holiday in California for the winter break during the last two weeks of December, returning to Bahrain January 1st. While in California, we went on a hike with our good friends Shelley and Bernard but after the first 15 minutes, we had to turn back as Mike couldn’t make it.

We have a favorite place we like to go walking here, called Arad. It is a 3km walkway around a man made bay where the sea water fills the bay during high tide and leaves a mud flat during low. It is a beautiful place to walk, populated with flamingoes in ever-growing numbers, newly sprouting mangrove trees and all kinds of herons attracted by the multitude of fish. Usually, I have to stretch my legs to keep up with Mike but in the first week  back, it was Mike who couldn’t keep up with me, having to stop often to allow him to catch his breath and to allow the burning in his chest to subside. After that walk, we stopped by the hospital to make a follow up appointment with the same ENT. He checked Mike, said all was fine and escorted us up to the cardiologist. Immediately, the cardiologist took an ECG, sent Mike off for a chest X-ray and ordered blood tests, a stress test and a heart ultrasound. However, we had to wait a day for the last three tests as insurance had to okay it first. A few days later we had the okay from insurance to go ahead. Between fasting and working Mike eventually went in early on Jan. 13th which happened to be a holiday for us. You know what it’s like when you have to fast for a blood test …. you want a coffee and some food right after so off we went to Starbucks. We were just ordering our coffee when we received an emergency call from the technician at the lab, pleading/insisting that we come back for a re-test of Mike’s hemoglobin. We asked if we could finish our coffees – she said yes but to come as soon as possible. Still, we weren’t all that worried….what were we thinking??

Mike’s hemoglobin level turned out to be at “a panic level” of 4.9 (normal for males is 13 – 17). We found out later from doctors that anyone having this level is usually unconscious but because Mike’s body had adapted to this, he was still able to function. (Mike says it’s because he never uses his brain LOL!!)  We were next escorted to the ER. They wouldn’t let him leave. The task? To find out why his hemoglobin was so low.

Days of Discovery and Doubt

So …. an internist was called in who explained that given Mike’s age and symptoms, the most likely cause was internal bleeding in the gastric department. He was scheduled for an emergency endoscopy and colonoscopy. You all know about the preparation for that!! In addition he was given three units of packed red blood cells within the first night and day of being admitted. After that, he was feeling pretty good, other than the fact he couldn’t eat anything. The procedures showed a bleeding lesion and a tumor in an area of the colon called the ‘hepatic flex’ the bend of colon that passes in front of the liver on it’s way to join the small intestine. That’s important because of it’s proximity to the liver. Mike was still recovering from the sedative when the Doctor called me in to talk to her. She showed the pictures, explained that what I was seeing was a tumor …. and there my mind stopped working on anything other than the “C” word. “Yes” she said in response to my query, “99.9% sure! It is cancer!” She went on to explain and tell me what the next steps would be … a CT scan to see how much of the area was affected (we learned later that if the CT scan had shown any involvement of the liver or other surrounding tissues, they would not have done surgery right away. It was a good sign, not that we knew it at the time). The CT scan came back clear which meant that the liver appeared not to be involved. The procedures and the results of the procedures and CT scan were on Wednesday, Jan.15; surgery was scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 18. That whole time, Mike felt great (thanks to more RBCs) even though his favorite pastime (eating) was limited to clear liquids. On Saturday, the day of his surgery, we found out that our doctor here had arranged for a laparoscopic specialist to be flown in from Muscat, Dr. Lada. He was delightful….born and educated in Belgium….came to see us beforehand, drew us pictures and told us that he came just for us….that he wasn’t going to be in a hurry….so he inspired confidence. The surgery took three and a half hours ….doctors were pleased with how it went. They took out half the colon and a bit of the small intestine for re-attachment purposes as well as all of the associated lymph glands. Needless to say, for the first 24 hours Mike was in excruciating pain. Since then, we have come to learn more about what happened and what the tumor is. But first, let me delve into the anger part of our adventure.

