Charlie Hodge is the first to tell you he doesn’t deserve to still be alive.
The 64-year-old has lost track of how many times he faced death and survived, the most recent being a bout with pneumonia which left him hospitalized for several days—the life risk realities of living with Stage 4 emphysema.
“I literally live now hour by hour, day by day,” he said. “I am one serious choking session away for dying. I could drown from my lungs filling up with fluid; a heart attack because my body has just plain worn out or pneumonia. Fortunately, the antibiotics worked with the pneumonia…so I passed one of those three challenges.”
|Charlie Hodge opens a page to a scrapbook of articles he wrote for the Capital News as a reporter for the newspaper back in the 1980s. (Barry Gerding – Black Press Media)|
Hodge, serving his second term as a Kelowna city councillor, said his health issues over the last decade have challenged him to press on when giving up might have been understandable, but he has learned to make do, and do what he can to bring joy to life for himself and his wife Tez with the time he has left.
Because of his advanced emphysema, he is required to constantly be on oxygen to supplement his decreasing lung capacity.
His two recent surgeries to deal with cancer in his jaw, resulted in 330 stitches, 225 staples and 17 screws being inserted to his jaw, and he ended up losing 38 pounds.
He also had nine inches of bone removed from his right leg to supplement the titanium jaw replacement.
“I’m the only person who had plastic surgery and came out looking uglier than when I went in,” he laughed.
The end result was his post-surgery leg requires him to now walk with a cane, and he had only four teeth left in his mouth making the joy of eating an increasingly distant memory.
“I try not to spend too much time looking back at the past; to wish I would have done this or that,” he said. “And I don’t look to the future as things I can’t do lead to you to feeling depressed, raising anger and frustration especially for my wife’s sake.
“I love my backyard. That is my holiday….I love my home. I love my cats. I love my house. That is what me feels blessed. Sounds corny to say, but I do feel like a blessed person.”
That attitude comes from an encounter five years ago with a young girl while he was waiting for his appointment in the waiting room of the lung transplant clinic in Vancouver, a transplant seen as a possible solution to off-set his emphysema.
“I was in the waiting room sitting there, and I noticed a young girl — she was about 12 or 13 — chatting on her cellphone but wasn’t paying attention to what she was saying. At one point I got out of my chair, feeling sorry for myself, to go look out the waiting room window.
“I was closer to the girl at that point and could overhear her conversation, and it suddenly donned on me that she was there because she needed a lung transplant.
“So, I thought here I am, 60 at that point, and the whole perspective thing came into play. I thought to myself you wimp, here you are having drowned at one point, survived a fatal car accident, been stabbed, shot at. It wasn’t right that I was still alive and here was this young girl who hadn’t even begun to live her life yet facing the prospect of having a lung transplant.
“That was the point I realized I had to suck it up and move on.”
Hodge talked it over with his wife and decided not to undergo the transplant, knowing the recovery would be difficult and challenging to his remaining quality of life.
He said his cancerous jaw experience called on all his willpower to physically endure the recovery for 23 days. After the second surgery he wasn’t able to sip a glass of water.
“I didn’t really realize I couldn’t drink water until about day six of my recovery, but for those next 17 days it was all I could think about. I would dream at night about having a sip of apple juice. It took everything I had to literally not lose it over that.
“Now, every day when I have a drink of water, I try to remember that experience. It’s a good day when you wake up in the morning, when you look at the morning paper and don’t see your own obituary.”
Hodge looks back on his good fortune to have had many lives — as a municipal politician in Kelowna and Parksville, a journalist, in the music industry and as an author.
Choosing between writing a book or writing for a newspaper would be a tough choice, but he now tends to side with books.
“Writing books is a lonely man’s job,” he said. “There is nobody to blame but yourself when things go wrong. You have to count on yourself, but I like that.”
He has written two books Golly Gee — It’s Me, a best-selling biography oft Howie Meeker, and Stop It There — Back It Up, a 50-year look at the National Hockey League from 1946 to 1999 through Meeker’s eyes as a player, coach, general manager and broadcaster.
His latest effort, now complete and being shopped to publishers, is titled The Lost Souls of Lakewood—The History and Mystery of Blaylock Mansion—is a historical fiction book about the history of the land which is home to Blaylock Mansion near Nelson B.C.
The mansion was built in the 1930s by Selwyn Blaylock, who became the president of Consolidated Mines and Smelter in Trail, which morphed into what is now Teck Cominco in Trail.
Before and after Blaylock, the property played host to a plethora of amazing characters and several ghosts which is what the book is about.
But journalism, and in particular his working relationship with the Capital News, is one that has been interwoven through every decade of his life since graduating from high school in Kelowna.
He credited his experiences in journalism for defining the kind of person he is today.
“Everything I do today, how I interact with people, interact in relationships, how I act at the council table, the skills I have learned, the better part of me, I largely learned from working in the news business,” said Hodge.
He admitted his era of journalism is gone—working for independently owned newspapers where newsrooms were fun but pressure-filled atmospheres, where working 12 to 14 hour days, six or seven days a week was the norm.
“They drove you hard but you drove yourself hard as well,” he said. “You may not own the newspaper but it was your newspaper with your name on it so you wanted it to be the best it could be in a competitive environment.”
He cited reporting on uranium mining in the Beaverdell area, which he is convinced led to the gunshots being fired through his living room window, and a column questioning the rationale of the Rutland May Days May Queen contest for girls, which led to a lawsuit filed against him and the Capital News by the organizers that was dropped before the complaint was heard in court, as two of his personal reporting highlights from that era of his life.
For close to 20 years, Hodge has kept his hand in the business with his weekly Hodge Podge column in the Capital News, something he started writing when he was the first full-time reporter hired by the newspaper in 1975.
While he may already be reflecting on his life, given his health realities, don’t be surprised if you continue to read Hodge’s work in the years to come — his track record is hard to beat.
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