Word Doodling by M. Scott Douglass

Every so often, a speaker cancels or a list of options thins and I am invited to speak to a writers’ group or college class. Among the FAQs are ones like, How do you find time to write? and How do you decide what to write about? My standard answer is to tell them they need to get out and live a little so they have something to write about. Otherwise, writing can be little more than word doodling.

But what happens when your interests are so widely scattered (like mine), your time is short and your interests and activities are many? Maybe that’s how BLOGS were invented.

In my “New Tools” post, I mentioned one of my many hobbies:  woodworking. At various times I’ve also mentioned motorcycling, cars, football & hockey, drinking Guinness. To that list we could add pool shooting, bicycling, traveling, photography and more. Many of mine require space. The outdoor activities and are usually easy to find room for. Of the others, I have a pool table in my living room, a TV room for Steeler and Penguin games (these rooms are conveniently adjacent to each other), and a restaurant nearby that pours my favorite draught when I get tired of bottles, but having tools means needing a place to use and store them; having more vehicles than one person can drive at a time means needing to park one or more of them somewhere when using the other.

When we bought our house in 2001, one of the first things we did was build a NEW 2-car garage in the back specifically to house my business. This is a 500 square foot work space with 10-foot ceilings, finished walls and heating/air conditioning that has been mostly vacant since we were forced to move to a bigger space. I park my motorcycle there. I have three bicycles hanging from the ceiling, 2-foot deep shelves on three walls all the way to the ceiling that warehouse back issues of The Main Street Rag, file boxes and tools.

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As I was working on my motorcycle a month ago, I realized what a mess it was. Two weeks ago, I started cleaning it and throwing things out. Since then I’ve filled my work dumpster and realized that something was taking shape out there: a Man Cave. It became clear that, done right, I had a place to both play with hobbies and hang out.

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This weekend I cleared shelves, inventoried a mound of wood scraps, built a bin for reusable scraps and a skid for larger sheets, built a working shelf for two of my new tools and one hinged door to hide unsightly tools and supplies I don’t use often. Along the way I killed four black widows, one brown recluse and swept out thousands of carcasses left behind by their handiwork. Things are looking good. A few more doors and some paint and it might make the cover of Better Shacks and Hideaways.

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But here’s the good news:  my grandson is coming to visit in June. I usually see him for hourly stretches, but now we’re talking days. He’s thirteen-years-old, a gaming geek, and you know how teenagers are so easily bored.

Well, I have a plan. He and Grandpa are going to build some doors and slop some paint together. Hopefully he’ll come away with a few blisters, a better understanding about what it means to work with your hands, and a memory of a time spent with his grandfather doing something different, something that may inspire him to someday write about it. After all, he won’t be here for a month and it’s already worked for me.

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My Dog Has Cancer

My dog has cancer. In fact, she has two kinds of cancer and both are very aggressive. We were told that, untreated, she has three to six months to live. We’ve known this for about a month and in that time have learned a lot about medical care both animal and human, directly and indirectly.

Directly we know that there are different kinds of cancers—even in animals—and each needs to be treated differently. We’ve learned that treating an animal for cancer is only slightly different from treating a human being. The options are about the same, but humans can tell you when something hurts and where. Our dog never acted sick at all. If we hadn’t found a growth on her, we would not have known what is going on inside her.

We’ve also learned about the expense of treating a pet for cancer versus treating a human. While pet insurance is available, it’s rigged to ensure profitability over coverage. I examined this option several years ago and calculated that the cost of insurance plus co-pays for annual check-ups and shots was actually more than just paying for service as needed. What surprised me about treating my dog for cancer was that the cost was actually less than I expected.

Here is where indirectly comes in. I’m not to the point where I want to ask these questions—right now I’m focused on treatment, but it struck me that, with insurance, humans often spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat cancer and using the most aggressive means on my dog would only cost me $6K. They use the same treatments, so why the discrepancy?

I’m only speculating, but the phrase that comes to mind is: because they can. Medical practitioners in America charge so much because they can get away with it. They play on our sentiments, our familial relationships, and know we would do everything we can to save a loved one. So, they throw the whole smorgasbord out there and charge us through the nose for it. Because they can.

On the other hand, my own mother has criticized me for even thinking about spending $6K on the treatment of a 13-year-old dog. And I’m beginning to think our veterinarian and the doggy oncologist agree with her. I have the good fortune to live within 5 miles of the region’s best pet healthcare specialist center. While I was there, a woman brought a dog from Columbia, SC, another from Winston-Salem, and yet another from Asheville. All of these places are at least an hour and a half away. This place is my only option.

The oncologist charged me $165 for a consultation to tell me we needed one more test that (supposedly) only takes 2 days to do and didn’t need additional samples from my dog. That was three weeks ago. I’ve made three follow up calls. No test results. No plan of attack. There doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency to treat this beautiful friend of mine who (now) only has 2-5 months to live by their estimate.

So, what is the point of this piece? Call it sharing. Call it frustration. Call it venting. The truth is we know when we bring a pet into our homes that they will only have a limited amount of time with us. Katie is nearing the end of her expected life cycle. I want what time remains to be as pain free and pleasant as possible, but I also want as much time with her as is possible. I just wish the monopoly of medical options I’ve been given understood that and addressed it with the same compassion, respect, and attentiveness as they do their billing procedures.

M.Scott Douglass