Medical Disability Exacts a Societal Cost

sign-slippery-wet-cautionby Phil La Duke

I’ve been remiss in writing a blog. There are big reasons and little reasons; good and bad.  The biggest reason was I have been recovering from emergency surgery to remove an abscess, that owing to malpractice by the first hospital (which almost killed me three times, according to my doctor) turned ugly and what would have been a simple outpatient procedure turned into a major ordeal.  It seems I am deathly allergic to the most effective antibiotic for this type of infection so it was touch and go and I had less a chance of survival than usual.  I was told I would be in incredible pain and whacked out of my head on narcotic pain pills, but since I felt no pain whatsoever I didn’t take the drugs.  Bleeding has left me very weak and I am easily exhausted, but all signs point to a speedy (2-10 week recovery).  Initially the doctor restricted my activity—no work and no driving for two weeks—but the surgery went well enough that I was able convince my doctor that missing work wasn’t necessary.

While my surgery was in no way work related, it did get me thinking about what it is like to be injured on the job.  Soon after my surgery we got hit with 6-9 inches of snow, followed by several other storms.  My neighbors sprang into action and cleared my drive way and sidewalks. I have great neighbors, but it made me wonder about injured workers who don’t have particularly good neighbors.  Little things like taking out the trash, shoveling snow, or even making lunch can be exhausting or even impossible.  I want my life back.  I want to be able to work, play, and enjoy life.

Sure there are malingerers who want nothing more to collect disability.  They must be wealthy; disability in many cases pays nothing and in others around 65% of a worker’s wage.  There’s sort of a universal animosity toward people who are on the public doll because of a questionable disability. I know of a man who is “disabled” with a bad back yet sits for hours on his computer making Facebook posts and I have to ask could he not be doing some job (even part time) that requires one to sit at a computer? I know of three others who are collecting disability for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and yet I know three more with PTSD just as severe who hold steady jobs and work for a living.  But this animosity is misplaced.  I don’t know the particulars of the disabilities of any of these people.  I do know of many people who have had injuries, work-related and nonwork-related, who can no longer work their chosen profession and are forced into a line of work that often pays less than what they studied for, trained for, and have experience in.

Being told by a doctor or even by your own body that you just can’t do the things you used to do is debilitating in its own way.  I was out of commission for a weekend during which my romantic engagement waited on me hand and foot. She is also a stress cleaner so while I lay on the couch exhausted from having walked across the room, she scrubbed and vacuumed, and the house never looked so good.  I didn’t have the energy to tell her not to, and she wouldn’t have listened anyway so I guess it worked out.

I have known many people who have been disabled and in most cases their disabilities aren’t obvious—and it isn’t a subject that they like to talk about.  I would think that employers could protect themselves from fraud and still show a little more compassion. (Please note, I am not talking about MY employer as at least for the time being I am neither on medical leave nor is my condition work related). My late father-in-law was injured when a supervisor (who was not supposed to be working, was in a restricted area, and not supposed to be working above people) dropped an angle iron that struck my father-in-law (after falling 2 stories) in the neck and shattered two vertebrae.  He had several serious operation and was told he could never lift more than 50lbs again (prompting him to ask the doctor how he was supposed to use the toilet to urinate, apparently even through the pain he never lost his sense of humor.)  He recovered although he was in considerable pain for the rest of his life and became addicted to opioids. He never SEEMED disabled and there was always some private detective snooping around watching to see if he was lifting more than 50lbs.  Is this a good use of company funds?

While we’re at it, let’s talk about how workplace injuries led us to the opioid epidemic? There are other causes to be sure, but it’s also fair to say workplace injuries played a role.  Worker injuries are more than a case management/worker’s compensation issue, it is a societal issue and one that we blithely ignore.

So while I have been injured at work, I never was the victim of a lost workday incident, but given my recent medical issues I have grown some empathy for the disabled.  We have to stop thinking about the medically disabled as scammers and con artists looking to juke the system and see the majority for what they are victims whose life’s were changed in an instant and who are now incapable of doing things they used to take for granted.