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Starting over from Zero

The past 18 months have been a roller coaster ride of WTF and some of my worst nightmares all at once. 

First of all, I had to drop out of college because they weren’t willing and/or able to accommodate my needs to be able to complete my degree.  I dropped out prior to the beginning of the Spring 2019 semester, but they still charged me $198…which I didn’t find out about until I was sent to collections in January 2020.

Second, I had been sick off and on for months. I was taking my birth control pills religiously, and my belly was growing. I thought I had a tumor, and I was afraid to find out. I had conveniently forgotten from my pharmacology class that birth control pills, even when taken correctly, are still not 100% effective. Because of that, I was surprised when I found out on March 13, 2019, that I was pregnant. On March 14, 2019, I had an ultrasound and found out that I was VERY pregnant. I was given a due date of May 8, and my daughter had so much hair on her head, it was visible on ultrasound.

On April 13, 2019, at 2am, my husband got me because my then 10-year-old daughter Sam had woken up and said “FIRE!” I went back into her room, thinking she just having a bad dream or something. When she was younger, Sam sometimes yelled, “FIRE!” to get attention. 

To my horror, I discovered that Sam was not just looking for attention. Fire was shooting up the walls and through the vent, and black smoke was pouring in. I grabbed her hand and ran for my phone to call 911. I told Michael, too. Michael and I got out, but Sam wasn’t already outside. We screamed for her, and Michael was about to go in after her when she came bursting through the back door, black smoke in her wake. She had been trying to find our cats. I had trouble calling 911, and the operator hung up on me the first time. The second time, I got through, but I was hysterically sobbing. Fortunately, several of our neighbors had already called the fire department. 

In spite of the fire department arriving so quickly, the fire was resistant to their efforts to save the house, and it took several hours for them to get the fire put out. Our cats didn’t make it out. Fortunately, they died of smoke inhalation, and the fire was put out before it could reach where they were hiding. Petunia was by herself under our bed, and Sandy and George were snuggled together in the basement.

We lost everything but the clothes we were wearing. We didn’t even grab shoes in our rush to get away from the flames. Everything that wasn’t taken by the fire was destroyed by the water, other than a box of photos in a sturdy plastic container. Sadly, my favorite photos were in a smaller album by my bed. The fire department was able to retrieve my wallet and wedding rings. The office was completely destroyed. My work computer was literal slag, and my husband’s beautiful icon table and icon collection were nothing but ash.

The fire inspector discovered that the fire was caused by a bad electric job some years ago. When my mother and her husband had new siding installed, they had to have the box connecting the house to the electric main replaced. They hired someone who not only cut corners that led to the house fire but failed to secure permits and have his work inspected. My mother and her husband don’t trust online banking (or online anything), so they kept the information about the electrician and the receipt of the check they used to pay him in a file cabinet…in the basement of the house, which had just burned. 

Our Taekwondo dojang served as a point for collecting donations for our family, and we were able to rent another house and furnish it before our youngest child was born. Many of my online friends sent care packages, too, and some of the people who were Michael’s friends through Uber helped, too. One remarkable woman, Lesley, went out of her way to help replace Sam’s My Little Pony Build-A-Bear collection. Since the fire was right before Sam’s 11th birthday, it was a very kind and wonderful surprise. Lesley, her fiance, and her kids all worked together to make it happen. 

Sam was our hero. She knew exactly what to do when she saw the fire. She was even the focus of a news story because she is autistic. Any 10-year-old child probably would have panicked–it would have been a reasonable reaction–but Sam stayed calm and got help when she saw the fire. I am proud of her. She saved all of us that night.

May 11, I went into the hospital to be induced. I was 39 years old, morbidly obese, and my blood pressure, which is normally 120/70, was catastrophically high–200/120 and rising. On May 12, during a second pitocin trial, my water finally broke. It was full of mecomium, but they still let me labor. Twelve hours later, labor hadn’t progressed. They wanted to do a third pitocin trial, but I refused it and requested a c-section.

It was a good thing that I did, because when they finally pulled my daughter from me (she had somehow gone from being head-down and ready to come out to curled up in the top of my uterus), she wasn’t breathing. They had a NICU team on standby, and they were able to get her breathing. Her initial APGARs were 1, 5, and 7. In spite of that, they didn’t bother putting her in the NICU.

I ended up staying in the hospital for a week because my blood pressure wasn’t returning to normal, and I was in an incredible amount of pain. When I had Sam, I only stayed in the hospital three days after Sam was born, and I was able to go back to work the day I was discharged. With Anemone, our new baby, my recovery was much more slow, and I went home with a wound vac. The epidural actually worked for this labor, so I was awake for this c-section. They literally tied me down so I wouldn’t move around. They had to dig Anemone out of me because she had moved. They were able to get me put back together and sewed and stapled shut, but I really felt everything once the epidural wore off. I also had to have a catheter for a few days. Even though everything was free of latex, I still felt like my insides had been filled with kerosene and set on fire. 

When I got out of the hospital, I ended up losing my job because I couldn’t go back to work right away, and I didn’t qualify for FMLA in my state, so my employer and their client chose not to grant it. I was told that if I resigned, I would be able to get my job back when I was cleared to return to work. As soon as I was taken off of the wound vac and cleared to return to work, I contacted HR, but they never responded.

It was just as well, because Anemone (henceforth referred to as “Nem”) had GERD and had a hard time sleeping more than an hour at a time because of her GERD and gas. It wasn’t until she was about seven months old that the GERD began to taper off, and she was able to sleep through the night for the first time. 

Fortunately, Michael was able to get a full-time W-2 job shortly after I lost my job.  He also got an internship and continued his full-time graduate school work. I took over managing pretty much all things household, ranging from cooking to finances while taking care of our children. It’s been a time of many adjustments for all of us.

Five days after my 40th birthday, I suddenly lost sight in my right eye. About 50% of my eyesight in my right eye is gone, right in the center of my field of vision. I borrowed $250 to see an eye doctor. I was told it was an inflamed retina and should subside in two months. Almost six months later, my eyesight has not returned, and I am sensitive to bright light. 

I want to be able to start earning an income of my own so that our financial welfare doesn’t fall squarely on Michael’s shoulders alone, but I haven’t been able to find something that is a good fit yet. Nem is still a high-needs baby who requires much of my time and attention. While Sam is almost a teenager, I haven’t been able to help her master the same skills I had at her age. (Even in families, no two autistic people are exactly the same.) I also have to work around my own health issues, including my diminished eyesight. 

I’ve started reading a book called The Pathfinder by Nicholas Lore. I’m reading it because I know what kind of work I don’t like to do, but I don’t know what kind of work I do like to do. I’ve heard that this book will help me find that path so I can direct my career in a way that satisfies me and helps me do my part for my family. 

And life goes on.

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