Monthly Archives: August 2009

Running — And Hoping for the Best

Well here goes. It’s early Sunday morning. And as soon as I hit the publish button I’m going to get up and push out the door for an early-morning run. I’ve been doing that now for more than 30 years, rarely missing a Sunday run unless traveling. And Sunday used to be the best run of the week. I’d meet friends Walter, Jerry and others, and we would hit the towpath trail or the state park.

It was excellent exercise to be sure. But it was also a way to talk to friends. A way to catch up on events, both personal and relating to the world around us. No need for Twitter, Facebook and other social media in those days. I digress.

Those Sunday morning runs came to an end more than a decade ago. Things change, people relocate, and nagging injuries have a way of stealing the joy from running. It’s not all that easy to set out in the dark, with no one else on the roads or trails, even when the weather is favorable.

That’s where I’m at now. As I wrote last week, I finally went to see a foot specialist for the injury I have been dealing with since April. Good news? Nah. I have in my left foot second metatarsal joint sesamoiditis. In other words, every time the ball of my foot hits the ground the pain radiates into my toes. It’s not a serious injury — unless you want to have the ball of your foot strike the ground every second or so over the course of a 50 minute (or longer) run.

And there isn’t much I can do. No surgery. No cortisone shots. Just try to find a good metatarsal pad that cushions the shock. And then eventually move off the road and track and onto the dreadmill and the elliptical trainer. Good advice. I guess.

It’s tough to stop doing something you have enjoyed for three decades or more.

And clearly there is a day coming when I’ll have to stop running and do something else.

But today ain’t that day.

UPDATE: I managed to finish the five-mile run this morning. And my foot didn’t throb with pain  for maybe five minutes or so of the 60 I was pounding the concrete. Maybe the endorphins kicked in. Go figure.

But saying that, what a great morning: cool, clear and not another human or vehicle to be seen until I was almost finished at around 6:45. I enjoy the quiet and the time to think. Can’t match that on the dreadmill or the elliptical.

So I’m still running — and hoping for the best.

Health Care Reform and Running Injuries

Well, I’m heading back into the dark abyss of our nation’s medical system today. After months of doctor’s visits and physical rehab — with bills now north of $2,000 and growing — I still have foot pain that makes it almost impossible to run and many days uncomfortable just to walk.  But in reality, I’m fortunate. I have access to virtually unlimited medical treatment — even when it doesn’t appear to be working. And most of the expenses are paid for by employer-provided medical coverage.

That really frames the dilemma — and communication challenge — facing the President, members of Congress and all of us as citizens and taxpayers when it comes to reforming the health care system. How much coverage can you realistically provide — to whom — and at what cost to individuals, taxpayers and the nation as we struggle to pay for other things like education and so on? Then add in the fact that any significant change will result in winners and losers (ah, me?).

And just so I don’t come off as too much of an old doofus here, I believe that every citizen in the USA should have access to doctors, hospitals and medical treatment in general — and nobody should go bankrupt as a result or be turned down for coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions. But I honestly don’t know how we will pay the tab for that — particularly if we are looking to give everyone the kind of coverage that I (and many, many others) currently enjoy.

But since I can’t resolve that national issue, let’s see if I can get my foot fixed. Amazingly, I’ve been struggling with this injury since April — yet no doctor or physical therapist has diagnosed with any degree of certainty  what the problem actually is. I believe it is an inflammation of a nerve in the ball of the foot — and up to this point that seems to be good enough for the medical experts. But hey, my two degrees are in journalism. Go figure.

And I recognize that many times there aren’t easy answers to these type of injuries. Gina Kolata wrote last week in The New York Times about her attempts to recover from a hamstring injury (One Injured Hamstring, A String of Treatments). Her point: many times the medical experts don’t agree on the nature or cause of the injury — or what type of treatment works, if any.

Wow. The “I don’t know for sure let’s hope for the best” school of health care. Woot.

Oh well. At least someone else is paying.

For now.

