In 2011, I had a career I loved. I had a Master’s Degree and more than a decade of experience in my field. I had great health insurance through my husband’s company. I had a spouse with a solid career, a preschooler and a kindergartner. We owned a house in a community we loved, with a mortgage my husband and I could comfortably pay on our two incomes. We had months of living expenses saved, just like we were taught.
In 2011, I had routine surgery.
It didn’t go so well.
In 2011, I had “complications”, a euphemistic name for nerve damage, organ damage and a new need for medical devices to stay alive and healthy. I still have them now.
In late 2011, I tried to go back to work.
That didn’t go so well either.
I told myself to try harder, push more. I told myself to believe in mind over matter.
I collapsed on a patient.
I sat down and couldn’t get back up.
I went to yoga and left in an ambulance.
When your body truly fails you, it doesn’t happen because you are lazy or because you’re not trying hard enough. It happens because you are in the middle of a medical emergency, and sometimes, that emergency doesn’t have a perfect ending.
It would be nice if I could trade my iPhone for my career.
By late 2012, I had no career. I had a Master’s Degree and more than a decade of experience that got me nowhere, since I couldn’t function well enough to work, no matter how hard I tried. (And believe me, I tried.) I was one of the lucky ones. I had a funny, compassionate spouse with a solid career and a first and second-grader in a school with wonderful teachers. We had a house in a community we loved. But we had one income, a mortgage we couldn’t afford anymore, and thousands of dollars of medical bills, leftover despite our “great” insurance.
In the USA, something like 18-20% of bankruptcies are directly due to medical bills. Another 35-40% are medically related.
As in, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t work, couldn’t function at a “normal level” because of my health.
Do you have any idea how frustrating that still is, in 2017?
Do you know how laughable three months of emergency savings becomes, when it takes a year of medical trial and error to realize that your career isn’t your future anymore?
When I say that I was one of the lucky ones, believe me. We had family help in our worst moments. They helped keep us from losing our house, and sometimes kept me from losing my sense of myself. Along with their help and my (no longer existent) retirement fund, we still have a house in a community we love. I have a 5th and 6th grader who go to local schools with wonderful teachers. I have a funny, supportive spouse with a solid career and great health insurance.
Still, it would have been nice to trade my iPhone for my house.
My point is this—Through a combination of hard work, education, circumstance and luck, we did everything right. We were upper middle-class. We followed all the rules about how to be economically savvy, so that we could ride out any emergency.
It wasn’t enough.
I still look back at 2011-2012 as the most traumatic time in my life. I was scared, injured, in pain, devastated over the loss of a career I loved and terrified of losing my home and my community. We only made it through with help. A lot of help.
Emergencies are the ones you never see coming, and they don’t follow your rules. And giving up an iPhone won’t change a thing.