Health and Music

One of the hardest things I’ve had to think about the past little while is rearing its head.  I’m going to have to pull back from some of my music plans for at least the near future.

As some of you know, I’ve been dealing with some fairly serious health issues the past few years – heck, most of my life, unknowingly, come to think of it.  Primarily, I have Crohn’s disease, and I’m going to be going on some very expensive, very complicated medication for it, trying to reverse over 40cm of damage to my intestines.  Namely, Humira and methotrexate – the latter just for the first few months, but the former potentially for the rest of my life.

With Humira, you have to inject it into yourself (typically around your bellybutton or in the tops of your thighs) once every two weeks.  Until you use it, it must be kept cold, i.e. in your fridge.  They’ve not even finished the paperwork yet; the provincial government’s said they’ll cover the ~$3,100/mo. ongoing expense, and it’s up to my employer’s private insurance to cover the initial $3,000 deductible – money I don’t have to spare right now if they don’t (though I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t).

If that medication – a fancy new class of drug that ‘turns down’ your immune system (and makes you susceptible to Tuberculosis and Hepatitis, among other things, in the process, even if you were once vaccinated) inadvertently gets warm?  You’ve got two weeks (i.e. your next dose) to use it, or it’s wrecked.  That’s $1,550 worth in each vial!  I have no idea what the heck happens if two or three vials go bad like that – somehow an ‘oops, my bad!’ doesn’t sound like it’d cut it with the insurance companies.

So, then, imagine yourself going on a trip – for the sake of argument, let’s call it a band tour.  Across the country, for two months.  Not completely out of the realm of possibility for a small band wanting to break out nationally, right?  Now, imagine that you’ve got to carry, worst case, four of these vials of medicine… over $6,000 worth of medication, and keep it cold, for two months straight, in the back of a van.  Get a cooler and fill it with ice, continually refilling it along the way as it melts to make sure it stays as close to 3.5˚C as possible but doesn’t freeze?  That’s risky as shit.  Get a really tiny mini-fridge, run it off the alternator of the van?  So it only works while the van is running, but not for the hours it stays parked while everyone’s playing a show or sleeping… maybe combine the two?  Maybe, if you’re staying in the country, you arrange to have the medication ready in certain cities along the way.  Stop off at a doctor’s office or what have you and just have them waiting for you?

There’s this whole other level of logistics I’d have to think about.  Something I’d be perpetually worried about, because the value… the potential loss from screwing it up?  Completely wipes out any sort of gain from a tour like that, and then some.  You just don’t make thousands and thousands of dollars on your first couple tours as a band, certainly not with even normal cross-country expenses, let alone for someone as broken as I am.

To make things worse, the last time I was in the hospital a few months ago, I had an abscess in my intestine.  Not unheard of; I had one almost 5 years ago as well – the 3rd one I’d ever had along my GI tract, and cause for them to refer me to a Gastroenterologist who shoved a camera where cameras shouldn’t go to figure out I have Crohn’s.  (Aside: He wanted to give me a copy of the video of that procedure if I brought in a USB thumb drive.  I didn’t take him up on it, but sometimes I wish I did.  I’d put it up on YouTube, to the Doctor Who intro music.)  The problem this time, is that even after all the antibiotics and steroids to try and get rid of it without resorting to surgery, I had quite a bad bout of internal bleeding.  My hemoglobin and iron levels plummetted – nowhere near as bad as when they tried to put me on Imuran five years ago and had a Hemoglobin count of something like 47/125, but still in the mid-70s.  I’ve been on a ton of iron pills, B12, Vitamin C, on top of regular multivitamins… that stuff doesn’t even absorb properly at those dosages and with my condition, but nevertheless, with my bi-weekly blood tests for charting, things are starting to get better…

…but it can take up to 6 months for raw iron intake to go through your bone marrow, be converted into, and manifest itself as red blood cells.  You know, the ones that carry oxygen around your body, from your lungs to, well, everything?

For the past few months, it’s been a struggle just to keep my own house clean.  Taking the garbage and recycling out to the front curb (up a small hill) leaves me almost completely winded.  People look at me funny as I pause on stairs, wheezing to catch my breath, or worse, have to find and hug a wall so I don’t fall over from being dizzy (ever stood up too fast and felt the blood drain out of your head?  All.  The time.) –  knock on wood, this is getting noticeably better as weeks go by, but at the rate it’s going?  I don’t doubt that 6 month figure from the doctors.

