We made the decision and were ready to talk to an attorney about medical malpractice. The reason…to prevent this injury from happening to others.
We began by talking with an attorney who was a family friend and asked for advice regarding the doctor, medical malpractice and the comment made by the Johns Hopkins doctors. She practiced family law; however, she had a vast knowledge of experience and education, and she also knew lawyers in the surrounding areas. Working with a friend seemed comfortable and not as official as contacting a stranger.
We shared the saga, and I will never forget how shocked she was when we heard the entire story. She knew, like so many others, I had experienced difficulties, but didn’t know the extent and exactly what had occurred. She took lots of notes and promised to get back in touch with us soon. Within a few weeks we met with several different attorney’s and they all felt we had a solid case of medical malpractice. We began the process of suing the neurosurgeon for medical malpractice and for deviating from the standard of care.
It was around the same time we were interviewing attorney’s the neurosurgeon agreed via a telephone call I could try working two-hours a day. I approached my boss, but he felt I was unable to do my job in two-hours a day and from home. No other arrangement was offered and I was told since I was approved for Long Term Disability (LTD) that I should probably proceed in that direction. I was shocked at the response or lack thereof. I wasn’t ready to stop working and rely on LTD as my source of income. I wanted to work and contribute as I had done my whole life, beginning when I worked as a young teen. I felt my spinal cord and a few body parts were injured, but my mind was intact and I wanted to continue in my current position. After all, I had a fantastic job, which made me happy — something I desperately needed.
I typed a letter to my boss explaining I had been doing aspects of my job while on Short Term Disability (STD) and asked if they would allow me to do my job for three months. I explained if I was unable to do the job to their satisfaction, that I would step down and help find my replacement. My boss never responded and sent the letter to the Director of Human Resources. From her, I received a letter citing all the reasons why I was unable to work — as if I wasn’t living daily with these issues and needed to be reminded. I also wondered how they knew of my problems since all medical details were supposed to remain confidential.
I wrote a second letter explaining how I had worked numerous hours for the company while I was on STD and that work was accepted just as it had been in the past. I calculated I had sent and received more than 5,000 emails during the last several months while on STD. During most of that time I could only type with my left hand or depended on my daughter or husband to help type each email. I never complained and did what was asked of me no matter how I was feeling.
I had my current job for five years and was dedicated, constantly receiving outstanding performance reviews and recognition for going above and beyond the call of duty. I was told I was unable to do my job even when I had been doing it for the last several months. I also had a terrific relationship with my boss and thought he knew and understood my work ethic. Instead, I was making no progress with securing a position with my employer. Following extensive discussions and multiple letters back and forth, my husband and I decided I needed assistance with negotiating with my employer.
I was moving forward to accept my injury and limitations and continuing with therapy. I was considering a medical malpractice case and organized my lifestyle in a way where I could adapt living with a spinal cord injury. We turned to an attorney who had experience in employment law. We thought he offered the expertise needed. Having him handle this responsibility was a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. He proceeded in sending a letter to my employer explaining he was representing me and asked why I wasn’t allowed to continue with my current position.
During the time we were talking with both the medical malpractice and employment law attorney’s, I received an email from the neurosurgeon regarding the EMG test done by the neurologist. He must have been copied on the EMG report and felt he needed to respond. The following was his response:
“Your EMG shows some median nerve neuropathy which is consistent with carpal tunnel syndrome. This is a very common condition especially with people who use the computer a lot at work. In addition there is evidence of demyelinating disease which, I think, corresponds with the spinal cord changes we have reviewed on the MRI. These also can be found in MS patients but I do not think this is likely the reason.
“I think that balance will be a chronic problem for you and stairs can be dangerous for people like yourself who have unpredictable, sudden neurological changes. Overall, you just need to keep working hard and keep your faith. Neurological conditions are very frustrating (as you know) because they can take years to improve upon and have a roller-coaster pattern of peaks and valleys.”
In addition, once the attorney requested copies of my medical file from the neurosurgeon, I began getting calls from the neurosurgeon on our home and cell phones. In each of the messages he indicated he was checking in on me and wanted to know how I was doing. He had never done this in the past. I also never returned his telephone calls. Since we were still discussing a medical malpractice case with attorney’s we thought it was best I had no contact with the neurosurgeon.
A lot was taking place while I was trying to keep my job, including a meeting with my employer to discuss my capabilities. There were six representatives from the company, two employment lawyers and me. When we walked in the room it was interesting being hugged by the very people who were fighting against me. They stated “that they had been praying for me.” The exact words used by the neurosurgeon.
Once the conversation turned serious, I listened to how valuable an employee I was, but they felt I would be unable to continue in my current role. After listening to all the positive statements, there was something said that shook me to the core. One of the people in the meeting stated “it was difficult for a cripple to get around and do the type of work needed for my position.” That was the first time the word cripple had been used in my presence. Me, a cripple? I had never thought of myself that way until that moment. I was offended, but I was also very upset since the person who said it was someone I had respected. I thought all companies were familiar with the American with Disabilities Act and knew how to treat their employees who were disabled.
After extensive negotiations during the next four months, I gave in and gave up my job; a first in many things that would continue to change in my life. I did accept a part-time, at home, entry-level position where I had to report my hours and send in a weekly progress report. I also was asked to report to an individual whom I had hired and had previously reported to me. My compensation package had been reduced to 50 percent of what it was prior to my surgery. When I signed up for disability insurance in November of the previous year, I never thought that I would need it. However, I was very glad that I did since it was a lifeline for me and my family. I received my reduced pay and part-time disability insurance, which made up 50 percent of what I made prior to the surgery.
What I remember the most during this difficult time was my inability to express how disappointed I was in many aspects of my life — the neurosurgeon, my employer, the people I worked with, and the disability process. At a time when life needed to cut me some slack…it didn’t. I was drowning in sadness and the entire time I felt I was living a nightmare. I would cry myself to sleep. But even sleep didn’t help mask the pain I was in mentally and physically. Sleeping, I thought would be an escape; however, I quickly learned each morning when I woke that pain was the first reminder about this new horrible life I was now living. I felt as if the entire world was against me and I was trying to fight it all; however, I was a cripple and had lost my ability to do the job I was hired to do five years ago, confront the person who injured me, have normal relationships with friends and family or even take a jog or walk around the neighborhood. Why me, I asked each night. Why me?
©My Unplanned Life and www.shakinguplife.wordpress.com, 2011.