After our Asheville rally, a couple of young men came up and told me they're in a rock band and they'd like to get together with a couple other bands and put on a concert to raise awareness of health care issues.

I didn't think much more about it until I got a call from one of them this morning. They've got three or four bands together and they want to be sure I still want to come speak.

Well, of course I do. Mike loved music. He played guitar -- rock and blues -- to settle his nerves and lift his spirits.

I used to come home to, "Hey, Mom! Listen to what I just learned!"

Screeching noises would come out of the speaker. Wanka, wanka, wanka, weeeeeeeeeeeuuuuuuuuuu, weeeeeeeeeeeeeuuuuuuuuuuuuu ...

And I would say, "That's very nice, honey."

To have a group of local bands pay tribute to this cause is really something wonderful.

As the song says, "I love rock 'n' roll."

Sarah Palin came to town tonight and I was the "live blogger" in the office. People called in vignettes and scene setters to me and I posted them and monitored the comments.

Since I was in charge of which comments got posted, I laid down the ground rules pretty early. I told people I would not post nasty comments from either side, that this was a blog about the event and not about negative comments.

For that I was attacked by both sides, called a redneck, right-wing nut and a biased liberal. I guess that means I managed to be fair. I bent over backwards not to take sides, and not to allow anything mean-spirited to get onto the blog.

The Grandma in me meant it, and no matter how mean people got -- and there were some personal attacks against me by people who don't even know who I am -- I maintained civility on the blog. It wasn't easy.

I didn't expect such hateful crap. I can't believe how mean these comments were -- about me, about both candidates, about the paper I work for. It was shameful.

As a lifelong Democrat, I was particularly offended when somebody suggested I must be a right-wing facist because I wouldn't let him call Sarah Palin a rude name in public. I wanted to tell him he was giving his side a bad name.

But both sides did it. The attacks were personal, vitriolic and really, really mean. Most of them weren't even clever.

How do people sit down and talk to each other after behaving like that? And we do need to sit down and talk to each other if we're going to solve this health care mess -- and all the other messes we have on our hands.

I'm so sick of the mean-spirited crap. Shame on all of you who took part in it in Asheville tonight.

Janet and I started talking today about the next rally. I think Rob had hoped we'd take a little time off, but I can't stop. There's this huge, gaping hole in my life and the only way to fill it up is to try to right the wrong that killed Mike.

It gets harder as our birthday approaches -- we always called each other in the morning to sing, "Happy birthday to MEEEE!" We each considered the day our own personal national holiday and pretended that we wanted it to ourselves. I loved sharing my birthday with him. I joked all his life that he could have the birthday when I was done with it. I never really believed he would be gone before he could have it to himself, and I think I'm done with it now.

So, we'll keep making noise, tying to make sure we can prevent this loss in other families. We'll be in the Raleigh-Durham area in April, probably in Durham, since that's where Mike finally found the care he should have had earlier.

Then we're talking about Providence, RI, in July, since our own events planner, Christina, is there. Then maybe we'll go back to Savannah in August and Asheville again in the fall.

Of course, our dream is a march on Washington to rival anything that's been there before. That will come if we don't see change.

The Associated Press had a story this week about how the economic meltdown has more people putting off health care. In part, it said:

The numbers show Americans are increasingly putting their health at risk:

— More and more are postponing needed care, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Tuesday. The portion who said they or a family member have put off needed care climbed to 36 percent in the Oct. 8-13 telephone poll, up from 29 percent in April. Almost one-third had skipped a recommended test or treatment, up from 24 percent. In both cases, about one-fifth said their condition got worse as a result.

— The number of prescriptions filled dropped 0.4 percent for the quarter ending in June — the first time it hasn't risen, according to IMS Health, which has been tracking such data for 12 years.

— A July survey by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners found that 11 percent of Americans had either reduced the number of prescription medicines they take or cut the dosage by such means as splitting pills in half.

