Shari and Jack Bender have more in common than just sharing a home in Phoenix, Arizona. For one, they both had painful, career-ending back and neck injuries.
‘On October 16, 2000, Jack was sitting in his car at a red light,’ said Shari in a telephone interview. ‘In his rear-view mirror he could see a plumbing truck coming toward him. He got hit from behind at about 35 mph.’
Though Jack felt great pain, an emergency room doctor told him to treat it by taking Tylenol and seeing a family physician. Doctors didn’t learn for six months that Jack had fractured three disks.
During those six months, ‘everybody looked at Jack and said he didn’t look injured,’ said Shari. ‘The rear end of his car wasn’t badly damaged, and so people thought he couldn’t be experiencing that much pain. The doctor thought he [was faking injury to get] pain pills.’
Today, 48-year-old Jack must take a narcotic analgesic to relieve almost constant pain, and he likely won’t work again. A titanium plate and screws hold his back together.
As for Shari: She slipped in 1987 working at a retail store and seriously injured her tailbone, which led to years of pain management injections. Thankfully, her pain went away in 1992.
‘Then in 1999, I was rear-ended by a drunk driver in Las Vegas,’ she said. ‘There wasn’t much damage to my car, so I didn’t think anything about [my injury]. In 2004, I was working at a charity event in St. Louis and fell down on concrete and injured my tailbone again.’
She now has to use a cane, walks with a limp, and has bone spurs in her feet.
Now that both have nagging disabilities, some of the Benders’ biggest challenges in life come from people who don’t believe they have a disability. For example, probably because of not looking ‘disabled’ due to their relatively young ages and outward appearance, the Benders, after parking in handicapped parking spots, often receive nasty comments.
How do they maintain their sanity through it all? ‘I get through it using laughter,’ said Shari. ‘Jack and I are best friends, and we laugh about it a lot.’
The Benders also have co-authored ‘The Waiting Room,’ a practical guide to weathering serious injury. The book covers their dealings with government, medical professionals, and insurance companies.