This post is a follow-up to my previous “This is Why” post from June. If you haven’t read that post, you may want to check it out first.
It happened to us. And now, it’s been six months.
So often people ask me, “How is your husband doing?” And I want to respond, “Do you want the short answer, or the long one?” Here’s the short answer: better; a whole lot better, in fact. He’s back at work, he was able to join me for our dream vacation in Paris, he finished PT, and all of his health care providers (in addition to his adoring wife) have been impressed by his quick progress. It’s the bright, shiny success story that everyone wants to hear.
There’s nothing inaccurate about the short answer, it’s just incomplete. The long answer: it’s not over yet, and it’s not going to be over for a long time. The doctors have told us that my husband will likely be in pain for about a year. He may even have pain and complications that extend the accident beyond the 1-year time frame. While my husband can complete most daily tasks on his feet, and most people would assume he’s back to normal, he’s far from it. He’s in constant pain, and while both of us long to return to our very active routine, it’s been a slow-moving journey. More than the physical trauma, I think we are both just beginning to unpack the emotional trauma of the accident. In short, while to most people it may look like we’re past the accident, to us it still seems like we’re in the thick of our recovery journey without a clear end in sight.
Here are a few things we’ve learned during the recovery process:
1. Personal Injury Protection (PIP) can make a big difference. Like many of you, I didn’t know much about PIP before the accident. PIP is a component of car insurance that’s designed to cover medical expenses (and often lost wages) regardless of who’s at fault. Your PIP can even be used if you are the passenger in another person’s car. In our case, our PIP coverage helped us to pay for some of the medical bills and expenses like lawn care since my husband wasn’t able to mow our lawn.
Tip: Depending on the state you live in, PIP may be an available option or a required policy add-on. Take a look back at your car insurance policy: Is it included? If not, what’s the cost to add it? Learn more about PIP coverage on Nerdwallet.
2. Short-term disability is a life saver, but it doesn’t cover everything. The truth is, despite working for a benefits provider, I didn’t know much about how disability worked before my husband’s accident. I understood that disability insurance is designed to pay your wages if you can’t work for an extended period because of an illness or injury. What I didn’t realize is that it is only designed to cover part of your wages, depending on your policy. That may mean only 60-70% of your base salary. In our case, my husband had a waiting period shortly after his accident where he had to cash out vacation days and use FMLA before these benefits kicked in. Also, the percentage of the salary covered tapered off the longer he was out of work.
Tip: I realize that this may not seem like an urgent concern, but it’s worth checking into. Review what your employer offers: Does it include both long-term and short-term disability coverage? Not sure if you have what you need? Check out this NerdWallet article for more information about why you need disability coverage and how to get it.
3. It’s harder than you think to reach a health care out-of-pocket maximum. We have a high-deductible health plan. One of the first things that I did after the accident was look up our out-of-pocket limit. However, what I didn’t realize is that the really important number is the deductible. With our insurance, once you reach your deductible, you only pay 20% of your costs until you reach the out-of-pocket limit. We assumed that we would, without a doubt, reach our out-of-pocket limit. Now, we aren’t so sure because we are paying a small fraction of the costs after the deductible was reached.
Tip: Take a few minutes to get to know your health insurance. What’s your deductible? How does your insurance jump in after you meet the deductible? What’s your out-of-pocket limit? How would you cover those costs if you needed to? Do you have an FSA (Flexible Spending Account) or HSA (Health Savings Account) available to you?
4. The financial side of the accident may not be figured out for a long time. After we left the hospital, all I wanted to do was put the accident behind us. I knew the physical healing would take a long time, but I thought I could help by taking care of the financial side of things right away. My husband was quick to remind me that our bills had to be processed by our car insurance, then our health insurance, and then, later on, we might receive the bodily injury settlement.
Tip: If you find yourself in this situation, be patient and diligent. Check the bills you receive to make sure that you (or your spouse) were billed for the correct services and that your insurance paid for what they were supposed to. Have questions? Ask for help. I spent a lot of time on the phone with both of our insurance providers. They continually reminded us that they were on our side.
5. The trauma stays with you. In some ways, it feels like an eternity since the accident. In other ways, it feels like just yesterday. While the initial impact of the accident has lessened, there are still times when the whole experience hits me like a wave. It’s made me irritable, anxious, angry, grateful, depressed, and just about every other emotion on the spectrum. My husband may have the physical injuries, but this experience has marked and shaped us both. It’s ok to struggle. It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to not “be ok.”
Tip: Gather a team of people who can walk beside you in the healing process. I couldn’t be more grateful for our family and friends who have walked with us every step of the way . . . for the people who have continually asked about Tyler’s progress and are willing to listen to the long story and not just the short one . . . for those who realize the emotional and physical healing process is a journey and it’s not going to be over for a long time. In addition to the support I received from my inner circle, I also sought help from a licensed counselor. It wasn’t just about “sharing my feelings,” although I certainly did some of that. Her practical strategies and outsider’s perspective gave me tools that I continue to use every day.
So, what can you take from my experience?
I certainly hope you never have to navigate an experience like this. If you do, remember you are not alone and it’s ok to reach out for help from insurance providers, colleagues, friends, family, and licensed professionals. I’ve also realized it’s ok to say something is challenging for you, even if it doesn’t look like it should be to someone else.
For those of you not enduring a situation like this, keep your eyes open to those who might need an extra helping hand. Remember, just because a situation doesn’t look dire on the surface doesn’t mean it still isn’t a struggle. Put a reminder on your calendar to check-in with your friend or family member in a few weeks or months. While their struggle may no longer be front of mind for you, likely it will still be so for them. If it isn’t, I guarantee you they will still be grateful that you checked in. Be patient and listen with an ear for the long story, not just the short one.
Photo by Tandem Tree Photography