— Elective surgeries like hip and knee replacements, diagnostic tests and outpatient procedures fell roughly 1 to 2 percent in recent months at many hospitals, said Dick Clarke, president of the Healthcare Financial Management Association. While the decline seems small, the numbers typically climb 2 to 4 percent a year as the population ages.

— U.S. hospitals are reporting an uptick in emergency room patients, according to the American Hospital Association. ... that includes a rise in uninsured patients with conditions that could have been treated elsewhere, and is expected to increase.

The U.S. unemployment rate has climbed from 4.7 percent to 6.1 percent over the past year, costing many newly jobless people their health insurance. But the uninsured are not the only patients feeling the economy's sting.

Julie Shelley, a 49-year-old office manager and mother of three from West Milton, Ohio, said that because of the worsening economy and rising co-payments under her health plan, she is putting her husband's medical needs first. He is a substitute teacher who has had kidney and pancreas transplants, is on a dozen medications and needs blood work every month."

As I suspected would happen, the needs of regular people will be set aside so the wealthy can be taken care of. The legislation that bails out banks also bails out bankers. The loopholes are big enough to drive an armored truck full of government cash through.

And 30,000 people will die this year.

From my friend Ron martin-Adkins:

The movie “Sicko” gave Michael Moore’s dramatic perspective of our healthcare crisis. My perspective is more limited, but equally real, for any Sarah Palin fans out there.

I had not had much reason to think about the situation until I moved three years ago. Until then, I had been fortunate; I had always had health insurance. Without a job when I moved, I assumed COBRA coverage would be available until I found a job in my new location. Available, yes, but the cost would have put unwanted strain on the family finances.

That reality brought home an interesting awareness: many of us are in a way held hostage by our jobs – in exchange for health care. Or, another perspective, we live a kind of indentured servitude to our employers who provide for our healthcare so long as we are in their service.

My next personal connection to the crisis came when I sought individual health insurance. I have a pre-existing condition that I innocently revealed in my application for insurance. The condition had been well-controlled by medication for many years, so I naively assumed that meant it would not be a serious concern to the insurance company. Innocence is bliss, indeed. The monthly cost for my personal coverage would have amounted to more than the mortgage we had left behind when we moved from our house on Capitol Hill in DC, and more than I expected to earn in our new location. Fortunately, my wife Alice was hired by a company that offered affordable health insurance that covers both of us. So my personal health care status has some stability.

Then I got a part-time job with a company that conducts research for the government regarding medical expenditures and insurance in this country. In my job, I do a series of in-person interviews with families about their health conditions, visits to medical providers, costs of their care, and who pays for that care. Overall, the team of interviewers meets with thousands of families throughout the country. (If you’re interested in learning more about the survey and its data, is the place to go.)

My little slice of that work has taught me many things. Among them are these:

- Only the financially privileged take health care for granted.

- People with good health insurance tend to see medical providers more often and have no idea what those visits actually cost. They pay little out of pocket.

- People without medical insurance, including those with substantial means, tend to get charged more.

- Providers in private practice tend to have more flexibility and sensitivity regarding costs.

- The state CHIP/S-CHIP coverage is great for children to age 14, but then what?

- Here’s what: of those between the ages 18 and 25, our 30-year-old research now says that 38% of them have no health insurance. They risk their financial futures every day.

- In the families I have interviewed, that percentage is only slightly less for all those not covered by CHIP or Medicare. In other words, people between 15 and 65 have about a one in three chance of having no private or employee provided health insurance. For them the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />US health care system is, truly, the “joke”:  Don’t Get Sick or Injured.

- I should be generous when I leave tips in a restaurant. One of my interviewees is married to the owner of a restaurant. He would like to offer health insurance to his employees, but can’t afford to do that. She says it’s “the dirty little secret of the restaurant business.” “Hardly anybody you see working in any restaurant has health insurance provided by that employer.”

