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A Healthy Salary

This past week I became horribly ill all of a sudden with no warnings or reason whatsoever. Against my own better judgment I got my shift covered last Thursday and I stayed home in bed. I thought to myself "This isn't so bad. I'll take one day off, go back on Friday, have two days off to get better, and be right as rain by Monday." I wish that had been the case.

Where I am employed as the boss, our work weeks begin on Thursdays and end on Wednesdays due to the payroll system. When I took Thursday off and went in to work anyway on Friday, I never dreamed that I wouldn't be well by Monday. I'm hardly ever sick at all, and to be sick longer than three days for me is nearly unheard of. That has a lot to do with my excellent attendance record at nearly every job I've had since I was 16 years old - with the exception of leaving one job twice for a week each time to attend funerals when I was 24 years old.

At one time I worked an average of 60 hours a week as a salaried employee. I didn't mind the hours really - it was a labor of love. Besides, I had nothing else to do except write in my blog, play with the cats and sleep 5 hours a night if I was lucky. Others thought I was leading by example, showing others that I would work every bit as hard as they did to make sure the job got done. I was always 'hands on' and even when I had my wrist in a brace I could be found moving very solid, very heavy metal furniture with my employees. Finally I was told after one particularly grueling week of being at work by 4 in the morning, that I needed to stop working so much. I felt like I was cheating the system over the next several days when I actually left at the time I was scheduled to be off. For the next several weeks, though I claimed to only be working 40 hours a week on the hourly sheets, I actually averaged about 50 - still less than I had been working. Still, I'm a salaried employee, so even if I stated that I worked more than 40 hours in a week it wouldn't make any difference. Besides, it is common knowledge I put in more than the required time.

I got sick a week ago yesterday, on September 21st with a nasty cough. The cough got a bit worse the following day, but my throat wasn't hurting so severely anymore and my voice had returned. I saw it as a sign that whatever bug I had come across would be gone by the 23rd. I woke up on the 23rd I was worse than ever. I called someone in to cover my shift, though I nearly forced myself to head in to work anyway. I knew there was just no way I could make that hour drive to work and stay for an entire 8 hour shift. I had even told everyone that if I was feeling better, I would be in to relieve whomever took my shift and let them go home early. Unfortunately that didn't happen.

By the time Friday rolled around I was feeling slightly better. I struggled to get up, wet my hair into place, and crawled into my work clothes. The drive to work was grueling, but I made it anyway.

As I walked down the hall towards my office, one of my Employees saw me and stated "Wow, are you OK?"

"I'm here, that's a start," I replied. Then, realizing I still had my sun glasses on, I took them off. They're an unusually large pair of sun glasses. My mother once said they looked like Dialysis glasses they were so big. As I slid them off over my nose, the same employee gasped. I figured I must look rather pale. In reality my face looked hollow and sunken in I discovered as I walked into the office and took a look into the mirror there. I looked like the walking dead. My voice was croaky and shallow. A good friend of mine told me I sounded like the dead. My employees told me that I should go home, and some even volunteered to work my shift for me. I refused. I decided that I was better than I had been the day before, and I could stick it out.

It was possibly the worst mistake I've made this year.

By the end of the night I was so bad that I wouldn't tell anyone I nearly passed out. Instead I stumbled to my car in delirium and somehow managed to drive home. I briefly remember opening my eyes and realizing that I was laying on the street beside my car with the car door wide open, my foot still in the floor boards. I had managed to pull up in front of my apartment I remember, and I had even parked properly and set the e-brake. How I ended up in the street like that I may never know.

Saturday and Sunday were spent in complete misery. I was far worse than I was willing to tell anyone. I've never been sick while on my own before. There was always a roommate or someone to help take care of me. I had to face it on my own this time, and with less than $3 in the bank to get me by until my next paycheck in October, there wasn't much hope for it other than to wait it out on the couch or in the bed. Surely, I thought to myself, I will be just fine by Monday.

