SIDNEY — The strike at FairPoint is now more than a month old. Many stories have been written about the $700 million in cuts the company wants and the $200 million in cost savings that my co-workers and I have countered with.

It may seem like a simple story of dollars and cents. But I hope by telling the story of my family, people can see the flesh-and-blood realities behind this strike.

Two months ago, my daughter Isabella’s pediatrician called us on the phone, crying. She had just seen an MRI of Isabella’s head and neck, and it showed she had a condition that could leave her paralyzed.

Back in April, Isabella had started having headaches. She’s an amazing dancer who’s always been healthy, so we hoped, since Isabella is 11, it was just growing pains. But before long, the headaches got so bad she’d be curled up in the fetal position in pain.

Fortunately, because I work at FairPoint, we had great health insurance and we were able to take Isabella to specialists who finally diagnosed her condition. She had a Chiari malformation of the brain that was putting so much pressure on her spine she was already losing feeling in her legs. If she didn’t have surgery soon, she might be paralyzed for life.

For a girl who loves to dance, who’s been in the Portland Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” this was just about the worst possible news. And for our family, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

My co-workers and I had been in contract talks with FairPoint for months, and things were not going well. In August, the company abruptly ended the talks and imposed the $700 million in devastating cuts, including serious cuts to our health care coverage. Even after that, we tried for nearly two months to find common ground with the company, but they wouldn’t budge. On Oct. 17, we went on strike.

Just two days before the strike started, our family got the news that Isabella needed emergency surgery. Her surgery initially was scheduled for Nov. 4. But FairPoint had decided to terminate our health insurance as quickly as they could – at midnight on Oct. 31. We got a Halloween treat when Isabella’s neurosurgeon decided to move the procedure to the 31st.

I feel so lucky to say that her surgery went very well. The doctors had hoped Isabella might be able to take a few steps a week after the procedure. But just two days after getting out of intensive care, she was up and walking.

That’s the great news. The tough news is we couldn’t afford the COBRA to continue our health insurance. We scrambled to get Isabella and her brother and sister on MaineCare. But now my wife, Amy, and I don’t have any health insurance. It would be a catastrophe if one of us got sick.

Of course, that’s the everyday reality for many families. Far too few Americans have the good middle-class pay and benefits that my co-workers and I fought for in our previous union negotiations – the kind of benefits that arguably saved Isabella from being paralyzed.

Now, this is where things come back to dollars and cents. FairPoint says they have to slash our benefits and cut the pay of new employees because there’s no other way to make a profit. But the mismanagement that’s gone on here since FairPoint took over in 2008 is incredible. The computer system they installed for customer service reps like me is terrible and there are similar problems all over the company.

You get the sense that the top executives at FairPoint are focused more on their Wall Street investors than their northern New England customers. Instead of saving money by running the business better, they make the kind of savage attacks on workers that Wall Street loves.

But that’s no way to run a company – and it’s killing our country. The way I see it, America needs more good jobs, not fewer. We need better benefits for workers, not worse. That’s what our fight at FairPoint is all about: standing up for the good jobs that every worker deserves.

Is it scary to sit here and fight without a safety net? Absolutely. But if we don’t fight, things will get that much worse for everyone. I want every parent to have the resources we did if they get that terrible call from their child’s doctor. And I want every child to have the same chances in life that Isabella does now.

— Special to the Press Herald