- For at least 30,000 of the people who die each year, the cause of death is lack of adequate health insurance. They don’t get treated because they have no insurance. That’s the equivalent of at least 5 of the towns with real people, like the town of Wassila, Alaska. Or nearly half the population of Asheville, NC.

- One of the 30,000 who died last year because he had no insurance was Mike Danforth, the 33-year-old son of Leslie Boyd, a friend and a reporter for our local newspaper. She has begun an effort to educate about this problem, collecting stories of people caught in this tragedy, and encouraging the rest of us to badger our politicians to, as she puts it, “put on their big person pants” and work out a solution to this shameful part of the American experience. (You can check out the wonderfully informative and moving website:

One other comment/observation: What do the Constitution’s words “provide for the common defense” mean when 30,000 people die annually (more than 10 times the number who died in the 9/11 attacks, or more than 200,000 since then) because they can’t get healthcare – in a country that boasts about its medical research and treatment?

We had about 125 people, and if you count the people who came and went, we got the message out to a couple hundred people.

Bryan Brooks happened by Pritchard Park as we were talking about how Mike died, and he came to the microphone to talk about his own fear that he has stomach cancer. He went to the doctor a couple weeks ago for a bleeding ulcer and learned he might have cancer, and he might have less than 2 years left to live. He will learn tomorrow whether that's true. He's just 31.

What worries him -- besides the fact that he could have cancer - is that he won't get decent care because he doesn't have insurance or money, just like Mike.

He's really scared and I don't blame him. Danny and I have let him know we'll do whatever we can to help him get the best care possible.

Scott Rogers, the Baptist minister who runs the Asheville-Buncombe Christian Community Ministries, talked to him for awhile. ABCCM has a free clinic and can refer him to Project Access, a couple of things we have in Asheville that might have saved Mike's life if he had lived here.

That's part of the crime of all this: If you live in a place with a good safety net, you'll get care; if not, you'll die. The solution has to be national. It has to be now.

As one person talked about the frustration of not being able to get good medical care, someone in the audience called out, "Blame Obama!" I took the microphone back when the person had finished talking and told everyone that we are not here to point fingers or assign blame. We all have our own ideas about that, but what we need to do now is to move ahead and get care for all Americans.

"It's time to put on our big-kid pants and talk like grownups," I said. "I've had enough sniping and divisiveness. We need to take care of people."

The Obama-blamer left. And I swear, I would have said the same thing to a McCain-basher. I'm so sick of it all.

Janet Moore, the VP for communications at Mission Hospitals, was there to talk about how the hospital stands with us on this. Memorial Health refused to even talk to us.

James talked about how hard it was to watch his best friend die and how much he appreciated Janet's and my efforts in all this.

Shannon talked about the stories she hears as a nurse working at a large hospital.

Danny said he wants to get a colonoscopy because his brother died of colon cancer and his father almost did, but his insurance company won't pay for it. He hadn't told me that before and now I want to go into debt again to get him what he needs. I can't bear the thought of losing him because the insurance company won't give him what he needs.

My niece, Christina, flew in last night and we called James at lunchtime today. He's had a really hard time with Mike's death and I've been letting him find his own way to deal it.

Christina thought otherwise. Being a Boyd woman, she decided James has had enough time to deal with his emotions.

"The hell with that! I didn't fly my blonde ass here to NOT see James," she said.

So she tracked down his work number in Raleigh and called at lunchtime, and as we were out with some of my friends tonight, he texted her to say he was here playing with the dog. She showed it to me and we were on our way home in a split second. I saw "James"and "here playing with Beasley," and I was thrilled.

"You should've seen Auntie," she told James when we got home. "She literally skipped out of that party!"

I have to admit I did. This is Mike's best friend. This is the person who supported him both financially and emotionally as he was dying. This is Mike's other brother.

After Mike died,  we joked with Danny that we had adopted James.

"He's your new brother and he's our favorite now," we said.

"Dude, you know you can't get away now, right?" Danny said. "They'll track you down if you try to get away. This is it."

