My husband Bryan and I had the privilege of going on a date night last weekend. With three young boys at home, date nights are rare. It had been well over a month since the two of us went out together, and we had a lot to discuss. I keep him updated on professional successes and challenges throughout the week, so I wanted this to be about him. We only had 45 minutes for dinner before a fundraiser at our son’s school. So we sat at St. Louis Bread Company (Panera for those outside St. Louis) and talked.
Bryan told me about his recent appointments with two doctors, an audiologist and ENT from Washington University Medical Center. Bryan suffers from tinnitus, a constant (24/7) “ringing in the ears”. The pitch and severity of his tinnitus varies -- from a low hum on the best days -- to a blaring sound like a train approaching the station. This began roughly two years ago, and it has been extremely challenging for both of us. Tinnitus typically starts one of two ways: hearing loss (audiology) or neurological deficit. Bryan’s underlying reason is still unknown but likely hardwiring in his brain, instigated by stress; he does not have any hearing loss. There is no known cure for this type of tinnitus, and it will probably be permanent. Since it is neurological, this also opens the door to other issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Tinnitus is uncommon for “young” people like Bryan, but so is cancer or any other number of diseases.
On the bright side, Bryan is unlikely to die from tinnitus. Aside from emotional issues, we need to financially plan for this chronic illness. So how do we manage it? Below are some strategies any family can use. The first two tactics apply before illness strikes:
1. Check disability coverage. Many people are quick to purchase life insurance policies. But talk to any insurance agent and you’ll find you are much more likely (statistically speaking) to have a disability. If married, ensure both of you are covered. Employer-sponsored plans typically cover up to 60% of earnings, so a supplemental policy may be necessary to cover all living expenses. For small business owners and solo practitioners, disability insurance is even more crucial. Include this expense in your annual budget as a non-negotiable item.
2. Have an emergency fund. Whether you call it an emergency or opportunity fund, it is important. It gives you some financial “breathing room” in times of distress.
3. Review health insurance coverage. Before seeking out a specialist, research whether that doctor is in-network or out-of-network. If there is more than one physician in your area who specializes in the condition, consider the in-network physician. It could save you thousands of dollars. Deductible amounts and coinsurance percentages vary for in-network and out-of-network plans.
4. Set a budget. When Bryan’s tinnitus first appeared, we spent thousands of dollars trying to identify the source and stop the illness in its tracks. Both of us read everything we could find on the subject matter, and it was not reassuring. Many long-time tinnitus sufferers use a combination of mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, medication, and/or alternative therapies like acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments to deal with the illness. Most of these are experimental and outside normal medical plans, so they come at an even bigger cost. I don’t have any regrets on money we initially spent to better understand the illness. However, we try to set an annual budget now for tinnitus-related medical expenditures.
5. Plan for the long term. With any chronic illness, you are potentially opening Pandora’s box. Try to put aside money now for future medical issues. Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia are serious illnesses; cost of care at these specialized facilities is high. As the “healthy” spouse, I’m trying to do everything in my power to maximize my earnings potential.
If you are fortunate enough to not be afflicted with chronic pain or illness, please follow the first two suggestions now. It is always easier to take precautionary measures during the good times. For those families in the midst of this battle, know that I’m here … struggling through it too.
Many acquaintances told me I was crazy when I decided to launch this business. They reasoned, “You already run one business and have three young boys. How are you doing this, too?” Honestly, there are days when I feel like I have nothing left to give. Nothing but love. And faith. And perseverance. If sharing my family’s struggles turns just one family’s life around for the better, all the time and energy I’ve put into WorthyNest will be worth it. And if this becomes as successful as I envision it to be, there may come a day when I tell Bryan “quit your job. I’ve got this.”