I looked at my husband’s scared, weary green eyes and said, “It doesn’t matter the cost—his well-being is worth more than all the money in the world.” And with that, a several months-long journey of credit card swipe after credit card swipe began.
My husband and I are high school sweethearts. We came from two drastically different financial backgrounds, but through 13 years of growing up together, we have developed a united perspective and goal when it comes to our finances. We are both full-time students; I am a third-year medical student, and he is a musician pursuing a degree in audio production. We live solely on my loans, annually taking out the maximum I can from the government so that we both are able to work toward our dreams. The first year of medical school was smooth but financially tight. Every dollar was accounted for, and the budget was strict but feasible. We never ate out and never indulged in a non-essential purchase, but we were comfortable, happy, and proud of our grit. We didn’t have a penny of credit card debt—our frugality reigned supreme.
Unfortunately, our cookie-cutter financial structure and illusion of security crumbled swiftly and painfully during the fall of my second year of medical school. The first hardship we encountered was the unexpected loss of my beloved grandmother, my closest friend and ultimate supporter. My heart was shattered. Only four short weeks later, a series of devastating, gut-wrenching, incomprehensible tragedies struck our family. At the center of it, my mother-in-law, a single mother raising my husband’s teenage brother, very unexpectedly passed away. In the wake of this loss—and without detracting from my family’s privacy—I can say that this situation not only left my young brother-in-law without his mother but without his home and most belongings. It was the nightmarish equivalent to a factory reset on life. It was a total crisis.
Profound shock, loss, and grief put my mind into survival mode. Protect my husband, protect this child, anything that needs to be done—do it. Any expense that arises—pay it. With exactly zero dollars of disposable income, we began to swipe our emergency credit card. This is exactly the reason we had one, right? We had never experienced a life-altering situation like this, so without hesitation, we prioritized our family over frugality.
A reputable psychiatrist, the best therapists in our area—these were the people we trusted and selected to help us navigate this unfathomable situation as a family. Unfortunately, significant lump sums to the tune of several thousand dollars were required at the time of service to get the necessary care. On top of these healthcare costs came endless unprecedented expenses, including funeral flowers, computer equipment, and an entire new wardrobe of clothes for a high schooler. Every time our stomachs churned over another credit card swipe, we reminded ourselves “money doesn’t matter, people do,” especially when the people are your own flesh and blood. Doing the right thing for our family was the easy part; the financial fallout in the wake of our profound grief and our profound love is what became so hard.
We are now 11 months out from the most emotionally and financially challenging period of our life, and while we continue to rebuild as a family and adjust to this reality, the burden of debt that remains is a reminder of the tragedy we endured. We are back to having every dollar accounted for, living frugally within our strict budget on my loans, as we now have a monthly credit card bill that my loan budget cannot accommodate. Taking pride in our resourcefulness, we’ve sold my purses and my husband’s beloved collection of music records—anything of value that isn’t a necessity has been sold at numerous yard sales and online. So far, we’ve been blessed to earn just enough for the minimum credit card payment each month.
We are proud of ourselves and how we navigated the impossible, yet necessary decisions we have had to make this past year. We've proven to ourselves that we can endure life’s greatest challenges. I am so thankful that we've been able to “make it work,” but as I reflect back, it was very disheartening to learn that my university has zero opportunities to apply for emergency financial assistance as a student in crisis. The reality of our financial instability has been a challenging foundation on which I’ve fought to manage the immense pressures of studying to become a physician. This year has made me think of all the other current and future medical students who, like me, have experienced or will experience great tragedy during their training. For this reason, I intend to develop a future scholarship at Indiana University School of Medicine to dispense crisis funds for medical students in need.
If, as a physician, I can take a financial stressor off the plate of a bright doctor in training, I will. I have spent enough time dreaming of a reality where I could fully immerse myself into my studies—to focus completely on learning for the well-being of my future patients—without the ruminating fear of bills in my mind. Making this dream possible for medical students in crisis has become my motivation. This is not a position I ever imagined I would find myself in, but I am deeply appreciative of the growth I have experienced because of it.
I have learned more intimately how money, and the lack of it, has the power to drastically impact one's day-to-day life and decisions. I’ve learned that, at times, there is a price on grief and a price on love. I am grateful for these lessons, and most importantly, I am grateful for the good I intend to bring out of it for future medical students.