Putting a Price on Love?

This was a very stressful week in the Michael household. Early in the week our eldest cat, The Nix, started upon a peeing spree around the house that hit several pieces of furniture that heretofore had not been sprayed on by any of our cats. We thought that the ongoing turf war that exists between her and our newer, younger female cat, Criseyde, had temporarily escalated and, after cleaning the furniture we assumed (and hoped) it was little more than an isolated incident. By Wednesday, when I got The Nix to stand up on her perch only to discover that her whole back end and legs were soaked in her own pee, it had become apparent that there was a more serious problem in the works. I called her veterinarian, Dr. Pauline Knowles, owner of a mobile veterinary unit, and asked her to make a house call on Thursday morning. I was hopeful it was a bladder infection and was easily and cheaply rectifiable. I could not have been more wrong.

The Nix

The Nix

By 9:30 A.M. on Thursday morning Dr. Knowles, to her credit, had easily diagnosed The Nix with bladder stones but, feeling ill-equipped to treat or diagnose the full extent of the problem with x-rays and the like, passed us along to King George Veterinary Clinic for an emergency appointment. At K.G.V.C. our little girl’s x-rays revealed a blockage in the urethra as well as the bladder stones but they, like Dr. Knowles before them, felt ill prepared to do the surgery. To quote the attending veterinarian:”If she doesn’t have the surgery to remove the stones today or by early tomorrow she will die.” So once again we were passed along, this time to VCA Waldorf, MD. By mid afternoon I had to cancel work, I had yet to eat or feed my son, and now he and I and his sister were making an unscheduled emergency trip to Maryland.

In Maryland, VCA Waldorf couldn’t have been more helpful. They could do the surgery. They could save our 9-year old little girl’s life. It would only cost around $4,000! Prior to being handed that expense I had already racked up two other bills from the other two vets that already totaled over $600. Now I was being presented with a bill that the only way I could pay (since with uninsured pets you have to pay in full up front) was to draw out of my IRA at a penalty. I didn’t know what to do.

The Nix defiantly awaiting surgery

The Nix defiantly awaiting surgery

What a terrible question to have to ask oneself: Is my child’s life worth the money? The Nix is only nine; she could have many more years of life left if she undergoes the surgery. On the other hand, our disposable obsessive society sends very mixed and denigrating signals to its citizens on pets. Is the life of any pet worth almost $5,000? Do I just put her down and get another? Do I just buy more love somewhere else? She’s a pet, not a person, right? I’ve only raised her since she was six months old. She and I are only the last surviving inhabitants of my mother’s home in PA. I’d had to fight with a dear friend for possession of her after my mom accidentally gave The Nix away as she was vacating our house. She trusts me as her father to care for her. Does that trust mean anything? Fortunately, an alternative was waiting to be found.

VCA Waldorf, sensing that we just didn’t have the money they required to save our girl, suggested that we take her to a low cost clinic in Richmond called Helping Hands. H.H. could do the same surgery for us for only $650 if we could get her there by 9 AM tomorrow morning. The appointment was made, her records were faxed, and by 4 PM Friday afternoon Helping Hands of Richmond had discharged our little girl back into our care, her surgery a success. As I write this on Sunday afternoon, two days later, The Nix is resting comfortably, eating and drinking again, and to the best of our knowledge poised to make a recovery.

I can’t begin to thank enough all the vets and staff that were involved in the saving of our little girl’s life: Dr. Pauline Knowles and Beth Johnson, Mrs. Niznik of K.G.V.C. and their vets, the staff of VCA Waldorf, and finally and most importantly the veterinary staff of Helping Hands that ultimately did the surgery and saved our little girl’s life. So many wonderful people worked together to allow us to bring our little girl home and to all of them we are grateful.

That said, so far I’ve put out over $1300 in medical bills for the surgery and there are follow up appointments for a urinalysis, stitches removal, and the like looming on the horizon, and I can’t help but wonder what someone else would have done when faced with a similar dilemma. Why was the cost of the same surgery so vastly disparate at two different clinics: $650 vs. $4,000; just because one was in-patient and one was out-patient? Really? I realize there are economic factors to consider, the likes of which I’m not qualified to comment on, but what I do know is that because we can’t afford pet insurance we were put in the position of putting a price tag on our little girl’s life, and that’s a position that I personally don’t believe any parent should ever be put in.

At home after surgery in our cone of shame

At home after surgery in our cone of shame

Then again, it really shouldn’t be a surprise to me, since we can’t even agree as a nation that all human lives have value. There is certainly a segment of our society that is fine with letting people die if the price tag just doesn’t suit. I don’t count myself among them, and I know deep down that if Helping Hands didn’t exist I would’ve paid the $4,000 despite the hardship to my family. But this debate is just part of a larger conversation about the value of all life on our planet and, at the end of all this, I did the right thing by my child because I could afford to, and because there are good people who are willing to work at reduced cost because they love animals. Hopefully, at some point in the future of this country we’ll be able to agree that all life is precious and has value, and that money should not be the determinant of the quality and availability of care. Till then I fear we will continue to put price tags on our love and our loved ones. I’m just glad I was blessed to have enough in the bank to bring my little girl home.



