Are You Suffering?
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Below.
July 8, 1995 at 8:50 AM was a pivotal moment in my history. One I thought I would never recover from. One I rarely think of anymore.
In the years since, Iâ€™ve sometimes Â had to explain in great Â depth Â in Â interviews Â with Â very Â non-understanding people why I confessed, as required by my signature certifying my honesty on a particular Government Â form, that Iâ€™d had serious suicidal thoughts. Unless youâ€™ve Â been in great physical pain, Iâ€™m not sure you can understand that tremendous need for release from it.
I injured Â my Â back Â that Â day. Â Worse. Â It happened Â at work on a Â military Â base.Â And for most of the country who have seen TV exposeâ€™s Â of Workerâ€™s Compensation fraud and people drawing tax-free incomes while jet skiing and faking a back injury, well, for most people who didnâ€™t know me,Â that meant Â I was just another Â greedy faker. And thatâ€™s Â how I was treated. If people canâ€™t see the evidence of pain in the form Â of Â blood or a gaping wound, they dismiss it.
Which is Â exactly Â what Â theâ€¦oh, Â hell. Â I Â really Â donâ€™t want to call the man a physician. That would give him too much credit. But thatâ€™s Â exactlyÂ Â what he didÂ Â when I finally was allowed to see a doctor who Â accepted Workerâ€™s Comp a whole two days later. I didnâ€™t really hurt the first day. My entire back was numb, which was unsettling, but it didnâ€™t Â exactly hurt until the next dayâ€¦and then it was excruciating.
Because it happened on a military base with a regional hospital, my boss first thought to send me there, but they turned me away as a civilian and I was told to go to the local emergency room/immediate Â care doctors, but I had to have certain forms with meâ€¦which my bosses couldnâ€™t find at first and then had to figure out how to fill out.
The Department of Labor normally deals with a patientâ€™s Â employerâ€™s Â Workerâ€™s Â Comp Â insurance Â company but treats Federal Â employees differently than those who are privately insured. Differently, as I discovered, translates â€œlike shit.â€ Â The Department Â of Labor Â IS the Â Workerâ€™s Comp insurance company equivalent, and that meant al- most everything I needed had to be pre-approved Â by the DOL, regardless of how many weeks or months of pain I spent waiting.
When I finally saw a doctor at the immediate care center, he looked at the paperwork and mumbled something about a back injury on the job. Â He diagnosed me from across the room. Back strain. Here, take some pain pills and rest for 2 days.
The extent of his examination? â€œCan you bend to the left? Can you Â bend to the right?â€ I could, but with extreme difficulty Â and Â pain. Â No Â X-ray. Â But Â he Â made Â his quota of spending less than two minutes with me. Since I wasnâ€™t Â in Â hysterics, Â I Â could Â go Â home. Â Big Â mistake. Â In hindsight, Â I really should Â have been the squeaky wheel instead of calm, Â cool, and tight-jawed against the pain. Or, if I were then who I am now, I would have insisted he come for a closer look and told him that I could bend but it hurt, instead of following his commands silently.
Life went from bad to worse, with him refusing to re- lease me from Â his â€œcareâ€ and recommending Â a neurologist 2 hours away who wasnâ€™t cleared as a workerâ€™s comp doctor. See, Â doctors Â donâ€™t Â like Â dealing Â with Â on-the-job injuries because they have to deal with the Department of Labor and often end up spending their time in court as expert witnesses. Some who will normally deal with work injuries wonâ€™t touch back injuries, so the idea of finding a physician to help me was much more complicated Â than anyone realizedâ€¦or cared.
Three weeks later, I was still going to work every day and doing my job with tears rolling down my cheeks all day. In hindsight, big mistake. The work was getting done so my employers werenâ€™t stressed to do as much as they could, and Â the Â DOL Â assumes Â that Â ifÂ you Â can Â â€œwork,â€ youâ€™re cured. Finding healing was something that was left up to me, with little to no help from anyone at all, even though I was exhausted and in so much pain that I couldnâ€™t Â function except through sheer willpower, which was dwindling.
I managed to drive myself to the ER in Crestview and Dr. Foley was able to help with some temporary Â relief. He took Â Workerâ€™s Comp in his private practice close to my homeâ€”one of the few docs around who would for a back Â injuryâ€”and Â so Â I Â became Â a Â regular Â patient. Â He helped me get an official (okay with the DOL) referral to a Â neurologist Â who took Workerâ€™s Â Comp patients Â and I finally saw him in November, only to be told that he was retiring and didnâ€™t want to see any Federal employee back injuries because based on his initial examination, I would need long-term care.