I missed the Open Enrollment day at work for health insurance, so I had and have none. I also don't have dental, life, vision or any other kind of insurance my company offers because I missed the date by one day. Rules are rules, they're in place for a reason. I've always been a firm believer of that myself. It was my own fault I missed the date. I can't blame it on anyone but me, no matter what my work load was like at the time.

I currently live pay check to pay check, as do more than 70% of Americans in the US today. Though for the majority of citizens, they live check to check so they can drive a BMW or a Mercedes. I live check to check so I can eat and have a place to live. I've stated myself before that the rich don't stay rich by spending what they have, but the poor do because of that precise action.

No matter how hungry I am, I find that if I'm always just a little bit hungry I'm more alert. Living alone as a single female for the first time in my entire life, I've learned to stay alert. Often that means going to bed hungry. I'm faster to wake up, less lethargic in the mornings, and constantly ready to go in the event of an earthquake or home invasion. Being a little hungry not only helps me to stay alert though, it also aids in my denial of self-pity. The truth of the matter is, while I tell that previous story to myself in order to make myself feel better about it, slowly but surely, little by little, I'm starving myself because I don't have the money to eat sometimes. Other times I over eat because I've not had a filling meal in weeks.

In today's age, the fact that I'm a "boss" with 12 employees working under me and earning a salary that equals what a teacher made back when I was in High School and I'm barely able to survive is ridiculous. But the worst part is that I have two more mouths to feed who depend on me very much to survive. When I am at my weakest moment, when I have nothing left to give, Oliver and Sprite get the last bite within my home. Some people see that as stupid and ridiculous in its own - but when a mother starves so that her child may eat, that's noble and self-sacrificing. Let people (a.k.a. my parents) pass judgment all they want on this action. I don't care to be seen as noble and self-sacrificing. It doesn't matter to me. I made a commitment to these two pets to always take care of them, and I can't let them down. Who else will feed them if I can't? Some would argue that since they're animals they have the survival instinct - throw them out and they'll make it on their own. To them I argue back that these are domesticated animals who have been fed their entire lives, since birth. Try taking a Panda born in captivity and hand fed its whole life and throw it out into the jungle. What do YOU think would happen?

By Monday I was no better than I had been Friday night. Standing up was a chore, and yet I drug myself out to the car and once more drove all the way back to work. I stumbled down the hall toward the office and slumped into my chair once inside. I felt worse than I could ever remember, and my cough had developed a deep rattle to it. I began to spit up blood sometime between Friday and Monday, and that hadn't stopped yet either. In fact, it had gotten worse. My complexion was pale and gray. People around me urged me to go to the doctors, but when I'm living hand to mouth the way I have been for over a year now, a doctors bill is something to FEAR with no insurance. I refused to go. I got worse and worse. Finally, in spite of everything, I left early and went home. I couldn't take it anymore. I knew I wouldn't get paid for those hours, but the more I rested, the more likely it would be that I would be well by the following day.

That's right - you read that right. I don't get paid for 40 hours if I'm not at work for 40 hours, no matter what kind of time I've put in previously. After my many weeks of 50 and 60 hours on average, they held no sway on my being ill. What made it worse was that I ended up having to get the next day covered as well. I could barely move by the time I got home on Monday.

I looked into the mirror and didn't know myself. My eyes were hollow, lifeless, dull spots in my face, dark as coal and surrounded by more luggage than Southwest Airlines baggage claim. My cheek bones protruded more than I had ever seen them before, the gray and ashen color to my face accentuating them into the look of a rotting corpse. My lips were pale and chapped, splitting and bleeding with every little move. I looked like death itself. I looked like I was inches away from that first handful of dirt being dropped on my coffin. I needed to go to the doctor.

I was scared to the point of tears. Hot, salty, feverish tears stung my cracked and bleeding lips as I thought about having to go. It wasn't the doctor I feared. It wasn't needles or shots or medicines that scared me. Here I posted the other day about being afraid of having people forget I ever existed - I got a harsh lesson just after writing that. There was something else I feared even more.