Laing Kennedy, Sports and Integrity

I know that for most pajama-clad citizen journalists like me it’s fashionable to be critical. You know. Scan the newspapers (dead-tree or online), blogs, online news sites and so on and then opine — generally with a negative slant. Not today. Today I am writing about Laing Kennedy who is retiring in June as Kent State’s director of athletics. And Kennedy is leaving at the top of his game, a model for someone who can succeed with a college sports program without compromising his integrity.

Tom Gaffney has an excellent article about Kennedy and his accomplishments in this morning’s Akron Beacon Journal.  Quite simply, Kennedy led a program with significant achievement when it came to athletics — and even more so with the emphasis that he placed on educational attainment.

During my years at Kent State, I only met Kennedy once. I was organizing an annual event that attracts people from the university and the community, the Bowman Breakfast. And Kennedy was the speaker. So I had some limited contact with him before, during and after the event. I was very impressed with his enthusiasm — and his dedication to the university and the Kent community.

But before that breakfast, what impressed me about Kennedy was his ability and willingness to help students  — and not just those on a sports scholarship. When I was working with students at the university’s student-run PR firm Flash Communications, many times students needed to contact Kennedy for information about a story or for a comment. He was always available. Always took their calls or returned them as quickly as possible. And he was gracious with his time and understanding of how much the student wanted to do a good job but needed some assistance.

Gee, sounds like a good teacher — and mentor. Somewhat surprisingly, many professors and college administrators (not just at Kent State but most everywhere) aren’t like that. Imagine that.

We need more people like Laing Kennedy who understand that education is basically about helping students succeed. And if you can add some winning sports teams to the mix while maintaining your  integrity — then so much the better.

Hot Air and Brown Underpants

Are you upset that Prez O and the family are vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard this week? Some are. You know the chatter: nation still struggling with the Great Recession, two wars we can’t win, heath care reform in the dumper and so on. Better that the First Family stay inside the Beltway until all problems are solved. Nah.

I was thinking this morning while gliding on the elliptical trainer about Bob Buehler. Buehler was BFGoodrich’s vice president of government relations — and the prototype for a DC lobbyist and insider. He followed a Kansas congressman to the nation’s capital in the ’50s and like most never left, switching jobs between government, associations and corporations. Buehler had a theory. He opined (and whether this was an original thought I have no idea) that the USA began its decline with the advent of air conditioning.  Until then it was too hot and humid for the DC pooh-bahs to stay there and muck things up year round. They left in the summer. Too much hot air — some of it of their own making.

Of course leaving now has its risks, especially for those facing angry constituents at the town-hell meetings. As Gail Collins wrote this weekend in her column in The New York Times:

One thing I thought all Americans agreed about was that Congress is incapable of getting anything done. But the angry people at those meetings seemed to believe that their elected representatives are strong, sneaky, indifferent to public opinion, and intent on eviscerating popular and much-needed programs in order to create a national health care plan that will make everybody miserable.

This was a shocking new concept, a kind of Bizarro Congress that is exactly the opposite of the one we see stumbling through its paces on TV. That CSPAN Congress would quake in terror if asked to pass a bill against littering, fearing constituents might strain their backs by bending down to pick things up. It took the members 30 years to ax a fighter jet program even the Pentagon hates. Who knew they had the gumption to create death panels?

Yet I look at it as a positive that Obama and many of the White House staff and members of Congress have left town. They deserve some time off with their families. And equally important, when the government leaders return — and commence with all the hot air about health care and so on — they are going to have another problem to deal with: soaring government deficits.

According to AP in a story via USAToday, the administration is expected to announce tomorrow that the federal deficit over the next decade will be $2 trillion more than expected: up to $9 trillion from the previously projected $7 trillion. And the administration dumped that news nugget late Friday afternoon. Sheesh. I thought only corporate PR guys and gals could get away with those kind of announcements.

Folks, this is a bill that eventually is going to come due. The questions are when, how much and who pays? And the answers aren’t going to make some people happy.

