Please allow me to go into full cranky old lady mode. I made a last minute decision to visit a job fair for a local retailer opening a new store in my area. I didn’t hear about the event until Friday, when I was already on my way to Fairfax to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday. The job fair would be on Saturday and Sunday. I crashed at my parents’ house Friday night and woke up groggy and feeling puffy. Not hungover, just the effects of staying out too late (for me, old lady) and driving too much the day before. I rushed down to my place to shower, put on makeup, re-write my cover letter, print my resume, and remove my chartreuse nail polish. I almost wore a suit, because I’ve been conditioned that interview=suit. I wore black dress pants and a sleeveless top with a high neckline. It was a good call.
The interviews were being held in a rented office space in a run down part of town. I arrived just before 12, because I was told that would be the least busy time. There were two waiting areas full of chairs, full of people. Even though there were multiple managers doing interviews, at least 30 people were waiting. I tried not to panic visibly, took my application and sat down to get to work.
People of all ages were waiting for interviews, but the majority were high school aged kids (more girls than guys). There was a decent showing of older ladies, likely retirees who wanted some additional income. I did not see any middle aged or older men.
Here’s where I was really glad I was not wearing a suit. There were a lot of people wearing flip flops, even with nicer outfits. There were a lot of guys in jeans and giant sneakers. There were some girls in dresses that looked like what you’d buy at a department store to wear to church on Easter – full skirt, big colorful flower pattern, tiny little bolero sweater.
One kid had to ask his mom how to spell virtually every word. Toward the end of the day, a family walked in looking like they came straight off a circus train. The father had a ZZ Top long grey beard and a bandana. This was paired with shorts and socks pulled up high. The mom was more understated in typical weekend redneck attire. The son stood between them in his t-shirt and jeans while the father asked the check-in lady questions. They left without applying. I think it was this group that finally ruffled the check-in lady, but she waited until they’d left before she allowed the alarm to show on her face.
If it were up to me, I would immediately tell those kids in jeans and sneakers to leave. I guess they can’t do that for discrimination reasons? Maybe no one cares because it is just retail? But if you are going to run a store where you want the employees to look put together and clean for customers, why would you even think twice if they can’t pull it together for a 15 minute interview?
Do kids not learn this stuff? It would make sense that they wouldn’t learn it in high school. Which class would even teach those skills? It’s not on any standardized test. It just seems like someone needs to explain some interview tips to teenagers.
When I got laid off on August 3, I was told my health insurance would continue through the end of that month. I received COBRA paperwork in the mail and signed up right away. The COBRA bill came in soon after and I paid it online: $744.75 to continue my health and dental insurance for the month of September. This amount is roughly 75% of my after-tax unemployment insurance payments. I have a pre-existing condition (like 50% of the U.S. population) which means I have to have insurance coverage. Aside from the obvious reasons for having health insurance (that is, getting medical care and prescription medication), the pre-existing condition means I must not have a break in my insurance coverage, or future insurance policies (even those obtained through an employer) could subject me to the pre-existing condition exclusion. This means the insurance company would accept my premiums, but would not cover anything related to any pre-existing condition that was treated in the six months prior. They are allowed to do this for up to a full year. (citation)
This is the reason I am choosing to pay for COBRA to continue my health insurance coverage, even though it technically means I’ll be charging all my other expenses until I find a new job. I’m already giving up my house, but I will have to pay all the utilities, food, and any other necessities. I am willing to go into a relatively small amount of debt because the consequences of not having health coverage of my pre-existing condition for up to a year would be catastrophic to my health and increase my debt to astronomical costs. A single hospitalization could be tens of thousands of dollars. Even if I end up on COBRA for the max of 18 months, I would only pay $13,410. When stated that way it is basically a bargain. Even though it feels like I’m being asked to make a bargain with the devil.
Eleven years ago I was in my off-campus apartment in Harrisonburg, VA, getting ready for an early class. I always had early classes and I always watched the news while I got ready. I saw all the footage of the terrorist attacks live. There was no news about classes being cancelled, so I went. I’m pretty sure it was a theater class; I was going to minor in theater or costume design. We all just sat around, talking about what was going on.
