Guest post by Karen Spies. Karen is an entrepreneur and mother of two. She currently co-owns Alquemie Studios, a mobile app development shop in Boulder Colorado.
When I went to the doctor and heard that I had to have an emergency hysterectomy in 4 weeks, I was beyond panicked. I had been self-employed single mom scraping by for years- without health insurance for myself. To think that I had to submit to major surgery and be incapacitated for at least a month was terrifying. I talked with my boyfriend at the time and his suggestion was to ‘get more clients and work harder.’ Definitely that would have been the ideal, but I had already thrown my back out two times from the inflexible heavy mass in my abdomen. The thought of throwing my back out again was almost as scary as the idea of surgery.
I went home and called a friend to help me calm down. My friends’ wife got on the phone and said to me “Karen, this is no big deal. How much money do you need? $10,000? Just get 100 people to donate $100 each and you’ll be fine”. That statement was a turning point for me. I realized that I was not in combat against a huge adversary but that I really could go to my community and be cared for.
I went to the hospital to talk with the financial counselor. He was a kind man, not the emotionless accountant type that I expected. When he told me that they had a special plan for people who didn’t have insurance like myself, I was hopeful. When he told me the deposit that I had to put down to schedule the surgery, I felt pretty capable. I heard a voice in my head saying something like “that’s not too bad”. But when he told me the total amount that it was going to cost, I felt like I was falling down a well. I walked out in a daze and sat in my car for 10 minutes. I don’t remember if I was in shock or crying or both. I couldn’t believe that I had to let someone cut me open, that it was urgent and that I had to pay SO much for this horrible experience.
My mother was offended. “You are going to beg your friends for money?” she asked. “ It’s not begging!” I retorted. I explained to her that begging was what people do on a street corner when they ask strangers for a bribe to relieve themselves of discomfort in the face of poverty. I was asking people that I knew and loved, people that I had been there for- without a second thought, if they would step up and help me. Yes, I was embarrassed. Yes, it was painful. Yes and… I felt as if it was the only way to get this done. My friend (the one whose wife had suggested fundraising) spent almost his entire 2 weeks either working on the fundraiser or trying to keep my spirits up. I really believe that if I did not have his support, I would have ended up in the emergency room.
How did we decide on GiveForward? We thought of using paypal because the transaction fees were lower but the interface was SO UGLY that just looking at it seemed like a bad decision. My friend convinced me that the facebook interface and fundraising coaching was worth an extra 4%. He was right. If we had tried to cut corners and used a cheap looking site, we would not have been so successful.
The most amazing thing about my experience ( and there were many) were the comments that I got both on the GiveForward site and in person. In contrast to my mother’s opinion, I had people that I didn’t even know telling me about their similar experiences and people who had not been present in my life for over 20 years stepping up to help. People were thanking me for my vulnerability, and people told me that they were grateful that I had given them the opportunity to help. Truly it wasn’t about the money. In fact, I think that the comments that people put on the site when they made their donations were the most healing part of my whole surgery experience. To know how many people love you is an invaluable gift.
In this virtual age, sometimes we think that humanity is cold and binary. We hear the propaganda that technology is destroying community. Those naysayers don’t understand that the power of human connection is so strong that it is fostered by any communication, regardless of distance or media. They don’t understand how a Midwestern girl in Boulder Colorado had people all over the world reaching out to connect to her and support her. The ability of sites like GiveForward to mobilize community is truly a way in which we can be there for each other.
If you have a medical need, I would strongly suggest that you step forward and let people who care know what’s going on with you. Don’t let shame stop you from feeling the love that people in your life have for you. No one can feel good about helping if there isn’t anyone asking for help.