The Start

How do you start a personal series of events when you are not a ‘sharing’ kind of person?  How do you be frank and honest for the first time in your life when you’ve always hidden behind a mask, a facade?  I’ve never allowed myself to get close to many people, having lived my life in semi-isolation from the majority of society as did many of my colleagues.  The work I did defined me and my outlook on life.  I did not share personal details.  Period.

That was then and this is now.  My life has changed to such a degree that trying to pretend that the way I lived my life before my injury is the way to continue is folly.  I’m not the person I was seven years ago and whatever dangers that I believed existed have paled into insignificance compared to what I now face daily.  I’ve decided that the personal me needs to explain some things because of something I have decided to do.  An undertaking and an obligation.  So the best place is to start not at the beginning but somewhere near the end; the last few weeks before I lost all sensation in the lower half of my body.

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The link takes you to my own website http://www.sothisisreality.com

Why a different website?  I wanted to have a website with unrestricted space and no adverts.  It still uses WordPress and you can still log in with your WordPress account, it’s just hosted by me so that I have full control over it.  Nothing else.

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An Unfair Struggle

When I was young I thought I was indestructible.  Doesn’t everyone?  I would risk life and limb to get an adrenalin rush.  Such are the joys of youth.

Upon joining the Army, I was introduced to the realities of my chosen career.  This was a job where you could die, a job in which people would intentionally try to kill me.  As I was young, I thought it would never happen to me.  I still thought I was indestructible but I wasn’t stupid!  I took out several insurance policies, ensuring that if something bad happened to me, I would be financially secure or, if I died, my next of kin would be.

For nearly twenty three years I paid my premiums, never complaining when they were increased and never once claiming against them, even when I was badly injured in Iraq.  I didn’t think my injury was serious enough to claim compensation and I wanted to hold the claim until I really needed it.

Unfortunately, I discovered that I am not indestructible.  I suffered a terrible accident that has left me paralysed, in chronic pain and depressed.  I can barely move without being in severe pain and my life has turned upside down.  The injury has resulted in me being medically discharged from the Army, something I never dreamed would happen.  As I was undergoing treatment for my injury, I was advised to see a claims adviser from one of the companies with which I had a policy.

Upon seeing me and getting all the details of the accident, the adviser convinced me to claim on my insurance, stating that I was guaranteed to get the appropriate compensation.  Until I had met this man, the thoughts of insurance and compensation were the last things on my mind.  My only concern was getting my injury seen to and getting better.  When I realised that there was no getting better, I made a claim to my insurance companies.  I was naive enough to believe the adviser and thought that there would be no problems.  I waited for the cheque to arrive in the post.

Little did I know that I had a greater chance of being cured than getting a penny from the insurance companies!

At first they stated that I couldn’t claim for at least a year, just in case I got better again.  I thought this was fair enough.  I had claimed compensation for being paralysed and, you never know, I could have gotten better.  Unfortunately for me, I got worse and once the year was up, I contacted the insurance companies and informed them that my condition had deteriorated.

Obviously, they didn’t believe me and wanted access to my medical records.  I had no problem at all with this, knowing that I was genuine, I signed all the release papers they sent me – then waited for the cheque to arrive in the post.

Guess what?  It never came.  Instead I received a letter stating that the injury wasn’t caused as an accident and therefore I had no basis for a claim.

To say I was shocked would be an understatement.  I was convinced that there was no way the insurance company would deny my claim.  I had been through the rigors of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme and had been awarded compensation because of the accident.  I thought that if the Ministry of Defence admitted liability then there was no way the insurance companies could deny it.  But they did.

I wrote a long and detailed reply.  I included dates, times, places and all the supporting documentation I could find.  Once I had sent the bulky package that was my hope for the future, I sat back and waited for the cheque to arrive in the post.

But no, it wasn’t going to happen.

By this time, months had passed.  My condition continued to get worse and my dosage of opiates increased, as well as a smorgasbord of other narcotics.  My mind no longer became mine to command and I often wandered off to some alternate reality.  I had a hard time telling what was real and what was not.  This not only caused distress to me but also my family that had to care for me.  The only times I was lucid were those short moments between taking the drugs.  I would have a window in which I could think, not clearly, but enough to understand what was happening around me.  I became depressed, not only because of what I had become but also due to the reticence of the insurance companies to honour their part of the contract.

I received another letter, in due course.  This time, their ‘Chief Medical Officer’ had ascertained that I had an injury prior to my accident that would have certainly led to the situation I was in at the moment.  To say I was stunned would be an understatement.  I was upset, angry, depressed and, most of all, confused as to how they managed to come to the conclusion they had arrived at.  I knew that I had never had any problems with my back before the accident and I wondered how you could get a preexisting neurological condition.

It transpired that an entry had been made in my medical documents that stated that I had back problems.  I only realised this once I had managed to obtain a copy of my medical notes (a lot harder to obtain than you may think).  I was shocked.  I never had this problem and wondered why it had been written in my medical notes.  I scrutinized my notes in detail and noticed numerous other errors in them.  I couldn’t believe it and there was little or nothing I could do about it.  I spoke with my doctor and asked if it was possible for her to write a letter stating that these were clearly errors.  There were no other entries to support this one damning report; it stood out alone with nothing to support it prior to or after it had been written.  The doctor agreed and wrote a letter stating that to the best of her knowledge it was an error.

