What a Sudden Health Crisis Taught Me About Life
Health crises come on unexpectedly. There is usually never an indication that your world is about to be tossed and turned until it is completely unrecognizable. That is what happened to me.
I was working in Alaska as a direct care provider for a little boy with cerebral palsy. I loved my job and my client, and I hoped to continue working with him and his family for as long as I was welcome in their home. I foresaw myself settled happily into the job well into his high school years, and was more than momentarily happy; I was content with life.
One icy Wednesday in January 2015, we returned from his weekly church activities and I was parked across the street from his house, removing his walker from my tiny car while his mother was getting him and his siblings out of her van. As I was maneuvering the walker, I slipped on the ice and fell straight on my back, trying to catch myself in the process but landing flat and hitting my head. I cried out to his mom and she rushed over to help me up. We agreed I should leave, and I limped home.
The next day it was evident something was wrong with my shoulder, so I called in and went to the doctor who diagnosed a sprain. She sent me to the physical therapist the next day. By the time I got to PT, I was having trouble walking and most of my joints were swollen. The therapist recommended I see my general practitioner, and scheduled follow-up appointments to continue treatment for my shoulder. By the third day after my fall, I could barely hobble to the car, and my husband took me to the doctor utilizing the wheelchairs they had available. In the span of three days, I went from working in a job I loved and thought I would be at for a substantial amount of time to bed-bound save trips to the doctor’s office desperately seeking a diagnosis and cure.
The doctors were stumped, but decided the fall and sprain had triggered an autoimmune reaction, and they diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis pending testing after a couple of weeks of near-daily visits. Following blood-work with a negative rheumatoid factor, my diagnosis was changed to psoriatic arthritis after three months of frequent visits.
Having been let go from my job for inability to perform duties, I was without income and without health insurance. I tried to apply for Medicaid, but I had savings that were above the amount of money you are allowed to possess to qualify. I wanted to apply for Obamacare, but it was no longer open enrollment and although I had a life-changing event, it was not a qualifying event of a new job, move, marriage, or anything else on their list. I was forced to continue to receive non-specialty care in a community healthcare setting with no insurance. I received steroids that allowed me to walk short distances again, but no more than that.
I am so fortunate that I had a supportive boyfriend (now-husband) who took on additional jobs to help overcome my job loss and an incredible grandmother who offered to send me back to school. Her generosity allowed me to get health insurance, specialty care, a more secure living situation, and a higher degree in the hopes of a better-paying and more physically suitable job.
My life changed permanently that snowy January evening and totally blindsided me in the process. It taught me so much about the fragility of our place in life, the flaws in our healthcare system, the importance of self-advocacy, and my ability to persevere and overcome in the face of substantial difficulty and the presence of shocking fear and uncertainty. It taught me to plan for the best, but always prepare for the worst, because you never know what life has in store for you right around the next bend.
Getty image by Tommaso79.