Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Single in Sickness and in Health: Prepare for Medical Emergencies

No, Singletude isn't running out of things to say. It takes a fever, a migraine-level headache, a cough that sounds like something thick and foul-tasting bubbling in a pot, and a throat that feels like it's been stuffed with fiberglass to shut this single up. Yes, I was stopped in my tracks for several days straight by a nasty cold.

That sparked a question. As singles, we're used to relying on ourselves for the daily necessities--shopping and food prep, cleaning and household maintenance, transportation and car care, budgeting and bill paying. But sooner or later, along come those wicked little bacteria that you see on anti-fungal commercials, leering as they munch their way into your mucous membranes. Or perhaps you fall, and a limb gives way under the pressure. Or your immune system feels left out and starts acting up with a chronic condition like asthma or lupus. When you're the only one on duty, who holds down the fort when you're incapacitated?

It's a difficult enough question to answer when you're living off toast and ginger ale for three or four days. When you're facing a life-threatening battle with cancer, heart disease, or another serious condition, that question can be as stressful as the diagnosis.

Case in point: Over the past several years, my widowed uncle has been plagued with health problems and has needed a hip replacement and a rotator cuff repair. Now his knee is failing. Each time he's had surgery, my mother, who lives three hours away, has spent several weeks at his house cooking for him, driving him to appointments, running errands, and generally taking the place of a visiting nurse. At this point, my uncle is disabled and has to use a walker. In addition, because his shoulder didn't heal properly, he has only limited use of his arm. My cousin, who lives an hour away from him, visits him every week or so to clean house, make meals, and do the laundry.

Without his extended family, I'm not sure what my uncle would do. Some singles aren't fortunate enough to have family members who are willing or able to act as home health aides. Those who have good insurance may be able to afford nursing care, but not everyone is so lucky. To be sure that you're prepared for a medical emergency, consider taking these steps:

1. Make a plan with family or friends.
Discuss your health concerns with your family or friends. Plan in advance who will help you out in case of a medical problem. Preferably, this should be someone who lives nearby and doesn't work 70 hours a week in order to minimize the strain on everyone. Decide now so that there won't be any confusion or squabbling in case the worst occurs. If possible, choose a backup who can relieve the appointed family member or friend in case he or she is unable to care for you or needs a break. Offer to assume the same responsibility should your health care volunteer need you, especially if he or she is also single.

2. Get disability insurance.
Disability insurance kicks in when your health gives out to ensure that you still have an income if you can't work. Many employers offer short-term and/or long-term disability insurance. Find out if yours does as well as how long you'll be covered and for what percentage of your income. Typical short-term coverage continues for up to six months, while long-term coverage extends for five years to life. Most plans will pay approximately 60% of your income. If you live in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, or Hawaii, your employer must provide short-term disability insurance for 26 weeks, but no states have mandated long-term coverage yet. If your employer doesn't offer long-term disability insurance, you can buy a policy privately. Check with your state's department of insurance or with the agency that sells your life, home, or auto policy.

3. Buy long-term care insurance.
Long-term care insurance covers individuals in need of a nursing home, assisted living facility, or home health care. Your current insurance policy may or may not include some of these things. If not, you should be aware that Medicare covers only nursing care and not home health aides to assist you with the so-called Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), such as washing, dressing, and eating. Medicaid does pay for home health aides, but you have to qualify. If you don't qualify for Medicaid, it's recommended that you either purchase a private long-term care policy or, if your assets total more than $1.5 million, plan to pay for any long-term care expenses out of pocket. If you live in New York, Connecticut, California, or Indiana and buy a state-approved policy, you'll be eligible for Medicaid anytime you exhaust its benefits, even if you wouldn't qualify for Medicaid otherwise. Don't wait too long to take action on this. By age 50, 11% of long-term care insurance applicants are rejected, and by age 70, that figure is 43%.

4. Prepare a living will and health care power of attorney.
As uncomfortable as it is to think of your own mortality, it may be more discomfiting to think of becoming the next Terri Schiavo. A living will allows you to spell out how you do or don't want to be cared for should you be unable to express your wishes, while a health care power of attorney appoints someone to advocate for the directives in your living will. You can download a living will and power of attorney and have them notarized, or you can visit an attorney who specializes in estate law. Be careful with anything you download off the Internet, though, as it may or may not meet the legal regulations of your state.

Decisions regarding your future health care can seem daunting, but it's better to tackle them now, while you have your health, than later, when they can be overwhelming to someone stressed by illness or injury.

On a lighter note, please take a minute to respond to the Singletude poll above and let us know where you turn when you're on your sickbed.

What do you do when you're sick? Who do you call on to nurse you back to health, or what are your strategies for nursing yourself? Do you have an arrangement with a friend or family member to help you if you're physically incapacitated? Have you made provisions for disability, long-term care, a living will, and/or a health care power of attorney? What other options would you recommend to singles who might need help when ill or injured?

Fun Link of the Day


sksee said...

I like the style of your writing very much. As a single guy myself, I have to agree with your recommendations. Hopefully I do not end up being single for the rest of my life.

Clever Elsie said...

Hi, sksee! I'm glad you're enjoying the blog.

A lot of us would like to find a long-term partner, I think, but until we do (or even if we don't), there are thankfully so many opportunities we can explore on our own.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll stop in again. :)