IBD Stole My Job, House, Benefits, and Financial Security
What I’m about to tell you is a crisis of conscience that many of us with chronic illnesses mid-career will experience at least one time during our careers, if not more. It is a million dollar question. “Do you take a step-up in your career with a new employer, or stay at a dead-end job because of benefits?”
For the Too Long, Didn’t Read (TLDR) Crowd
I took the leap but got laid off six months later. My old job took me back and then my IBD flared harder than ever before. I missed quite a few days of work due to doctor appointments, procedures, and illness. Then my boss called one morning and my job was shifting. He also said, “You’re a liability to your team.” My entire life changed from that moment on.
In December 2010, I sat in an empty room with my soon-to-be former boss and slid a piece of paper across the table top to him. He read it and asked if I was going where he thought I was. I shook my head yes. He worried aloud about their financial stability as he had seen them layoff large swaths of employees before. He knew of my Crohn’s disease. I was always open with him. He told me I would always have a home there.
Leaving this job meant leaving health insurance for a period of time before my new employer’s policy activated. Health insurance is an important safety net for someone with an Inflammatory Bowel Disease like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. And I was willingly walking away from it.
The New Job Became the Old Job Very Quickly
Around the six month mark, 100 employees including myself were given our exit paperwork. I went back to my desk to pack, save work for my portfolio, and prepare to gravel for my old job.
With tail tucked firmly between legs, I drove down to the road to my old job. I was met by quite a few former co-workers/friends with embraces that only people who’ve been there can give. My former boss allowed me to sit with him at his cubicle. I didn’t have to gravel, though, he had close friends who worked there in different departments and were laid off, too.
“I tried to warn you.”
He did. He did.
“This is great! It breaks down to $1 more an hour. As a contractor, you can possibly make overtime and your taxes will be less. You can write off so much. You’re going to make more money!” [Insert wrong answer gameshow buzzer sound effect here.]
Truth be told, I always freelanced while I was employed full-time, which lent me the ability to write certain things off while having the stability of EMPLOYER-PROVIDED HEALTH CARE.
I emphasized to him that benefits were more important to me than the extra $1 per hour. He assured me that after a few months I would go back to full-time with benefits.
My Intestines Held a Meeting and Screamed, “HOLD MY BEER!”
As 2012 kicked off, my boss took me aside and told me I was on track to go full-time and to keep up the good work.
Unfortunately, my health started a rapid descent as spring approached. I was losing so much blood. [This is not normal. If this is happening to you, please seek medical attention.]
Any time I ate anything, I was looking for the nearest restroom. When I was at my desk, I was either hugging a pillow or using a heating pad. My IBD symptoms became more apparent to those around me, even before I began to miss work or had to go home early.
My boss pulled me aside and said, “You need help. I read up on this, it is serious.”
Get Thee to a GI Stat
I wish he understood how much that co-pay was going to cost. I wanted to ask him if he understood why I hadn’t sought help for so long. But I’m the one who chose to leave this safety net for a different job. However, I created this problem.
He wasn’t wrong. It was serious. Friends at work started sending links and research, and then my primary doctor joined them on the, “GET THEE TO A GI STAT,” bandwagon.
By the end of spring, I was struggling with basic tasks. As a copywriter and social media analyst, you need your brain to be sharp and fingers to work and not go numb. I found myself reading files repeatedly, not comprehending what it was I was reading.
Right Now, You’re a Liability to Your Team…
I missed 10 days of work consecutively due to complications from a colonoscopy and an upper respiratory infection. It came on a day after the scope. On the day I thought I was finally well enough to work, I got an email that they would call me at 8:00 am.
A cold chill ran down my spine and my overly empty stomach churned even harder than it normally would in a nervous situation. At 8 sharp, my boss was on the line along with a few others like the vice president and creative director. My blood ran cold.
He started off with how great I am, and how much they love my work and want me well, “…but, you are a liability to your team.”
I wanted to vomit.
The line was silent. I don’t know if that was planned, allowable, legal, or if he took them all by surprise, or if they were expecting me to say something?
But what could I say?
Salt meet wound.
In The End
They created a per diem position for me with assurance I could move back to in-house work when I was better. I gladly accepted, thinking it would be a great supplement while getting treatment started for Crohn’s.
The fact that they created this position was looked at as wonderful by my coworkers. What many of them didn’t know was that the work faded out after two months. I could barely pay my mortgage, medical bills, and $300+ insurance payment, with the $16,666 deductible. By the third month, I received an email telling me budget cuts were forcing them to move work to internal employees.
I had to make the critical decision — paying for health insurance or mortgage. Everything I had worked so hard for was evaporating. My parents had me move back in with them to focus on my health. My house was put up for a short sale. Some neighbors became furious at me, “What business do you have buying a house, as a sick single woman?”
I wasn’t “that sick” when I bought the house.
The What Ifs Will Haunt You If You Let Them
To this day, I wonder what would have become of my life if I had never left the protection of the full-time job in the first place. But I also cannot complain about my life as it is today. If the struggle makes the person, then I am living proof.
Would you have stayed in the old job with mediocre pay or pursued the new job that had higher pay and better benefits?