True Tales Live Nicholas Conley speech story nursing home day one tv

True Tales Live: “Day One” (Video)

This past month, I was honored with the opportunity to appear on the second season premiere of the local NH television program, True Tales Live.  As with the True Tales radio program that preceded it, True Tales Live seeks to give storytellers the opportunity to share actual stories from their life.

For this episode of True Tales Live, I shared my story, “Day One,” where I delve back into my early days working in a nursing home, as a nursing aide on a longterm care unit, and how that experience changed my views, my perception, and my way of trying to be there for other people.

Though the series can be watched on local TV in the NH area, everyone else can check it out here on the official True Tales YouTube! My section begins around 46:50, in the video below:


Other storytellers in this episode include Arnie Alpert, Emilie Spaulding, Gail Licciardello, Joanne Piazzi, and Annette Slattery. Definitely worth watching, and to everyone behind the scenes, thank you for putting this program together.


Why the United States Should Have Universal Healthcare

(Note: I originally posted this on Medium)

In the United States, healthcare has been one of the biggest political battles of the decade. As a healthcare worker myself, it’s an issue that strikes close to home. My years of experience caring for people with dementia, traumatic brain injuries, tetraplegia, cancer, and more has given me a firsthand look into what our healthcare system is like at the ground level, and it’s a different world from the vague concepts that politicians volley back and forth at each other.

Healthcare shouldn’t be a messy political fight to begin with: it’s an issue of basic human rights. And what all too often gets lost in these scuffles are the people most in need.

Our police forces, fire departments, libraries, and even our military are all socialist institutions. Few people would argue for the idea of a private fire department that refuses to rescue people from their home because the fire itself is a “pre-existing condition.” So why would we ever frame the issue of healthcare differently, when it’s exactly the same thing?

I’ve watched patients die from preventable conditions because they couldn’t afford treatment. In nursing homes, sick people are warehoused into less-than-adequate conditions, with families forced to pay insane yearly costs of $90,000 a year to put their loved one in a shared room where they and the 30+ other patients on their unit will be taken care of by only two aides. Because of money issues, people lose limbs that they shouldn’t need to lose. Patients decline when they shouldn’t have to. An increasing number of people don’t go to the doctor, even when they develop terrifying symptoms such as mysterious lumps in their throat, because they just can’t afford it.


Something has to change. Looking at other countries, the practical solution is universal healthcare — preferably a single-payer system.

Though some politicians might argue differently, universal healthcare isn’t a radical idea. The majority of Americans actually support the concept. In the rest of the developed world it isn’t even an argument, it’s a given. Of the 25 wealthiest nations in the world, the United States is the only one that doesn’t have it. The majority of these countries use single-payer. Even countries like the Netherlands — with its “managed chaos” form of healthcare — are still universal.

The United States has the highest health expenditure per capita of any country. With all that money being spent, you’d figure that we’re all super-healthy — but not really.

In the latest survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which assessed 13 developed nations including Norway, Australia, and the U.K., the USA had the lowest life expectancy, the highest rate of infant mortality, and scarily high rates of heart disease and amputation as a result of diabetes. Of all the developed countries in the world, the United States possesses the dubious distinction of having both the most expensive healthcare system in the world — and the least effective.


In the past year, taxpayers in the United States picked up 65% of this country’s total healthcare coverage, about $2.1 trillion in taxes. Keep in mind, this is what we’re already paying in taxes. On top of that, let’s take into account how much money each of us also spends on our private healthcare plans every month, combined with how much we have to pay on personal procedures that aren’t totally covered by that plan.

But then Canada, which has a single-payer system, pays almost the same amount in tax funded dollars: 70.7%. In other words, the United States already pays the same amount of money that could fund universal healthcare — we just aren’t getting any the benefits. Although Canada’s system certainly has flaws, Canadians still overwhelmingly approve of universal healthcare as a whole, with 94% calling it a source of collective pride.

That’s not all: if we want to get serious about cutting the deficit and don’t want to rip Medicare to shreds, many studies by economists such as Dean Baker have shown how a single-payer healthcare plan would actually be a great solution.

