In A Nutshell

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Despite being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia about a decade ago, I was able to work and lead a "normal" life, until I became severely ill with MS type symptoms one month after being laid off in June 2009, which meant no health insurance to properly address the problem. I spent 3 days in the hospital but since they initially did not want to keep me (one doc said I may have MS, but was overruled), I did not qualify for the financial aid for hospital bills because they did not think I belonged there. I was misdiagnosed with Labyrintits and sent on my way. I was told it would go away in a few weeks, that was 3 years ago and I have had the symptoms of dizziness, balance problems, vertigo, and pain every day since then. I went to a local free health clinic until they told me they exhausted all their options and could not help me any longer. I cannot drive nor work outside the home and only walk briefly with the aid of a cane, but also can't get disability because I have no real diagnosis for these particular symptoms. These are the chronicles of my (so far) dead-end journey riddled with bodies of good intentions.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Which Circle?

My daughter once had to do a creative writing exercise about Dante's Inferno and create nine circles of hell. Ever since then, we both have assigned government organizations their own circles. The Department of Motor Vehicles has one, so do the Unemployment Office and of course the Department of Social Services.

Despite knowing a lot of how the DSS works (not a fact I am proud of), it's always the first avenue people and organizations recommend, like they are some kind of miracle worker or something. The experience you  have depends on whom you talk to (most seem to hate their jobs and workload and it shows), but the end result is the same. They can only abide by the guidelines.

In Virginia, in a nutshell the guidelines are this: You can only get medical insurance if you are pregnant or have children under 18, same with cash assistance. Of course they don't tell you upfront, you have to go through the 15 page application and the interview. I put them somewhere between circles 5 and 9. Then again, once in a while you get a good caseworker who shows compassion, but of course it all leads to the same. After all, they have to abide by the guidelines. I wonder what's the lower circle: Having to work there or having to apply?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Today’s Dr. Oz Topic: Are You One Paycheck Away From a Foodbank?

The other day it was on the TV show “60 Minutes,” today on Dr. Oz : A documentary on the new face of hunger in America. I speculate these shows are to show those who are not in that position that most people who do have to rely on food stamps and food banks are not lazy, nor are they illegal immigrants.

Nope, a lot of them are people like me—hard working individuals who downsized already until there is not much to take away and who have lost their jobs or who struggle with rising prices while wages stay stagnant. Also, they feature people who previously gave and donated, but now find themselves in a position to have to ask for charity. These shows also illustrate that it can happen to anyone, regardless of how much money they have now, or had before.

These shows evoke different emotions in me. I know I should not watch because the stories I hear are sad. Also, in the case of the ones who have it worse I feel guilty that I still have more. Then again, the ones who have more and rely on help make me wonder and debate if they should not have waited until they have less. Then I feel guilty for being judgmental.

But, there is also a strange kinship, like when they talk about the embarrassment it causes to use a foodstamp card or to walk into a food pantry. I still keep my foodstamp card face down when I take it out to swipe it, as if I am fooling anyone! The clerk knows. But, I figure the people behind me need not know. Even just a few weeks ago I would have never talked openly about having one. I suppose denial equals a semblance of dignity.

Anyway, at the end of the Dr. Oz show they gave a phone number for anyone who has trouble getting food. I haven’t called it so am not sure what services it links to, but here it is: 1-866-3HUNGRY

Beating a Dead Horse

Early this morning, and I do mean early, I received a call from Mayor Wayne from a local Salvation Army branch. This was a follow up on an experience I had when contacting the Salvation Army recently to ask for assistance. I was told I did not qualify because I was not pregnant nor had children under 18. (For more on that, see this prior blog entry.)

First of all, Mayor Wayne said they did not EVER tell this to people inquiring about assistance. I really did not know what to say to that because I am sure that is what they told me – unless I was having a big Fibro moment. He quizzed me about my situation and in the process he figured out they may have assumed I was asking for a homeless shelter and then he said that yes, their shelter only accepts pregnant women and children. Mhm.

