Being sick is expensive. Anyone who has visited a doctor under the current American health care system knows this: Every shot, check-up, and (in some cases) phone call that is tied to your well-being has a price tag. We must budget for insurance premiums, monthly medication, and (sometimes unexpected) medical needs.
And it can be overwhelming.
After paying the fifth installment of our recent barrage of hospital bills, my husband encouraged me to write this post. Not as a way to vent (although, let’s be honest, that is a much-needed conversation) but as a way to connect. Those of us dealing with chronic illness HAVE to think about our finances and I want to applaud your hard work in this difficult area of life.
So I want to share this part of my story; one that I don’t talk about much due to social norms and my desire to stay away from awkward conversations. But one that I think needs to be shared.
“I am so embarrassed,” I whispered to my husband.
He reached out and took my hand. “Don’t be. They understand. They know where our hearts are and how much we love them.”
We pulled away from a party, having just spent the afternoon eating cake and celebrating people we love. What should have been a reenergizing time left me feeling small and insignificant.
The invitation to this event showed up the same week that we got a whopping bill for my most recent Echocardiogram, something we had falsely assumed would be covered by our insurance. We committed to the celebration and decided not the let the unwelcome news of paying for medical tests get in the way of our regularly scheduled life. I pored over our budgetary spreadsheet and found a few places we could cut, one being our happily-named “Gifts!” line-item which was already nearing its monthly limit.
We were not willing to show up to the party empty-handed so we braved the department store crowds to get in on a good sale. We left with something we thought the recipient would enjoy and were pleased to have only gone over our budget by a few dollars. The gift bag was prepped and I felt we had accomplished something miraculous: Being able to give while dealing with medical bills.
At the party, I set our gift down on the pile of presents. It looked small compared to most of the other boxes and bags but I tried to not let that bother me. When it was time to gather around the gift-opener, I was sad to see the same thing we bought being pulled out of another bag, followed by two fancier items hidden underneath. The individual made their way through wrapping paper and bows and, by the time they reached ours, I had an apology crafted. “You can return it!” I wanted to shout, “But the store credit won’t get you much.” They opened the gift bag and laughed, seeing a duplicate item, and thanked us for knowing what they liked.
The party moved on but I did not. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Ben and I were no longer able to give good gifts. Digging deeper I saw the fear taking a truer form:
Our money had to be prioritized for me. Which meant less for others.
We are walking into a season of giving. This is the time of year where we are expected to give presents to family and friends, to bring food to gatherings, to donate to charities. All these are good and wonderful things. I believe giving is an important part of life, especially in a world with so many needs. We need to help each other.
But how should you give when you are sick? When the prices for your monthly check-ups and medications eat up a portion of your budget? When you don’t have the strength or ability to help serve meals or give your time in other ways? When the donations to a local charity may end up coming back to you?
In what may sound like the ultimate Anti-Holiday slogan, I want you to prioritize your financial wellbeing this year. Even if that means you can’t give as much to others as you would like.
You, who spends hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket for Insulin.
You, who is stuck with unexpected ER bills.
You, who spends hours building and rebuilding your budget.
Set a financial limit for the season and stick with it. Don’t go into debt to buy presents for your family members. Don’t run yourself ragged trying to bake ten dozen cookies for your church choir friends. Don’t give your money to a charity out of guilt.
Your finances can be used for you this season and beyond. Without blame, you can pay your medical bills before you jump on Amazon for Hanukkah presents. (I’m pretty sure any financial planner would tell you that you MUST pay your medical bills first. I’m being generous.) The people in your life understand. Even more, the people in your life want you to be well: Physically, emotionally, financially well.
You are a gift to everyone around you. And you are worth every penny.