After her lifelong disability worsened, Carmen Gonzalez’s hard-fought professional, personal and financial successes started to crumble rapidly. To improve her health, she underwent surgery, which left her with 22 screws in her back and in perpetual pain.
Ms. Gonzalez, 57, has scoliosis, an abnormal curve in the spine. “My scoliosis is more severe, because not only is my spine bending, but my neck is also,” she said.
She came to New York City from Puerto Rico when she was 23, seeking a job that would not discriminate against her because of her condition. She started working for an insurance broker specializing in auto, home and commercial policies.
“As I learned the insurance business, I learned that my boss had lost his insurance license,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “He encouraged me to get my own license to save the business.”
She enrolled at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, where she lives, to study for her licensing exam.
“I knew my English was not good,” she said. “I walked around with a tape recorder and a dictionary. I would record classes and write everything down. I used the dictionary to look up words I did not know.”
Ms. Gonzalez said she took the exam for property and casualty insurance three times before she passed.
As she made strides in her professional career, she also made personal and financial gains. In 1991, she married and had a son, Ricardo. In 1995, she opened her own insurance firm, G&B Brokerage, a business she said grossed $125,000 a year. She also bought a home in Orlando, Fla.
However, her newfound happiness would not last.
In 2005, her scoliosis worsened as her spine impinged on her lungs, restricting her ability to breathe and aggravating her asthma. “I only had one part-time person working in my office,” she said. “I couldn’t make money, because I was not healthy enough to run the business.”
Ms. Gonzalez was forced to close her business and sell her home in Orlando.
At the same time, her personal life soured as her marriage ended in divorce. “I think the fact that my condition was getting worse really bothered my ex-husband,” she said. She got a job with State Farm but left in 2008 when her health deteriorated further.
Although her former husband’s monthly alimony payments of $650 did help her financially, they were not enough to pay the bills. In 2008, she applied for and was granted disability insurance.
In an attempt to improve her health so she could return to work, she had two more operations.
“I went through the first surgery in 2010 to compress my nerves to prepare for the other surgery in 2012,” Ms. Gonzalez said. The second operation would have cost more than $150,000, but NYU Langone Medical Center performed it free.
That surgery had complications: One of her lungs collapsed, and a blood clot in her leg left her barely conscious in the hospital for nearly a month. She has 22 titanium screws in her back.
“I have two kinds of pain: a pulsating pain and a burning pain,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “I can take drugs to help with the pulsating pain, but nothing helps with the burning pain. It is with me 24 hours a day.”
Doctors have told her that the burning pain is a result of a pinched nerve in her back.
Ricardo had to leave college to help his mother financially as she recovered. He eventually stopped providing $250 per month, and her disability payments stopped as well.
“They thought I had all this income, but I kept trying to tell them my son moved out and I can’t cover my bills,” Ms. Gonzalez said.
She has a hearing scheduled to try to restore her disability payments. She said she received $187 in food stamps and $660 in Social Security benefits. She pays $1,300 a month in rent.
She sought help from Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, one of the seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. The fund provided her with $399 to buy a laptop and printer to pursue her dream of running her own company again.
“Despite my pain, I’m looking to do commercial policies from home,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “I have been in this community a long time, and businesses know and trust me. I want to use the mobility of my laptop to help businesses so they can help me provide for myself.”
Source : The New York Times , 20th Nov 2015