The Business of Living

I made it safely back to Minneapolis the first Sunday evening in August, 2016. While I was excited to be back, I barely had fifty dollars to my name. I had no idea how I was going to feed myself for the next two and a half weeks, but I knew that securing health insurance was my first priority. As long as I could secure affordable health care in a state known for quality patient care, I felt everything else could be handled eventually. So Allene told me that she would take me down to the Hennepin County building to sign up for benefits the next day.

We got to the Century Plaza building around 10:30 AM. The parking garage was already quite full. We parked and started walking toward where we thought the doors to the building were. By the time we got about halfway there, we realized that we could not see any door. As I didn’t have the stamina to walk around searching for it, I told Allene to go find the door while I stood in place. She disappeared around the corner.

As I waited for her, I began to worry about falling over. What would I do if I ended up on the ground? I would have to wait for her to come back and find me. Would I be able to yell loudly enough if she lost track of where she had left me? What if someone robbed me for my wallet? I didn’t have much money, but I had just come a thousand miles across the country, and it would take me days to replace the documents that I needed in order to sign up for assistance. Luckily, I was still using a quad cane. Since it could stand up by itself, I knew the cane could support more of my weight than a single point cane could. I leaned a little on the cane and prayed that Allene would get back soon.

Once we were indoors, Allene asked the security officer to bring me a wheelchair. He said that we would need a driver’s license to release it. As Allene had recently misplaced hers, I offered my ID card. The officer said that it specifically must be a driver’s license. Since we didn’t have one between the two of us, I resigned myself to the idea that it was going to be a long day.

The line was moving so slowly that Allene pulled up a chair so I could sit while waiting. When we finally got to the front of the line, the lady at window handed us a stack of forms to fill out and told us that we would hear or name called over a loudspeaker. Because I was still having vision problems, Allene filled them out for me.

When they called my name, we went in for my first interview. The county worker told us it would be for food support. She asked me how much I made in monthly disability payments. I told her. She said that it was close to the maximum amount. I got very excited, assuming that, if the federal government thought that my case warranted a high cash payout, the same would true of food.

She looked at her monitor and said, “You’re gone be mad when I tell you how little you get.”

“How much?” I asked, thinking that I could at least do something with fifty dollars per month.

“Sixteen dollars a month.”

“Sixteen dollars?”

“I’m sorry. I know that’s not even worth your time.”

“It’s alright. You did what you could.”

Allene and I went out to the hall to wait for them to call my name for my medical benefits interview. That was the main reason why we were here, anyway. When they called me, we hadn’t quite finished the form, but we went to the cubicle anyway because I didn’t want to lose my place in line.

The lady here was young and very friendly. She was the most animated county employee I had ever met. She really wanted to help me out, so she told me, “You can get medical assistance, but you’re gonna have a $270 pay down before we start paying.”

“So I have to pay that much like a yearly deductible?”

“That’s actually every month.”

“I can’t afford that on what they give me!”

“Well, if you can get a job making $65 a month, there’s no pay down.”

I had lost my job because I could not return to work. It hadn’t occurred to me that I should even look for another. But there had to be some way I could make that minimal amount. We were talking fifteen dollars a week, about nine hours of minimum wage. Even I could probably find something I could do for that.

I spent the next two weeks

trying to stretch my food money and looking for a part time job. Because of the difference in cost of living between Mississippi and Minnesota, I was always desperate and always tense from worrying about when I would finally go broke. I was worried that I was not in physical therapy because I was sure that I was missing time I should be capturing in a vital recovery window. Would my body lose the ability to stay on track for recovery if I went too long without rehabilitation services?

Helpless, I asked my friends on Facebook to let me know about any jobs that required a low number of hours and a minimum amount of physical ability. An hour later, Sarah, an old soccer buddy, told me that they there was an opening for an office assistant at her clinic. My job would be to scan in and organize paper files to an electronic system six hours a week. She asked as though I would be insulted to take such an unskilled position. I told her that I was learning to work again and that this was more than I had anticipated. My first day of work at Look + See Eye Care was on August 31st, the first month I was back in Minneapolis, meaning that I would have additional money and I could start my therapy soon.

