Me standing arms wide in front of a wall mural of brightly colored wings
Wings. Photo by Samantha McGranahan @

My deepest thanks to Brian Drummy @

Three years and 5 months ago I was in an automobile accident that changed my life. During the first few weeks we were just trying to get through the day and figuring out the magnitude of the concussion I had sustained. As the shock wore off, we realized it was affecting every part of our lives and I had a great deal of rehabilitation in front of me. We needed a personal injury attorney.

You must know that I abhor conflict. I always have. I grew up in a home filled with conflict and I have always tried to be a peacekeeper, mediator, and am, God help me, a recovering “fixer.” Retaining an attorney felt conflictual and stressful. As a social worker, I would have advised any of my own clients to retain counsel. Doing so for myself felt uncomfortable, overwhelming and was the last thing I wanted to do. What finally cinched it were anger and my husband. We learned that the “at fault” driver was denying fault, despite the police report and fact that he likely ran a stop sign prior to t-boning my vehicle. I was enraged. How dare he? I would have been sick had I caused this to happen to someone else and would have wanted my insurance to do all it could for them. It could have been so much simpler. He had insurance. Why this insistence? This was going to be messy. Dammit. The second reason was my husband. He was working full time at his own highly responsible job while also doing the books for my private counseling practice and the adult day program I ran for individuals living with dementia. Now he was also doing all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, managing all the insurance, medical bills, and transportation, and helping my amazing assisted director at the business made decisions. He was basically managing everything for both of us. His stress level had to be off the charts, though he would never say that. We were losing income rapidly; the medical bills were going to be rolling in and I could not function. We needed help to navigate.

When I began speech therapy 8 weeks after the accident, my verbal fluency was 13%. That was terrifying for a woman whose career is communication. I had a condition called nystagmus, meaning that when I would try to focus on something, my eyes kept moving and wobbling. I was unbalanced, walking like a drunk. I could usually only stay awake for a couple of hours at a time if I were lucky because cognitive fatigue made just being awake hard, let alone doing anything. We were accruing medical debt in a big way, and I had barely begun rehab. I could not go to work at all though I owned a small business. This other driver was failing to accept his legal responsibility, and everything was landing squarely on my husband’s shoulders. We knew we had to have help advocating for ourselves. I had to channel my anger and fear to dig in and champion myself in the ways I had always used my social work skills and compassion to advocate for others.

On the advice of and with help from trusted colleagues and friends, we determined that approaching this from the “we don’t know what we don’t know” perspective was wise and necessary. Names were collected and vetted. Through that process we found an attorney who understood concussion, knew personal injury and whose style and ethics, aligned with ours.

When we retained our attorney, one thing that encouraged me is that he clearly told us that he would manage the insurance and hospital billing correspondence. I am a health care social worker. I understood how much that would take off my partner’s already heaping plate. That fact, in addition to recognizing that I was not capable of baseline functioning and that we knew so little about what was ahead, made me certain we needed to retain legal counsel.

At the first appointment our attorney took over all communication with insurance companies, including our health insurance and the hospital bills. This moved it all from my hubby’s shoulders. John now had clear direction on what to do and he could forward this overwhelming set of responsibilities to the attorney. I could barely focus on what was in front of me, but this, the help for my husband, felt so big. I was grateful that first day as we left the attorney’s office.

Little did I know on that first day we met, that 3 years later our attorney, Brian, would have walked us through some of the most challenging conversations of our lives. The emotional ups and downs, the times I have been plunged back into PTSD, the times I have had to listen to all the ways this injury has impacted my partner’s life, the dissecting of my abilities, the way I have had to dig so deep in order to speak my truth and advocate for myself have, at times, pushed me to the barest edge of coping emotionally. I do not have words to explain the stress of being at the mercy of the assessment of others, never knowing for certain what would be found or said until a lengthy report of my examination was sent.

For three long years we have undertaken rehab: speech therapy, vision therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, chiropractic, driving rehabilitation, technology evaluations, 3 extensive neuropsychological exams, mental health therapy to help me cope with grief, managing the limits of my body, balancing when to push in to get better and when to take breaks, EMDR for PTSD, documenting it all along the way.

Our attorney could not have been clearer that the road to “done” would be long, emotional, have periods where seemingly nothing would happen, then fast stretches where things were bumping along. He made sure to express to us that calculating and assigning monetary value to an invisible injury was already complicated. It would be far more complicated for a self-employed social worker. More than once he told us that a broken arm or leg that was visible would be much easier to settle. He was clear that money in the form of a financial settlement would never be an equal compensation to what was lost. He prepared us as best he could for what was to come. Nothing he said would have been enough.

