It’s Thanksgiving Week. I’ll try to ignore the seemingly intractable violence in the Middle East, Cranky Old Man McCain who thinks an under secretary of state should be releasing raw intel on Al Qaeda on Meet the Press or face a Watergate style tea bagger inquisition, and some AS symptoms that are making idle TV watching and world-changing blogging difficult even though they are tangentially related to my plight, not to mention the many, many issues more important than me and my day job such as it is.
In one year and one month and a week and three days, there will be healthcare for all. Until that day I can’t seriously think about going freelance. Just getting another job and waiting out the three months until I qualify for healthcare benefits, plus the month or two it takes for it to get set up, get in front of docs, and get my medicine is a risk. I have a serious chronic health condition that virtually disappears when treated but returns and rules my every waking moment when it’s not.
I have Ankylosing Spondylitis, or AS. It’s an autoimmune disorder that comes in varying severity. I’ll spare you the details, short version is it started out as an occasional ache and pain years ago. Today, if left untreated, it would mean extreme pain from L5 to C1, all through my ribs and sternum, along with loss of vision to the point that I can’t drive, safely anyway, and can barely read. The eye thing is called iritis and it really, really hurts. Chronic iritis has resulting in permanent damage to both eyes. I’m suffering a flare up in the right eye right now because I spent the last few months trying a routine that would or could have minimized the symptoms.
Just a few years ago I had savings and a future; a sweet six figure retirement account, thousands of disposable dollars in my checking account alone, a reliable car paid for, no mortgage, zero debt, plus a modest but steady monthly income from various sources including free-lance writing that covered basic bills. Best of all I had my health and a publisher sold on a book, I had just gotten the first advance padding my day-to-day expense account even more. For good or bad I have no kids. In short life was pretty good.
Today my retirement is still reasonably intact, assuming Social Security and Medicare still exist and if I live until 2027, and I don’t have any kids, but the rest is all gone. There are many reasons for this, but the two biggest factors are Bush’s recession and my health. The recession took out the publisher, boom, belly up, chapter 11. It also chastened other publishers, so that idea is dead at least for now, and the market for dead tree books may never recover. The recession also scuttled other free-lance jobs, I used to make OK money whenever I needed it knocking out science articles either under my pen name or helping other authors with theirs. A couple of burgeoning online things crashed and burned, it basically put everything on hold from 2009 to the present.
Then in late 2009 I started having AS flare ups much worse than I’ve ever had. Bad enough that, left untreated, I’d be in that hazy region between paid disability once every month or two and able to work most of the time — a state most employers would rate as unemployable. That treatment is a med called Humira. Without health insurance Humira would cost me about $1500/month. Without health insurance and with no disposable income, just seeing a rheumatologist once every quarter to get the steroids and painkillers that keep it at bay is problematic. Hell, most rheumies in my neck of the woods won’t even see an AS patient without insurance, there’s too many cross discipline symptoms, they say they can’t shoulder the risk.
So in 2010 I took a low paying, 11 dollars an hour entry-level deal with a company that did provide great benefits. There’s a huge profit-sharing bonus each year and they pay %100 or my healthcare premiums. At the time I took it people were being moved up fast in that company and in my department. Twenty something kids were being promoted after a year or two to team leaders, then to higher positions paying about 50k a year. It was technical and specialized, I had to learn a lot and the learning curse was steep. But I was able to keep up and soon began to excel. Within a year I had already qualified for the first major promotion and my AS was totally controlled. But that job paid so poorly I regularly went into savings for all the things it didn’t cover, car repairs, birthday and holiday gifts, what passes for a social life these days.
Then about a year ago all the raises stopped — including by the way the one I was qualifying for, going from level one to level two to level three used to pay an extra 2 bucks an hour on each promotion … they were changed to 40 cents an hour — a round of lay offs came and went even though we were profitable as hell and serially understaffed. Everyone was basically frozen where they stood. I was frozen as a level two tech at 12 dollars an hour. Shortly afterward a round of unplanned routine expenses hit costing me two or three grand …. and I remember it like it was yesterday: when it was over I discovered to my horror that my checking/savings account were almost depleted and there was nothing on the horizon to fill them back up.
Today I live on, or more accurately I struggle, from shitty paycheck to shitty paycheck and it is a miserable fucking life. I got paid a few days ago and there’s just under a hundred bucks left over after mid month bills and groceries to last until the end of the month. I’ll spend a chunk of that on copays for a rheumatologist appointment and lab work in a few hours.
Beginning last summer I realized this is serious and it’s not getting better. I started looking around and there weren’t many jobs I was qualified for. I’ve applied for everything you can imagine short of hooker. I’ve gotten a few scant offers, some jobs required moving a long distance, no relo package it was all on me, and they didn’t pay much more than I make now anyway. Others are closer and pay a bit more than my current slot, but so far not that much more, and I won’t qualify for company sponsored health insurance for that three month-plus-obstacles time period. The rest are all temp and contract.
Not many options left. So I started working out a lot, not just to lose weight and look/interview better, but because rigorous exercise is the only thing that really keeps AS from flaring up to unbearable levels And it worked to an extent, I lost thirty pounds and I’m getting back to my old buff self, and the AS symptoms simmered down almost immediately. They simmered down so much that I decided to see how I would do without Humira as a sort of test run for a job jump. Last month I got exposed to MRSA so it turned out to be a fortutious break.
I did pretty good, four months without Humira with out any serious problems I couldn’t handle. Then, about a month ago AS kicked back in with a vengeance. Enough that I’ll have to get back on it. So that’s where I’m at. When Obamacare kicks in I might have more options, but for the time being I have to weigh the benefits of a crappy low paying job that barely covers my most basic health and living expenses, or free-lance work or another job that risks everything. My guess is when the labor markets open up a bit, which is probably going to happen next year, I’ll be able to get a job that pays closer to a living wage. But I can tell you as a former exec at a Fortune 500 firm, no one is going to make and implement any major staffing decisions they don’t have to make and implement until after the first of the year.