Continuing the story:
Switzerland was ridiculous. Kate, my sister-in-law, and her husband, Martin (who also happens to be the Swiss Hammer Throw Champion and national coach: http://www.hmmrmedia.com), were perfect tour guides, showing us around many of their favorite local highlights. Trying to do this all with my forearm crutches, would have been dumb. DocMcStuffins, my TiLite wheelchair served well and had quite the epic, international debut, by the time we returned stateside, all my shirts were feeling a bit snug in the shoulders and arms from the miles of wheel pushing. The public transit system in Switzerland is pretty phenomenal, we should learn a few things from them here in the states. Only problem was, the wheelchair section is also the stroller section, and on more than one occasion I was boxed in by babes.
Coming home and returning to work was difficult after such a trip, although it was good to be back after getting stuck in Chicago for a frigid night when they grounded our last leg home. In the fall, prior to our Switzerland trip at the recommendation of my NIH visit, with my local Dr., I tried going on a very low dose of baclofen as an experiment to see if it helped with my walking at all. That, combined with starting up my recumbent cycle riding, and being less active for months of lumbar fusion recovery, one of my Achilles tendons started getting all angry. I had thought the wheelchair might be beneficial in giving it a chance to rest and recover, but it turned into one of those “use it or loose it” situations and the thing only worsened when I started throwing more forearm crutch walking at it after Switzerland.
Between the achilles tendonitis issues and increased back pain from trying to use the forearm crutches for my main source of mobility, I gave in and started using the wheelchair for my everyday transportation. Despite my best efforts, the wheelchair would not easily fit either in the trunk, back seat, or passenger seat of my car. With this milestone transition in life, I had to also sell my sedan and fortunately found a pre-owned a wagon, for hauling around the Doc. After months of wound care clinic (the insertional achilles tendonitis eventually turned full pressure ulcer), the wound finally closed up. I was still left with a large lump on the back of my heel, so I started off with some easy pedaling on Lowly in the garage, the platform pedals went back on and I rocked the crocs minus the heel strap. Soon, I had a collection of heel-less shoes, and modifications, including the slight alteration I had to make to my beloved slippers. Almost every shoe I had, wound up cutting in at just the wrong spot on the back of my heel.
Thankfully, that was working, I started ramping up my sessions on the trainer with the crocs, then, utterly bored with the garage scenery, cut out the back of the heel on my older pair of bike shoes. Success! Working up the miles, I made it through the summer and probably close to 1000 miles of pedaling, with my ghetto shoes. The more I pedalled, the more the swelling recessed. As I started developing the ‘bent muscles, the modified shoes became problematic. On more than one occasion, usually at the peak of speed, or mid-hill climb, with no heel backing to keep it contained, my foot would slip out entirely while the shoe remained clipped onto the pedal.
Come fall, frustrated with this heel-slip issue holding me back from the next level of riding, I tried out my newer road bike shoes. The situation was improved, but there was still a little more rubbing than I was comfortable with, so I went at this nicer pair of shoes with my alteration skills, taking a much more conservative approach, and leaving the right shoe fully intact as that side was doing alright. This new setup carried me through fall and into winter. I was still having periodic issues keeping my left foot in the shoe at all times, but was able to start wearing my full-length winter shoe covers, initially for more foot warmth, then for every ride to keep my foot contained in the shoe. The covers provided the soft, forgiving support I needed and I was happy with the increasing ride results. Come January, after much research, and the heel swelling diminishing even further, I picked up a pair of Sidi’s and have been enjoying riding ever since with proper bike shoes, without fear of my feet slipping out, or wearing a new blister on my heel.
Returning to the motor vehicle accident: Last summer came time for the depositions. My case was pretty clear-cut. It was never debated that the driver of the vehicle that collided with the rear-end of my vehicle, was at fault, or not at fault, but their defense tried to downplay the severity of the collision, with the defendant claiming that their vehicle was not that badly damaged. Well, I had pictures of the vehicles from the scene of the accident. The surface damage (the core damage was much greater, approaching $10,000 for repair) of my car, and the car in front of mine, that I was pushed into, was not that bad, however, the defendants car that collided with mine was in pretty bad shape with deployed airbags and a seriously crumpled front end. After coming back at them with the pictures I had taken, that argument went away, and they focused on the late onset of my lower back pain. Well, it wasn’t really a late onset for me, but it didn’t make it in the official Dr. and PT notes until later, so we were forced into that timeline, despite my actual timeline.
They were trying to make a case with my pre-existing ataxia/disability being the culprit for my resulting lumbar fusion, exonerating their obligation and liability to pay the lien for my first lumbar fusion, and pay for the highly likely 2nd corrective surgery I would need as the first surgery didn’t fully take. Seriously??! I have great health insurance that would have covered the medical expenses, why would I need to even make this claim if that were the case?? After 8 hours of sitting in their sweltering hot office, being asked very direct questions by their attorney, I was spent. We ended the day feeling hopeful about the case, they had nothing other than trying to say, in so many words, that I was already disabled, their client’s vehicle rear-ending mine, could not have caused enough damage to warrant my lower back pain, that was reported so late after the accident (again, this was “reported”, not “actual”).
