A Fish Out of Water…

As time crept by I continued seeing my doctors both in Baltimore and in Pennsylvania. I also participated in mental and physical therapy and worked part-time. While work did add to the stress level, it was nice to have a distraction.

I was asked to handle a project for the retirement of the company’s chairman.  It was a one-of-a-kind custom piece highlighting his 30-year career. It was an interesting project with an enormous budget; however, it was disappointing I wasn’t invited to the event where the gift was presented.  I was told “it would be better if you didn’t attend. There are going to be a lot of people and you may feel uncomfortable.”  I somehow think my presence at the event might have made others feel uncomfortable. I heard he loved the gift complete with custom artwork and a ‘special’ bottle of wine highlighting each of his 30 years with the company. To me, it was reward enough to know he liked the gift. However, it is difficult to go from a highly compensated go-to employee who ran a department to one who is only valued from behind the scenes.

I also worked on other projects, including updating the company’s Dress Code policy and brochure as well as prepared several presentations about new company policies. I had to go into the office several times during the first few months. The location where I worked was large and parking was difficult. Once I arrived, I had to walk a mile from the parking lot to the building. I was in so much pain following my trek, I had to stop by the restroom. After a good long cry from the increased pain, I cleaned myself up and went to my meeting.  My legs were shaking so badly from the walk I hid them under the table so they couldn’t be seen. By this time, I was able to do some writing with my right hand, but only I could read my notes.  I used a special weighted pen and learned to hide my neurological problems. I wanted to be seen as I had in the past — not the cripple people thought I had become.

The following week I had to go back for another meeting. This time the receptionist for the company told me to park in the visitor’s handicapped parking in front of the building since she knew I walked from the parking lot during my last visit.  I remember thinking more people would be understanding if they had to use a cane or wheelchair for a day. The world is not a friendly place for those with special needs or disabilities.

During my time at the office, I spent time conducting research. I later had a meeting with my new boss (the person whom I hired and used to report to me). As I was walking to the meeting location, I ran into one of the company’s vice president’s who wanted to know how I was feeling. I had not seen many co-workers since my surgery, so they wanted to know what had happened. During our hallway conversation, my previous boss walked by and never acknowledged I was standing there. Again, I questioned why I was treated this way when all I did was hire someone to help me return to work — something anyone would have done to protect themselves and their family?

Before I left for the day, I stopped by the company’s attorney’s office. He was the one who worked with my employment law attorney to help me return to work. I waited in the hallway for about 20 minutes and once he was off the telephone, I asked if I could speak with him. I wanted to thank him for his efforts in helping me return to work. “Don’t thank me — I didn’t have anything to do with it,” he stated with a sarcastic tone. Even though I had known this person for many years, I was trying to say thank him for the extra work and instead got a curt and rude response. He was the individual who signed all the letters sent to the attorney and me. I remember thinking I really needed to stop being so nice since it was a trait not easily returned.

While I was at the office, I was given a few additional assignments along with deadlines. Along with my projects, I still had to undergo training, weekly progress reports and other company performance documents. I wasn’t aware of missing deadlines and had exceeded work expectations on all projects given. I also had a rather large project I was asked to work on when I had time; however, the scope of the project kept changing, which made it impossible to advance it to the next level. Even though I was working part-time, I was expected to produce full-time results. I asked for a list of priority projects, but the list constantly changed. I was also promised a cubicle where I could sit and do some work while at the office, a higher performance-based bonus and a few other accommodations to make working at home more efficient.  A few weeks after beginning work, I was told there would be no cubicle space, my bonus was being reduced since I was doing an entry-level job and some office-related items that were promised were not sent. 

While I should have seen the handwriting on the wall, I wanted desperately to get back into the workplace. I contacted the attorney and he mailed a letter to the company stating the agreed to items were changing. What I received was a very stern telephone call from the vice president of the department where I was working. Although nothing was changing as far as my situation, he was very disappointed I had contacted my attorney. I was a bit taken back since the company was the one that changed the agreed upon items. I had to laugh since before contacting the attorney, I had left several messages and sent emails asking for the vice president to give me a call. Following a month of no response, I felt a letter from the attorney would be viewed as a priority. I was tired of being treated as if I and my work didn’t matter. After all, this was the company that told me to “just go out on Long Term Disability?”

During this time I wrote an email to a very good friend. We went to college together and since graduation she has lived in California.  We talk when we can, but rely on Facebook and emails to share messages, thoughts, prayer suggestions and requests, etc.  In one particular message, I wrote:

“I am feeling a bit lost at the moment even though I ask God to do with me as he pleases. With my daughter leaving for college soon — I am feeling like I don’t know what my purpose is supposed to be. I feel like a fish out of water gasping for air.

