Speaking to a packed audience at the closing ceremonies, Fox regaled attendees with stories of his life growing up in Canada, his success in Hollywood, and how he’s used his celebratory status to advance awareness and research into the disease that threatened to end his career more than 25 years ago. His own resolve and the tools he’s developed have allowed him to continue leading a happy and productive life and can serve as lessons for the workers’ compensation industry.
If you asked any of his 4 kids to list 10 factors about ‘Dad,’ Parkinson’s Disease would probably not be among them. “’Annoying’ might be on their lists, but not PD,” he said. Humor is one of the characteristics that help define Fox.
“I was playing golf in my 40s and someone asked, ‘what’s your handicap?’ he said. “I said, ‘isn’t it obvious?’”
But his self-deprecating, easy going manner about his condition took a while to materialize. Fox was 29 and making the movie ‘Doc Hollywood’ when he woke up one day with a twitching pinky. Attributing it to a hangover after a night out with fellow cast mate Woody Harrelson, Fox was shocked to later learn he had PD, and even more stunned when the neurologist “nonchalantly” told him “you have 10 years left to work.” The powerful impact of those words resonates even now, as Fox teared up on stage as he related the story. But Fox’s decision to live with acceptance instead of resignation led him on a different path.
Fox studied up on the disease and soon found a community of people with PD and their advocates. He went on to create the foundation that bears his name to focus on the most immediate need: research dollars. To date, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research has raised more than $750 million.
Career-wise, the 55-year-old has acted well beyond the 10 year limit he was given. Describing himself as a ‘happy guy’ Fox has also written three books since his diagnosis, and he and his wife, actress Tracy Pollan are celebrating 29 years of marriage.
Michael J. Fox had lots of support when he was diagnosed. He was already a beloved actor in a solid marriage and had lots of friends. But even he admitted that “you need support” to be resilient and optimistic in the face of a potentially devastating health determination.
Many injured workers whose claims turn into creeping catastrophics have little or no such support. Those who have been in the depths of despair and managed to regain function and return to work often speak of the encouragement they receive from people trying to help them as a deciding factor. A medical provider who exudes positivity rather than giving up on the patient, or a nurse case manager who is able to convince a patient that he will be able to go fishing again can change the course of recovery.
Injured workers generally believe what they are told. Those who are at risk of having their claims deteriorate may either develop a disability mindset or return to productivity and function. A supportive, positive attitude from the entire team — claims adjuster, medical providers, nurse case manager, and employer can help keep a claim on track for a positive outcome.
Reframing the Focus
Injured workers themselves say reframing a negative message makes a huge difference in their own attitudes and, ultimately, their recoveries. Focusing on what the injured worker can do, rather than what he can’t, changes his mindset.
Pain is more an experience than a sensation. Injured workers who can eliminate their fear of pain and refocus their attention on what they have rather than what they have lost find their pain levels reduced. It also helps address depression, which can exacerbate the disability mindset.
The vulnerability of an injured person cannot be overstated. Whether it is a high profile, much admired celebrity or a typical employee who has suffered a sudden injury, both need support, encouragement and advocacy to reach the best outcome.
Author Michael Stack, Principal, Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their work comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center. .
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