One of the things that always made me laugh to myself when I was out running errands, meeting up in public with friends, or just cruising around in the community doing everyday activities was when strangers would approach me to tell me “how inspiring” I was or how great it was to “see me out”. I wondered what was “inspiring” about my shopping list or if there was some other place that I should be. When I was newly injured, over ten years ago, I used to get frustrated when strangers made comments that I felt marginalized me, or made assumptions about my capabilities as an individual, that appeared to be based solely off of someone else’s perceptions of what it meant to live with a disability. As I grew into my “new life”, added to my palate of experiences, and expanded my network of resources and peers; my feelings related to those random, public interactions began to change...
One of the things that always made me laugh to myself when I was out running errands, meeting up in public with friends, or just cruising around in the community doing everyday activities was when strangers would approach me to tell me “how inspiring” I was or how great it was to “see me out”. I wondered what was “inspiring” about my shopping list or if there was some other place that I should be. When I was newly injured, over ten years ago, I used to get frustrated when strangers made comments that I felt marginalized me, or made assumptions about my capabilities as an individual, that appeared to be based solely off of someone else’s perceptions of what it meant to live with a disability. As I grew into my “new life”, added to my palate of experiences, and expanded my network of resources and peers; my feelings related to those random, public interactions began to change.
Most of us are good people who are trying to live a positive life and leave the world a better place than we found it. We make judgements and decisions in our lives, and interpret and relate to the world, based on the knowledge gained through past experiences. I suppose that this is not new or revelatory information but, in my case, it took me a little while to truly appreciate how it related to my life. What I eventually realized was that, while there was nothing truly “inspirational” about my daily activities, people’s reactions were based off of the fact that it was rare for them to see individuals with obvious disabilities (such as a wheelchair) out in public doing “normal” things. Therefore, people reacted to seeing me out-and-about as if it were some kind of accomplishment. Unfortunately, it is rare to see “folks like me” out in public. I am the exception to the rule. The realization of this immediately shifted the target of my frustration from the stranger in the grocery store parking lot to the fact that more disabled individuals were not out and experiencing the same quality of life that I was enjoying. As I learned more about my “situation” and how it compared and contrasted to the lives of other disabled individuals I became increasingly aware that many of the opportunities that were available to me were a result of the Michigan Auto No-Fault Law (MANFL).
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the MANFL and to the citizens and legislators in Michigan, who have repeatedly voted to preserve the best catastrophic injury laws in the country despite repeated efforts from the insurance industry to repeal the law and subvert the will for he voters. Without the benefits I have been afforded through the MANFL my level of independence and quality of life would be nowhere near where it is today. Instead of being the “inspirational” guy at the grocery store I could be one of the forgotten masses of disabled individuals who are stuck at home, with few opportunities afforded to them, and whose needs are not adequately met because they are reliant on Medicare or their health insurance- both of which are the insurance equivalent of trying to patch a leak in the Hoover Dam with a Band-Aid.
I still need help with things on a daily basis. It has been necessary to modify, or change, the way I get through most of my daily tasks. And there are definitely things in my life since my injury that I have to rely on other people to do for me. But the resources available to me, the resulting opportunities I have been afforded, and the overwhelmingly positive impact on my life because I was fortunate enough to be covered under the MANFL have really put things into perspective, helped me to appreciate every single day, and have opened my eyes to the huge disparity between the haves and have-nots. Lots of things in life can seem like a long, uphill battle when you are living with a disability. But the reality is that, of those of us fortunate to be covered by the MANFL, the hill we are trying to climb is not nearly as steep or as long. And when we get to the point where we just can't make it any further there is someone waiting to give us a hand the rest of the way to the top. Simply put, it allows the individual to be able to focus on living as opposed to surviving.
In the fall of 2005 I was on the losing end of a close encounter between a four-door sedan and myself. As I was lying in the middle of the intersection, unable to pick myself up from the asphalt, and waiting for the ambulance, I was immediately aware that I had sustained a serious injury to my spinal cord. My first thoughts were “Well, it looks like I’m going to have to learn to sit-ski” and “Crap, how am I going to tell my parents about this”. As I progressed through my recovery, countless new questions were raised and answered, obstacles were encountered and overcome, and I continued to adapt and grow within the constructs of my new life. Fortunately for me, the one thing that never had to be asked was “Can I do this and how amy going to afford it?” Because of the MANFL, all reasonable expenses related to my injury were fully covered. Instead of having to host fundraisers, cash in retirement funds, go into overwhelming debt, or have family members empty their life savings to help me “get back on my feet,” I was able to focus my time and energy on my life and recovery, not just how to pay for it.
I have done more in the ten years since my accident than I ever did before I was injured. And this is thanks in no small part to the MANFL. I have been able to pursue physical therapy, at clinics of my choosing, without artificially imposed caps on visits typical of most insurance plans. This has allowed me to have access to the necessary resources, expertise, and equipment needed to maximize my recovery. As a life-long athlete, I am still able to compete in recreational sports. Many times the price of adaptive sports equipment can be so costly that it acts as a barrier to participation. I have played wheelchair rugby (AKA Murderball) for nine years. I have served on the Board of Directors for the USQRA (the governing body for all wheelchair rugby played in the United States) and I am a former member of USQRA Team Force (the National Development Team for USA Wheelchair Rugby). A single rugby chair can cost between $6,000-$15,000 and each athlete needs his/her own custom-made chair. This fact alone makes it nearly impossible for many disabled individuals with traditional insurance to participate in adaptive sports.
Through my involvement with physical therapy and sports I made friends and was introduced to peer networks that would otherwise not have been available to me. These individuals acted as mentors and teachers, provided me with resources and advice, and helped me tackle things that I was struggling with. They played a crucial role in enhancing not only the quality of my life, but the opportunities that came my way, and the joy that came with each new day. Without the MANFL that provided the framework and allowed me the opportunity to pursue these activities and relationships, my present life would look much different from my current reality and my outlook on my future would be starkly different from my current mindset.
In the years following my injury I have been fortunate to be able to explore my passions while still having the time, ability, and means to address my continuing recovery and issues related to my disability. I still love taking road trips to go camping and to see live music. I am always up for anything spontaneous and adventurous be it skydiving, home brewing, or hopping a flight to South America. And I am never shy to embrace my inner-geek by curling up with a good book and my cat, Nugget, or while watching my favorite TV show, Antiques Roadshow. Life is good. Every day above ground is a good one. And my glass is always more than half full. Of course not every day is perfect and there are times when I feel blue. I still have things that I struggle with, have goals that are not yet accomplished, and things that I wish that I could change. However, despite the many “works in progress” that exist in my life I wake up every day knowing that because of the Michigan Auto No-Fault law I am positioned in the best possible place to succeed and the only limits to my achievements and happiness are self-imposed.
Andy Zimmer is the Director of Marketing and Community Relations at STAR Rehab in Grand Blanc, MI. This story originally appeared in Innovative Health Magazine. Read more at InnovativeHealthMag.com.