He did explain that their services included food baskets, help with utility bills, and they could help me if I owned a house. Well, I told him I was waayyy beyond losing the house (had I known then …but I figured as a homeowner I certainly would not take up resources that should go to less fortunate people than myself). Also, since I lived in a hotel now helping with a utility shutoff notice would not work as my financial issues were not related to that.

Then came his inevitable questions I had answered before many times:

“Have you tried the Department of Social Services and applied for Medicaid?”

Out comes my answer that by now sounds like I simply rehearsed it:
“Yes, but Medicaid is only for pregnant women and children under 18. Same for cash programs.”

“And you can’t work?”

“Uhm, no, I can’t drive, walk, sit or stand for very long.”

“There are free health services, I can refer you.”

Good thing it’s not a video phone call as I roll my eyes and launch into the spiel how I already did that and they were unable to diagnose me because it’s beyond their limited resources. If I could simply walk into the Mayo clinic, like famous people do, believe me, I would do it. Alas, I keep that last thought to myself.

“Well, you need to get on disability!”

I am not one given to uttering expletives, but what wants to come out is something along the lines of: “No ….!” Instead, I politely do what I call the “Ring Around the Rosie,” or perhaps I should call it the White Elephant.

I explain once again that while everyone who looks at me knows that, but since I have no proper diagnosis I can’t file, and I can’t get a specialist who can diagnose me without health insurance. I can’t get health insurance because I can’t work and I can’t work because I have debilitating condition.

I had contacted one of those firms you see advertising on TV who supposedly help you get disability and this is what they explained: The SSA does not determine a disability based on what they can plainly see, that would be too simple, there is a process involved, every one knows that, and they are not exactly keen on handing over money. 

And, you MUST be under a doctor's care to show that you have an interest in getting better. My question about how to obtain one without health insurance was basically answered with that that was my problem. Besides, before economic decline it was hard to get SSI, you think it got any easier? Again, I keep those last thoughts to myself.

Now there is silence at the other end.

In the meantime, inside my head there is anything but silence. I wonder, not for the first time, why high ranking people inside of charity organizations are not familiar with the most basic guidelines of the agencies they try to refer people to.

“Well, let me give you the number to the Daily Planet, call them.”

I thank him and hang up. But, I have a hunch, so before calling the Daily Planet, I look them up to see this:

Safe Haven is a 21-bed, free-standing facility that offers transitional housing with comprehensive and integrated health and support services for individuals suffering  from severe mental illness coupled with chronic homelessness. It provides 24-hour staff supervision and guidance with the ultimate goal of transitioning clients into permanent housing and independent living. By referral only. For more information about referrals, please call ...

Just by reading that I can see I do not qualify. I will call regardless, but …what is that saying the Native Americans have: “Once you discover you are riding a dead horse, you should dismount”

Monday, November 28, 2011

If You Want to get Off the Boat You Need to Become Pregnant

I was kind of hesitating to go this avenue, but what the heck. A friend of mine suggested I try the Salvation Army for help. Besides, it's the holiday season and long ago I spent one afternoon as a bell ringer. And, to use the corny worn-out phrase that all parents use at one time or another, that was up north in the cold outdoors in a blinding snowstorm ... yep, it really was.

So I called the local office, but the whole conversation lasted less than 45 seconds. I barely got past stating my name and a brief overview of my situation, and the man (he did not even give his name) asked me if I was pregnant or if I had children under 18. Uhm dude, those questions do not usually pop up after at least the third date! I answered no to both of course and he said that they could not help me then.

He then told me to go to Department of Social Services and surely I could get help and health care there. Nope I said, same deal: they only give life preservers to pregnant women and children, everyone else is left to swim, or sink with the boat. Of course I did not put it that way. But now I am starting to understand why pregnancy is so appealing to some.