Some point to the idea of “free market healthcare” as an alternative option, but in practice this would price out the poor. This is a very real issue, because if a working class person with a relatively low income — say, a mechanic — comes down with brain cancer, the cost of treatment would greatly exceed their income level, leaving that person the option of either begging their friends for tens of thousands of dollars, or accepting that they have to die without receiving treatment.

In a free market healthcare system, unregulated health insurance companies would be financially rewarded for not accepting sick customers, and punished if they did accept them. Healthcare companies reap profits every month when their customers are healthy, and lose money when their customers are sick. This means that a healthcare company that’s looking to profit will refuse applications from customers who are already sick — in other words, patients with “pre-existing conditions” — exactly the people who need healthcare the most.


Let’s not forget the pharmaceutical industry, which is a whole other can of worms. The United States is the only developed country in the world that allows drug companies to set their own prices, which is why last year Turing Pharmaceuticals was able to jack up the price of Daraprim from $13.50 a tablet to $750. Unlike other countries, where prices are set as part of a bureaucratic process, the US system opens the door for these companies to step in and maximize profits, as if a lifesaving drug was comparable to a pair of jeans.

But healthcare shouldn’t be about profit. It deserves the same priority in our society that we give to the police, the military, and the fire department, because healthcare isn’t like buying a flat screen TV: people don’t want healthcare services for their enjoyment, they need them, and a person should not be thrown into bankruptcy because on one unlucky day an icicle dropped onto them from a rooftop.

Ideally, the entire purpose of government in the type of democratic society that we have today is to serve the needs of the people. As a healthcare worker, I can’t possibly see how this principle doesn’t apply to health. I’ve been there when people died, seen people suffer when they shouldn’t have had to, all while corporations mark down record profits from the suffering of human beings. So yes, I do believe that “healthcare is a right, not a privilege,” and I’m not alone. The evidence shows that the various universal healthcare systems that exist in every other developed country are both less expensive and more effective than what we have in the United States.

Again, this shouldn’t be a political battle. It’s an issue of basic human rights. So when will we get with the program? Hopefully soon.
Nicholas Conley - Pale Highway

Favorite 12 Posts of 2015

It’s crazy to realize that I’ve been writing blogs for Writings, Readings, and Coffee Addictions for a few years now, and to look back on how much has changed in that time. Every year is a new adventure, a new saga of highs and lows, and 2015 was the biggest year yet.

Last year saw not only the release of Pale Highway, my proudest achievement to date, but also publications on Vox,, SFFWorld, and more. This blog gained more followers in the second half of 2015 than it did in all of the preceding years combined. Of course, I also wrote quite a few blog posts, and in order to look back on the last year, I’d like to look back on the ones that meant the most to me.

I originally meant to make this a top ten list, but why limit oneself to artificial rules? After straining to narrow them down, I decided to settle on twelve instead.


12. Why Superheroes Matter

To start with, a disclaimer: the only reason that this doesn’t rank higher is that I actually wrote it toward the end of 2014, not 2015 as I originally thought. Still, I wanted to give it an honorable mention.

Why? Because this is one of the most personal blogs I’ve ever written. It’s not just an analysis of why superheroes have become such a huge part of popular culture, but also a personal tale of the impact that characters like Spider-Man had on my childhood, and how they helped me to become who I am today.


Nicholas Conley – Morocco – Sahara

11. Morocco

Travelogues are challenging to write, because it’s such a struggle to isolate the moments that most define these experiences, to pinpoint what one takes away from a new culture. Going to Morocco last winter, experiencing the Sahara Desert on camelback, was a mind blowing experience that I won’t ever forget.


10. Echoes of Leaving

The single most defining moment of my post-high school young adulthood was when I first hit the road, exploring the country on my own terms, going from state to state on a daily basis. Echoes of Leaving, a blog post named after one of my first flash fiction publications, is a nostalgic look back at a time that truly defined so much of the rest of my life.


9. Pharmaceutical Nightmare

Now, onto a blog that tackled a recent news story. The one good thing about recent Turing Pharmaceuticals controversy was that it raised awareness about a very real problem facing the United States, where drug companies can exploit the sick to reap huge profits. It’s something that we need to keep talking about until real change happens.


8. Five Things More Important than the Color of a Starbucks Coffee Cup

Seriously. Stemming from what was undoubtedly the most ridiculous “controversy” of the last year, the best thing we can learn from the #StarbucksRedCup nonsense is that arguing for the sake of arguing does nothing to improve society, and that we have real concerns that we should work to find common ground on.