Oh, also on the list of why insurance companies are not looking out for the peoples interests, after finding out that I would likely need a 2nd surgery, I asked their case manager/claim adjust if there was any secondary coverage in place as I was concerned the base policy was not going to be enough to cover both surgeries. The answer? No, there was nothing else available, which I took as an honest answer. Turns out, when my legal representation demanded, there was in fact, a large umbrella policy in place, and available for such occasions. Their claims adjuster straight up lied to me!
The next step was for my attorneys to take the deposition of my treating surgeon. My surgeon, and his assistants had fully agreed with me, and supported, from the start, that this injury and lumbar fusion was a direct result of the motor vehicle accident, so I wasn’t terribly worried about this step, but was still anxious as his testimony, unfortunately carried the weight of my case. The day came and then I got the phone call from one of my attorneys: “Well, we don’t have much if any ground to fight from now, your surgeon just claimed that he did not believe the lumbar fusion was a result of the motor vehicle accident.” What? Never before in my life has my blood boiled so much, and I could do nothing about this, as I had not gotten anything in writing from my surgeon at the time. I didn’t feel it was necessary at any point, he was verbally telling me this was a direct result of the motor vehicle accident, and his office was more than happy to bill as such. This is purely speculation on my part, but I am of the opinion that preceding the deposition with my attorneys, this medical professional consulted with his legal team, and was advised to take the path of least liability, no recourse for him, huge consequences for me.
And that was it, my case was essentially lost with that. We presented another independent medical review to the defense, hoping for a settlement offer, for we knew that seeing this case through to trial, without my treating surgeon collaborating, our chances were extremely slim. Well, they provided me with a settlement offer, that was insulting enough in itself, then also included in a letter that they enjoyed talking with me and admired how I dealt with life through adversity.
This is not a direct quote, but my summary of the letter is something like this: “We recognize that you have gone through a lot, and that is unfortunate. We admire how you have maintained yourself in the face of adversity, but, even though this situation should be in your favor without question, you can’t prove it, therefore you’re going to have to figure it out for yourself as another one of your life’s hardships.” Again, that is an extremely loose paraphrase of my reading of their settlement offer, minus the expletives. I did not want to accept the settlement offer, and would have almost rather taken this through court just for the principle of the thing, not having to sign their settlement agreement with terms such as “release the defendant of this extremely doubtful claim” (that was actually worded by them on the release). I had my attorneys push for another offer, but the defense was not budging, and we really stood the chance of having to pay out substantially more money than we would ever see if this did go to trial.
That was the most difficult paper signing of my entire life to date. We were able to submit to my health insurance that their own affiliated, treating surgeon claimed this was not resultant of the motor vehicle accident. They did not want to fight that battle, and the $100,000 lien of medical bills went away, this would be billed under my regular health insurance, of which I had already met the out-of-pocket maximums and was liable for nothing further, as well as future service related to this would fall under my regular health insurance. My attorneys graciously waived their fees, and after paying for their expenses involved with the case, not counting my out-of-pocket expenses, I had enough left over from the settlement to pay-off my trike, and contribute to my new computer fund. Fortunately, having discovered the recumbent trike, my back pain level has greatly diminished, as long as I recognize that the potential is there. I’m even able to swim again without too much increase. However, if I try to disregard my back, it calls me out. If I slack off, lay around lazy, or work it too much in just the wrong way, I hurt. My outlook for urgency of a 2nd corrective surgery, has improved, although I don’t think I can rule it out completely.
Writing about this still stirs extremely hostile feelings in me. Our legal system is in place for a reason, and does far greater good than bad in its operation. Still, in situations such as this, it’s not about the truth, what actually happened, what’s right, but it ends up being about what can be proved on paper and argument, regardless of the actual situation and events. From my vantage point, I can say with truth, and knowing with every ounce of my being, that the motor vehicle accident in question, was the direct cause of my need for the lumbar fusion, and the accelerated timeline landing me in a wheelchair. With my treating surgeon going back on what he reassured me with the entire time, and me not having his claims in writing, there is no way I can prove it. Would I have needed this surgery at some point down the road? Maybe, maybe not, I was certainly doing great with my circumstances living a pain-free life before this. Would I have needed more assistive devices for mobility, such as forearm crutches and a wheelchair? That one was pretty much guaranteed, but again, I was doing pretty well maintaining where I was, and I feel like I was forced into this at least a couple years ahead of schedule.
With this writing, I’m hoping to close this particular frustration. I feel like, no, I know that I was done a disservice. Rather than continuing to be pissed because of this, I am trying to move forward. The world has let me down, why would I continue relying on it to provide me anything different? I am the solution to my happiness and it is up to me to dictate what happens from here on out. Things could have been far worse and I need to keep trying to focus on where I am, and where I can be, not where I might have been.