Days of Anger

I slept on the couch in Mike’s room that first night. (I have spent most of every day in the hospital with Mike.) Willing as I was to do that the next night as well, Mike insisted I sleep at home in my own bed. His insistence, in addition to the associated aches and pains of sleeping on the couch, convinced me, so off I went – home. I was exhausted so by 830 pm I was in my PJs, ready for bed when Mike called, in an overpowering fit of rage. He had been in a deep sleep, full of pain meds and every and anything else they could pump him full of. The hospital admissions called him on the phone, out of this deep sleep, to tell him that insurance wouldn’t cover his hospital stay and that he had to pay 7500 BD or $20,000 USD!!! At 830 at night, the day after surgery!! Everything had been pre-approved! On came my clothes, up went my heart rate, into high alert, adrenalin on!!!! Raced over to the hospital to find Mike, so angry that pain was sidelined, stomping around the room hanging on to his drain (abdominal drain to collect blood and fluids from the surgery site), trying to call, threatening the nurses he would check out of the hospital, blood pressure up “higher than a cat’s back” and everyone around him scurrying around, trying to calm him down. Into that mess, I stepped. Tried more or less successfully to calm Mike down, put him into a wheel chair and wheeled him down to admissions (the phone in our room wouldn’t work) to call the insurance office in Dubai….. of course, there couldn’t be a solution….but they could at least have waited until morning for this bombshell. Put him back into bed and stayed until midnight. Then I went home to a more or less sleepless night. Next day, we went into action, making calls, writing letters, threatening the school, talking to the hospital admissions, doctors rallying fully behind us, and meanwhile having everyone reassure us that all would be well etc etc.  The insurance company did what all insurance companies do….they find any reason possible not to pay. Here were theirs:

Cancer is chronic – they don’t cover it.

It’s a pre-existing condition – they don’t cover pre-existing conditions.

We came back to Bahrain, late in the school year, just so Mike could get treatment!!

Our responses?? Thanks to the encouragement of our dear friend Carol, Mike went to my doctor in Kamloops while we were taking care of Peaceful Cove Resort and had a blood test. Thanks again to Carol’s coaching, Mike had it done at Life Labs and so was able to access the results online here and thus be able to prove that 10 months prior, his hemoglobin was normal as were the markers for cancer. That took care of number 1 and number 2. As far as coming back – Nargis, our HR person at the school,  took care of that by telling them she is the one who asked us to come back and teach. Mike wrote a scathingly brilliant letter to the insurance company, outlining our point of view, a copy of the blood tests with the added threat that should it be necessary, a court of law would most likely see it our way. Then, it became a waiting game. We didn’t have long to wait….yesterday, Jan. 22, we were informed by the insurance company themselves, via     e mail, that they would cover us 100%!

Days of Recovery and Hope

Now, it is today, Thursday, January 23rd. Mike is still in hospital, continuing his recovery. Today, we learned from the oncologist that the preliminary pathology indicates that he will NOT need chemo or radiation treatment. He has what is called an adenocarcinoma….slow growing….they think they have gotten it all. The lymph nodes have been pronounced clear as have the surrounding organs, and the tumor did not penetrate the outer wall of the colon. It has been there for a while so we consider ourselves lucky. In fact, we are filled with gratitude for the way everything has turned out. It could have been so much worse…! Apparently, if it had been known Mike had such a tumor, he would not have been permitted to fly because of the high risk of it bursting in midair. It is anticipated that Mike will be allowed to go home in a few more days.

Days of Learning

God, the Universe, the Fates, Karma, Entities or Deities of choice……keep trying to teach us the lesson of living in the moment. And so….in contradiction of the lesson we have just learned…..we are busy trying to plan how and when we want to return to Canada LOL! The real lesson is to take every day as it is offered and to cherish every moment you have with your loved ones. This latest episode of life has clearly shown us that there are no guarantees…Mike says, the Germans have a saying…..”Der mensch denkt, Gott lenkt.” Roughly translated it means “Man pleads, God leads!” When will we ever learn to let God lead?

PS: Bidding starts at all the money in the world……not enough!!!