I wrote back to the insurance company, with a copy of the doctors letter.  I explained that the entry was erroneous and that there was no other medical evidence to support it.  I then waited for their reply, sure that they would cling to that one damning entry and deny my claim.  Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.  They denied the claim and told me that the case was closed.

That was that.  The insurance company that professed to support the military had turned me down flat.  It was obvious to anyone that they were wrong to do this but they had a single piece of evidence that was enough to deny my claim.  I was devastated.

Once I had calmed down and gotten my thoughts in order, I went down the only avenue left open to me.  I wrote a complaint to the Financial Ombudsmen.  They received my case and said they would investigate it.

Some time later, I received a letter from the insurance company asking me to sign another release document in order that they could contact the specialist that had treated me at the time of the accident.  This was the same person that had signed my insurance claim form, the same person that had stated that I had suffered a terrible accident and that there was nothing else they could do.  And my insurance company hadn’t even bothered to get his opinion!!!  I signed the release form and wrote a terse letter back to them stating that I didn’t trust them to do anything to help the military as they professed in all their literature.

It’s nearly two years now and I am still waiting.  I have since contacted a solicitor and am attempting to get my medical records sorted out.  There is little I can actually do apart from have my objections noted.  It’s too late for the records to be changed.  I can understand how errors can be made, the doctors writing down notes for numerous patients and then handing them to clerks to be inputted on the database.  Errors are bound to be made.  The errors made on my documents have resulting in making my life a misery on top of the misery of my injury.  What didn’t help is the difficulty in obtaining a copy of your own medical documents.  Had their been more transparency, maybe the error in my notes would have been discovered sooner and righted.

I haven’t heard from the insurance company although letters from the Financial Ombudsmen assure me that the investigation continues.  On the plus side, the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme has increased the award made to me.  It’s not a lot, but it helped to reassure me that the accident wasn’t my fault and that someone knows that.

I cannot believe that I am an isolated case.  I think of the amount of money I paid this company over the years in order to give me peace of mind should anything have happened to me.  Now they are causing nothing but distress to both me and my family.  I cannot believe that we, the consumer, are powerless to do anything apart from complain.  It’s unfair.  I thought I had enough to content with after the accident, the drastic change in my personal life is not easy to come to terms with and I am still in denial.  This additional struggle shouldn’t, in my opinion, be happening.  I was naive to think that an insurance company would part with money, but why should I have thought differently.

I now wait to be evicted from my house as I am no longer in the military.  All my hopes, dreams and plans have been shattered.  I wait for a response that I half dread, just in case the insurance company have managed to sweet talk their way out of paying me.  It’s unfair, but that’s life.

Spring

At last Spring has arrived. That’s if you live in the northern hemisphere otherwise it’s the start of Autumn, but that’s antipodeans for you!

For me, Spring is the real start of a new year. Gone are the monochrome, dreary winter days and colour is reintroduced into our lives. Slowly but surely the trees begin to change, no longer the bare, dark skeletons from horror films, but multicoloured giants from fantasy. The transformation is beautiful. The warmer weather ushers in the more soothing Spring breezes, carrying upon it the scents of new life and the renewal of a cycle that has been played out over millennia.

Now, more than ever before, I look forward to the warmer weather and the changing scenery. Like most of the mammals in the world, I have hibernated over the winter months, rarely leaving the house or even venturing outside. I have stared out of the windows and watched the winter play out; raining, snowing or both. I had heard the winds tearing at the trees at the back of my garden and the frost icing over their bare branches. Winter made me a prisoner and Spring is the start of my freedom, albeit a limited one.

My accident has denied me so much that I used to take for granted. Although I have a wheelchair, sitting in it and going anywhere is painful beyond belief. The vibrations as the wheels travel over uneven surfaces cause my back to spasm, the result of a botched diagnosis has left my dieing spinal chord hypersensitive. The result is unrelenting pain. Pain I no longer wish to experience and so I hide away, not daring to move and never leaving my house.

Spring, however, means that I can venture into my garden and feel fresh air over my face and breathe in all the fragrances of the new season. I am fortunate that I live in a rural part of the country and often see deer and foxes amongst the trees. But it is the trees that capture my imagination. I often sit and wonder what they have experienced in their long, silent lives. Many of the trees near me are old oaks, probably dating from before the first World War and would have been around as London was bombed into ruins. I will never know for sure, but I can imagine. Oaks are wonderful trees being full of character, rugged bark, spreading branches and thick, rugged trunks. They are usually the home to a myriad number of animals from squirrels to birds and everything in between.

As spring progresses, I will watch the oaks grow their canopies of green leaves and see the acorns form and grow. They look stunning, standing there, massive, dwarfing the pines and cedars. I always think of them as the trees with spirits. Fantasy books describe dryads and their attachment and life-bond to their trees and those trees I imagine to be oaks. It suits them.

Come September, the start of Autumn, their long, silent vigil over this area will be over. The land has been sold to a building company who will build community housing. The old oaks are in the way. They take up too much land and their roots run long and deep. They cant be allowed to jeopardise the building of the new houses. They will probably be cut down, not allowed to show their golden autumn colours and have their fruits collected by the squirrels that live in them. The squirrels will have to find a new home and somewhere else to find their food. The oaks that have watched time pass silently will watch no more. Their old lives are over and their hearts sold to be pieces of expensive furniture or beams in a refurbished barn.

Fortunately, I wont be here to see it. I will have been moved as the house I am in will be demolished as well.

Next winter is going to be a long one and there will be no spring for the trees at the end of my garden. For me, next spring will be bittersweet. But life goes on. For some of us.