Mallory Lorge, who works for the Department of the Interior, is rationing the last two vials of insulin for her diabetes during the government shutdown
Earlier this month Mallory Lorge was down to the last two vials of insulin for her Type 1 diabetes when she decided to ration the drug she needs to survive because — as a federal government employee out of work in a weeks-long shutdown — she could no longer afford the $300 co-pay for a new supply.
It was the latest in what had been months of challenges, capped off by the Dec. 22 shutdown over President Donald Trump‘s call for a border wall.
Lorge, 31, of River Falls, Wisconsin, works for the Department of the Interior and was already stressed from whopping medical bills following a serious health scare last fall when she stopped receiving a paycheck.
“That,” she says, “was our breaking point.”
The government closure, which cut off pay to some 800,000 workers, is the longest in U.S. history, at 25 days and counting.
About 10 days ago and without the means to restock her insulin, Lorge’s blood sugar rose to a dangerously high level. But she didn’t tell anyone, not even her husband. Left untreated, she faces life-threatening complications including diabetic ketoacidosis and coma.
“I knew I couldn’t afford an ambulance ride, I couldn’t afford to be in the emergency room,” she tells PEOPLE. “I said, ‘I am going to bed, and I hope I wake up.’ I was pretty scared, I was like, ‘I am going to die in my sleep.’ “
“It was a choice between getting further into debt and going bankrupt or dying,” she continues, “and I took the dying.”
Since Lorge first shared her story with NBC News, she has received numerous offers of insulin from fellow Type 1 diabetics. Vials, she says, are now in mail.
Readers tracked her down online to make financial donations, some even contacting her local police department to say they would like to help. Says Lorge: “My faith in humanity is getting restored.”
It wasn’t so long ago that her life seemed headed in a much different direction. In September Lorge married her longtime boyfriend, Ross Bischoff, who works for a tool making company. The pair took a romantic honeymoon to Mexico and had money saved from the wedding to pay off the trip.
But when they got back, Lorge was hospitalized with a double pneumonia, respiratory failure and sepsis. She underwent weeks of outpatient treatments, and doctors told her she had to take medical leave from her job.
When her time off was exhausted and she was still not well enough to return to work, colleagues donated their own leave. “I was existing on [their] kindness,” she says.
And then in December, after an abrupt political reversal by President Trump, large parts of the federal government closed. Around the same time, and despite having health insurance, thousands of dollars of medical bills arrived in the mail.
Lorge and her husband took out a $40,000 loan to consolidate their credit card debt, and Lorge has canceled her follow-up medical appointments.
“I am so scared of more bills,” she says. “The stack on my table is a couple inches high.”
The couple expects to make the first repayment on their loan on Tuesday, as Bischoff has been working overtime — up to 70 hours a week. “But his boss took him aside last week and said, ‘I don’t know how long the overtime can last, work is drying up over here,’ ” Lorge says.
She and Bischoff worry about making the next mortgage payment on their home. Lorge has applied for unemployment but doesn’t know when or if she’ll receive benefits.
It remains unclear how or when the shutdown will end. The president claims he needs billions for a wall at the southern border to stem a “crisis” of drugs, violence and human trafficking. Congressional Democrats, empowered by the midterms, have rejected that — calling a wall immoral and ineffective and offering to negotiate about border security once the government is reopened.
More bad news came for federal workers on Tuesday when a judge declined to force the government to pay at least those essential employees who have been made to work without pay during the shutdown, according to The Washington Post.
“I love working for the public and I feel so betrayed,” Lorge tells PEOPLE. “I feel like our lives our being held hostage. I wish people would see human lives are being affected.”