Love & hugs

Tilly & Mike

New Years Reprise – Resolutions

It is THAT time of year again… we all made it through Christmas without too big a hole (hopefully) in our budgets… without too much added bulk from the Christmas goodies. And THEN … along comes the tradition of NEW YEARS Resolution-ing.

In this tradition we create personal goals for the next year – a GOOD thing.  Then  a year from now most of us  will get to beat ourselves up for not reaching them – a BAD thing.  I seem to do this every year for the resolutions I made the previous year…

I live an endless annual cycle of New Year’s Resolutions hope and disillusionment.

It is a cold, rainy, and dark a 29th of December here on the west coast of Canada. So, I decided to make a list of things I wanted to accomplish in 2013… my lovely wife had suggested we do so over a bottle of wine on New Years eve… but I cheated. Besides I could not think of anything exciting to write about in my daily journal which I scribble in every morning once the coffee is hot.

As I looked over my list, feeling quite proud of my 2013 resolutions and the belief that they were all quite achievable in the next year, I was struck with how familiar they seemed … (common, I think to the mostly  mundane resolutions on probably 99+% of the lists of all the other resolution makers of the world)….

  • Lose weight
  •  Get more exercise …kinda goes with losing weight thing – but got it’s own number on the list anyway to make the list more impressive,
  • Eat right …same as with the losing weight/exercise things,
  • Be more productive,
  • Learn a new skill (or in my case re-learn) ”

But my 2013 resolutions were more than just familiar – common… they were familiar – familiar.

Having completed my NEW 2013 resolutions it was time to reflect upon my 2012 resolutions and…most likely chastise myself ,once again.  I dug out my journal from last December. I could have saved a heck of a lot of time this year if I had just  copied the 2012 resolutions. The  were almost identical to my ‘new’  resolutions…  apart from the RETIRE one. Digging further back into my journal tub I retrieved all my January journals from 2004.  Every year the same: … shape up … lose the flab … stop eating junk food… learn something… work harder… I didn’t need to write these things out every December … I should have just used a photocopier. SHEESH! Almost an entire decade gone and here I am still making the same bloody resolutions.

I always managed (with great success) to convince myself that I didn’t fulfill my resolutions  due to being “too busy” & having “not enough time”. But, for the last 6 months I have been “retired”!  So, I got NO EXCUSE this year because I have had  MORE than enough time!

As I write I realize, the  real problem is not TIME rather it is distraction.  Days, weeks, and months have  come and gone without me even once thinking about what I REALLY wanted to do… that happened only once a year every December while writing… New Years resolutions. We all make time for those things we really want to do UNLESS we put our lives on ‘auto-pilot’. For decades I flipped my life every morning to ‘auto-pilot’ and just got busy with what ever came along: work…  TV… emails… surfing the web… movies… the odd (not really that odd) bottle of wine/beer … phone calls… and to the easily distracted (me) even more things come along….

The key then, to doing what I want (fulfilling my resolutions) is short circuiting my auto-pilot long enough to remind myself what I really want.  Last November my friend and French blogger, Semeunacte  ( http://semeunacte.com -If you decide check it out make sure to have google translate active on your browser, unless you can read French.) wrote a blog detailing his method of  “how to generate a healthy motivation when you jump out of bed” and delaying the auto-pilot start up.

Remembering his article; I have decided to try out his ideas.

First I have written out my NEW resolutions

  • Spend more time with my family. (having been overseas for 10 months of every year for the last 8 years has left little time for my children and aging parents)
  • Re-learn Tai Chi. ( l quit practicing in 2010. Time to re-learn)
  • Lower BP by weight loss (lots of lb.s – not quite so intimidating if I convert to kg),  regulation of diet and exercise daily. (HAH! Got them all on one item this year.)
  • Master (as much as that is possible) Adobe Photoshop CS6.
  • Master the capabilities of my Nikon Camera. 
  • Show up to my writing daily.
  • Show up to my photography daily.

Then I titled this list: READ ME FIRST! 

