The Cost of Dying

It’s not a subject many want to think about: death. How will you die? Will it be slow and painful or short and painless?

Then there are the thoughts that don’t even occur to some. If you spend your last days in the intensive care unit, how much will it cost? Are you willing to go to any cost to save your life?

According to the 60 minutes segment “The Cost of Dying,” Medicare paid $50 billion just for doctor and hospital bills during the last two months of patients’ lives.

The story begins by saying, “every medical study ever conducted has concluded that 100 percent of all Americans will eventually die.” I don’t feel this was the best to start because personally I sat thinking “duh!” There could have been a more engaging way to draw viewers in.

But as the story goes on, 60 minutes tries to prove how the system of the government paying for those in the ICU could bankrupt our country.

One of the doctors, Ira Byock, tells reporter Steve Kroft 18 to 20 percent of Americans spend their last days in the ICU. Byock feels technology has become so advanced that some Americans are being kept alive longer than they probably should, costing the federal government an enormous amount of money.

Making money matters worse, Kroft explains doctors get paid based on how many patients they are seeing and treating, and hospitals are paid for the amount of patients they admit. Another doctor, Dr. Elliott Fisher, said 30 percent of hospital stays in the US are probably unnecessary.

Statistics show many Americans say they prefer to die at home, but more than 75 percent actually pass away in a hospital or a nursing home.

The story goes in-depth on how doctors test people, and how healthcare is different than any other business where customers and consumers must be cost-conscious. With the government or private insurers paying for 85 percent of the health care bills, some patients prefer to be kept alive any way possible because most of the time they don’t even have to see the bills.

With all the talk about the current healthcare reform bill, I do feel this was a fascinating story. It was a new and interesting way to look at healthcare. It is an example of how from just one subject many story ideas can form.

In terms of video, I think the editors did a good job of using nat sound in the story, but I didn’t like that they used the same shot numerous times. I would think in a hospital there could be a variety of shots if thought out creatively. They didn’t seem to get enough broll of the doctors and had to use the same video over. I also noticed, even though many doctors were interviewed, only one butted heads with others on screen. I feel it could have been more fluent if each doctor was facing opposite directions when they came on screen.

While there were shots I thought could have been done better, I commend 60 minutes on an array of shots that were alluring. As heartwrenching as it may have been, viewers got to be with patients in their last few days. Cameras captured their last moments in life.

The segment intertwined the life of three patients in the ICU. Each person’s story humanizes the facts and brings the segment to life.

Marcia Klish is suffering from complications of colon surgery and a hospital-acquired infection. She is brought into the story right away, but later passes away as a tie up to the story.

Charlie Haggart is another compelling story 60 minutes used. Viewers get a chance to sit through an awkward conversation between the doctor and Charlie about kept alive through CPR if his lungs were to give out. Editors left the moment of silence in between Charlie and the doctor to give the sense we are sitting with them. Many other times they use nat sound on video to keep viewers in the story, such as the doctor entering a patient’s room saying “hello there.”

This story made me feel sad, but at the same time I also felt I got a good amount of facts that made the story informational.

But the question at the end is still apparent: are people left in ICU’s way too long and costing the government way too much money, or is it only sensible that people are left on machines to live until they want to die?

Kroft might say the latter, but Byock disagrees.

“To say we’re gonna pull Grandma off the machine by not offering her liver transplant or her fourth cardiac bypass surgery or something is really just scurrilous,” Byock said. “And it’s certainly scurrilous when we have 46 million Americans who are uninsured.”

And so from this argument I learn. A good story like this has the viewer at the end questioning each side. Someday I hope to be able to do the same thing with my stories.


*photos courtesy of South East Wales Critical Care Network, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine


Saving The Katy Bridge

Passion. It’s the greatest gift anyone could ever ask for. Without passion most goals cannot be accomplished.

These past couple of weeks I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a few people whose hearts are filled with passion. In doing so, I learned that sometimes in journalism it’s not the subject of the story that is so fascinating, but the people in it.

This week’s story was about a bridge near downtown Boonville. Covered in thick vine and tree branches, the Katy Bridge is an old rusting bridge standing over the Missouri River. It was built in 1932, replacing another bridge that once stood there. It is part of the MKT railroad.

