The following is difficult to share, as I still have some "pride" intact. But I am writing this to let you know how quickly poverty can strike. Five years ago I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disorders run rampantly in both sides of my Swedish family. This one, though, took many months of tests, biopsies, and misdiagnoses to decipher.
Meanwhile, I was becoming sicker and sicker, with bouts of dizziness, fainting, overwhelming fatigue, and ongoing fever. The diagnosis, finally, was a gastrointestinal autoimmune disease. No cure, but somewhat managed by medications.
I have had many falls in the past five years because of the sudden dizziness and/or faintness that comes upon me with no warning. By 2006 I had broken a wrist and made a noticeable dent on my forehead by a face-forward fall out of the blue in a hotel hallway. It gets worse, but then way better, below the fold. So please follow me...
From 2005-2007, it was getting difficult to work, but I still did. I am a real estate transaction attorney (or I was, although I guess once an attorney, always an attorney.) I shouldn't have been working during those years, but I did, sometimes 12-14 hours a day, which of course made my condition worse. I'm a single mom and I had to put my two kids through college. So, I almost worked myself to death, literally.
In early January 2008 I made a trip to Panama on behalf of a client who had moved his construction business from California to Panama. On the fifth day, I stepped off a sidewalk to allow a group of teenagers to pass me, and off the sidewalk (in the dark) was a four foot deep concrete ditch. I crushed my left arm and my right ankle. I ended up in a Panama hospital for a month. There were so many caring and wonderful strangers, and the health care in Panama was outstanding. Another diary maybe some day. I don't think the autoimmune disease caused me to fall, but it sure has hindered my recovery.
After I got home, the doctors here wanted to do re-surgeries on the arm, shoulder, and ankle. Since the breaks were on both sides of my body, I couldn't move. So, I was placed in a nursing home for physical rehabilitation. Due to a staph infection I contracted in that awful place (another diary for sure on the incompetent care in nursing homes) I ended up being there for six months.
So that's the physical story. As for the meanwhile finances, a disaster. Despite insurance, I incurred over $150K expenses for tests, medications, and mostly the nursing home, which was not covered. After my substantial savings was depleted, I was finally declared disabled and got Medicare/Medicaid and SSDI.
I am unable to work. I can't drive due to the leg and arm injuries. I can hardly type, so this diary is a stretch with only one hand. I can't read books or newspapers because that requires use of both arms. (I listen to a lot of music.) I receive $760 per month on which to live (social security disability income.) This used to be my golf club dues. Or my entertainment budget. Or my car payment. (Car has been repossessed so I don't have to worry about that one any longer.)
The $760 per month is now my total income! So, how can I live happily being totally disabled and poor? Well, first of all, I know it sounds trite but I'm really grateful and happy to be alive. The work load I undertook before, with a serious incurable disease, was stupid and irresponsible. The total disability due to the Panama fall brought me abruptly to my senses that being alive was far more important than making money.
I have always been a charitable person. I gave a lot of my income away. I have worked at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and the Salvation Army. I have talked to and laughed with these unfortunate people. I really thought I "knew" them. I thought I empathized. Now I realized I couldn't have empathized. You can sympathize with anyone. But in order to truly empathize, you have to have experienced what they have.
I realize I still don't totally empathize, but I am closer to it. I am still living in my house, although it is being foreclosed on. I don't know where I will move, or HOW I will move. I still have food, but not the goodies in which I used to indulge. Food allowance is include in my SSDI, so I don't qualify for food stamps.
I have a wonderful caretaker, paid for by the state, for whom I am extremely grateful. She changes my IV twice a day, helps me with showers, cleans, does laundry, and makes my meals. I budget very carefully, and always manage to have enough food. I eat a lot of pasta, in every way possible. I have my caretaker buy only the fruits and vegetables that are on sale. I manage to sustain my chocolate ice cream fetish. I interviewed for a drastically reduced gas and electric bill, and I got it. My cable (TV, internet and phone) has been reduced to 50% due to my pleading. I no longer have a cell phone. I am on a disability waiver for my homeowners insurance. I couldn't pay my property taxes, which were due this month
I have been proactive in managing the finances of my disability, and I may even save my house. I am negotiating with HUD for a severely reduced mortgage. I am taking in a tenant on Jan. 1, which will help a lot. I think a lot of people who are permanently disabled, and/or homeless, don't know there are resources available to help them. Not enough, mind you, but some. Also, I think many are so sick or depressed, they just can't seek the help. I can relate. The antibiotics make me nauseated. The pain pills make me spacey. And the pain is debilitating. Some days I simply cannot move. On the good days, I am proactive.
I realize I was more materialistic than I thought. I have so much "stuff" that I never appreciated before. I am especially fond of any products like make-up, lotions, potions, and such. I know this because I find I have drawers full of them. Although they are "expired", they work just fine. I have plenty of shoes and clothes to last a lifetime, although I've lost a frightful amount of weight, so the clothes don't fit. Some of my impulse buys like paintings and artifacts are being sold on craig's list.
I find I can't be around negative or shallow people. I used to have lots of "friends" from work, neighborhood, golf, etc. A lot of these people are not in contact. Many people are afraid of illness, and even more, of poverty. I have a core group of "my people", five folks who don't judge me, are smart, agree with my politics, are fun, and who generally cheer me up when I'm in the pits.
I used to be pretty apolitical. I always voted Democratic, which was good since I grew up in a wing nut family. (Another diary to come and it is funny!) In the hospital in Panama the only TV channel in English was CNN. Same at the nursing home. By the time I got home I was craving me some Barack Obama politics. Who couldn't be excited by this election?
In September I heard some wing nut on TV bashing Daily Kos. So, I immediately went on here and felt completely at home. Still do. You folks have increased my political brainpower like you don't know. I found a very friendly, "real" community on DKos. You are a true source of comfort and wisdom, and I do appreciate every one of you. Well, almost all of you.
The only thing I had to offer for the campaign was a free long distance phone line. I got with "my people" and here at my house, we made over 2000 calls to Florida. They had been campaigning in CA, and I persuaded them to also go out of state since CA was already very blue. Well, you can imagine us jumping up and down on election night when Florida went blue. Actually, they were jumping. I was jumping, kinda, in my wheelchair.
So, yes, I'm happily poor. I'm almost childlike in my appreciation for little things. On the patio of the nursing home I grew fascinated watching the snails grow into their shells. Here, I am slowly learning Spanish from my caretaker, as we banter back and forth mostly with gestures and sign language. I savor e-mails from my kids. I eat more slowly and bless the food. I happily clip coupons. I'm a better listener. I laugh more heartily. I don't worry much.
This will be a good Christmas because my two kids are coming home. I have told them I have no money for gifts and they understand. Secretly, they will each get a gift. I found two empty photo albums, brand new. I'm putting baby pictures and their first locks of hair in there for both of them. They are now 24 and 21, so they will appreciate this, I think. I am splurging on a turkey with all the trimmings. So it will all be good.
With love, happy holidays to all my new DKos friends,
UPDATE: OK, I know we're not supposed to go: OMG I'm on the Rec List, but OMG I'm on the Rec List. This is only my second diary, posted at a weird time, so thanks to all. I love this community.