Seven years ago today I was in the hospital, preparing to go in to emergency surgery with the understanding that I only had an hour to live. I’d already had a long history of seeing doctors out of town, but I was working in Northern Virginia and it didn’t make sense to drive all the way to Richmond for appointments. I found a local doctor that I liked a lot and I thought I was very lucky. Then I got sick. So sick that, while waiting in an exam room, a nurse told me I needed to keep quiet because I was scaring other patients. I tried to explain I was in so much pain, rationalizing that she wouldn’t tell a woman in labor to quiet down. The nurse nastily told me if I was in “that much pain” I should go to the ER.
I eventually saw the doctor and he had me admitted directly to the hospital, where I stayed for eleven days. Even seven years ago, eleven days was a long time to stay in the hospital. I didn’t really even have a diagnosis. They were fairly sure it was some reproductive issue, cancer probably. They could feel a mass when they did pelvic exams, which they did at every opportunity, it seemed.
I was relieved that it was cancer. Cancer was easier to explain, more socially acceptable, and had more support. Cancer also had an end point. After a certain number of years, you either were declared cured, or you were dead. Crohn’s disease was the opposite of all that and even seven years ago, at age 24, I was very tired of living that life.
A doctor came in on the morning of September 11, 2005. It was not my doctor. This was Sunday, so I got the on call doctor. He told me my white cell count was too high. I forget the number, but it was almost impossibly high, especially with all the antibiotics and other drugs they’d had me on for eleven days. They thought the mass has exploded inside me. They were going to rush me into surgery.
No, I can’t have surgery here, I said. I needed to go to Richmond, to see my surgeon, the doctor who had performed all my other abdominal surgeries.
The on call doctor told me that I wouldn’t make it to Richmond in time.
Richmond is an hour away by car.
I had an hour to live.
The on call doctor left the room to get everything ready. My mom and I were alone in my room. I figured they would be back to take me to surgery soon. Mom immediately called my dad. Then she called the Catholic church we belonged to and asked them to send the pastor over. I called my best friend, but got her voice mail. I didn’t leave a message. I didn’t want to leave her that message.
Time passed. More than an hour. I wasn’t dead, but I also had not seen one hospital employee in that time. When someone did show up, it was to put me on an ambulance for transport to Richmond. There was never any explanation. Mom was not allowed to ride in the ambulance with me, which I never understood. My parents drove down together. The ambulance got lost. Because I was strapped down, and facing backward, and on a ton of painkillers I could not navigate as well as I wanted. The time is fuzzy, but I know it took us over two hours, possibly even three. My parents were in my room by the time I got there. They, of course, were incredibly worried.
It was very late by the time I got to the hospital and the nurses got everything set up. They put me on the women’s specialty unit, which is where ladies go for hysterectomies and similar procedures. The unit was new, and set up to look like a hotel room. The nurses were amazing. The doctor came in and said I didn’t have reproductive cancer. At all. It was just my Crohn’s disease. He also told me I was on an incredibly high dose of painkillers and that he was going to correct that. I was really scared because I was still in a lot of pain, even on the high dose.
I did end up having surgery. I ended up having complications from that surgery. And I ended up spending three solid months in that second hospital and then at least one shorter trip back in the following month. It wasn’t easy. It’s still not easy. That wasn’t my first surgery and I don’t believe it will be my last.
I’m still alive. Every bad thing that happens (as a natural pessimistic, it’s a long list) is still better than honestly believing I had an hour to live. Every sucky day is the opportunity to try again for a better day in the future. Things change, but I’m still alive. That hasn’t changed.
9/11 is a weird day for me. I’m normally very happy, because I’m grateful to be alive in a way that really hits home. It is weird to feel happy on a day that is so somber for our nation. It’s a day to remember those who were lost. For me it’s a reminder that I’m lucky to be alive.