Let’s assume that at some point the government has to increase revenue — not just spending and borrowing from China and other countries. Higher taxes anyone?

Let’s also pretend that Obama is sincere and truthful in saying that only those earning north of $250k a year will see higher taxes.

I’m not sure that this reality has hit as yet with the $250K and over crowd. Maybe they have been on vacation.

But when it does, expect to see some people showing up at town-hall meetings wearing brown underpants. They are the ones who will be paying to send grandma before the death panel. Woot.

Health Care: A Moral Obligation?

I’ve had access to excellent — and relatively affordable — health care my entire life. Without question or apology I want that to continue as I move into the so-called golden years. And there is something wrong in this country when any legal citizen — regardless of age or position on the earnings totem pole — either can’t get medical treatment or is ruined financially as a result of an illness.

In a modest way, my situation frames the issue facing Prez O and the political pooh-bahs. Many (most?) people like me recognize that changes must be made. More people need to be brought under the health-care tent. And our economy can’t sustain forever double-digit annual hikes in health-care costs. But — we don’t want to give up anything as a result. (End-of-life death panel anyone?) And we sure as shit don’t want to pay more for medical premiums or services. (By the way, ask any person — particularly high school teachers and college professors — who are eligible for retirement what’s keeping them on the job. Bet concerns over the cost of health-care coverage work there way to the top of the list.)

Yet, is providing universal health care a moral obligation? Uh, not sure about that. But I guess we’ll see, since the Prez said yesterday that this idea is going to surface as a key talking point for him and other supporters.

Health-care reform is a complex and emotional subject. And if you doubt that ask anyone — like me — who has tried to communicate changes in benefits and health-care plans to employees. It’s tough going, even in smaller venues and even with very specific information to convey. And nobody jumps for joy if he or she believes it is a take away.

In many ways it doesn’t surprise me that Obama and team are having such a difficult time talking about and gaining support for health-care reform. Opponents can talk about what they don’t like — and why it won’t work. And the medical providers and insurers and other special interests are experts at creating roadblocks. Hey, isn’t this called the golden age of PR?

The other side — those pushing health-care reform right now — has very little to offer in the way of specifics. Public option one day. Co-ops the next. And so on.

So now they will take a new approach and see if people agree that it is a moral obligation.

We’ll see.

Dog Days and Second Chances

Nah. I’m not writing about Michael Vick. Or even about Brett Favre for that matter. Can’t get the juices flowing about either of them, or about the pro football season in general — which realistically doesn’t begin until December when the Steelers make the annual run for the Super Bowl.

And I was thinking this morning as I chased the Dreadmill for 50 minutes or so that I must be blogged down in the dog days of summer.

Hard to get that excited about most anything — even the fact that Akron is losing another of its cultural and historical icons: the World of Rubber is closing its doors at the end of the month. The Akron Beacon Journal reports that Goodyear will retire the rubber museum because of lack of attendance. Go figure.

Wonder if the dog days of summer can be blamed for what has happened to Prez O and the supporters of health-care reform in Congress? Too hot to step outside to see how many trial balloons are being floated on any given day. Oops. I digress.

When the pols and special-interest groups were waging their tongues at each other inside the Beltway things were good. Then they left DC to go home on summer vacation. Now, according to an NBC News poll released Tuesday, support for just about any health-care reform plan is waning.

Clearly the administration is off message when it comes to the debate over health-care reform. And there is talk now — as reported on CNN this morning — that the Dems in Congress with the backing of the administration are just going to force through legislation when everyone returns from the hinterlands in September. (Note to self: What was that about the effectiveness and virtue of the two-way symmetrical public relations model? I digress.)

Anyway, this could have all been avoided if the legislative pooh-bahs had just stayed in sultry DC this summer.

Then they wouldn’t have had the public barking at them back home — and they wouldn’t have to face the reality that a lot of people have legitimate concerns now about the shape of any health-care plan.

