LIVING PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK IN AMERICA: Part One
It’s a shame people in the richest country in the world have to live this way. I can relate though, I’ve lived this way my whole life . . . and still live paycheck to paycheck.
I never wake up, I stumble into consciousness, much like when Doctor Victor Frankenstein’s monster comes to life and takes it’s first steps, come to think about it, it’s gait in general. Waking up isn’t something I do willingly. Like a vampire, I lie in my bed weak and gaunt waiting for my victim so I can feed and regain my strength, but I’m not a vampire and I lie with my head covered to protect myself from any light which may wake me. I slowly pull the sheets away from my face in order to prevent a sudden burst of light to my eyes. The sun’s found a break in my curtains and sends a sliver of light to cut through the darkness of my room.
Only the cat is taking advantage of the light. He’s stretched out in such a way that the light covers him like a blanket. He lies on his side in a full body stretch and gives out a yawn which shows off a smile which could shred his prey into pieces.
He flexes his paws extending his razor sharp claws; as if he’s preparing for a hunt. His claws are the tools of his trade. And his trade?
Death? Survival? Self-preservation?
Milo is a housecat. He sleeps away most of the day.
“Stay in bed” is what my inner voice tells me. “Come on, just a few more minutes. You deserve it.”
This morning , there was no gratitude for today, in fact, I just felt like giving up. I woke up feeling sick, so I took the advice of my inner voice and stayed in bed. I admit, it doesn’t take a lot to convince me to stay in bed.
I laid in bed for a while before I attempted to get up.
I shouldn’t become too comfortable, which is always a problem. Although I look forward to going to bed, sleeping itself becomes a task instead of a necessity.
I hadn’t slept very well during the last ten years. I can trace my sleeping problems back to 2005, during my deployment to Iraq. Whether it was my deployment which had an impact on my sleep is debatable.
Before then, I worked nights mostly. I’d get off work around two or three in the morning. Occasionally I’d get off even later, around three and on rare occasions at six, but this is the life of working in the restaurants.
I toss and turn.
I readjust my pillow constantly.
I sit up on the edge of my bed.
I get up and walk around trying to clear my head. This is what happens when you bring your job home with you. Sometimes you can’t help it.
I look in the fridge. Nothing as usual.
I lie down and start over.
I lie in bed and relive my day over and over. I go through my day with a fine-tooth comb reassessing every move I’ve ever made and every word I’ve ever said.
There’s no tv to distract me.
My cell phone is turned off.
No caffeine all day.
I stare at the clock; one o’clock. Nothing, not even the urge to sleep.
Two o’clock. I’m lying on my back staring at the ceiling.
Three o’clock. Still staring at the ceiling.
Four o’clock. I’ve tossed and turned at least a dozen times.
In the last ten years, since I was diagnosed with anxiety, I’ve lived my life over and over at least a thousand times. Over and over I reassess my life. My inner voice won’t leave me alone. It won’t shut up. I have this conversation nearly every night.
Over and over.
I listen to my inner voice every night like a bad late might radio talk show on AM radio. There’s the annoying low level whistle in the background. Then there’s the constant fading in and fading out of the signal like when you drive through a tunnel and you lose reception on you’re AM radio only for the signal to return the next night.
The conclusion I always come to is that I’m a failure and I start my day on that note.
When my feet hit the floor, my head begins to spin and I feel nauseous. I don’t know why I feel so badly, I’m not sick. I didn’t go drinking last night. Now, compound this with my anxiety and I’m a real mess.
It’s my anxiety that keeps me going. I work, work, work all I can in order to keep my anxiety at bay and to keep my mind from racing. This is a make-shift cure I know, but one I can afford.
When I did have insurance, I used to be able to afford therapy and meds. First it was Prozac because the doctors thought I had depression. Prozac was great. If there’s a drug worth abusing, Prozac was the one.
After a few months of therapy, I was given a battery of tests, first the Primary Care Evaluation of Mental Disorders Patient Questionnaire and then the PRIME-MD Clinician Evaluation Guide. The PRIME-MD PQ showed that I had depression, but it was the CEG which pointed to anxiety as the cause.
I was diagnosed with anxiety and my Psychiatrist prescribed me Paxil, but that didn’t work. Next was Zoloft but that didn’t work either. Back to Prozac but this time around it didn’t work either.
Staying busy was my remedy, it was free and worked, that is until I lie down for the night. No matter how tired I am, the anxiety gets the best of me. I feel like my mind is going to explode sometimes.
I looked at the clock and it was already noon. I thought I’d call work and tell them I won’t be able to come in because I’m sick, but I need to wait a while because they’re really busy during lunch rush.
I already know what they’ll tell me, “Maybe you’ll feel better later.”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“Well, you need to come in because it’s Friday and we’re shorthanded.”
They’re always shorthanded. That’s the way it is in the restaurant business.
