By Will Parrish, 2020

In the early part of 2020, my wife tore her ACL. Being a critical care nurse who is accustomed to RUNNING to codes to provide life-saving CPR a torn ACL meant she was going on disability pending knee surgery. Appointments were booked, claims were filed, paperwork (along with paperwork, paperwork, paperwork) was completed leading up to a late-February graft to her right knee.

Aside from the pain and boredom of having to stay home and wait for her surgery, which fortunately was scheduled very quickly, she worried about her recovery time but mostly about her income and finances.

Not to worry since she has short and long-term disability through work and a husband who knows the ins and outs of disability claims. While that worked in her favor, we still didn’t see the looming challenge ahead for things we had not planned for. Namely that I would suffer from a bulging disc in my lower back the very week she would come home to recover.

It started innocently enough; A little pain in the lower back which had become a common annoyance in my life after a long day driving followed by lots of desk work. This time though my late forties would sneak up and remind me that I wasn’t as bullet-proof as I was when I was eighteen. Before I knew it, I couldn’t walk, was hindered getting to and from work and embarrassingly had to crawl to get around the house.

Now we were faced with BOTH of us being incapacitated during an unprecedented time in history with lockdowns just beginning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though I maintain relatively good health and fitness, 2020 had gone from a year of opportunity to just trying to get to the kitchen to get Sprite for my wife!

On top of my back hurting, my pride was taking an enormous blow as well.

“How did this HAPPEN?” I asked myself laying in the floor working remotely on my laptop before it had become common to work from home due to the pandemic. I’m embarrassed to say that it was pretty pitiful trying to get around and address needs for someone who couldn’t walk in ANY circumstance, while I myself found it more and more difficult to move at all. The chiropractor, physical therapy, and a course of ibuprofen did little to fix what was simply going to take time to heal.

But this was a BAD TIME to be disabled. It’s not supposed to work like this. When one spouse is disabled, the other is supposed to step up and take care of stuff.

Unfortunately, it gets worse.

While she does and did have disability insurance through work, she learned that having a disability, and being approved for her claim, did not mean that she would have the money anytime soon. It took weeks passed her claim being approved for her short-term disability payments to finally kick in (and her long-term disability paid only 60% of ONE paycheck…literally the day she returned to work in June) adding even more stress to an already tense situation. Instead of focusing on recovering, she worried constantly about cash flow and paying bills. Even though we are a two-income household and were able to continue our budget fairly easily, her sense of independence and security from having her own income was now threatened.

The good news is that physical therapy and my hard-headed pride eventually won out and I got back on my feet in about two weeks. Her recovery took a little longer than expected and when her short-term disability was up, she had to file another claim for her long-term disability. Another couple of weeks with no cash flow.

At present, full recoveries have been made and she is back to working full time. Now that a sense of normalcy has returned, aside from the “new normal” surrounding COVID-19, I can look back and find some useful take-aways:

  • Just because you HAVE disability insurance, doesn’t mean that you are covered
  • Even if your claim is approved, money doesn’t magically show up in your bank account WHEN YOU NEED IT
  • One spouse taking care of the other is a fallacy. At least in some / our circumstance.
  • What we think will happen and what DOES happen isn’t always the same. Even with the best-laid plans.

What does all of this mean to YOU? Practically, if you have disability insurance through work, consider not relying on it solely. Having an emergency fund and possibly a supplemental disability policy (a strategy we are now employing for her in the aftermath of our experience) will go a long way to avoiding a similar problem. A supplemental policy is an inexpensive way to ensure you and your spouse can weather a storm like ours.

Also consider experiencing a similar situation in your later years. Most of us assume our spouse will be there to help us when we need them, but what if they are incapacitated too? That’s why I have so much conviction for long-term care PLANNING (long term care is a plan, a service AND an insurance) for my clients and it is hugely important to address the need in your plan.