Some lessons here about effective communication. About leadership and trust. And about engaging the public during the dog days of summer.

Who Else Wants to Tax Fat People?

Wow. Talk about being cranky this morning. Here’s the story. I managed to run 10 miles over the weekend. Did five on the concrete Saturday and another five on the towpath trail near where I live Sunday. This morning my foot hurt so bad — chronic nerve inflammation — that I could barely stumble out of the house and make it to the health club for an engaging 50 minutes of gliding on the elliptical trainer. Oh, mama.

Yet I learned something. Prez O and gang appear to be giving up on the so-called public option that once was a centerpiece of the health care reform package. That proposal had and has strong supporters inside the Beltway. But it’s not playing so well out in the real world. And I’m not sure why. We already have a large public option provider. It’s called Medicare (and Medicaid as well). And I’m sure it can be improved. But my sense is that for most seniors (myself included in a little more than three years) it works well.

So there are a couple problems facing the administration and the Dems in Congress in the current debate about health care. First, they have lost control of the message. Here’s what the opponents are saying. One, the plan takes away choice and will lead to government control of health care. Two, it’s expensive — and the winners in all this will be the lobbyists and special-interest groups. Three, do you really want Grandma hauled before a “death panel” that may place some limits on the time left in the golden years? Sheesh.

Those are the points that I hear over and over again. And they are sticking. Factual or not.

On the other hand, any idea what the administration and Congress are actually proposing? That’s the more difficult position — talking about what it is versus what it ain’t. And it’s a lesson for all of us in the communications business. It’s tough to gain understanding and acceptance for complex issues. And in an environment of uncertainty, people will resist change. For those of you with a background in employee communications, think about how hard it is to explain health care plans and coverage. And remember years ago when we first started to talk about deductibles and co-payments?

So here’s my plan for the Prez and his supporters. Change the argument. Get away from telling people that you plan isn’t about sending Grandma before a death panel. And tell them that a big part of the solution — from reducing the need for medical services to costs for health care — relates to preventing illness in the first place.

And as a start: tax fat people.

Crazy? Unfair? Well, I thought so too — until I read this article in The New York Times, “Should Fat People Pay More for Health Care?” The article, in part, focuses on the views of Delos M. Cosgrove, CEO at the Cleveland Clinic. Here’s part of the story:

You can disagree with the doctor — you can even be offended — and still come to see that there is a larger point behind his tough-love approach. The debate over health care reform has so far revolved around how insurers, drug companies, doctors, nurses and government technocrats might be persuaded to change their behavior. And for the sake of the economy and the federal budget, they do need to change their behavior. But there has been far less discussion about how the rest of us might also change our behavior. It’s as if we have little responsibility for our own health. We instead outsource it to something called the health care system.

The promise of that system is undeniably alluring: whatever your ailment, a pill or a procedure will fix it. Yet the promise hasn’t been kept. For all the miracles that modern medicine really does perform, it is not the primary determinant of most people’s health. J. Michael McGinnis, a senior scholar at the Institute of Medicine, has estimated that only 10 percent of early deaths are the result of substandard medical care. About 20 percent stem from social and physical environments, and 30 percent from genetics. The biggest contributor, at 40 percent, is behavior.

Today, the great American public-health problem is indeed obesity. The statistics have become rote, but consider that people in their 50s are about 20 pounds heavier on average than 50-somethings were in the late 1970s. As a convenient point of reference, a typical car tire weighs 20 pounds.

I’m sure that “taxing fat people” is an idea that won’t fly for a host of reasons. But I do believe there should be some serious discussion about health and preventing illness — and about obesity in this country which is a major health and economic issue.

As someone who is both old and overweight, I would much rather go before a “fat board” than a “death panel.”

And the notion of a fat tax has already generated some advertising. According to USA Today, the American Beverage Association has uncorked a $2 million campaign to oppose a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. That trial balloon has been floated in Congress and elsewhere. But it’s not part of any specific proposed legislation — as yet.

Stay thirsty, my friends.