In social work education we talk a great deal about the concept of “tolerating ambiguity.” Lots of situations we meet with as social workers are never resolved and many do not have the outcome we would wish. These uncertain and often unsettling outcomes are difficult for our clients and for us as social workers. We are professional helpers. We want to help folks resolve and move forward. This legal process, parallel with so much of my healing journey, became the unfinished “big task” hanging over our lives. Every day was a day closer to a deposition where I would be made to feel like an overdramatic, exaggerating, malingerer. On the days I did feel good and more cognitively clear, I was living a double life: grateful and so happy for a “normal” and good day. On the flip side of those good day coins was the constant thought that a good day would serve to cover up my challenges and make it seem as though I was fine. These fluctuations in cognitive fatigue and post-concussion syndrome symptoms are hard to describe, in addition to being hard to live with. We were tolerating ambiguity all day, every day.

For three long years I have been holding my breath. This case with all the related legal wrangling, assessments, and interrogatories, has plunged me over and over into PTSD, triggered increases in depression and held me hostage. At times I could overcome it. Even when it was not at the forefront of our days, it was running in the background, always. It was burning me to the ground, creating anxiety, increasing stress hormones in my body, triggering all kinds of fight, flight or freeze responses. I tried to move forward, get on with life. Most of the time I had to go to bed, sleep it off and get up to slog through again.

Almost every meeting with our attorney plunged me into anxiety, grief, PTSD. I became practiced at regulating my breathing, working hard to concentrate and listen to everything being covered, so often, having to defer to John for specifics when my brain became filled with fuzzy cotton as the stress flooded my already overwhelmed brain. Most of the time, these meetings sent me to bed.

Shortly after the accident we settled the car. The other driver’s company paid for that. I could not understand at first why they would pay that, but that he could continue to deny responsibility for my associated injuries. Now I understand it was never about responsibility, it was about money. At the time I was too hazy to grasp that.

In late March of this year, we finally settled with the driver’s insurance company. We were nearly done. Just a few days later we would have mediation with our own company for the under-insured rider on our policy and this whole mess (at least from a legal standpoint) could be wrapped up. We were finally almost there. For the first time, we had strong indications from all parties and from the process itself that we were on the fast track to done, and with acceptable settlements. I felt myself breathe. My lungs began to expand again. The stress began to lift. I could not believe the difference this made in how I felt every day.

I let myself start to calm down too soon. With only days to go, our insurance company cancelled mediation. Instead, they requested an additional neuropsychological evaluation with someone they hired. They had over 3 years to request this and they had waited until the last moments before we were settled? My rage reached new levels, this time at the insurance company and at myself. Why oh why had I let myself relax and begin to let my guard down? Now the anger, disappointment, exhaustion and anxiety washed over me anew. Only this time it seemed worse than before. I had to stay so strong for so long, then just when I finally let my guard down, and had begun to understand how deeply the stressors of this process had been running in the background and robbing me each and every day, they reached a new height. There were already reams of reports and documentation, not to mention hours of deposition time where I answered questions for so long that it took me days to finally come down enough to rest, not to mention the time John spent in depositions. I had been through days of these evals already. I was fully prepared for the company’s psychologist to re-frame things in a way that hurt our case by rebutting what was already documented. But they did have a legal right to ask and unless we wanted an even more protracted and complicated set of hurdles, it was best to submit and get it over with. So once again, I girded my loins for battle. I decided the best way forward was to do what I have done along: tell the truth, describe my lived experience, work hard to stay present and in my body, and hope that the psychologist was ethical and would write an honest, unbiased report.

Thankfully, that evaluation apparently got the point across. Shortly after receiving that report, we settled with our insurance company in later April. I decided though, that I would not give myself permission to celebrate or let my guard down until we were truly done. Even though we had agreed on settlements, there were still documents to be signed, money to be transferred. Any celebration was on hold indefinitely.

We still had medical bills to resolve. Even though our health insurance had covered much of my care (minus our portions which were substantial), they were holding out to be “reimbursed” by the settlement to for all they had paid out. Additionally, one large medical provider was holding out for the “full price” for services instead of the contracted group insurance discount they were bound too because of the fact I was injured in an accident. Early on, our attorney had set up a payment plan for us with the local hospital system and we had been paying hundreds of dollars monthly for 3 years (the minimum they would accept) to keep them from sending us to collections while our attorney navigated that mess. So “subrogation” with the medical providers and health insurance company still had to be completed. It will not surprise you to learn that our local hospital system managed to over charge us for almost every service and without our attorney bird dogging all those charges we may have never figured all of that out. Finally, due to the outstanding negotiating our attorney provided, the medical accounts and insurance accounts were settled. To do this, he had to make it plain that Indiana does not allow one insurance company to benefit from the settlement funds of another insurance company, so they were not able to dip (as much) into our already limited and capped settlement funds.