In addition to the spinal cord injury, I have Cervical Dystonia and the doctor says it is the worst case he has seen. It’s like having Charlie-horses all the time, but in your neck and shoulders. Nothing helps but Botox, but I can only get that every three months. The doctor is doing an experimental treatment on me, which is so painful I leave the office with tears in my eyes. I have seven more to undergo. While I am a trooper, I feel I need to concentrate on something other than my spinal cord injury, doctors, PT, and being at home alone. The book about the injury is still too painful to write. I have a great idea for a children’s book series, but I am just not in a happy place to write happy books. Isn’t that sad?  I don’t want more medication or mental therapy either. I just want my life to feel as if I am doing something…I want it to matter.”

A month or so later, another appointment was scheduled by the defense attorney with another neuro-psychiatrist. Once again, we were picked up and my husband and I were taken to Philadelphia.  We were surprised the practice was in an ‘alley’ with little or no parking. However, once we were in the office, we noticed it was nicely decorated in a very traditional style.  

The receptionist sat in the middle of the waiting room with a kitchen directly behind.  The doctor came out and introduced himself and asked if we would come into his office. The first remark he made was a complaint about us being a few minutes late. However, this was out of our control and the appointment was scheduled during Philadelphia rush-hour. The next few minutes he chit-chatted and talked about what was going to occur during the appointment. He then introduced a student from a local college who was going to conduct the tests. The student seemed knowledgeable at first, but we were surprised that the doctor himself wouldn’t be conducting the test. Did the defense know they were paying $10,000 for a student to conduct the complex tests?

The student and I went into another office with just a desk and two chairs. He was a bit nervous at first and very disorganized. He had the instructions in front of him and was reading through them as he prepared himself for each test. There were a few times when he fumbled and seemed embarrassed that he didn’t understand the instructions. Since I had taken the test a few weeks prior, with the other neuro-psychiatrist, I was able to explain how to administer the tests. There was one particular test the student was unable to figure out. He got up to speak to the doctor, but the doctor had left for lunch. He called the doctor on his cell, but didn’t reach him. In fact, we heard the cell phone ringing on the doctor’s desk. My husband had a front row seat to the entire situation since he was in the waiting room.  I again explained the test to the student and we proceeded to complete the day-long exams. 

At the end of the day and the conclusion of the testing, the doctor asked me to step into his office without my husband. He asked some of the strangest questions about the surgery and living with a spinal cord injury.  He agreed I had a spinal cord injury since he was familiar with the notes; however, what he would testify when in court was the exact opposite. 

It was another very long day and we were driven home. Due to the heavy traffic in Philadelphia, it took twice as long to get home. It would take another month to get the doctor’s report about the testing.  What it said and the doctor’s testimony in court would shock us all. 

©My Unplanned Life and www.shakinguplife.wordpress.com, 2011.

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About mswd

I am an individual living with a spinal cord injury. How the injury occurred, how I found out how severe my injury was and how my planned life suddenly became 'unplanned' is included in this blog. Also included is how the injury has tested my family and me. I believe you will discover it has been both a mentally and physically challenging ordeal and I learned a few lessons along the way. While I am still defining my life’s purpose since the injury, I have uncovered those who are injured, live with pain or have other obstacles to navigate are never able to escape. However, come with me as I explore ways to improve my life, learn to live with multiple neurological conditions, educate others and look for the silver lining. I believe with a little willpower, my caring family and God's guidance I will learn to forgive, hopefully forget how I was treated and dismissed by a doctor and uncover life's new purpose. I pray for painfree days and answers to questions that keep swirling through my mind. I also pray for a cure for neurological conditions and for the doctors to treat their patients with respect. Welcome to my journey. I would love to hear about yours!
This entry was posted in Americans with Disabilities Act, Disability, Employer and disability, Pain, Self Discovery, Spinal Cord Injury and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Fish Out of Water…

  1. kelly says:

    I like that I have a point of reference in this entry – it was when we met (and I’m so glad we did). This is a crazy story that just gets crazier…. and I said it before – and I’ll say it again, I know that this is going to help others…

    This might even be HEALTHCARE REFORM….. Keep at it!

    • mswd says:

      I know what you mean — out of the bad becomes some good…like meeting you. That was a plus of working on that brochure 🙂 I appreciate your ongoing support and friendship! You are a doll!

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