The last few years of Mary Jo Welch’s life have been utter hell.
Three years ago, while working as a dispatch driver at the Brandon Sun, Welch frequently found herself "laying in people’s front lawns" after falling down. The falls were related to the debilitating pain she had been experiencing in her hips.
"I was terrified of going up steps because I was so scared that I would fall down," Welch said.
In the summer of 2011, while working at Sobeys, the lower half of Welch’s body completely locked up.
The pain, which she described "as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to your toe," and her inability to move her legs caused her to wonder if she was paralyzed.
"All of a sudden I went and picked up a pan of chicken and I couldn’t move," Welch said. "I just started to cry."
In September 2011, after nearly a month of using the wall in her apartment to move around and at times crawling to get to the washroom, Welch went to a walk-in clinic to get checked out.
After a battery of tests, the doctor immediately sent her to the emergency room at the Brandon Regional Health Centre, where nurses were waiting for her at the front door.
More tests revealed that Welch couldn’t move her toes.
"I couldn’t feel my lower half and they were pounding on me and I couldn’t feel it all," Welch said.
Further tests revealed a cyst between her L4 and L5 vertebrae, causing cauda equina syndrome — a neurological condition that results in the acute loss of function of the nerve roots of the spinal canal below the termination of the spinal cord.
The doctors explained to her that, "it was like a short in a lamp," Welch said, "and every now and again my movement would cause there to be no signals to my legs and I’d go toppling."
Less than a week after visiting the clinic in Brandon, Welch was on a gurney being prepped for a laminectomy — an operation that requires a portion of the vertebral bone be removed — to have the cyst removed at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre.
Today, a little more than a year after going under the knife, Welch is struggling again — this time financially.
The 49-year-old collects $730 a month in disability from the government, but with rent consuming $636 of that, and bills and expenses over and above that, it leaves nothing for daily essentials.
"I have begged and borrowed from everyone I know," Welch said, her voice trembling and her eyes filling with tears. "It feels really, really lousy. I don’t have any place to go for money any more and I need a job."
This month, she has resorted to selling some of her possessions in order to pay the bills.
"The only money I have is coming in from selling things," Welch said. "I’ve been going through my house trying to find things to sell."
The financial strain has also burdened her physically and emotionally.
"Your whole way of life is changed," Welch said.
Now, her most recent battle is finding a job and getting back into the workforce. She believes her experience and education is a good match with administrative work and believes getting back into the workforce will help her regain her strength of mind.
"I’m just thankful for everything that I have," Welch said. "There are days when you don’t want to be here and fight this hard, but you have to keep going."