Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Insurance Matters #1
Sample year-end statements from policies that first turned up in my mail in Nov. 2001
My divorce from my ex-husband was finalized in February of 2001. In November of 2001, three letters regarding the accounts shown here suddenly arrived in my mail. Each of the three account letters contained an old mailing address for me: two had the address of a house my husband and I had owned and lived in in Houston when we were first married, and the third listed the address of a house we’d rented for awhile when we first moved back to the Texas Hill Country town where my husband was born and raised. The letters each said the same thing: that account information sent to the old addresses had been returned to the company; the company had received information that my current address might be the correct one; and if so, would I please fill out forms verifying my information and identity. I did fill out the forms and return them, and shortly afterwards, I received a small check from each account (~$30-$50 each). I had no idea what these accounts were, and I tried calling the company several times for information only to either be placed on “terminal hold” or disconnected each time. I then tried asking first my accountant and then a financial advisor to explain them to me, and both of them said they thought they were insurance policies of some sort. I then tried writing the company and asking them to send me more information on the accounts or to have someone call me about them, but no one ever responded. (I still receive a small check from each of them every year, and I still have almost no information about these accounts—can anyone help me with this?)
Much later, I happened to remember a line from my divorce decree stating that I was awarded all life insurance policies we’d owned that were on me and my ex-husband was awarded all policies that were on him. I began to wonder if these had been life insurance policies taken out on me without my knowledge. I also realized that if these were indeed policies on my life, they dated from around the time of something very suspicious and frightening that had happened.
In order to explain this, I need to go back to the time when my husband and I first moved back to the Hill Country, in June of 1986. We rented a small house at first to give us time to decide what we wanted to do and also to make certain my husband’s new business would support us in a small town. By this time, we had a toddler, and soon after we’d settled into the rent house, I discovered I was pregnant again.
During my first pregnancy, I’d had a lot of trouble with morning sickness, and this time around proved to be the same. I remember really looking forward to the fall, when I expected relief from both the summer heat and the nausea. Alas, this was not to be—as the weather got cooler, my sickness got worse instead of better. I started having other symptoms, too: terrible headaches during which I could hear my pulse beating in my ears (which I’d never experienced before), more severe vomiting, and shortness of breath. Because the symptoms were always worse in the morning, I assumed the morning sickness was more severe this time. My toddler seemed increasingly fussy and irritable as well.
Thanksgiving week of 1986 brought with it the first really cold weather of the season, which meant that the heater in our little rent house was now running during the daytime as well as at night. Both my toddler and I began to be quite ill, and I wondered if we had the flu, but we went to my in-laws’ for Thanksgiving dinner and felt better. I also remember being relieved that my husband wasn’t sick, since he was working so much both day and night (especially at night).
The next morning, my toddler and I woke up very ill, and because my husband had said he had to work again and was gone, it was very hard for me to manage. My husband came home around noon and said we were invited to friends’ for dinner; I told him I didn’t know if we could manage it, but I dragged my child and myself to the car and off we went. To my pleasant surprise, we began feeling a lot better after we’d been there a little while, and we had a good time.
As soon as we got home, my husband got a phone call and said he had to go back to work. My toddler and I were worn out, so we both went to bed early. Once the sun went down that night, so did the temperature, and I remember that it got very cold. I climbed into bed thankful to be cozy and warm and feeling better.
I woke up a few hours later extremely nauseated and with a severe headache that pounded in my ears. I also felt as if I couldn’t breathe, and even though I wanted nothing more than to sleep, I couldn’t because it felt as if I was suffocating. My husband was still gone, and I remember lying there for what seemed like hours trying to decide what I should do. Finally, in desperation, I went into the living room and tried to sleep sitting propped up on the sofa, since it seemed easier to breathe that way, but my head was hurting so much and my breathing was so labored that sleep was impossible.
I have no idea how long I lay there, but as the sun was coming up, my husband walked in the front door. He was startled to see me on the sofa and asked what was wrong, and I told him I was sick. He asked if I needed anything, and I told him no. After that, he went into the bedroom, and I heard him get into bed. I knew he was probably exhausted from having worked all night.