7. Cover Reveal: Pale Highway

After years of hints and suggestions, this was the moment where I finally got to spill the beans and show Pale Highway to the world for the first time. It was all new then, and I remember how my heart was pounding as I finally posted the cover image. It’s insane looking back, realizing how long ago this already feels!


6. Thank You, Lane

It’s amazing how much the simple kindness of a stranger can impact a person. Though I might never see Lane again, I can’t thank him enough for helping me out of a tough spot.


5. Hogewey: A Better Kind of Nursing Home

Working in Alzheimer’s care, one of the greatest tragedies that I’ve seen is the system itself, and how it doesn’t give proper attention to the individual. As I mentioned during my radio interview last week, Hogewey is a “dementia village” in the Netherlands, and it represents a potential beacon of hope for the future. Let’s hope that someday, there will be many more Hogeweys all over the world.


Nicholas Conley – Pale Highway


4. The Proof Has Arrived

Wow. Wow. That moment where Pale Highway came in the mailbox for the first time, that first experience holding it… there are few forms of happiness that are as deeply personal as seeing one’s dream realized in physical form, holding it, knowing that all of the work paid off.

Alzheimer's - Vox - Nicholas Conley

Alzheimer’s – Vox – Nicholas Conley

3. I’m on Vox!

Okay, so this is really more of a tribute to the Vox essay than it is to my blog post that links to it. But the reason I’m listing it here is that this was really the first time I ever publicly wrote about my experience with Alzheimer’s patients, and the outpouring of responses I received was truly transformative, as I got my first true look at how so many, many people connect to this issue. This is one of the pieces I’m most proud of in my writing career so far, and I hope that I’ve done my small part to raise awareness about the reality of Alzheimer’s disease.


2. Top Five Coffee Moments  

Okay, so I have to admit, while this post was fun to write, the real reason that it’s here is because of you. And by that, I mean everyone who replied to the prompt. While it was enjoyable to think back on my top five Coffee Moments , it was an absolute blast reading all of the Coffee Moments that you guys came up with.

Cheers, all!


Pale Highway – Nicholas Conley


1. Release Day: Pale Highway

Of course, you knew this had to be number one. Out of everything that occurred over the course of 2015, this was the achievement I was most proud of. I’ll just finish this off with a quote from the blog itself, as the Nicholas of that day can explain the feeling better than I can:

What I’m feeling right now is so surreal that I can’t quite put my finger on the right word to describe it. I wrote Pale Highway because I believe that people with Alzheimer’s—people who suffer from a neurodegenerative disease that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed down—deserve recognition. It’s crazy to look back on that first day I began typing this story, or the first day that I set foot in a nursing home and met the many residents who lived there, amazing human beings would have such an unexpected impact on my life. Pale Highway is a book inspired by my connection with these courageous people, conceived during my experiences in healthcare, and finally born here, now, today, in the form of this book that I’ve spent the last few years pouring my heart into. And so now, here it is, and I hope you all enjoy the read.
Admittedly, now that we’re in April, 2016 isn’t quite a “new year” anymore. But still, happy new year to all of you, and I hope to continue seeing all of your icons and text for years to come!






The Freedom of a Person with Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is still the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Current estimates state that Alzheimer’s costs the United States about $172 billion a year. Even more shocking, only 45% of Medicare patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are informed of their diagnosis, according to medical records and Medicare surveys. The reason? Because too many people believe that telling a person that they have an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is sentencing them to “a fate worse than death.”

This disregards the fact that people with Alzheimer’s are still people, first and foremost. Having worked with so many of them, I can attest to the fact that people with Alzheimer’s experience the same complicated range of emotions that those without Alzheimer’s experience: love, happiness, pain, anger, relief, and sadness. They think, they feel, they have opinions. Treating these people as less than human, calling their condition “a fate worse than death,” is an abhorrent insult to the real life struggle that people with Alzheimer’s have to endure every day.