James said he was OK with that.

James had to deal with the death of his best friend -- the man who showed him how to love other people more than he loves himself -- and he's had a hard time with that.

I didn't expect to see him this weekend, so I was thrilled to see the text message he sent Christina.

I can't even put into words how happy we are to see James.  

I hugged him and thought for a moment I'd never let him go. He's home with us at last. We'll have everyone Mike loved best at the rally on Sunday. 

Gary Mitchell is a musician -- a gifted choral director and tenor. He's the music director at my church, which is a part-time job and doesn't carry insurance.

Gary's spouse is a minister and has insurance, but the policy doesn't cover domestic partners, and in North Carolina, Gary can't marry his domestic partner, the Rev. David Eck, so he lives in fear of getting sick.

Gary and David have raised two adopted children. They're both good, kind people. They have a modest home here in Asheville, which they likely would lose if Gary got sick.

Because he has had medical issues in the past, private insurance would cost him $1,300 a month. He bought a policy that will cover up to $50,000 in a catastrophic event. In other words, one major surgery. Chemo costs more than that.

Gary worked for the school system as a high school teacher and choral director for many years, so once he turns 62 -- well over a decade from now -- he can get coverage again under the state plan.

"My health plan right now is to pray I stay healthy," he says.

From an anonymous person: 
"I was successfully self-employed a year ago, I didn’t have health insurance yet because I could not afford it despite making a decent amount of money. I was shopping around to try to find some. Then I got unexplainably ill, I went to every type of doctor and thousands of dollars later was diagnosed with an illness. 
"The cost of on-going care for this was several thousand dollars per year. When I went back to get a second insurance quote, the rates had gone forn $400 a month to $950 per month due to my diagnosis. 
"Now, many legislators like John McCain will have you think that I am a stupid person who is not to be pitied because I could have just paid $400 in the first place. Well $400 was not affordable then and would not be affordable now. Plus $400 equal $4800 per year which was about the same cost for just managing my illness without any further research or diagnosis. 
"Now it would cost $11,400.
" I decided to shut down my business and go work for a company that provides benefits. Since I now have benefits at an affordable rate, I was finally diagnosed with the root cause of my illness and am on my way to full recovery. This Mr./Mrs/ Politicians is un-American. America is supposed to be the land of the self-made individual, yet we are stiffling small businesses with Health Care costs. People cannot afford health care, they can’t afford not to have health care, and they cannot afford their treatments now with or without healthcare. Sounds like something is totally broken to me. 
Eblen had its 10K Heroes for Hope walk today. It's dedicated to Dana Jarrett, my colleague, Keith's, late wife. He always raises money for it and gets John Boyle to solicit donations from the newsroom. But John was out of town this week, so I took over, and Keith and I collected about $1,650.

Eblen was there for Mike when he needed antibiotics or when he needed a tank of gas to get to his appointments at Duke.

They're sponsors of our rally here later this month. The least I can do is twist a few arms and walk six miles for the cause.

I walked most of the way with the chair of our county commissioners. Nathan Ramsey is a Republican and I'm a Democrat, but we had a great conversation about how to get all Americans access to health care. We talked about different possibilities and how we could probably find a way that we both could agree on.

I like Nathan. He's a really decent human being, and he was willing to listen and maybe even change his positions a little. He saw the possibilities.

I also cornered a couple of congressional candidates this week. One was the incumbent, Heath Shuler. He talked about the progress we've made with children and the elderly. But nothing he suggested would have saved Mike's life.

I rattled off a few statistics and asked what he planned to support to get access to health care for people ages 18-65. He wasn't sure, but he was leaving town in a couple hours for the bailout vote, and he agreed to sit down with me again and discuss some ideas.

The other candidate was the Republican Carl Mumpower. He told me he comes down on the side of the free market, but agreed that there has to be oversight and regulation.

Still, the words, "free market," send shivers down my spine. Look what the free market has gotten us so far.