in the Workforce
Map Store—Our Map to Independence
by David Devoe
November 1993, my wife, two-year-old daughter, and I were in New York,
driving east along I-84 toward Hartford, Connecticut. It was midnight.
We’d been on the road since early morning on our annual Thanksgiving
pilgrimage from South Carolina to my parents’ home in Maine.
We were all tired,
but I was determined to make Hartford that night. I began having a hard
time seeing. For the last hour of the trip I had to get my wife to help
me read road signs.
And so began my journey
with MS. Typically, it started as something seemingly minor. I thought
it was temporary. We didn’t even tell my parents during our visit.
When we were home again, I sought medical attention.
neuritis caused by a viral infection,” the doctor said. The
symptoms slowly disappeared within a month. Two months later the optic
neuritis returned. “You have MS. I have referred you elsewhere,”
the doctor said, as he spun his stool around to walk out the door.
My reaction was a
mixture of anger at this doctor with the bedside manner of a wrecking
ball, and fear—a terrible sinking fear that I was going to die.
My wife was pregnant with our second child; all I could think about was
two young children growing up without a father.
Fortunately, we learned
that I was thinking the absolute worst. My eyesight returned, this time
with help from steroids.
But over the next several months I dutifully reported every quiver, twitch,
and gurgle of my body to my neurologist. He cautioned me against focusing
on every twinge of body noise. But as the family breadwinner I could not
afford to be vulnerable again. My only plan was to rest. In my mind the
MS could be managed, if I just got enough rest at home.
My wife soon saw
a different picture. She became an avid reader of MS literature and decided
that we needed to prepare for the worst that might happen. Would she be
able to provide for our family? Would our doorways be wide enough for
a wheelchair? Worst of all, she was alone with her questions, since I
did not want to hear about these possibilities. Although I could walk
and see and I appeared to function normally, she saw the real me who spent
most of my time at home lying on the couch.
Seven months later
our son was born, and with that tensions rose. My wife and I began to
argue. As the months went by, our fights became pitched battles lasting
well past midnight. They were followed by restless sleep and longer, harder
days. I’d come home from work and collapse on the couch, wanting
even less to participate with the family. We were beginning to spiral
down that long dreadful path to the end of a marriage.
I thought she was
trying to undermine my career. She thought I was in denial about my MS.
At times my fatigue
was so extreme my legs were wobbly. She wanted me to buy a cane. “But
I don’t need a cane ... I’m fine ... I just need rest,”
And then something
devastating happened. A close family member, the one who had what we thought
was the perfect marriage, announced to the family that his marriage was
over. A lightbulb went on in my head. “We’re in trouble too,”
I said to myself.
I arranged for a
week’s leave, and we went on one of our favorite vacations: a family
camping trip to the mountains. There we had long talks, and almost no
fighting. There I agreed that we needed counseling. My wife had been asking
for this for months.
It took us 18 months
after my diagnosis to get to this point.
The following week,
we were on our way to a counselor. From the very beginning, the counselor
provided a safe environment for my wife and me to speak our minds. He
played referee and threw out new starting points when things bogged down.
During our weekly sessions, we would lay it all on the table, point fingers,
accuse, and fuss. As a result, the fighting at home stopped. After nine
months I understood that my wife was not trying to ruin my career, and
she realized my concerns about providing for the family. Once our trust
was regained, we began rebuilding.
I learned that we
could not depend on me to be the family’s sole supporter, but planning
to leave a career that had taken me more than 14 years to build was hard
to accept. I was an environmental geologist; I had earned college and
graduate degrees; I had recently passed the final hurdle, the exams to
earn a state license. I had acquired years of credentials. This was my
dream job, but a lot of it was done at sites outdoors, involving long
drives in all sorts of weather, and every day I was having greater and
greater difficulty mustering the energy.
We decided that my
wife would become the breadwinner. We did not want to put our children
in day care, so we also decided that I would stay at home. We agreed that
I needed to be productive. We looked at our options together.
Counting me, my wife,
and her dad (who had recently retired), we had three master’s degrees
between us and two neighboring houses that were pretty much paid for (my
wife had inherited an old family house from her mother). None of us had
business experience or training in marketing. But we decided to pool our
resources to create our own business.
We all loved the outdoors
but often had a hard time finding good guidebooks and maps on the Web.
So we decided to open an online map store.
In August 1997, with
enthusiasm, a detailed business plan, and loans taken out on our houses,
we jumped in. To minimize expenses I learned Web page design. We hired
an e-commerce consultant only to assist in setting up the more difficult
shopping cart and credit card connections. We attended conferences, obtained
licenses, purchased computers, and established office/storage areas in
one of our houses. And after six months of development time, we opened
Tamassee.com Guidebook and Map Store (http://www.tamassee.com).
It now offers over 15,000 travel products.
name Tamassee is Cherokee for “Place of the Sunlight of God”.
It is also a distinctive peak that juts out from the Blue Ridge escarpment
in upstate South Carolina—and is visible from our backyard.
Although it is not the highest peak in the area, Tamassee is prominent,
which is how we like to think of our company.
I am no longer an
environmental geologist. I now own a growing bookstore. Our old house
has stacks of books in the corners, computers in the dining room, and
shipping/receiving in the living room.
None of our big fears
have yet come to pass. I have had no reoccurrences of optic neuritis,
and despite other symptoms
(“wobbly legs”, temporary double vision, and fatigue), I realize
that things could be a lot worse. Perhaps managing my life has helped.
Taking beta interferon for the past five years hasn’t hurt either—except
for the needle.
By redefining our
lives I can now be “down” when MS insists and our world keeps
on functioning. My role in the business involves our long-term projects,
so I can be out for a day or more and not hurt our company.
We make a lot less
money than we did before, and most of what we own is hocked, but our marriage
is stronger than ever, our children are happy and well tended to, and
every morning I wake up with a purpose. I think this is as good as it