Furthermore, not informing people of their Alzheimer’s diagnosis violates the most basic freedom that all human beings are born with: the ability to make decisions for oneself. A person who isn’t told that they’ve been diagnosed Alzheimer’s will still feel the symptoms, still notice the memory loss. Perhaps most importantly, one will be robbed of the necessary time to make plans for oneself, to plot out the direction that one’s life will take when the Alzheimer’s begins to set in more deeply, at which point communication becomes more difficult.

A person with Alzheimer’s deserves the same rights as anyone else. We should never forget that.


More Alzheimer’s Reading:

Vox: I thought I could fix my Alzheimer’s patients. I learned to help them instead. Why I Wrote a Novel about Alzheimer’s

Headstuff: 10 Surprising Facts about Alzheimer’s

Big Al’s Books & Pals: Guest Post

New Alzheimer’s Article on HeadStuff

I’ve written a new article about Alzheimer’s, this time for the Brain/Body section of  Whereas my last piece was a personal essay, this one is a technical analysis of what Alzheimer’s is, what Alzheimer’s does, and where it comes from.  Check it out below:

HeadStuff.Org: 10 Surprising Facts About Alzheimer’s


Enjoy the read!

Plenty of news coming up in the near future, as Pale Highway‘s \release is now only a few short days away! Hard to believe that it’s almost here after all this time. In any case, I’ll see you all on Tuesday, as Gabriel Schist meets the world.

Have a great weekend!

Pharmaceutical Nightmare

Beware for the rant ahead:

At this point, most of us have heard about the Daraprim controversy, but for those who haven’t, Daraprim (pyrimethamine) is a 62-year-old drug that is used as the treatment for a life-threatening infection called Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is especially dangerous to people with compromised immune systems, such as chemo or AIDS patients, and also helps to prevent malaria.

Then Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, bought the exclusive rights to Daraprim – and immediately jacked up the cost from $13.50 per pill to $750, overnight. This changed the treatment plan from $1,130 to a crippling $63,000, leaving long term patients such as those with HIV crushed beneath an annual total of $634,000.  Shkreli’s less than charming response was this: “There’s this expectation that drug companies should act differently from other companies, because you have to buy their products. That notion needs to disappear.”  Examination of his Twitter feed — now private — revealed a luxurious lifestyle most people couldn’t dream of.

Angry yet?


Well, so were many others. Obviously, the disgusting greed of this CEO’s decision speaks for itself. Yes, people DO view drug companies differently, and we have every right to.  We should view them differently. A company selling luxury furniture has every right in the world to charge whatever it wants, because its success is then dependent upon consumer choice: will the customer buy our beautiful leather armchair, or will he/she choose a cheaper/better/alternative model?  Same thing with candy bars, cars, silverware, and clothing. It’s a free market.

With drugs, this isn’t the case.  When a person’s very life is dependent upon a certain chemical combination that one company holds the rights to, when that person has no choice but to pay $634,000 a year — or die, if for some strange reason they don’t have billions of dollars tucked beneath their mattress — then we have a big problem, and it’s not going to go away unless people speak up about it.

Luckily, that’s exactly what’s happened. Since this hit the news, the massive outrage that has blasted out across social media has made it clear exactly how people feel about this kind of greed.  All over the internet, Turing Pharmaceuticals’s name has been dragged through the mud.

But now, there is some good news.


The good news is that on Tuesday night, Shkreli came back with his tail between his legs. The outrage has caused Shrekli to announce that the price will be “lowered.” What he didn’t specify was how much they’ll lower it.

So now, that’s the first problem: until they announce how much they’re going to lower the drug’s price, there’s no guarantee that it’ll be anything affordable for the people who need it.  The second problem is this: how do we still have a system where such greedy profiteering in the health sector is even possible? 

The United States is the only developed country that allows drug makers to set their own prices.  Last year, Shkreli did exactly the same thing when he jacked up the price on a different drug, Thiola, from $1.50 to $30, bumping up the annual cost from $2,700 to $54,750. In 2011, Gilead Sciences more than doubled Sovaldi, a hepatitis C drug, to a cost of $84,000 for the 12-week treatment.  There are many more examples of this, if one goes digging.

What happened here with Daraprim isn’t something new: what is new is the media attention that this story has drawn to it, and that can only be a good thing.  The more outrage that this sparks in this country, the better chance that more attention can be paid to correcting this toxic system, and working together — on all sides of the debate, with all people — to fix problems like this, find better solutions, and build toward a better future.