When The Ends Don’t Meet

Today I had to choose between buying food and buying medicine.

Food? Or medicine? What the fuck kind of choice is that?

One of Mercedes’ medications isn’t on the PBS. That means it’s expensive. REALLY expensive. It’s not the pharmacist’s fault, he’s trying to help out – he’s preparing two bottles at once so we’re saving $29 and it will last longer – but we have a bigger outlay up front. It’s like losing to win.

Looking at the finite amount of cash I held in my hand, if I picked up the prescription, I’d be left with a little over $50 to buy groceries. I’m pretty resourceful, but even I can’t feed five children for a week on $50.

On the other hand, Mercedes is at such a critical point right now – her physical health is tentatively stable and she’s making great progress with her anxiety. With another surgery looming at the end of June, she simply can’t afford not to have the medicine she needs.

Things have been tough for a while, but today was a whole new low. As I stood in the shower this morning, my tears mingling with the stinging hot water, I wondered how the hell it came to this.

I used to have a job, a good job. I used to earn more than Willie does. But then Mercedes got sick and something had to give. It’s just not possible to commit to full time work when the average week includes two or more hospital appointments and her health is so unpredictable that she can go from being well to being in hospital in the blink of an eye. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible to commit to even part time work because immune deficiency is such a fickle beast.

So faced with living on a single income, 73% of which goes straight out in rent, we made adjustments. We cut back. We saw a financial counsellor. We negotiated a change in the frequency of our rent payments to make them more manageable. We made an arrangement with the power company to keep our power on. I started colouring my own hair, Willie stopped buying cigarettes. My parents picked up the girls’ school fees. Willie picked up as much overtime as he could – lately he’s been working 70-hour weeks and we still can’t get ahead.

If we were Australians, we’d qualify for assistance from Centrelink. Mercedes’ additional needs meet the threshold for the Carer Payment. But we’re not Australians, so we don’t qualify. That’s fine, we didn’t come here intending to bludge off the Australian government.

When I was working, I paid income protection insurance every month ‘just in case’. Turns out it was a complete waste of money because it only covered me if I got sick and had to stop work, not if my dependent child got sick and I had to stop work.

We tried to draw a financial hardship advance against my Super, but to meet the criteria for financial hardship, you have to have been receiving Centrelink payments for 26 weeks or more.

Round and round and round we go in fucking circles. I borrowed money from a friend to help pay the rent one really tight month. It took me three months to pay her back and in order to do so, I had to take my kids and front up at the local food bank for food parcels.

And all of that is pretty much how the hell it came to this. Standing in my shower, howling my eyes out and trying to decide which trumps which – food or medicine?

If we buy medicine, we can request a food parcel, but the food bank is 10km away and I need to conserve petrol to make it to the appointments we have scheduled this week.

If we buy food, we take a gamble with Mercedes’ health.

Food? Or medicine? What the fuck kind of choice is that?

I berated myself for treating the girls to McDonalds on Thursday evening. Can’t afford to buy medicine, but can afford to buy Maccas? Foolish.

But then, we have to live. They  have to live. Yes, it’s $20 I could have used to buy pantry staples to make two or three or even four meals, but these kids already miss out on so much. They miss out because we’re broke all the time, and they miss out because  Mercedes is sick. Their extracurricular activities involve accompanying her to doctors’ appointments, they sit and complete their homework in crowded hospital waiting rooms. Buying Maccas was stupid, but it made me happy to see them happy.

So what did I decide? In the end, I bought groceries. Fuck it all, these kids need to eat. The needs of the family outweigh the needs of the individual. I went to Aldi and with the money it would have cost us to buy one month’s worth of her medicine, I got enough groceries to feed us all for a fortnight.

And then because I am lucky, because I am so incredibly blessed and I don’t really understand why because I certainly don’t feel very worthy of it, a friend offered to pay for Mercedes’ medicine.

It doesn’t sit well with me, borrowing money off my friends. These are hard times for everyone, and supporting our family is our burden to bear, not anyone else’s. But I am grateful to her nevertheless because, well, in these shitty circumstances that are not of our making, I don’t really have much choice.

Because when it comes to choosing between food and medicine, either way you lose.

In a past life, I was a journo. Old habits die hard...

Comments

  1. Val C says

    I really enjoy reading about you and your family, I supplement my income by comping which probably sounds mad to you, but if you have a spare hour or so (yeah right, I can hear you saying it!) try compingclub.com, there are a million competitions and sometimes just sometimes you might be lucky enough to win something useful or something you can sell. Having said that, you get an awful lot of spam!

    • Emma Fahy Davis says

      Thanks Val, I shall look into it :) I make a little bit here and there doing freelance writing but it’s not really enough to make a significant difference at the moment.

  2. says

    Don’t feel bad about your friend getting the medicine. People like to help and I have no doubt that you would do the same for her. What a descion for you to make neither would have been wrong. Can you not become aussie citizens? You are doing an incredible job with your family Emma. Be kind to yourself. x
    SarahD@snippetsandspirits recently posted…Unconditional LoveMy Profile

    • Emma Fahy Davis says

      We’ve applied for citizenship as we meet the criteria, but it’s a sloooow process it seems! We’ll get by, we always have, it just gets overwhelming sometimes :(

  3. Chontelle Padfield says

    I hear u hun! I basically had to do the same thing last week. In fact i had to ask my ex to get the medication as i couldnt afford it. Big huge hugs and know you’re not alone

    • Emma Fahy Davis says

      Thanks lovely, hope your little lady is doing well and that her big brothers are looking out for her :)

  4. says

    I just want to give you a big hug Em. It is shitty that anyone has to make that choice – thank goodness you have beautiful friends and family to help out when things get especially tough.
    Kirsty @ My Home Truths recently posted…#WinningMy Profile

    • Emma Fahy Davis says

      Thanks xx Yeah, it’s shitty. But I have faith that it’s only temporary, we’ll get through it.

  5. says

    I am so glad to hear that you have such wonderful friends. I really don’t know what else to say except that I hope the situation eases for you really soon. i remember once at home, Mum could only give us peas and potatoes for dinner as she couldn’t afford meat but we did make it through those hard times and you will too xxx
    Deb – An Inspirational Journey recently posted…11 is the new 10, right?!My Profile

  6. says

    My heart goes out to you, Emma, that choice sucks! I’m so glad you’ve got it sorted out and that you have wonderful friends on your side. Best of luck with your citizenship! I just got mine and it came really quickly, so hopefully it will happen that way for you, too.
    Tat recently posted…The best job in the world #motherhoodMy Profile

  7. says

    I’m so sorry, that’s just awful and it’s not right. I really hope something ‘gives’ in a good way soon. And definitely don’t feel bad about your friend helping out. You’ll be back on your feet one day in the coming years and I’m sure you’ll pay it forward. Besides, it makes people feel good to be able to help others. You’re doing the best you can. Take care xxx
    Bec @ Seeing the Lighter Side of Parenting recently posted…12 Totally Creepy Marriage & Parenting Advice Books You Definitely Shouldn’t BuyMy Profile

  8. Lydia C Lee says

    There surely has to be a way to get the medicine (I know you will have investigated but this seems crazy!)

    • Emma Fahy Davis says

      It’s utter insanity! The only cheaper option is to buy it from eBay and hard as times are, I just can’t bring myself to trust medicine bought offshore from unknown sources. I have friends who swear by it and have recommended specific sellers but even so, it seems a huge gamble. With a bit of help we managed to pull it together this time, and I’m thinking when Willie gets his tax refund back after he does his return I might pay a couple of months worth up front so we’re in credit with the pharmacy. It’s all just a little bit stressful tho :(

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