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I'd turned my back on modern health care to wait for Godot after a virulent cancer returned for the third time. Then, traditional Chinese medicine did what regular docs couldn't. I beat the odds and was coming back - until a 1%-er caught up with me. Over the past three years, my life got turned upside down. Just like America's. --Charley James


One hundred lifetimes ago, I said 'night Mother, refusing to be bombarded by still for toxic chemicals and radiation when a cancer returned. The third time isn't lucky; I wanted nothing to do with yet another stab at a cure that would leave me feeling dead anyway. Rather, I'd wait quietly for Mr. G. Reaper.

Somehow, friends talked me into trying traditional Chinese medicine. "It won't be as bad as chemo and being nuked," they argued, "and maybe it'll work. Plus, some of it's covered by (Canada's) national health because the practitioner is an accredited physician."

So, off I went to see Doctor Ho, located at the time in Toronto's original Chinatown on the edge of the financial district. After two weeks of exams and signing stacks of permission forms to let him read my medical records, he said he could help.

For a year, I was treated with secret herbs and spices and lotions and potions. I endured enough accupuncture to make me look like a heroin addict from all the little red dots left behind on my body (including on my behind). I ate tasteless food. But the cancer went into remission, much to the fury of my oncologist who poked, prodded and filmed me again before pronouncing me cured -- much to his and my astonishment. In a few more years, I'll be a cancer survivor.

Meanwhile, back home in the States, health care reform passed. Lilly Ledbetter protection became law. Dodd-Frank squeaked through. Don't Ask Don't Tell passed into history. The economy started recovering. Keith Olbermann imploded. And the Republican Party became a joke except that its policies and leaders were anything but amusing.

50% To 0% Overnight

[dcS[/dc]lowly, I regained my health, rebuilt my strength and life promised to what seemed like normal. Until.

I was always solidly middle class: Better off than many but nowhere near the top of the economic heap. I'd worked since I was 16, managed to buy a modest home, eat regularly, squirrel away a bit of cash and enjoy an occasional exotic holiday. I was nestled comfortably among the 50%-ers.

I entrusted my present and future to a highly recommended financial advisor who created a plan and managed my pennies. He was in charge of everything, including paying taxes on my income from working and my investments.

Turns out, he didn't do any of that.

One afternoon, my lawyer phoned to say he'd just spoken with the fraud squad. My guy had disappeared with all of his client's money, a hefty eight figures worth. My tiny account was lost in the rounding but it was gone, too, as was the man who was now somewhere in a secret, undisclosed, probably extradition-free location where no one could find him. In a mere 24 hours, I'd become a 0%-er: Broke, out of work from ill health and -- because he'd never actually paid the taxes that were supposed to accompany the forms I'd signed each quarter -- deep in the hole to revenuers who were demanding money I didn't have.

I started shuttling between lawyers: Tax, securities, others, more than I ever wanted. My Outlook was littered with meetings, arbitration hearings, and cops who offered no hope of recovering my cash. I'd lost my money and was about to lose my home for good measure.

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It took a year to sort things out. Arbitrators awarded me a fraction of what my guy stole, making his insurance pay, but I still had legal fees and that hideous tax bill to resolve.

Meanwhile, the same vampire squids who ruined the global economy remained in charge on Wall Street instead of languishing in prison. The Iraq war came to a merciful end and Afghanistan was winding down. US employment ticked upward. Four Supreme Court justices sold their integrity to the Kochs. Keith Olbermann imploded again. And the Republican Party was locked in the vice grip of the whackjobs, crazies, neverwozzers and robber barons that Bill Buckley flushed from the GOP 50 years earlier.

joe jbtfsplk

Joe Btfsplk

Some of us are old enough to remember the L'il Abner comic strip character Joe Btfsplk, who always had a black cloud over his head. Well, I met Joe Pftlsk and he is me.

Last December, I was crossing a street in a marked pedestrian zone with overhead yellow warning lights flashing. I looked both ways as I learned to do as a child, saw cars slowing and proceeded. Silly me: I forgot to look behind me where a driver, thinking the traffic was slowing to let her in, gunned it as she turned and hit me. I only recall the ER where everyone kept asking me if I could count their fingers. The diagnosis: Closed head brain trauma, a few internal injuries, some cracked ribs and pain everywhere.

I spent months shuttling between CT scans, MRIs, speech therapy, physical rehab, and more lawyers who shall be with us always.

Worse, the date was fast approaching when I had to be out of my home. In lieu of taking it outright, the tax folks kindly let me lease it and use the rental income to pay down my bill; I'm now trying to sell the place. Since I'd lost another huge chunk of time, not working meant I had no place to go and no money to get there. Oh, friends have let me stay in spare rooms and empty condos, and occasionally slipped me a few scheckles to buy food, but I am essentially homeless with no permanent address.

I've gone from a 50%-er to a 0%-er.

Meanwhile, America was held hostage by Senate rules that gave more power to one member than to the other 99. Mitt Romney turned lying into an art. The House of Representatives wanted to punish the sick, the elderly, kids, single parents, and people who wanted an education. Keith Olbermann disappeared. And Republicans blamed President Obama for every aspect of the aftermath of the GOP's greed when Bush was in The White House.


Over the last three years, my life turned upside down and so did my country's.

Charley James

Returning contributor Charley James is an American writer who lives in Toronto.

Posted: Monday, 28 May 2012