The Taxman Cometh


Three years ago Rob and I moved to Florence to help out his mom after his dad died. We both had only part-time employment at the time, and his mom has several health issues, so relocating up here seemed the thing to do. The plan was we'd share the house, and Rob and I would get at least part-time jobs. Well, you know what they say about plans.

Our first Christmas up here we all got the flu. Mom wound up in the hospital for a few days because she was so dehydrated, but Rob suffered a stroke. The stroke left him with some trouble with verbal communication, mostly with numbers and some words, although the stutter has cleared up, for the most part, and most folks don't even notice anything different in his speech now.

A few months before we moved up here, Rob developed an unexplained wound on his left big toe that was slow to heal and recurring. Diagnosed with diabetes when he was only five years old, he was vigilant about protecting and checking his feet, so even though we had no insurance, he sought medical attention for the wound. But 50+ years of diabetes has taken its toll on his body, and the wound became an ulcer that was only getting bigger because the little blood vessels in his foot had been damaged by the disease. After several angioplasties, months of wound care, and four weeks of five-days-a-week hyperbaric treatments, his left foot was amputated two years ago this month.

The stump healed well, and Rob was fitted with a prosthetic and did his strengthening and balance exercises faithfully, so that he was up walking sooner than expected. For about three weeks things were looking pretty good. Then he developed an ulcer on his right little toe. Again we went the multiple-angioplasties-and-wound-care route, but the circulation in his foot was just unable to get sufficient oxygen to the wounds which now covered three of his toes. So May 2013, the toes on his right foot were amputated. 

(The operation was actually delayed a week because on the original date, Rob woke up in diabetic ketoacidosis and spent 17 days in the hospital as they brought down his blood-sugar levels, treated him for the silent heart attack he'd suffered, and then amputated his toes. Toward the end of this hospital stay his bladder stopped functioning, so now he is catherized four times a day to empty it.)

The healing has gone slowly this time; the middle of the incision healed well, but the inside and outside ends did not. After more angioplasties and another round of hyperbaric treatments, which did nothing, the surgeon began a Dermagraft, artificial skin, treatment, and the inside end of the incision finally closed up this month (15 months after the operation). The outside end is still open, however, and the surgeon is considering another operation to "shave off" part of the bone on that side of the foot.  Meantime, we need to get an "offset" shoe, one that will keep the weight off the front end of the foot, to help control the pain and hopefully aid healing.

Obviously, Rob hasn't gotten a job, and I haven't been able to because I am his driver and full-time caregiver. Currently, our only source of income is disability; thank goodness, we both once again have medical insurance, Rob from Medicare and OHP, me with OHP. And we are extremely lucky to have a roof over our heads that we don't have to worry about losing. But Rob had student loans to the tune of $50,000, which we kept getting deferments on. We finally decided to go through the lengthy process of having the loans forgiven last year because of his disability and the increasing likelihood of his never being able to work and pay them off.

Little known fact: when a person has a loan forgiven, the IRS and other tax folk view the amount of that loan as income and tax you accordingly. So our 2013 taxes came to $5,277.93 owed to the IRS, and 3,775.59 to the Oregon Department of Revenue. I maxed out our credit cards to pay off the IRS and partly pay Oregon. But this leaves me with no cushion for any more out-of-pocket medical expenses, as well as still owing Oregon almost $2,000, which they expect to receive this year. The offset shoe will cost around $100, which is not covered by Medicare, and Rob's visit to the dentist last week revealed that he needs $1,200 in fillings, as well as a tooth extraction that will necessitate a visit to an oral surgeon because the root goes up near a sinus cavity (also not covered by Medicare); I don't yet know how much that will cost. And my 10-year-old eyeglasses broke; I don't know how much they will cost to replace, but originally they were $510.

I can handle the medical expenses with plastic, or I can handle the taxes the same way, but I can't swing both. Before Rob got OHP and Medicare, we used up all our savings and emptied the last of the IRAs to pay off what we could of his medical bills, so there's nothing left there. We've nothing of any real value left to sell; we sold my car when we moved up here, but the consignment company handling the sale went bankrupt, so we never saw that money. Hoping to prove we were insolvent and therefore excused from paying the full amount of our tax bill, I "fair market" valued most of our belongings, and they don't come to much--just enough, really, that our assets just outweigh our debts, so we must pay the tax.

I have always maintained that taxes are simply the price one pays for living in a civilized society; I take advantage of the amenities, so I am willing--glad, even--to pay the price. And I would be willing now, if only the amount taxed as income had been truly incoming and I had access to that money to pay the tax. But it wasn't, and I don't.

"So here is us, on the raggedy edge," as Captain Mal put it. We are turning to our families and friends for help because I honestly don't know what else to do. $10,000 would enable me to pay down the credit cards *and* pay off the rest of the Oregon state tax. Then I could go back to stressing over medical and related costs, which frankly, is going to look like a picnic after worrying about going to prison for tax evasion. I don't expect anyone to have a spare $10,000 lying around, but if you have some and can spare any, please know that Rob and I are deeply grateful for whatever you send our way, including your good thoughts, positive energy, and prayers. But right now and specifically, cash would be great. 

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Organizer

Debra Walker 
Organizer
Florence, OR
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