Saturday, February 09, 2013


About four years ago, I was taking an Anatomy-Physiology course and had made a decision that was to have a huge effect on my life.

I had left teaching a couple of years before with the intention of trying to get into pharmacy school. I had tired of the tight job market in my profession at the time, education, and wanted to get into the medical field. The aging of the baby boomers would guarantee me, I knew, of a job.

However, the prospect of getting into pharmacy school was daunting; there is now only one pharmacy school in Chicago, and only about 10% of candidates who apply get into the school. And even if I could get into pharmacy school, it was going to be two more years of prerequisites, and then four years of pharmacy school. I would be 56 when I finished, and my oldest kid would be done with college, and my younger one nearly done. The whole point was to be able to pay for most of their college.

I had been taking classes with my friend Leslie, who I also worked with; she was getting ready to go to nursing school, and the prerequisites for nursing school and pharmacy school were nearly identical, so we took classes together whenever we could. Leslie pointed out that it would make more sense for me to go to nursing school. First, with the Anatomy and Physiology class I was currently enrolled in, I would be finished with all the prerequisites for nursing school. Secondly, I could apply to the Chicago city college that I was already taking the prereqs at; a bonus was that the school was extremely affordable.

I had to make a run to my old high school to get my transcripts, but I got my application in on time. Two months later, I got the notice: I had been accepted.

Later I discovered just how fortunate I'd been. There were approximately five applications for every open slot in the school. Most people have to apply several times before they get accepted.

The month I started nursing school, my wife got laid off her job. The recession that had started the year before caught up with us. She searched for months for a job with no luck. We had a hard decision to make. She was getting unemployment benefits (which were extended thanks to the President's stimulus packages-- thank you President Obama!) but we were still struggling-- I no longer had a teacher's salary; I was working as a waiter. We were living on less than half of what we had been living on, and now I had to pay for school on top of our regular expenses.

We sat down and talked about it. Our kids were going to be in college in a few years. It was going to be a lot easier to pay for colllege on a nurse's salary than a teacher's. We knew it was going to be tough, but we had to have faith we'd work through it.

After six months of job-hunting, my wife finally went back to work, although for less than what she had been making. I had been hoping to drop down to part time at work in order to go to school, but that obviously wasn't going to happen. I continued to go to school full time and work full time. My next two years entailed very little sleep and lots of caffeine.

I graduated nursing school in May of 2011, the day I turned 50. In July of that year, I passed the state nursing exam and a few days later got a job. Since then, I have worked as much overtime as I can handle. When I got my W-2 a couple of weeks ago, my jaw just about hit the ground. I made a lot of money last year. A lot of bills got paid off. And a lot of school costs got paid for my son.

Today, when my wife got home, she told me of a conversation she had with a friend of ours. The couple, whose old home we got married in, is in a lot of trouble. They had been wealthy at one time; both of them come from wealthy families. It turned out that they had been living off of their inheritance and had finally hit the bottom of their well. They lost that home last year, and were evicted from the apartment they had been living in. They're staying in a temporary place, but they are on the verge of being homeless. We are trying to figure out how to help them.

In the meantime, I am glad about the decisions we made. I'm glad that I had an open mind, and listened to my friend about changing my plans. I'm glad that we decided to tough out my wife's unemployment, and for me to stay in school. I'm glad that I decided to jump at the job that was offered so quickly. I'm not thrilled with the job, but it pays well, and has allowed me to work a ton of overtime, which has allowed us to catch up financially. I'm glad that I made the decisions, day to day, to live within our means, and to do the things that assured we would be better off in the longer term. Tonight, my wife and I are going out for an early St. Valentine's Day dinner. Despite having a kid in college, we can afford to go out for a nice dinner (and though she doesn't know it, she's getting a couple of small pieces of jewelry). Thanks to decisions we made, all of it-- the kid in college, the dinner and the baubles-- are within our means. I feel pretty good about that.