Second, and  the key,  according to Semeunacte,  is to read this before starting my daily routine… just to remind myself what I really want for 2013.  I could put the list on my night stand next to the bed so I would read it first thing in the morning (which he advises) but, I prefer to keep it in my morning journal to read before I start my writing.

No excuses now… but first I have to add two more resolutions: Read my resolutions every morning. & Don’t make any more New Years resolutions. … just in case.

Wish me luck … as I  wish you luck with your resolutions.

A Long Strange Trip

“Lately, it occurs to me…. what a long strange trip it’s been” – Grateful Dead

We thought it was all figured out… We would “retire” from teaching to live in Southern California, find another mode to make enough money to see us the 5 to 7 years until old age benefits began and live our life while still able to enjoy it. We would get catastrophic health coverage just in case, while we sought part-time employment that offered medical benefits (yes there are companies that do offer their part-timers benefits). In the mean time we would pursue and perfect our respective arts, photography and writing in the goal of selling them.

It sure seemed like a great plan… but, life always has a way of throwing things in our paths that can change everything …

We had considered the possibility of “snow-birding”  6 months in Canada and 6 months in the US.   The only problem was … we had no residence in Canada and could ill afford one. Little did we know… life has a way of throwing things…

Shortly after we applied for catastrophic health insurance and two weeks before that application was underwritten and we were covered (BUT the insurance company sure as heck accepted our $$$ immediately!) we discovered that both Til & I (as a spouse) could be covered under BC  health insurance within three months of Til returning to Canada as a permanent resident.  We could get 100% health coverage – including vision and dental for less than 1/2 the cost of our $8400 per year; $15,000 deductible ‘Catastrophic’ policy (catastrophic, alright… to our bank account if we got sick) in the US.

‘No-Brainer’ 

We could afford to rent a home for the time we were in Canada and NOT spend any more $’s than we would have living in the US full time (and over-paying for “worthless” health insurance). The only catch? We would be required to live in BC for 6 months of every year. Besides BC highways being a biker’s paradise and BC being a fisherman’s dream and a photographer’s heaven; we figured that we could endure that ‘burden’.

Snow Birds we would become! BUT, in the mean time we would return home to California and wait until April to head north as we needed to find a place to live in Canada and submit the application for my permanent residency.

OR so we thought!

One week after our return to California, we received a call from our best friends in Canada telling us of the opportunity for taking care of the fishing lodge they had been winter care-takers of (for 6 previous years). We had expressed interest in replacing them if they ever decided not to return. There is no pay, BUT there is no rent or utilities to pay either. And other than being on premises to insure nothing freezes up in the main lodge if power goes out ( a fairly frequent occurrence); we have no other responsibilities.

‘No-Brainer’ again…

Within 10 days we had packed up our belongings; made arrangements for temporarily renting out our California home (figured we might as well make a few $ while up north); traveled to spend a few days with my folks in WY (and pick up a few cold weather things like ski’s, snowshoes, hats, gloves, parkas, and Sorrels) and crossed the border into Canada.

Canadians we have become … Til once again… And me?  Once an expat, i guess always an expat. But at least now I can spend 6 months (instead of 2) every year back “home”.

So, we are “settled” now… But, you never know… “it occurs to me…. what a long strange trip” it might still be.

WHAT NOW?

Tilly & I have lived a blessed life for the last 8 years. Living and working overseas, traveling to and spending long forays in exotic lands. Every year we took at least two what for most would be trips of a lifetime. We trekked the Himalayas…. bicycled the Rhine in Germany and the tulip fields of Holland in April… wandered Paris, Barcelona and the south of France … spent a Christmas in a Medieval castle int the Pyrenees… went  scuba diving on the coast of Oman while living aboard a dhow for a week… and much more.

In each other we found the perfect partner in our respective romantic, spiritual, creative and wandering instincts. However, in the back of both our minds was the desire to really pursue our creative talents. We found that while working for a living, we were too exhausted, overwhelmed  and stressed to really put the efforts we wanted into our talents and our preliminary efforts while promising petered out under the pressures of work. Out of that desire was born the decision to retire from our teaching careers.