Now that I had secured a job, housing, and a foothold in the Hennepin County social services system, it was time to ship my dog Mary up. I had gotten her from my niece that June, while I was living in Mississippi. Mary had been living in the home since March, so I played with her a few times each week. My niece had ultimately decided that she could not afford a dog and asked me if I wanted her. I had been toying with the idea of getting a dog since before I left the hospital. When she offered Mary to me, I couldn’t say no.

My thinking was as follows: When I was in a coma, my doctors had advised my parents to consider taking me off of life support, because my survival chances were slim. After I was awake again, I had asked my neurologist at Methodist Rehabilitation Center when I was on schedule to walk again. He told me that he couldn’t say that I would walk for certain. I told him I understood that it would be against a professional code of ethics to provide a patient with false hope, but I assured him that I would walk again. Likewise, when I told them that I was considering adopting a puppy, they advised me that it might be too difficult for me to handle one. I took that as one more challenge to overcome. My plan had been to get a dog from a shelter, but Mary had fallen into my lap.

Mary has two coats and sheds a lot more fur than an average dog, so I knew that she did not belong in a warm environment. She also had not been socialized much in her young life. Minneapolis was a cold city with many dog-friendly establishments. I was sure that it would feel like heaven for Mary.

On the day before my niece gave Mary to me, the dog had become gravely ill. She was vomiting in the backyard. I rushed her to the vet, and they advised me that it would take four days of treatment at $300 per day to save her. We dropped her off at the vet and went next door to Petsmart. Mary had heretofore been an outside dog, but now that she was sick, I bought her an indoor kennel, toys, and dog treats. When we picked her up that evening, she was lethargic. I tried to offer her dog food, but she would only sniff at it then turn away. I tried offering her treats instead, but she was equally uninterested. So, I put her in the kennel and let her sleep.

We dropped her off the next morning, and when we came back, there was a different vet. This lady was beaming. She declared, “This is the most resilient dog I’ve ever seen! Feed her these pills twice a day, until they run out. Watch her, and if she gets worse, bring her back in.”

I swiped my card thinking about how grim the chances of survival had been for each of us. Neither of us had been guaranteed to pull through. Now we were going home together. It felt as though Mary was destined to be my dog.

Keeping Mary meant getting a lot of help. For one thing, she would have to be housebroken. Since I required a cane to walk, people had to let her out for me. At first, we just let her out at random times throughout the day. She generally only used the bathroom outdoors, but she didn’t know how to let us know when she had to go, and she had a few accidents in the house. We worked out a schedule where we let her out three times a day. She learned very quickly, and it didn’t take her a month to stop using the bathroom in the house.

My dad had never let a dog live in the house before. As children, we had begged him to let us keep a dog in the bedroom with us, but he would always tell us that he didn’t want dogs in the house. I am convinced that the only reason why Mary was allowed indoors was the stroke experience. After witnessing everything I had suffered through, Dad knew how much joy having a dog would bring me. He also recognized that there was no way I could visit her outdoors. And since she had fallen ill outdoors, it was just too big of a risk to send her back into the same yard. Thus, Mary became the first and last dog who was ever allowed to live in my father’s house.

On the day I accepted Mary, it was with the promise that I would always give her a better life than she’d had in her first months. I played with her, gave her treats, and gave her affection every day. After all of the isolation, it made my life so full to have company that would never leave. She loves human beings, so I made sure to have her microchipped before my friend Amanda came to drive us to Minneapolis. I had nightmarish visions of her following a family of strangers from a parking lot in Missouri. However, when the time came to move back to Minnesota, I decided that it would be too chaotic to try to move Mary before I was settled in there. Besides, I didn’t have space for her kennel with my car being full. I left for Minneapolis, promising Dad I would have Mary flown up in three weeks. Mary got to meet Amanda the night before we left. She was so loving that it made it doubly hard to say farewell.

Three weeks later, I was finally working and ready to move into a friend’s basement. I paid $400 to ship Mary on a Delta cargo flight. When she came out of her travel kennel, she looked tiny compared to what I remembered. She trotted out to me for a hug. I held her for a very long time. Then I loaded her in the rear of the SUV so I could show her Minnesota.

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