The last train crossed the bridge in 1986, but engineers still estimate it has at least 75 years left of heavy train use in its life. At the time the bridge was built, it had the longest lift span in the world.

It is also the bridge that has been the subject of a battle between Union Pacific and Save the Katy Bridge Coalition for six years; a battle that finally ended on Feb. 4.

I first saw the story about the Katy Bridge in an AP article. Gov. Nixon announced Union Pacific would be selling the bridge to Boonville for a dollar.

Boonville had been fighting for the bridge in hopes of restoring it to attract tourists and to preserve the history of the bridge. They also wanted to connect it to the Katy Trail. Union Pacific wanted to use parts of the bridge to construct another bridge over the Osage River near Jefferson City. The state of Missouri decided they would give Union Pacific $23 million in stimulus money to help build the bridge over the Osage. In exchange, Union Pacific would sell the Katy Bridge to Boonville.

I decided it sounded neat and wanted to take a different angle to it. I wanted to know more about what would be happening to the bridge, not about the agreement between the state, Union Pacific, and Boonville.

I was able to find Paula Shannon, chairperson of the Save the Katy Bridge coalition, in the white pages. She was happy to meet with me and talk about what actions the coalition would be taking in restoring the bridge. I had also been trying to get in contact with the man working on the plans at Columbia’s engineering firm Allstate Consultants. I hadn’t yet been able to contact him when I went to interview Shannon. During her interview she mentioned the enormous amount of support the coalition had been receiving from a variety of people. I asked if she knew anyone who had worked on the bridge at the time it was still in service. She gave me a few people I could get in contact with. I decided to use the man working at Allstate Consultants as a backup interview and see if I could speak to any of the workers from the bridge to give the story a more personal angle.

If anyone could add a personal angle to the story, it is Jim Bradshaw. Bradshaw worked for three years as a bridge tender, starting in 1963. He is the third generation in his family to work with the railroad and since then he has hoped to preserve the bridge to keep its history alive.

“It’s about the legacy of the people who worked on that railroad, because it’s such a visible monument,” Bradshaw said. “I do hope to enhance the memories of some of the people that literally gave their lives there.”

The problem I came across with this story was deciding who to use for my central compelling character. Both Bradshaw and Shannon had powerful stories, but in the end Bradshaw provided great visuals for my story and also had a connection with the bridge that I felt I wouldn’t be able to find in anyone else.

During this story I worked hard to get to interesting angles of the bridge. I tried to provide action in the shots, by using the overgrown weeds blowing in the wind. I also learned more about using the exposure setting during a cloudy day and lighting an interview in a dark room.

In the end, it was amazing to watch the sparkle in Bradshaw and Shannon’s eyes as they talked about the bridge. It was clear through the emotion they showed in the interviews how much they cared.

After Shannon’s interview, I had the chance to walk through the cornfields, down the slushy path, and up the steep hill through brush, vine and broken poles to the north side of the bridge. I still remember my first step onto the tracks. Although I couldn’t walk far because of the snow, I could still feel every emotion Bradshaw and Shannon talked about welling up inside of me. I closed my eyes and imagined what it might have been like more than 20 years ago; trains passing, the bridge going up and down for barges. When I opened them, it felt great to finally get a glance first hand at how much happiness this bridge has brought others and now how much happiness and memories this bridge will bring for generations to come.

Some Restaurants Fuming Over Proposed Smoking Ban

As soon as I stepped through the restaurant door, the stinging sensation of cigarettes seeped into my lungs, making it hard to breathe. Far in the back I could see an elderly man washing dishes and a young woman taking orders from customers. A young college student sat in a side booth under the dim lights staring at his laptop, rubbing his head in frustration, and smoking a cigarette. In my head, I thought “perfect”. Of course you might be asking why I would think cigarette smoke permeating the air and imbuing into my skin was “perfect”, but with my story being about the current debate on an ordinance that would ban smoking in public places in Fulton, I needed a place that would really be affected if it passes.

