In addition to the doctors I saw on a weekly and monthly basis — I also had a meeting with a Life Care Planner who looked at our house, studied my lifestyle and made recommendations as to what accommodations could be made to help make life easier. She was a wonderful woman, who had extensive knowledge about home care and personal items that would allow me to continue living in our two-story house and make many normal activities a bit easier. Our house after all, had four bedrooms upstairs, a family room that included two steps and a finished basement with wooden steps that led to ceramic flooring. We also had hardwood floors, and at least four steps from each entry in and out of the house. It was not a friendly house for someone who fell on a regular basis. The Life Care Planner spent the day getting familiar with my routine and looking for ways to fit my disability into my life vs. fitting my life into my disability.
Along with the Life Care Planner, my husband and I met with a Financial Planner who tackled our finances. Since I was working part-time, I received an hourly rate as well as a reduction in money from the disability company. He asked for tax returns for the last few years and paycheck statements for the last few months. He calculated what I made and the loss I would incur. He kept in mind stock options, the increased payment for benefits, a lower bonus and other losses to my compensation and benefits package. He prepared a spreadsheet comparing working part-time and full-time prior to my injury. He also included another line item for what I would make if I had to stop working. It was a very complex process and while I never really understood the details, I knew we had lost a huge portion of our household income.
At about this same time, I was notified I had to apply for Social Security disability. That was the beginning of another nightmare that would continue for two years. To summarize, I applied twice, was turned down, was told by the disability company not to appeal and then told by the same people to apply again. Private disability companies want individuals to be approved for Social Security disability since they deduct that amount from the monthly private disability check. We thought that applying for private long-term disability was complicated — their process is nothing compared to what you have to do for Social Security. I had doctor’s appointments, psychological evaluations, worked with a Social Security attorney in Washington, D.C. and was finally approved after two years. It is a grueling process that is redundant and requires the patience of a saint.
We also spent time talking with the neurosurgeon who was serving as our expert witness. When suing a doctor for medical malpractice, the law requires testimony from a doctor who specializes in the same area of medicine as the doctor who deviated from the standard of care. The doctor we chose, worked at a prestigious hospital in New York City. He was angry about what Dr. Liar did to my spinal cord and the fact he covered it up. He discussed many of the side effects I was experiencing and the reason many occurred months later. The words ‘delayed onset’ should have been words that Dr. Liar used, instead it was our expert witness who explained what it meant and the impact on me. He said in no uncertain terms that Dr. Liar permanently damaged my spinal cord and deviated from the standard of care. During one of our many telephone conversations, he said he was embarrassed when doctors, especially neurosurgeons, have a narcissistic attitude. He knew exactly what problem had occurred in the operating room and was willing to place his reputation on the line. We felt extremely lucky to have this doctor on our side.
Other witnesses included my local neurologist, general practitioner, my husband, father, best friend, mental therapist and other people who knew me prior to the surgery. We began preparing the witness list and met with each one to explain the process and prepare for what was about to unfold.
During this time, I found myself getting more and more frustrated with work and unable to meet the deadlines expected of me. While I knew they wanted me to quit…I just couldn’t give into what they wanted. I continued to work hard and do the jobs assigned. Often, when I would go into the office for meetings, I had many conversations with co-workers who pleaded for me to return to my old job. “We want you back in your job — it’s just not the same without you,” they would say. Oh how I wished I could have told them the truth. However, I was grateful for ‘a job’ even though it was beneath my level of expertise and I constantly felt as if I was being ‘punished’ for my injury.
While attending a meeting at work (where I was able to park in the visitor’s handicapped parking lot), I remembered an event that happened a few months prior to my surgery. I was waiting to meet with my boss (the one who said he loved and missed me, but stopped talking to me once I hired an attorney) and during that time I struck up a conversation with his Administrative Assistant. When my boss came out of his office, he started giving me a hard time (like he always did). I told him he better be nice because one day I was going to write a book and he was going to play the villain…someone who suffers a long and arduous illness. We both laughed. I wished I would have known then what I know now. I wonder if I would have been as friendly, worked as hard and sacrificed time away from my family? The ‘should a, could a, would a’s’ get you every time. I have to admit I miss those days when I was managing a department and contributing to a job I loved; however, I am unable to wrap my head around giving so much of my time to an organization that so easily pushed me out the door. I feel sorry for those who are still working insane hours and putting up with the nonsense. No one ever died thinking “I wish I would have worked more.” While I would have still done quality work, I would have managed my work-life balance a bit better.
As time passed and we continued to plan and prepare for the lawsuit, I asked my mental therapist about medication for depression. I was beginning to feel very sad, lost and as if nothing mattered. For one month I did nothing but lie in bed and sleep — only getting up to work my part-time hours. Nothing would make me feel better. I would go to the necessary appointments and try to fool others that I was handling the situation, but I knew…I had hit rock bottom and was having trouble seeing a way out, or even wondering if I wanted to feel better. Did I think about suicide? Yes on several occasions, but really just a passing thought. I knew it would be a quick way to end the pain and maybe my family would be better off without me. However, I knew if I took my own life I would not have the opportunity to tell my side of this saga and I would be letting Dr. Liar have total control. And, for religious reasons, I knew God’s plan was not for me to end my life.
I knew that I needed medication and needed it quickly. I made an appointment with my Internist and he agreed I needed something to help me cope. I tried several antidepressants, the first made me rapidly gain weight, I had an allergic reaction to the second medication, and the third made me more depressed. Cymbalta seemed to be the best fit. While I still suffered from depression I worked hard to manage it with the four M’s — Mental therapy, Medication, Meditation and Mind over Matter. I also needed to focus on the positive things in my life — what I had now instead of what was taken away from me. However, even doing all of this I still had many dark moments when I wished I could make the pain go away.
While I was stressing with work-related issues and working on handling my depression, the attorneys from both sides met with the judge who would hear our case. She talked to both attorneys and pleaded with them to settle out of court. Our attorney mentioned we were willing to begin discussions; however, the defense said that no negotiation would take place since his client (Dr. Liar) was innocent. The judge then set the date for our case – January 4. Our attorney asked if my family and I would stay in Pennsylvania during the holiday season since there was a tremendous amount of preparation that needed to take place. I believe it was one of the most difficult things to experience…celebrating Christmas knowing your court case was in 10 days. I found myself thinking about Dr. Liar and how could he enjoy Christmas knowing the many lies he had told. Christmas and a lawsuit…two things that don’t mix well during the holiday season. It was difficult to enjoy the holidays — too many distractions, too much stress and so much preparation.
It was a bitter cold morning when we left for the courthouse, which was an hour away. Where we prepared? Where we nervous? Where we doing the right thing? Where we crazy to take on Dr. Liar and the big bad hospital with millions of dollars budgeted for Risk Management? As we walked into the courtroom, someone said “Ready or Not?” That seemed to say it all.
©My Unplanned Life and www.shakinguplife.wordpress.com, 2011.