It is one thing to have a desire and intent. It is quite another to actualize the intent. We had meticulously saved and invested for the “future” but, that future  “ retirement” seemed so far away as to be fantasy.  The events of the Arab Spring were to change that.

Having been advised by our respective embassies to leave Bahrain in March of 2011 and at the invitation from good friends S&B we flew to southern California for what turned out to be a three week stay. We liked the desert environment and as a lark we decide to “look” at houses that were for sale; not dreaming that we could afford to buy.  Life has a way of throwing things in our path that changes our entire plan(s); within a week we had found a house and made a purchase offer. Not only could we afford it but could do so mortgage free. Within the month we owned our own home back home in North America. Within two months the realization hit that we could work just one more year and then retire.

We spent the summer of 2011 setting up our new home, in between visits to family and friends with the gracious help of our good friends C&C. We finished setting up during the Christmas holiday of 2011 again with C&C at our sides. The stage was set and we began the process figuring out all the details of ending our expat life and returning “home”. We planned and schemed but, knew there were some things that we could not take care of until we were “home”.  We left Bahrain and the Middle East for good in June.

So it has been 2 months, 4 weeks and 1 day since we returned to North America to begin our “retirement”. BUT we have only been 7 days in our own home . We knew that just as every other summer we would need to spend at least 2 months visiting our far flung family and friends.

When you spend 10 months of every year 1/2 a world away once a year personal visits are really important. Keeping contact is difficult because  the 10-11 hour time difference makes phone calls hard to coordinate. You don’t want to call your friends and family in the middle of their night! And sure as heck you don’t want them doing the same to you. No better method to dissolve a relationship than to interrupt a good nights sleep.

My daughter’s wedding (which we would not have missed for the world) required a  three week time frame and the requisite visits to other family and friends took a full 2 months to complete.  We do not regret the time spent but, we had no time for ourselves to deal with the remaining questions of retirement.

Some how we thought that we could merrily slip into the retirement mode…having the freedom and time to follow our dreams where ever they lead. Who knew that  when we decided to stop the “working for a living” life style things were going to get a whole lot more complicated and stressful!

When we were working for a living, things were fairly simple. Got up early … made it to work on time… put in required time… took home that which we could not complete at the “school” …. finally falling into bed a few scant hours before we started the cycle over again… praying all the time for “FRIDAY” so we could break that cycle for two days. In return we got a steady income and a few benefits (medical insurance, vacation time and with luck a few other perks). We were able to live a fairly consistent and routine life … we knew what to expect… decisions were made by our school/work calendar.  Other than what to do on vacation or holidays our daily life was fairly well mapped out.

We keep busy morning to night with our art, writing, physical activities, and other interests; often wondering how we ever had the time to work. Our stress is in the choosing of another framework for our life not in having nothing to do. We have discovered more choices to make, decisions to reach and from those, more choices and decisions. Our plans are changing with each new choice.

It was all figured out or so we believed… We would “retire” from teaching to live in Southern California, find another mode to make enough money to see us the 5 to 7 years until old age benefits began and live our life while still able to enjoy it. We would get catastrophic health coverage just in case, while we sought part-time employment that offered medical benefits (yes there are companies that do offer their part-timers benefits). In the mean time we would pursue and perfect our respective arts, photography and writing in the goal of selling them.

It sure seemed like a great plan… but, life always has a way of throwing things in our path that can change the entire plan… luckily for us it is not a serious or life threatening illness.

When a person works for a company in the US that offers health insurance benefits … all is good. But if you need to find health coverage as an individual things go to hell in a hurry.

Of course we could have opted for Jesus Life & Casualty – where you pray you do not get sick or injured and if you do it is not more serious than a flu bug or a splinter and if it is serious you pray to pass on quickly enough not to drain your families resources. That might be a decent temporary solution for healthy young folks that have not much to lose and time to make up the loss. But for us older folks; we have everything we worked hard to gain to lose and NO time to ever make up for it.

Thus begins our saga … finding health insurance…  and we ask ourselves, “WHAT NOW?”

To be continued…