An American Editor

July 11, 2018

On the Basics — A Fresh Look at Coping with Emergencies

Filed under: Business of Editing,Contributor Article,On the Basics — americaneditor @ 10:51 am

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

When I urge colleagues to get and keep health insurance because even someone young, fit, and healthy can get hit by a bus, I’m usually half-joking. That was before, as some of you know, I recently had a bad fall, dislocating my elbow and tearing ligaments in my arm. This was the first time that an injury or other crisis meant not being physically able to do some activities that are key to my freelance business. I’ve kept working through the death of my dad, several years of caring for my mom and husband, and their deaths — all emotionally devastating, even if not unexpected, but not physically disabling. I even kept my work going when I broke my leg a few years ago.

This was different. I was only at the hospital for about six hours, but hors de combat on some level— unable to use one hand and arm — for more than a month.

It was surprisingly easy to edit and proofread one-handed in Word and Acrobat, and compose short e-mail messages and online posts (although making sure they’re typo-free adds time to each one), but not to write, even though I’m left-handed and the injury was to my right arm and even after graduating from a clunky cast to a splint to an articulated brace. I had a couple of writing deadlines to meet, though, so I had to get creative. Luckily, I already had notes for the most-urgent pieces; even moreso, a couple of local friends who let me dictate the stories.

In the wake of this experience, I have a few new — and renewed — tips for colleagues.

Take care of your overall health. The better you feel and the fitter, healthier, or stronger you are, the better — and probably faster — you can cope with a temporary physical crisis or disability. Even a permanent condition can be easier to manage if your general health is good.

Control your weight. Being overweight adds to the complexity of recovering from getting hurt or sick — needing more time to heal from an injury or recover from an illness, affecting your reaction to anesthetic and the types of support you might need, and adding to not only physical discomfort but emotional reactions to needing help with hygiene, dressing and undressing, and more. A hospital, rehab center, home-care provider, or physical/occupational visit can be awkward or embarrassing if you feel at all self-conscious about how you look.

Have health insurance. This should be obvious, but isn’t always easy to do, given the expense involved, but events like this are testimony to the unpredictability of life and importance of coverage. Having insurance meant I didn’t have to panic about ambulance, hospital, doctor, or physical and occupational therapy expenses — a huge relief.

Look into disability insurance. Not all injuries mean not being able to meet current deadlines or accept new projects, but many do. Being sick or injured enough not to be able to work, whether at all or at your usual speed and effectiveness, can ruin your freelance business and wreak havoc on your personal life. Disability insurance can be pricey and isn’t always available, but do your best to obtain it if possible.

Stay ahead of deadlines. Whenever possible, get work done early. Having less deadline pressure on your shoulders can make a big difference in coping with an accident, illness, or family crisis by letting you focus on healing.

On the other hand, keep up with as much of your work as possible while recovering, because having a deadline to meet can be a motivator for following doctor’s orders and doing physical therapy. Work can also be a good distraction from pain or sorrow.

Have some kind of cloud storage in place already — Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, etc. — in case you have to work on a computer other than your usual one. Having files backed up in the cloud and accessible from my laptop meant I could manage some website projects that I usually do on my desktop computer. I could even have worked from a hospital or rehab center bed if necessary.

Be honest but discreet with clients. What and when to tell clients about a crisis is always tricky. Once you establish what you can and can’t do, let clients know if any limits will affect how much or what kinds of work you can do while recovering — if it will affect meeting deadlines. Not everyone has to know about a personal or physical challenge. For those you must tell, focus on how you will get the work done. In case you’ll need help from a colleague, ask whether subcontracting will be acceptable.

Oh, and make sure someone knows how to reach your clients in case you can’t contact them for a while.

Practice for a crisis. As editorial professionals, we need maximum use of our arms and hands, and we don’t realize how much we use both until one is non-functional. Injuries to other limbs can be unpleasant (at best), but might not affect the ability to write, edit, proofread, index, etc. It can’t hurt to occasionally try using your non-dominant hand to type, take notes, and manage personal hygiene, from dressing to brushing teeth to washing up.

Build and nurture your network. This experience reminded me of a colleague who needed someone to accompany her for a same-day surgical procedure a few years ago, and had no one to help. Her own daughter couldn’t (or wouldn’t) go with her. Don’t be that person!

We all should be networking on a regular basis to build our editorial businesses and profiles, but also as part of being prepared for emergencies. Look for ways to help if a colleague or friend experiences a crisis or just needs advice. Networking is a two-way process. If you give as well as take, you’ll be in a better position to ask for help (from family, friends, and neighbors as well as colleagues) when you need it.

Invest in backup equipment. When I broke my leg, the cast made it easier to work on my laptop than at my desk. The same was true this time. Having the laptop meant I could work.

I’m investing in dictation software in case I ever need help with writing projects again.

Even furnishings can play a role — I slept in a recliner for several weeks and used one throughout the day to work while recuperating. If we hadn’t gotten those several years ago, I’d have had to buy at least one.

Keep that savings cushion healthy. Being injured or ill can mean not just having to pay for related expenses but filling an income gap if you can’t work while recovering. You might need funds for anything not covered by your health insurance, such as home care, errands, supplies and equipment, and other aspects of coping and recovering. The cost for anyone who charged to run errands wasn’t covered by my insurance, for example.

Being able to pay for rides to appointments or deliveries of groceries also can reduce any feelings of guilt about imposing on family and friends.

Don’t be too proud to ask. I find it hard to ask for help, but I had to — I didn’t want to leave my home for a rehab facility. Colleagues with partners, children, and pets probably would feel even more strongly about recovering at home.

I would have been lost without the generosity of family, friends, and colleagues over the weeks of being unable to drive and do various daily activities. This was all especially meaningful now that I live alone.

Now I’m thinking about ways to repay the generosity of everyone who picked up groceries; chauffeured me to meetings and appointments; straightened up my apartment; helped me get dressed; took dictation or subcontracted on a layout or website project; and simply called, e-mailed, or dropped by (with or without food) to see how I was doing. The local candy shop might benefit!

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