I was still too miserable to sleep, so in desperation, I got a medical book down from the shelf and forced my eyes to focus enough to start looking up my symptoms. I have no idea how long I looked at the book—15 minutes? 20? 30? All I can remember is suddenly realizing I had all the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and almost at the same time remembering feeling better at my in-laws’ and our friends’ house and worse at home. I also suddenly realized that my toddler was screaming about their head hurting; I had no idea how long this had been going on because my mind was so “foggy”. I remember somehow stumbling into our bedroom, and I definitely remember seeing my husband stretched out on top of the bed, still in his work clothes, wide awake and staring up at the ceiling. I remember blurting out to him that we were being poisoned and needed to get out of the house immediately, and I remember him telling me I was sick and needed to rest. I was certain I was right, though, and I remember insisting that we needed to leave (and I vaguely remember our toddler screaming in the background). My husband continued to insist that I rest, and I remember telling him that I was too ill to lift our child out of the crib and that if he didn’t do it, I was going to go outside in my nightgown and start screaming and yelling to the neighbors that we were being poisoned. As soon as I threatened to do this and headed for the door, my husband jumped up off the bed, got our child, helped us both to the car, and drove us over to his parents’ house.
I have no memory of arriving at my in-laws’ house, but somehow I wound up inside, sitting in their rocking chair, rocking my child, who was still screaming and crying about their head hurting. I think I must have been drifting in and out of consciousness, because I vaguely remember my in-laws and my husband arguing in the next room. I must have frightened my mother-in-law badly, because she was insisting on calling a doctor, which the med did not want to do. In the end, she did call one, and my husband also talked with him. Then my husband and his mother came in and told me the doctor wanted me to meet him at the E.R. and let him check me out because I was pregnant. I refused to leave my toddler, and my mother-in-law insisted on taking over the rocking duties.
I have no memory of going to the hospital; all I remember is suddenly realizing I was on an exam table in the E.R. The doctor came in, and I blurted out something about carbon monoxide poisoning in our house (that was probably only semi-coherent). The doctor said there was a blood test for it, and he drew some of my blood and took it off for testing. I remember that after he left, my husband turned to me and said, “What if you’re wrong?”; I remember telling him I was positive I was right. He then left the room, and I don’t remember him coming back (but I’m not sure about this).
I have no idea how long I lay there on the exam table; I think I must have finally fallen asleep. Eventually the doctor returned and said my blood test had come back as positive for carbon monoxide poisoning (~23%, from blood drawn about 2 hours after I left our house). He said he wanted me to spend a night in the hospital on oxygen as a precaution because of my unborn child, but he tole me we should both be fine. I asked about treating my toddler as well, but he said my child was doing fine and wouldn’t need treatment. After that, I was quickly wheeled up to a private room, provide with an oxygen mask, and given a shot of something my doctor insisted was safe for the baby to relieve the pain in my head and let me sleep.
I woke up again hours later to find our landlord standing by my bed looking very frightened, and I remember having to take off the oxygen mask to talk to him, which he was concerned about. I assured him I was feeling much better but did not want to return to the house unless I was sure whatever had caused our problems was found and completely fixed. He said he’d had someone from the gas company come out as soon as he heard what had happened, that they’d found the source of the leak, and that it was already fixed. Shortly after he left, the public relations lady from the hospital came in briefly and asked me if it was okay if my name was left off the list of hospital admissions that was published every week in the local newspaper at the time; I think I mumbled, “Fine,” and went back to sleep.
The next day, Sunday, I came home and rested most of the day and felt better than I had in months. The next morning (Monday), being curious, I called the gas company and asked to talk to the technician who’d handled the call to our house. I was surprised when this man insisted on coming to the house to talk to me instead of just speaking with me over the phone, and he soon showed up at my front door.
The tech. told me my mother-in-law was at the house when he arrived which, by the time he told me, was about 4 hours after we’d left. The tech. said the doors and most of the windows of our house were open, so he was surprised when his testing apparatus “turned completely black” as soon as he walked inside. He said he found the door to our gas furnace wide open and that when he checked our attic, he found someone had nailed a board over the furnace vent. He assured me he’d fixed both problems and checked out our heating system thoroughly. I asked him why someone would have boarded up the attic vent, and he suggested I talk to our landlord. I asked my husband to do this, and he later said the landlord felt it must have been done by the previous tenant who had probably seen what he thought was a hole in the attic and had boarded it by mistake. The gas company tech. told me my toddler and I had been extremely lucky to have escaped in time, and I agreed.
In an eerie coincidence, my ex-husband’s father apparently had his own close call with carbon monoxide poisoning many years ago. According to the story the family told me, he was invited to go hunting with five other prominent local men in West Texas but had to cancel at the last minute. Four of the five men were found dead in a trailer during the trip. The fifth, a local doctor, had supposedly warned them the heater they were using wasn’t safe and had spent the night in a tent instead. One of the victims was Dr. Spiva, a local dentist, who was the father of both a girl who died (supposedly during surgery) at age 4 and another daughter, Debbie, who became the infamous Dr. Debbie Spiva of Texas Monthly fame.