I know I usually share advice on writing and marketing and words -- sometime social justice and climate change. Today, though, I'm departing to talk about what happens if you or someone you love get sick. Not a cold or seasonal allergies, but really sick. Are you prepared?

You probably think you are. You probably are not.

Sure, you've got your health insurance. Maybe also short-term disability coverage. Excellent!

But are you clear on your employer's leave policy? Do you know the applicable state and federal laws about medical and family leave? Do you have a local emergency contact and a healthcare power of attorney? Who are the friends who can help you with logistical and emotional support?

Look, I get that we don't like talking about this stuff. But I'd much rather you figure all this out now, when you don't really need to know, than have to try to do that when you're also dealing with a genuine crisis.

Ripped from the pages of real life

I know this, because I'm watching a friend go through it right now. They had a health emergency and is going to have to be out of work for at least two months. Navigating corporate policy, state laws and insurance has been a huge challenge. This stuff is hard enough when your mind isn't addled by a sudden change in your health status and all the stress and disruption that comes from it. And, it bears acknowledging, all this is exponentially more difficult when you're unpartnered.

Thankfully, they reached out to me and another friend immediately and we divvied up the support. Our mutual pal is focused on getting their taxes filed and looking at finances if they can't go back to work (which is, unfortunately, on the table). I'm helping with communication to family and friends, and managing health and disability insurance. And there are caseworkers at every specialist office who are doing their parts, too.

And still, the sheer amount of information you have to process, policies and procedures you have to coordinate and random-ass stuff you have to keep up with is staggering. It is just too much to manage when you're in crisis mode.

6 things to figure out before you need medical or family leave

DISCLAIMER: I'm not certified in anything besides wilderness/remote first aid and nature interpretation, so the following is not intended as a substitute for professional consultation; it is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied. It's my utterly amateur guidance based on my lived experience. ALWAYS talk to a professional for financial, accounting, legal and insurance counsel.

Here's what you can do to ease the knowledge acquisition burden in an emergency situation:

  1. Today: Make sure you have a current copy of the Employee Handbook and employer-provided insurance coverage. Self-employed? Make an appointment with your insurance agent to make sure you understand the coverages you have.
  2. Tomorrow: Review the sick leave, medical leave and family leave policies and applicable state and federal laws. Ask your HR rep if you have questions. For sole-proprietors, think about who can take on your work if you can't. (Seriously, you need a back-up before you need a back-up.)
  3. The next day: Make a timeline of how your leave and coverage line up. My friend's employer is required by state law to offer 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave. Cool. But its corporate policy is to only pay for health insurance for 8 weeks -- so my friend has to cover the premium for the rest of the time they're out. And short-term disability coverage only replaces part of the wages they're not earning, so....
  4. The following day: Update your local emergency contact/s; nearby folks to help you with things like transportation, food, etc.; and other friends regardless of location to provide anything, including emotional and administrative support.
  5. This weekend: Pull all this information together in a cloud-based file and share the link with a few folks (I also include the link in my emergency contact info on my phone).
  6. Bonus item: If you can afford it, ask your attorney, CPA or financial advisor for insights on your findings, too.

This isn't fun. I had to do it two years ago one week ahead of urgent gall bladder surgery. But I'm so glad I did. I feel better about things and so do the people who care about me.

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