These past few weeks the proposed ordinance to ban smoking in public places in Fulton has really begun heating up. The conflict between the Fresh Air Coalition group, who is trying to get the ordinance to pass, against the restaurant and bar owners has been pretty intense.

I’ve known about the Fresh Air Coalition group since they started up last year. I’ve kept them in the back of my mind, just in case I needed a story idea. Now, as things start heating up between the group and others in the community, I figured it would be the perfect time to do a story on it.

I decided to take it from the aspect of a restaurant owner. How would this smoking ban affect their business? How much of their business smokes? How much does the business mean to them?

After a few phone calls I spoke with Southside Diner owner Marilyn Bates. I found out 90 percent of her business smokes, most saying they would go elsewhere if the ban passed. Bates has been in the restaurant business her entire life; she grew up in a restaurant her parents owned. Before she came to Fulton she owned another restaurant. She’s owned the Southside Diner for about year now, her friends and family both work there, but she said she isn’t hesitant to move out if they ordinance passes. Bates feels furious, she feels the group is trying to take her and her customer’s rights away.

While there I approached a few Westminster College Students who have a tradition of coming to the Southside Diner everyday after class to smoke, drink coffee and talk. The three of them are from different countries and said it is pretty common for bars and restaurants to be filled with cigarette smoke where they come from.

One student, Valon, is from Kosovo and said he remembers the big cloud of cigarette smoke blurring your vision when you walk through a bar door.

“You to wait until the smoke clears to find your friends,” he said. He describes it as a “culture” there.

His friend Alen is from Bosnia and said it’s the same way there. Although they are not completely against the ban, they said they wouldn’t be coming to the diner anymore if it passes. They said they have been smoking for four years and wish they had never started, so they feel the ban may keep some people from starting to smoke. Finally though, they feel it should be up to a restaurant owner to decide if people can smoke inside their restaurant or not.

“They own it privately, so they should have the choice,” Valon said.

Ryan Krull, the tobacco-free community project coordinator of the Fresh Air Coalition group, feels differently. I found Krull through the Fresh Air website. He says he feels that in work places, employees have a right to breathe fresh air.

They decided to start the coalition after the Missouri Foundation of Health did an assessment of countywide health. They looked at general health concerns in the community. Krull said they found 26 percent of people over the age of 18 use tobacco in Callaway county. This is 2 percent above the state average. They decided to focus on Fulton because it is the largest town in the county. A grant was used to fund the coalition and provide programs for those who smoke.

So far the coalition has gathered over 800 signatures of those in town who are in support of the ban. But for those who don’t support it…

“People are terrified of such a policy going into effect,” Krull said. “First it’s change, and there is a lot of false data that economic doom will go into effect. So basically all bars and restaurants will close down.”

Krull describes the ban as “life changing for the community.” He said their goal is to increase people’s quality of life in the community.

Krull said he understands there are two sides to every conflict, but the way he sees it those in the work force should be able to breathe clean air at work.

“There’s two sides to every coin and they’re the rights of those who want to breathe clean air and that includes the employees who are exposed to it, even if they’re smokers,” Krull said. “There are studies out there that if someone is working in a very smoky bar for eight hours a day it’s equivalent to smoking 16 cigarettes, which is almost a pack a day. And if they’re a smoker that’s a pack a day additional compared to whatever they’re smoking at that moment.”

He is also in disagreement with restaurants and bars about their rights.

"They’re thinking that we’re stripping them of their freedom or their rights and we have to make sure that people understand that we also have the freedom or right to not be exposed to carcinogens.”

While gathering information for my story, I decided to ask both the restaurant owner and the project coordinator challenging questions to see how well they could prove their individuals points. I asked them what the pros and cons were to passing the ordinance to see how they would react to their opposition.

Whichever side a person decides to support, this story is a perfect example of how a conflict can be engaging and exhausting. It’s interesting to see how people react in certain situations. Both sides have very valid points, but you must look at the backgrounds of each person and their position in the community. At first glance this conflict has its basic points, but looking more in-depth there are so many things to consider before passing an ordinance like a smoking ban. For a journalist, I must choose different things to represent both sides to make it fair and balanced.

In the end though, no matter how many argument points I get from the opposing sides, only time will tell if their ordinance goes into effect. And if it does?