“I feel really badly, and I don’t think I’ll be able to work.”
Let me get Tom (the manager.) Okay? Now I have to sit through the annoying advertisements that plays whenever you’re on hold.
Three minutes pass and I’m still on hold. I mumble to myself, “Hurry up. If you’re not going to talk to me just hang up already.”
Keeping a person on hold for a while is a trick in this business. They keep you on hold longer than they should in hopes you’ll get tired of waiting and hang up. They do this mostly during lunch and at night when they have a small staff.
They do this to everybody. It usually works too.
I know what I’ll be told, “either come in or look for another job. There’s people out there who want to work.”
This is the reality of working in restaurants, “Show up or be fired” as told by many a manager. I actually don’t know anybody who’d been fired for being sick but most people don’t chance it.
Another reality of this business is other restaurants would hire somebody from their competitor without much hesitation. Most seasoned employees in this business had worked for all the major companies: Dominoes, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and all the major independents.
I think therefore managers make the threat of “show up or lose your job” without acting on it because the managers know there’s a job waiting for them across the street.
I’ll wait a little longer before I call. Maybe I’ll feel better. If I don’t, then I’ll have to go to the Emergency Room to prove I was really sick.
I don’t get sick very often, but when I do I just self-medicate myself and move on. I don’t like treating myself, but I don’t make enough to afford insurance. It’s not as if I’m just guessing what to do, I follow what the doctors have prescribed me in the past.
My home recipe to cure my illness is usually two extra strength Tylenols and juice. If it’s winter time, then I add Robitussin to the mix. Then, I turn off the phone, pull the curtains to, turn off the alarm clock, turn off the lights, pull the covers over my head, and sleep until I feel better.
If I can’t get time off to get better, then I’m like a zombie; I’m lifeless. I just walk around going through the motions, mainly because I’m doped up on Tylenol and any over-the-counter drug I can get my hands on that won’t make me drowsy.
If I happen to make it to the ER, and given a prescription I hoard every ounce. If I don’t use it all I keep the rest of it safe and secure until I’m sick again, whenever that might be. It could be a year. It could be two years. Expiration dates are ignored.
That’s just the way people who can’t afford health insurance cope with illnesses.
If I do go to the ER, I usually sit for a few hours before I’m seen. I’ve sat in ER’s for up to five or six hours, that’s not uncommon. Once I get seen, it’s usually for just a few minutes.
Sitting in the ER, I’ve seen many homeless people here. They’re probably sick, but many come just to get somewhere that’s warm.
Whenever I hear my name called, “Mr. Baxley” I get excited but it’s just to get my vitals taken and given my personal plastic name band for my wrist.
People would sleep in the ER, which is typical. I don’t want to stereotype, but they looked like they’re homeless. The last time I visited the ER was unfortunately not unusual.
Every hour the security guard, armed only with a night stick and a radio would do a walk through to wake people up who are sleeping. From the look of the guard, his job was an annoyance as it took him away from his preoccupation of his cellphone. This was the norm.
What else which is becoming normal? The person who won’t wake up. The guard shakes their shoulder asking them to “Wake up” and nothing.
The guard gave the sleeper a little nudge with his foot and the request turns into a soft demand to “Wake up!”
A few people take notice of the guard’s polite demand.
No reply though.
The soft demands turned into a demand, “Sir. You need to wake up now!”
Heads turn toward the sleeper. There are whispers as people give the situation angry looks: It could be the guard or it could be the sleeper who are the recipient of the angry looks.
Because health insurance in America is so expensive and there are many hoops to jump through, ER’s are becoming more and more crowded, because of this the wait times are getting longer and longer.
The last time I went to the ER, I think somebody died while waiting to be seen. There’s a nurse and what looks to be a doctor rushed in to take care of somebody who wouldn’t wake up. The doctor could be heard yelling, “Get a stretcher.”
The staff came in and acted as if this was a rare occurrence: It’s not. No looks of sorrow, just a look of business as usual. He’s quickly rushed out.
Moments later the cleaning crew came in to clean up the area. The woman doing the cleaning’s an older Hispanic-looking woman who gave a sign of the cross on herself and mumbled something in Spanish.
Most likely the sleeper has died. This is becoming normalized in today’s society. Nobody knows if the sleeper was homeless or actually there for treatment.
The “clean up” crew showed no emotion; a person had died! There were no emotions. This was her job, to clean up after patients whether they’d vomited, bled, gave birth, or died.
After all the commotion my name was called, “Mr. Baxley.”
Only two hours. Not bad.
“Hello Mr. Baxley. How are you?” the nurse asked.
“Better than the guy who just died.” The nurse looked at me like I’d just said something wrong.
I followed the nurse to see the doctor.
That experience really made me reconsider anytime I need to go to the ER. I decided no ER tonight.
Thanks for reading; coming soon, part two