A Haiku a Day – Book Announcement

Haiku Book Cover_WEB_SmallIn a few weeks it is my hope to release my second book of haiku, titled A Haiku a Day, on Amazon. This book is drawn from my earliest mature poems, written while I was still a school teacher in North Philly between 2001 and 2004. Over ten years in development, A Haiku a Day features thirty special images created by artist and lifelong friend, Miss Carolyn Leshock. Carolyn has taken original photos, blended each one with a related haiku, embedded each photo with a corresponding Chinese character, and ultimately created beautifully illustrative works of art that pepper the book with color and exquisite complementary beauty.


The book features 366 poems total, inclusive of the imaged haiku, and is designed as a sequel to my first book of poetry, True Haiku for You, published on Amazon last year. A Haiku a Day, inspired by the writings of the late spiritual guru, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, is appropriately dedicated to his legacy and the impact he had on my life.


An absolute labor of love, I can’t wait to release A Haiku a Day into the universe. Please look for it on Amazon and check out Carolyn’s other work at www.leshockarts.com. Consider it as a holiday present, birthday gift, or a special surprise for that person in your life that could use a daily reminder of how wonderful and unique they truly are. Thanks for listening and have a divinely inspired day.


Dr. Wayne Dyer: In Memoriam

Dr. Wayne Dyer was fond of referring to his life as a parenthesis in eternity. The parenthesis opens and we are born; it closes and we die. It seems only fitting that fourteen years ago I started writing haiku as a kind of therapy, a response to seeing Wayne Dyer’s special There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem on PBS, trying to pull myself back from a very dark place. And now on the eve of publishing my second book of poetry, a book that is very much inspired by the influence he has had on my life, his parenthesis has closed. On August 29, 2015, sometime in the middle of the night in his sleep, Dr. Wayne Walter Dyer left his body.

It’s personally hard for me to imagine a world without Wayne. He has been unquestionably the major spiritual influence on my life for the last fourteen years. I have read every book he has published since the mid-nineties, watched all his PBS specials, listened to his taped conversations, seen his movies, and been in his presence at least three times. I’d never met the man, but that was more a product of star-struck insecurity at meeting your admired, rather than never having had the opportunity. I could’ve met him. I should’ve. I didn’t, and now the moment has passed. One more regret, one more lesson. As Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, you do better.” But sometimes we don’t.

Wayne speaking at I Can Do It in Atlanta, 2012

Wayne speaking at I Can Do It in Atlanta, 2012

On September 3, 2001, one year to the day on the anniversary of my father’s death, I started working at a Catholic school outside of Philadelphia. I was good at my job, I built the program, my students liked me and I them, and I was miserable inside. I knew being a high school teacher wasn’t my calling, but I’d taken the job out of financial necessity. Over the first few weeks of employment I sunk into the most abject despair. I would call my mother in Reading, PA and tell her that I was praying that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning. I felt trapped, alone, lost, and, frankly, suicidal. And again I feel the need to reiterate it wasn’t the job or the students; it was me being out of sync with my calling as an artist. And it was destroying me from within.

At some point that fall, Dr. Wayne Dyer’s special There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem aired on PBS and I happened to catch a piece of it one evening. His simple anecdotes regarding self-reliance, following one’s calling, trusting one’s intuition, and loving the universe without reserve captivated me over the next few days of the pledge break. Within the week I had bought his book and was reading it in study hall. And then a thought struck me – I was artistically unfulfilled, but I could do something about it even in study hall, in a small way. I started writing haiku during study hall, about my feelings, my passions, my frustrations, and little by little the pressure that had built up started to subside. Here is the first haiku I wrote dated November 11, 2001:

If I ruled the world…
But wait! Life is perception.
Where did I go wrong?

I believe firmly that had I not discovered Wayne, and not started writing as a result, that the depression would’ve consumed me. Whether it would’ve been suicide or just the stress of willing oneself to die overcoming me, the result would’ve been the same: I would be dead. So you see, over the last fourteen years when I’ve quipped to friends that Wayne Dyer saved my life I really wasn’t kidding. I really believe he saved me, just by being himself. Given all that I have now – my beautiful wife and son, a terminal degree, wonderful in-laws, and a supportive community of church and theatre friends – it’s a debt I can never repay.

That said, now that Wayne has passed on the real work can begin. There will be no more new books, movies, lectures and the like, but what is now possible is serious study into the life and philosophy of a man whom I hold dear. Over the years I’ve exposed myself to his work, but there’s always been something new to distract from what has come before. That time is now gone. But what’s left is an exhaustive body of work that outlines living one’s best life. I have not mastered manifesting. I have not lived the Tao. I have not affirmed “I Am God” with a belief and authority that transcends doubt. I have not forgiven. I have not spoken the language of butterflies. I have not gotten all of my music out. In each case and in so many more Wayne left us with a road map for living our best, most loving life. At 44, in a high stress career, I have a long way to go before I can sit on the beaches of Maui, picking mangoes by my pool, enjoying the fruits of a life well-lived. But at least he’s left me a light in the darkness, a body of work to draw strength and knowledge from, and a beautiful example of a man and a life to strive for and live up to. And for that I am forever grateful.

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer 1940-2015

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Thank you, Wayne, for being there when I needed you most, for lighting the way, and for saving my life.

May you now be at peace among the other ascended masters. Namaste.