“I intend to move out of the city, find something out of the city limits,” Bates said.

Until then, smokers in public places are here to stay.


Shaun White: White HOT!

Watching professional snowboarder Shaun White pull off a trick is like watching a bald eagle soar through the air. They are both one of a kind: beautiful, graceful and able to capture anyone’s eye. When White snowboards he carves through the snow, powder flying every which way, the cold wind whipping against his jacket, the bright curly red hair flowing behind his helmet, and when flying off the half pipe he suspends himself in the air, the audience waiting in anticipation to see what will happen next. The red hair, the whips and spins in the air, it’s why they call him the flying tomato.

White is unarguably one of the greatest pro athletes in the world. While watching 60 Minutes' “Shaun White: White Hot” I learned the secret of his success lies hidden in a place where no one thinks to look… in the middle of the wilderness. Only accessible by helicopter, White has a 500-foot long half pipe with 22-foot high walls located in the mountains of Colorado. He spends a lot of time there learning new tricks and perfecting old ones. But the 60 Minutes piece is more about White than just the secret to his success.

I've been a huge fan of White since I can remember. He makes snowboarding and skateboarding (he is also a professional skateboarder) seem easy and graceful… and by no means are they really easy or graceful. This piece caught my eye because I wanted to learn more about White. I also felt it was timely, due to the 2010 Winter Olympics coming up soon and White being a competitor again.

After carefully analyzing this piece I noticed many parts were put together well.

The first thing that struck me was Simon’s story telling process. He starts with where White is now and why this feature piece is important. He then moves into the beginning of White’s life and builds off of that. He tells White’s life step-by-step. We learn that White had a birth defect that played a large roll in why he started snowboarding. As a 6-year-old he started off on skies but… “He was crazy on skis. And so I thought, 'Well, we'll put him on a snowboard and he'll fall all the time, and I won't have to worry about trying to dig him out of trees,'" White's mom explained. This began his life in snowboarding.

Simon’s use of words were crafted together to make the story flow. I didn’t feel that he jumped around and made the story confusing. He writes to his video very well and his standup isn’t hard to miss. Right as Simon says, “Only someone as driven and determined as Shaun White, driven to develop new snowboarding techniques that are way over my head,” White flies over him on his snowboard. Because it was so creative, it isn’t something I’m going to forget.

I also liked the use of nat sound. Most of the time, only a few seconds would pass before nat sound would be used. Along with Simon’s choice of words, the nat sound kept the story naturally flowing and also kept me in the scene. He lets the video and nat sound speak for itself, using the narration every so often to explain what is being seen and to throw out facts.

Simon uses clever words to describe White. He starts the story by saying “When snowboarder Shaun White won a gold medal at the last Winter Olympics in Italy, he was nicknamed "il pomodoro volante" - the flying tomato - for his aerial acrobatics and his fiery mane of red hair. He has since become one of the most recognizable redheads since Lucy and a veritable rock star in the world of action sports - a white hot virtuoso on a snowboard who, at the age of 23, commands a multi-million dollar empire.”

How much more can you say in such a short paragraph? Not much.

I paid special attention to the way Simon interviewed White. Some of the questions Simon asked White appeared in the feature piece and although White seems to be a short answer type of guy, Simon was able to generate some answers that fit well with the piece. I could also tell how interested he was by the way he asked the questions and how he sat forward when listening to White.

The shocking ending completed the story well. Just when the story is ending and you think White has everything in the world, Simon surprises us by showing how lonely White really is. We learn that White has a hard time making friends with those he competes against. Simon reads off a letter one of Whites competitors writes about him that says, “He's just got his self and he's in his own world. And he's doing his thing. And we all have each other. It's really kind of sad.”

White doesn’t deny it and says he finds it a bit lonely sometimes. We find that White is just like the rest of us. It may appear that he has it all, but he has his flaws too.

Simon also did something very ingenious at the end. Few viewers may have also caught this, but Simon goes full circle in his story. He began by showing us White’s half pipe in the middle of nowhere: a place where he can be alone… a reference to loneliness. At the end he ties up the story with how lonely White is. Full circle is a great way to make me feel like the story is complete.