It’s hard to bill yourself as the lead singer of a band, with a job, no, duty, to run around on stage, pouring your heart and lungs out night after night, when climbing a flight of stairs feels like it runs the risk of passing out and falling back down them.

On top of all that, moving out to Mission, a good 100km or so away from Vancouver, has been a bit of a blessing and a curse.  I bought my first house!  I have a basement, with all my gear in it!  A brand new drumkit, all the mics to turn it into a real jamspace and recording studio!

…and seemingly no one around me for hours that’d be interested in working in it.  The thing I hear from so, so many people: “Oh, you’ve got a sweet place / wicked studio, but it’s just so faaaarrrr…”  Yeah.  That was my priority: Stop paying through the nose for a run-down ‘jam space’ in the absolute worst possible locations, and actually have the opportunity to write and record at my own leisure.  Stop, head upstairs and grab a coffee from my own coffee machine.  Decide I need a power nap and get to sleep in my own bed to do so.  Or, the big one: Have my bandmates over for a (long) weekend and let them crash in one of the other 4 bedrooms I have, fit for purpose, so we not only have the ability to work as long or as little as we want with absolutely no fear of ‘going over time’ or dealing with a crappy (sometimes literally) bathroom shared with eight other bands in the same building.

Unfortunately, with the housing situation the way it is, I gave up on Metro Vancouver long ago.  Even with my dayjob and decent salary, this was as close as I could get while still affording my own place.  Even so?  I don’t regret it!  Being out here has done wonders for my stress levels (working from home and getting out of the car has helped immensely – I loathe driving nowadays), and most people will tell you that stress only aggravates health problems – especially GI ones.  Like Hollywood, though, a lot of musicians still have it in their head that they must be in Vancouver to make a name for themselves.  Or Toronto.  Or Montreal.  In the Digital Age, with the availability of (relatively) cheap recording gear, powerful computers, and fast(ish) internet connections, we still have this obsession with cramming ourselves into big cities, paying way more than it’s worth.  I guess I’m just ahead of the curve in many ways. ;)

What does all this mean?  I’m not sure, yet.  I need to take a step back from what I’ve been pushing myself towards and evaluate my options.

Good:

  • After 6 years of saving and paying down bad debt, I finally have my own place!
  • I have, quite literally, just about everything I need, gear-wise, to record and mix pretty much whatever I want.  Drums, amps, mics, speakers, software, video camera, you name it.
  • I still have enough of my health that I can play some of this gear (albiet not always well), all on my own.

Not-so-Good:

  • I feel like I’m perpetually sick or recovering from being sick – whether it be hospital visits, blood loss, or barely-not-experimental drugs that could have serious side effects.
  • I’ve moved away from all my old bandmates and don’t know anyone out here, especially who’d be willing to work on the same sorts of things I would.
  • I still don’t even know what I want to do, musically.  I’ve got ideas ranging from going back to thrash/speed/prog metal, to Post-Grunge, Post-Hardcore, or just saying screw it, grabbing my acoustic, and singing sappy or depressing songs about girls and demons (not necessarily one and the same, there, just for clarity)  (…why is everything ‘Post-‘ something else nowadays, anyway?  We get it, you’re trying to revive a genre a generation or two later.)
  • I’ve had no less than three people so far, all online, ask me about working on various projects for them.  My inability to say no has gotten me into things I’m not sure I want to do.  I’m very much a ‘one band at a time’ kind of guy, even if I had the energy to throw out random covers or side-projects for fun.

It’s been over a year since Lethal Halo wrapped up.  I told myself I needed the first six months to get my new place, and then the rubber would hit the road, so to speak, and I’d be ready to bang out an album with a new band this year.  Of course, ending up in the hospital a few months after moving in and being told my condition is over twice as bad as it was five years ago has thrown a mighty big wrench into all of that.

I don’t know.  I think what I’m trying to say here is that I need to stop lieing to myself: I’m not on the verge of putting anything together for at least the next 6 months.  I’m not getting any younger, but I’d like to try and avoid getting dead first.  We’ll see what the future holds.