Updated 06 June 2013

When life happens

Michelle Riley tells Health24 about how the unthinkable happened, and what’s getting her through.


If you never need your insurance be thankful. But if you do, the value is incalculable.

In May 2003 I was retrenched. With the loss of an employer came the loss of the benefits that go with a job. I no longer had a company car, paid holidays, group medical and pension schemes or any of the things that went with them.

Obviously I had to sort all of those things, and for some of them, I got hold of Liberty. Amongst the policies I decided to take out, were medical cover and income protection.

I never thought I’d actually need any of this, you understand. I was just trying to be grown-up.

Then the unthinkable happened. In 2004, I was in a near-fatal head-on collision.

One of my first memories is of being in a hospital room, drifting in and out of consciousness. Each time consciousness came, fear came with it … Where was I? What was happening?

It turns out that I have lost my short-term memory. The closest I can get to an explanation of what it feels like, is that I’m living a dream in which everything makes sense, but when I wake up the next day and try to remember it I can’t quite pin it down. Every day my brain seems to be wiped clean.

Focusing on recovery, not bills

When I was well enough to receive visitors, I kept asking about my finances. I asked over and over
because as soon as someone answered, I’d forget. Eventually, a friend made a sign and stuck it where I could see it. I still have the sign; it’s now on the wall in front of my computer. It gave me so many moments of relief and peace at the hospital that these days it’s kind of a mantra for me. Whenever I’m feeling panicky I read it:




Then some joker scribbled underneath it: “Wanna trade places? You can go to work and I’ll just lie here in bed with not a care in the world!”

My life has changed dramatically, but there is a lot to be grateful for. All my energy has been spent on recovering, not on worrying about money or the details. My medical and life-saving costs were covered, and I have a monthly income which allows me to maintain the life I had before the accident. Even though I cannot work, I haven’t had to worry about money. How many people can say that? My contact at Liberty, Olwyn Niddrie, feels like my guardian angel.

Learning to live again

I used to play a lot of sport - I competed in the World Karate Championships, played squash for Southern Transvaal, and also dived (as in board, not scuba) for my school. Now I consider it a great achievement to walk down my driveway.

Straight after the accident I began occupational therapy sessions, doing everything from knitting and beading, which I hated, to physiotherapy. These therapists were all necessary and they did help me. It has taken me many years to get to a stage at which I can say I’ve grown from the experience. But let’s look at the little triumphs:

Before my accident I was single, with a menagerie of animals – seven dogs, two monkeys and three parrots. For years after the accident, the house felt very empty but in the last few years I have filled it up again, with dogs and a kitty. I can make my own breakfast as long as the ingredients are there already, and I can choose clothes and get dressed. All these little victories add up and are allowing me to win this war.

(This article was written by Michelle Riley, and supplied to Health24 by Liberty Life, June 2011)

Read more:
Choosing your insurance
Disability insurance


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