The Envelope

by Lisa Swindler
South Carolina, USA

In 1998, a week before Thanksgiving, I took our 10-month-old baby daughter to the doctor for a check-up. The nurse commented how well she looked. Fifteen minutes later we were headed to the hospital emergency room. Ruth’s oxygen level was below 90 and she was having difficulty breathing. It was her fourth hospitalization that year.

Ruth had stopped breathing twice in six months, and was on steroids after being diagnosed as a severe asthmatic. This time they discovered that her stomach acid was going into her lungs; this along with asthma made breathing difficult for her.

Five days later, two days before Thanksgiving, we were able to take her home. Her 3-year-old brother Kyle was excited to have his baby sister home; he’s always been eager to help “baby Ruth”.

My husband Sam and I took turns giving our daughter her breathing treatments every two hours around the clock. Thanksgiving came and went despite our sheer exhaustion. Two days after Thanksgiving the smoke detector in our home went off at 5:30 am. The kitchen was in flames, the house filled with smoke.

The fire department saved our home, but since the entire house had smoke damage our daughter could not live there. With our very sick 10-month-old and rambunctious 3-year-old Kyle, we moved into a motel nearby. We weren’t feeling very thankful.

Our real struggles had just begun. I carried the insurance for our family, so I had to work. Sam stayed in the motel with our children by day, cleaned our home by night and fought with the insurance company. They were denying the medical necessity for our daughter to be in a smoke-free environment.

The EnvelopeFor over two weeks we had to pay everything out of pocket, including meals eaten out. I tried to keep my spirits up around my family, but at work it was very difficult to smile.

Christmas was a week away. We didn’t have the first gift for the children, we had no tree. We hoped our son wouldn’t realize Christmas was coming, but no luck. Kyle played with “baby Ruth”, telling her about Santa Claus and the toys he would bring her. Between living expenses and medications, Sam and I were at the bottom of the barrel in funds. Christmas looked bleak.

Six days before Christmas, one of my friends at work asked me to come to the break room. She hugged me and handed me an envelope. In it was $700! My co-workers — my friends — knew that my family needed help. They knew I would never ask for it.

At one of the lowest times in my life I was suddenly the happiest. I cried, and went around to thank everyone in the office; I put pride aside and opened up to those who cared. We were able to buy gifts for Christmas, get a Christmas tree, and pay our motel bill. By Christmas day, we were back in our home — with a renewed faith in mankind.

Originally published as HeroicStories #358 on Nov. 18, 2002

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