Although this wouldn’t exactly be a story a local news station would cover, I feel any type of feature could use the same elements Simon used to make a good story. This 60 Minutes story took me through a variety of feelings: happiness, hope for those trying to reach their dreams, and sadness. It’s something any story can do, if all the elements are placed together right.

To soar through the skies with White, watch the video below:


Ready Or Not...First Broadcast Two Package

As the recession continues, people are looking to save money. For homeowners that means changing the way they build their homes. Tara Grimes shows us how one Fulton resident is building a brighter future.

FULTON - The strong smell of fresh paint filled the air Saturday afternoon, as homeowner Shad Salmons continued to work on his home - the first Fulton home to be built and certified as energy efficient.

Even with the grim prospect of the recession, homeowners are finding new ways to stay bright and save money. For Salmons, his optimistic outlook started five years ago when he purchased a lot of land in the Market Key Place development area. After speaking with the developer, Salmons decided to build an energy efficient home.

Salmons has worked as a lineman at Callaway Electric for nine years and knows the benefits of a green home. He has heard numerous times about the amount of money a person can save if they decide to design their home with Energy Star appliances.

“I think a lot of people are scared to spend money, they don’t know what their job situation is going to be and I think it’s got a big impact on where the house market is now,” Salmons said. “I think what helped me out is the tax credits, rebates and that’s a big plus. The Energy Star costs a bit more, but it also saves you a lot in the long run, which is big. It pays for itself.”

For seven years, Salmons and his wife lived in a small ranch style home in downtown Fulton. Salmons said he cannot wait to move into his new home and see his utility bills drop.

Inside the new home, Salmons has an electric furnace that will reduce his heating bills significantly, florescent light bulbs that use 75 percent less energy and last up to ten times longer than a normal incandescent light, effective insulation to keep the house warm during the winter and cold during the summer, and tightly sealed windows and doors to help keep moisture out.

But for Salmons, his favorite appliance is the ground source pump. This pump takes the earth's temperature to provide heat, cooling, or hot water for a home. According to Salmons, the ground source pays for itself in seven to eight years compared to an electric furnace.

The process hasn’t exactly been easy for Salmons though. He said he was nervous before he began building the home.

“I didn’t really know much when I began this, but I have just been talking to different people,” Salmons said. “I’ve learned as I went. I wasn’t 100 percent sure on things, like appliances and hot water heaters, but just ask a lot of questions. That’s the only way you get answers. That’s what helped me out.”

Just down the street, neighbor and construction company owner Gene Vaughn, is also planning to build his own energy efficient home.

Vaughn said although the home buying market is down, those looking to build homes lean more towards energy efficient homes.

“Statistics show that you’re going to saving a considerable amount of money on your utility bills over a period of time,” Vaughn said. “I think in some cases in the winter you could be saving 50 to 70 percent on your heating bills and in the summer 20 to 30 percent. It could be an extremely large amount of savings so when you look at those figures, it doesn’t take that long to pay for the costs up front.”

According to Vaughn, for a home to become Energy Star certified a homeowner must first contact an official Energy Star builder. They then work with the builder to create a plan for their home. The homeowner or the builder works with a home energy rater to inspect and test their home. After two inspections a rater can certify a home as being energy efficient. The certification cost can add up to about $700.

He urges homeowners to look into federal tax credit and Missouri rebates on different appliances. Currently the government is offering tax credit to cover 30 percent up to $1,500 on certain Energy Star products.

But Vaughn said he sees even more than just the benefit of saving money. He said having an energy efficient home can help in the resale value of the home.

As the economy gets better Vaughn said he expects more public interest in the coming years for building energy efficient homes.

“I think they’re going to be more conscious of the benefits and they’ll be wanting to investing a little bit more to get the full benefit of it,” Vaughn said. “I think that the Energy Star is the way to go and I’m just pleased that there is a lot of interest in it. I’m looking forward to building a lot of Energy Star homes myself.”

In the end, Vaughn and Salmons said they will be using their energy efficient homes to keep both the environment and their wallets green.
Copyright © Tara Grimes
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