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When the “Human Side” Gets Right in Your Face
A seriously injured client gives us a whole new perspective on resilience

I recently met a pretty remarkable man and I’m grateful that I’ve had the chance to get to know him a little. Met him when I went to the hospital to hand deliver his accidental death and dismemberment policy cheque after a catastrophic crash in which he was struck by a car while riding his motorcycle. Grateful because I was the one who came away from that meeting feeling inspired.

There I was in the hospital, meeting this man who just came out of a coma, who barely survived, who’s looking at years of treatment and rehab, and he tells me, "It could have been worse."

Many months later, at the beginning of March, that same man came to one of our industry events – a Breakfast Club meeting of the Canadian Group Insurance Brokers – to speak to us from his wheelchair – smart, funny, upbeat and full of gratitude and hope. Now, please understand that we usually talk about stats and graphs and trends, but that day we were there to talk about “the human side of benefits management.” And we certainly got the human side, more than we could have imagined, when Andrew Lawlor started to speak.

I’ve never seen a room so quiet. From the very start of his talk, he had everyone sitting up and paying attention. The talk was titled, “The Good, the Bad and the Great,” in reference to how he felt he had been treated by his employer, his benefits plan, his insurance and, yes, by our company when we came to his hospital room to put a human face on the relationship. He told us his story, talked about his gratitude, the support from his family, his hope for the future, and his determination to get back to being a writer.

But let’s back up. Let me tell you how this came about.

Andrew is a writer. He’s married. He and his wife have two teenage boys. He held a senior position with a firm that is one of our clients.

The story begins when he turned 50 about a year ago. Friends and family contributed toward a gift card from a local motorcycle dealer, where he’s bought his Triumph – one of those small dreams that keep life interesting. As luck or fate or good sense would have it, he used the card to upgrade his 15-year-old bike helmet to one of the best and latest models.

Now, Andrew knows his way around bikes. He’s not one of those middle-aged guys who gets into trouble trying to ride way more bike than they can handle. So, on that rainy day last July, he was heading southbound at about 60 kilometers per hour, doing everything right, heading for the bike shop for a routine oil change.

Not so much the other guy heading northbound. The one in the car with slick tires. Going, well, let’s just say going far above the speed limit, losing control on the wet pavement and coming straight at him.

Sorry. This is where I get philosophical thinking about how random events that come out of nowhere in a fraction of second can turn our worlds inside out and upside down. What if he had taken one more sip of coffee before leaving home? What if a traffic light had been red a few seconds longer? What if… but Andrew will be the first to tell you that there’s no sense in asking "what if."

Anyway, he never had a chance. Police and EMS personnel found him, unconscious and terribly injured, a long distance from the road. (And that’s another part of the story we don’t have time to get into: thank goodness for the men and women in those EMS trucks. One wrong move, a couple of minutes longer… what if.)

He was in a coma for weeks. He lost one leg. Lost the use of his right arm. He was blinded in one eye. His spleen had to be removed. He had over 40 bone fractures, including his pelvis and his hips. Now he’s in a wheelchair.

We heard there’d been a claim, of course, back last summer, and all my colleagues and I could do was make sure the paperwork went through smoothly. The insurance carrier wanted to mail the cheque, but that’s not how we do those things.

I won’t say that I like hand delivering cheques when major claims are paid out. But I think it’s very important – I’ve talked about that before in other stories. It’s a way to make sure we crossed all the t’s, dotted all the i’s and lived up to our end of the deal. It’s also a chance to ask if there’s anything else we can do. And, yes, I have to admit it’s also a way for us to keep a handle on why we do what we do in the benefits management business.

Andrew and his wife sold their home because it had too many stairs, and the family has moved to a new home. He’s still very much in convalescent mode, working toward the day he’ll be ready for a prosthetic leg – thank goodness for insurance, again, because it will cost around $140,000.

He’s writing again, although he now relies on dictation software to do it. His left arm is still at about 80%, he writes in a recent post, and his right is “like a professional wrestling referee – it shows up, it looks like it should do the job, but ultimately it disappoints.” But, he adds, he’ll always write. It will take new tools, new context and new perspective. He adds, “No matter how strong your individual resolve, resiliency is an exercise in community.”

Well, this time, we were able to be a part of that community, and to play our role in getting our client back to doing what he does best: being a writer.

I remember he told me, that day I first met him, that the gift card and the decision to get a better helmet represented the difference between my meeting him in hospital and meeting his family at the morgue. “What if” again. But when it comes to insurance and managing benefits, I have to believe that we’re really in the “what if” business.

You know, a lot of people think, “Well, I’m young and healthy, I don’t need insurance,” or “It’ll never happen to me.” Well, someone once said, “To make people understand the value of life insurance, you have to back the hearse up to their front door.”

Not this time, though. And thank goodness for that.

If there is a topic that you would like me to write about, please email me at bill@penmore.com

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