As of this past Friday, May 6, 2022, all accounts are settled.

I cannot explain to you how these settlements, one after another have given me my life back in so many ways. Going in, I knew this would be a stressful process. All along I have felt the toll the stress of this was taking on me. But until we were totally and completely done, I have not fully understood how much it was robbing me every day. It was running in the background of our lives, taking energy, requiring a constant adjustment of mindset, management of anxiety and so many other emotions and symptoms. It limited my ability to speak about it publicly and to write about this process or publish it as a path toward healing.

Our attorney and his assistant never held back in encouraging me to focus on rehab, healing and caring for myself while reminding us that they were managing things. At the time I found that to be kind and supportive. In retrospect I appreciate it even more because I can see all the behind the scenes work that was required and thankfully, invisible to me.

When I saw the checks we were receiving, I felt the strangest mix of emotions. It seemed that I should have felt happy, satisfied, even exuberant over this settlement now finally placed in our hands. It was odd. I was grateful. I am grateful. We needed that settlement money to offset so much loss. At the same time, these payments, capped by the insurance limits of both parties, are paltry and insubstantial compared to what has been lost. My emotions were a strange, incongruous distillation of gratitude, grief, relief, numbness. To my surprise, the settlement checks were not the source of our relief as much as being done with the legal proceedings was the source of our relief.

The depression, anxiety, and stress of this has been so much. I feel a little guilty having emotions besides relief and joy at this insurance settlement. Then again, all the emotions about this injury and related change of life have been complex. A brain injury, followed by rehab, then folded into a Covid pandemic: there is no map for this.

Freed at last from scrutiny, the map is mine to navigate as I see fit. I can write and publish what I want. I could have written what I wanted all along, but I could not let myself go there too often. Becoming vulnerable enough to write through this forced me to let my guard down and I had to keep my guard up to get through this process. Part of me felt stifled, inhibited, my voice quashed amid legal wrangling.

Now I am free to write about this experience. I have good days. I have bad days. I have learned and adapted so the bad days are fewer, and the good days are better. It is now up to me to determine my next steps on the path.

14 thoughts on “Settled

  1. So very eloquent. Your reflections have helped me in my own journey with a difficult diagnosis. I hope you find a way to share your story more broadly so others will learn from your inspiration. Hugs, and more hugs, to you, my dear.

  2. Wow ! I had no idea you went thru all of this. NO w I know who to call for a recommendation if we ever need a personal injury lawyer, So glad you are done with this.!! xo

    1. Thank you Glo. I think about you often when I’m muddling through a tough day. I think the world of you and am grateful for such a role model!!!

  3. I am so happy that those major stressors are no longer part of your life and that you no longer have to quash your voice
    Your eloquent article spoke to me in many ways. Much love

  4. I’m so glad this is done for you and I’m so glad that you stayed with it I have focused on your healing. The world needs you. Your story is so important to others who have this journey to face.

  5. Alleluia, Hallelujah, Alhamdulillah! And shame, shame, SHAME on our late stage capitalism corporate healthcare systems in virtually every community. I’m not talking about the people who care for people. May they be blessed and protected. I’m talking about the money moguls, those who benefit from and TAKE from the health crises of our country’s citizens at the most vulnerable moments of their lives.
    I love you, Cathleen. I love John. I rejoice that at least THIS sh*t is OVER.

    1. Thanks so much Jody. Yes, our system has so many issues. Capitalism does drive the bus. So many amazing and deeply caring folks work in the system but are unable to practice care in the way they feel is best, and they are exhausted, which makes caring even MORE difficult. I too rejoice that THIS set of hurdles for us is past, knowing full well there are many folks who still need support and we ALL need reform. Sigh.

  6. Cathleen, that is a powerful story. I am so glad you are telling it. You really capture the vulnerability of being at the mercy of these large systems at a time when you are fighting for basic functioning. It really resonates. I can’t wait to talk more with you about this on Sunday.

    1. Thank you so much Marabai. I hope that my being honest and telling my story that others can know they are not alone, there is healing to be had and find hope that we can all find the help we need. Thank you for reading!

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