‘A year after my husband’s death, I had a medical emergency that landed me in the hospital for six days. I now owe two different hospitals over $200,000.’
I am a mom. I have a grown daughter and an autistic son. I am widow, and an active member of my church and community. Until 2008, we were far from well off, but we were able to meet our basic necessities without accumulating insurmountable debt. My life in 2014 is very different.
In 2008, I was laid off from my job. My husband, Charly, was on disability at the time because of a back injury, so the loss of our only income was devastating to the family. We couldn’t afford our mortgage payments and lost our home to foreclosure.
I was determined to keep moving forward. We found a place we could afford to rent, and I went to school. After completing my associate’s degree, I transferred to the University of Washington in Tacoma in 2010 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in social work. I paid for tuition with a combination of student loans and federal grants. I was pursuing my dreams that I had put on hold for many years.
It wasn’t too long after I transferred to UW that Charly’s health began to decline. He lost more than 60 pounds in a few months. He had insurance through disability on Medicare, but we couldn’t afford the co-payments. Our medical debt accumulated, and our family doctor at St. Joseph Clinic in Tacoma, where we’d gone to for 20 years, informed us that due to non-payment, Charly could no longer be seen there.
Charly was terrified of acquiring more debt. We had enough of his prescriptions to last a couple months, so we put off going to the doctor. I regret this decision more than anything, but we felt we had no choice. In 2011 Charly’s pain became so severe that we rushed him to the ER. They found a tumor in his lower abdomen the size of a tennis ball that turned out to be metastasized, inoperable, pancreatic cancer. He passed away in the ICU just three weeks later.
I was devastated. I had lost the love of my life so suddenly. Unfortunately, Charly’s debt survived him. I receive endless bills and calls from collectors for the debt. The year after my husband’s death, I had a medical emergency that landed me in the hospital for six days. I now owe two different hospitals over $200,000. I have tried negotiating with the collectors, but they demand more money than I can afford. I get harassing, demeaning phone calls every day.
I should be paying $300 a month for my student loan bills, but I can’t afford that. I am drowning in debt with no way out. I can’t find a job without finishing my degree — but I am terrified of adding to the debt I have. I skip meals to make sure my son can eat. I ration my prescriptions. I cannot plan and I cannot save. That said, I am doing my best to stay optimistic.