Voluntary Benefits: The Snowball

Perhaps I would better title this “The Onion,” but given my frequent travels between Maine and Minnesota and the time of year, I think “The Snowball” feels more appropriate.

Have you or someone you know had an inordinately difficult time recovering from a minor illness or injury and you wonder why? On the other hand, do you know someone who has bounced back from a more significant physical problem in seemingly no time, or with relatively less trouble? I have, and it makes me wonder what drives these differences. Is it simply their constitution, nature or genes, or are there other factors at work?

While I have no empirical evidence to back up my assertions, I would suggest that there are, indeed, other factors at play and a lot of these have to deal with outside stressors – financial, professional or personal.

Many years ago I had to have a rather unpleasant eye surgery, which I had put off for quite some time, with an intensive 3-week recovery period and some longer-lasting effects. I was still in college at the time and had the surgery over the Christmas break so I did not lose time from work or school, but I did lose time at my part-time vacation job. 

In addition, the short term cosmetic side effects of the surgery (including no showers for a week) made me socially unpresentable. I can tell you that vacation was perhaps one of the darkest periods of my life. I felt stress from not being able to go out with my friends, missing some much-needed earnings (to supplement my college fund) and not looking my best. The funk snowballed well beyond the anticipated recovery timeframe and lasted into the second semester of my junior

year – though, I must say that my grades did benefit from my self-imposed isolation.

Compare this to the experience of a good friend of mine – let’s call her Amanda. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer several years ago. A way bigger deal than my eye surgery…  Fortunately, it was caught early so treatment consisted of radiation and surgery but still entailed some time away from work. As she dealt with treatment and recovery, I was really impressed to see how she kept a positive attitude and focused on recovery. She didn’t let cancer get her down the way it potentially could have.Of course she had her share of dark days, but overall she remained optimistic and positive.

As I thought about why she was so much stronger and positive than I was – and with such a significant diagnosis - it came to me that Amanda had a number of supports that I did not have. She was not isolated. She had a strong social network – both friends who made the effort to visit and as part of a formal support group. She also had a critical illness policy and short-term disability coverage (and a working spouse), so the financial strain she faced was minimized. In a sense, the supports Amanda had snowballed in a positive way to aid in the speed of her physical and emotional recovery. 

Many people have experienced the same snowball effect of an illness that I experienced. To avoid this, it is helpful to minimize the impacts of illness in advance. Employee benefits offerings such as short and long-term disability, critical illness, or hospital indemnity are valuable support tools for people in the midst of a difficult time in their lives.

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