I would either end up being hospitalized with thousands upon thousands of doctors bills wracked up, once more destroying my credit the way it did when I was 20 years old and had a cyst, or I would go to the doctors and pay hundreds upon hundreds to get well and not be able to pay my rent.

Though the one sounded less evil than the other, please keep in mind that I wasn't well and therefore wasn't thinking clearly at the moment. All I kept saying to myself was that I couldn't go to the doctor because I wouldn't have a home. If I can't pay my rent, I won't have a place to go back to. I would end up living with two cats in a two-seater convertible in over 100 degree weather. That just wasn't an option.

I have no more sick days at work. My paycheck will already be short by two and a half days out of a total of 5, and that will be on the check that goes towards my rent on November 1st. I've also spent the rent money due on Friday, on going to the Doctors.

Diagnosis - PNEUMONIA.

The fact that I'm working this hard and trying my absolute best to do everything I can for my company and for the place in which I work seems to hold little to no sway with doctors. They could care less about how hard a person works or what kind of money they earn, as long as they get their share from you in the end. According to the State of California, I make 'too much money' to qualify for any free services, including free clinics or medications.

I couldn't afford to have yet ANOTHER day away from work, shorting myself on even more funds that I will be desperately needing. I went to the doctor yesterday, and today I went to work like I'm fine, though it's obvious I'm not. I'm still coughing, though it's not blood anymore. I'm still sick, though it's not contagious. I have a headache and my eyes are sunken in still, but not like they were. Makeup can cover most of that. I have medications now that I can't afford to pay for. I'm still sore and I'm hurting, but in the end, what difference is there between sitting at home like this and sitting at work in the same condition?

I'll tell you the difference there. My office at work is Air Conditioned. My home, my car, nothing else of mine has air. I suffered through this entire California summer (thank goodness it's been a mild one up until recently) without air of any kind in 90 and 100 degree temperatures, in a small apartment on the up stairs level with a black roof and only one window with no air conditioner. This entire time I've been at home sick, the cats have been sluggish, barely moving and shuffling from the coolest spot on the floor to the next, when their body heats it up too much. They pant, they drink more water than I've ever seen them drink, and they refuse to move.

If only for the air, I'm glad to have been back to work today. I can't wait for the fall weather to come. I feel bad for the cats.


  1. I hope you get better real soon. Pneumonia is nothing to mess around with. You should make sure you don't miss the sign up deadline for your company plan next time it comes around though I'm sure after this experience you won't.

    You certainly have been going through some trying times. I really admire you, you're tough as nails. Please get as much rest as you possibly can.

    I just wanted to add one other thing regarding your last post. You'll never be forgotten. From reading your "stories" I can be fairly certain that you make a lasting impression with people and I mean that in a positive way.

  2. I have been a contractor in the IT field for years. Though on paper I make good money, my contracts rarely offer any kind of health insurance, and limitedly unemployment. Getting sick is NOT an option. We are the working poor. Although the non working poor are entitled to more benefits than ourselves, who bust our butts making an honest living. I wish I knew how to correct this, because it really seems that is going to get worse far sooner than it ever gets better...JL OHIO

  3. Chazz, you are a good guy. Thanks for that. If people don't forget me, it will be thanks to people like you and your Redhead site.

    Hello Jon in Ohio!
    It's true that while we work our lives away and remain poor, many others mooch off of the government and abuse the system. Yet - what we're left with in the end is far more than the 'moochers' will ever get. We get the pride of knowing we earned every penny and then some.

    I doubt there is an easy fix for the health issues that plague the country. I'm not convinced we're even on the right road to start on the path to an eventual fix. One of the major issues we face is the failure of the health care system. Were I to walk into an emergency room and check one little box that says "Not a US Citizen", I would get free health care. However, if I were to walk in as myself, a full time job and loyal tax payer, I would have to pay thousands of dollars.

    Jon in Ohio -I'm painfully curious - how did you find my blog??


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