Thursday, March 13, 2008

2008 is shaping up like 2002. I don't like it.

James called me last night, saying, "I want to bounce something off you." Here's the something: he's having regular stomach pains that feel similar (though not as bad) as the ones he had when he had pancreatitis recently. His surgery was a couple of months ago. Here's the background: he has no insurance, $1500 in hospital bills, $17,000 in credit card debt, and a lousy credit rating. He's working 60 hours a week at an auto shop which has promised him all the work he can handle and a manager's position in a year, but it's not much money right now. He doesn't want to ask our parents for money to go to the doctor because they've already given him a lot of money and he feels guilty. Here's the bouncing: should he go to the doctor or not?

I don't see him really expecting me to say "No, don't go, maybe it'll go away." I didn't, anyway. I inquired into his symptoms, mentioned surgical complications, told him that his health was worth a little more debt, and suggested calling the doctor's office to see if they have any suggestions on how to afford the bill, seeing if he could get help somewhere else--essentially, that he should do whatever he can. He didn't ask for money, which surprised me a bit--but then, he hasn't asked for money since, oh, 2003, when he was behind on rent, and I've given it to him anyway for Christmases and such. Maybe he was hoping I'd offer. On the other hand, he also knows that we're short an income ourselves.

I offered to look at his budget, and he says he's spending as little as possible, but then he was calling me while driving to visit his ex-girlfriend at $3.50 a gallon in his truck. (At least, I hope she's his ex. He's said that twice, though, and the first time it didn't take.) He says he sold a bunch of our old books for $30. (I got the chance to look through them last year, so as long as they didn't include the Mark Twain book I've been missing for four years, I don't care.) Also he says he's spending all his spare money on visits to his daughter, and while I can understand the desire to do that, I wonder if he shouldn't be using that money for his existing bills instead. And even if he gets insurance through his work (I think they offer it after six months, and he's had this job for three), this will probably qualify as a pre-existing condition and won't be covered anyway.

I would send money if we weren't already tight. As it is, I'm going to see whether we have any leeway or not--it depends on when our tax refund comes and whether Eric will be taking one class or two this summer and whether he can get unemployment--and if we do, send him something for an initial appointment at least. I don't like the idea of bailing him out, but he's been in financial trouble long enough to know that gifts from family aren't enough to support him and he's going to need to straighten out his affairs for any sort of long-term viability. He's already aware that Dad's work a second part-time job for him, and it sounds like he's much more aware of how much money our parents have given him than our parents think he is.

Now may not be the time to have scruples about asking them for money, though. Or me. I've been thinking about ways I could make a little extra money, to give us a little more cushion; now I'm thinking about ways I could make a little extra money to send to my brother's doctor.