After the Layoff: Navigating a sea of debt
"Into every life," the saying goes, "a little rain must fall."
But for some of us, when it rains, it pours.
When I was unemployed, it felt like large, dark clouds were constantly shadowing me and my family, drenching us with misery whenever it seemed the skies were about to clear.
When I finally landed a new job, the clouds quickly evaporated, giving my wife, Ali, and me our first glimpse of blue skies in quite awhile.
The respite was brief, but we savored every moment, soaking up the warm rays as they slowly dried the beads of stress streaming down our faces.
Little did we know another storm was brewing – a tempest packing enough destructive power to demolish our financial house.
Once we noticed the dark clouds returning, we quickly began shoring up our savings. A tough task considering I'd been unemployed for several months and was now earning a much smaller salary.
The clouds drew closer and with them came the first raindrops – medical bills related to our son's week-long stay in the hospital after he was born. The totals were considerable, but manageable. Especially since we'd become a two-income household again.
Suddenly, the first bolt of lightning struck – the bill for Ali's hospital stay. The shock nearly made our hair stand on end.
A second, more powerful bolt quickly followed the first – the bill for Will's hospital stay. That one singed the checkbook, leaving wisps of smoke rising from the blackened paper.
The wind kicked up and the rain poured down, giving our savings a good soaking. After a lull in the action, the showers of misery began anew, this batch more intense than the last.
I still needed minor surgery, but I'd been putting it off so we could save money while I searched for work. Unfortunately, I couldn't wait any longer and was sick thinking about the cost, even though we had health insurance.
Surely, the dark clouds dogging us since February would finally dissipate after this. Much to my chagrin, they remained overhead and unleashed another downpour.
Two weeks after my surgery, Ali began suffering bouts of abdominal and back pain. The attacks were mild at first, but became more intense with each occurrence. Initially, she thought it might be tension from stress. It made sense, considering the circumstances.
Ali's doctor said it wasn't stress but the diagnosis certainly stressed us out. Ali had gallstones and needed surgery immediately.
We knew the operation was necessary, but the thought of another, costly medical bill made us nauseous. Plus, because Ali had to use her remaining sick days during her maternity leave, she'd be recuperating from surgery without pay.
Suddenly, a deluge of additional medical bills flooded our household, unleashing a torrent of emotion that swiftly swept us off our feet. We struggled to stay calm as the swirling current nearly dragged us face-to-face with our worst fear: drowning in debt.
Fortunately, the hospital threw us a lifeline in the form of a payment plan and our families joined the rescue effort, which pulled our heads above water in the nick of time. We consider ourselves lucky to have escaped certain financial death.
Despite our best efforts to anticipate, plan and save for our future, many of life's unforeseen storms (a layoff, extended hospital stays and unexpected surgery) disrupted everything, but not forever.
Today, we're slowly rebuilding our finances with hopes we can finish the repairs before the next big storm hits. We can't always control the weather, but we can prepare how we respond to it.
Our new plan? We're busy saving for a rainy day.
Next: Finding fate in fortune cookies.