So back to the drawing board, after Iâ€™d sat sobbing in my car for a while.
After Â that Â referral Â was Â withdrawn Â and Â a Â new Â one givenâ€”all had to be very official with the DOLâ€”I finally saw another neurologistâ€¦who Â seemed completely uninterested when I gave him my history. Case in Â point: he asked what types of daily activities I could no longer do. I said I felt my life was over because I was completely use- less Â as Â a Â wife, Â mother, Â employeeâ€¦as Â a Â person. Â I Â explained that I couldnâ€™t reach into Â a washing machine to left out a wet garment, that I couldnâ€™t sit in a meeting for more than 5 minutes, that I couldnâ€™t lift a quart of milk to pour for my babyâ€™s cereal, that Iâ€™d tried to help my other little girl with her Â spaghetti but I physically couldnâ€™t cut her noodles with a fork. His Â response? A classic Beavis and Butthead remark to his nurse: â€œCutting noodles, heh. Heh.â€
I saw him a number of times for various tests over the next many Â months, and each time, he would spend the entire time with me getting reacquainted with my history and reading back through my whole chart and asking the sameÂ questions Â as Â before. Â I Â was Â frustrated Â and Â always wanted to take the pen away from him and write things in bold so heâ€™d see it the next time. The only time he ever got worked up was when he saw me use my grandfatherâ€™s cane for support while having to stand for 20 Â minutes, saying that if I used a cane, Iâ€™d come to depend on itâ€¦ even Â though Â I couldnâ€™t Â stand for more than 5 minutes without leaning against Â a wall, a table, a chair, anything for support.
Our acquaintance Â ended with him saying that Iâ€™d just have to live Â with my pain and its limitations because he couldnâ€™t figure it out. Oh. So because he couldnâ€™t figure it out, I was therefore doomed? It wasnâ€™t that Â he Â couldnâ€™t figure it out that bothered me but rather, but his casual dismissal and his arrogance. Â I was still in constant pain that never let up. Ever.
I determined then that I was not going to be a cripple for the rest of my life and that I would be happy and productive again and that I would be able to release myself from this pain and have something Â left over to be creative. It took 27 months and going outside classical medicine to find healing, but I did.
I rarely think of those days anymore. I wouldnâ€™t have believed it possible then that a time would come when I wouldnâ€™t be thinking of the pain at every possible second and Â it Â overriding Â every Â moment Â in Â my Â life. Â Any Â back problems I have now are normal back aches from things like painting ceilings and laying patio bricks. And I cut my noodles just fine, thank you.
But today I read an article on the two questions that every doctor should ask, and it brought Â everything back at full force.
My sister-in-law, Â who is in medicine, and I had a talk last Â Thanksgiving Â about those inane questions Â that you get asked in triage. Like, â€œOn a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the worst pain youâ€™ve ever had (or can imagine), how bad is the pain?â€
If youâ€™ve had a couple of babies and a back injury, that Â skews Â the Â scale Â somewhat. Â If Â the Â sewing Â needle loggedÂ in my Â foot is a 5 compared to birthing Â a stuck baby, then hey, why even Â bother to go to the doctor? (Note: for the needle in my foot, they took an X-rayâ€¦but they didnâ€™t for my back.)
The article I read said instead that a physician should ask, â€œAre you suffering?â€ and then â€œWhere does the pain come from?â€
If any of my doctors had ever asked that of my back injury!
â€œYes, Doctor, Â Iâ€™m Â suffering. Â The Â pain Â is as bad Â as childbirth but with no relief in sight, but the real suffering is from feeling so useless and unproductive, Â in not being able to help myself and in not having any champions to help me either, in being tied up in red tape that Iâ€™ve spent years helping others through, in having people who donâ€™t know me assume Iâ€™m a crook and having people who do know me question my integrity because they canâ€™t see my injury,Â in Â having Â been Â a Â â€œsuperstarâ€ Â to Â myÂ bosses Â for years and suddenly Iâ€™m a liability because you never know when Â youâ€™ll have to do more paperwork on me, on not being able to pick up my little girl and carry her anymore and the way she doesnâ€™t understand and takes it as rejection, in being so much trouble to everyone else, in Â not being able to be a whole person, in not being able to get through all these persistent legal and medical roadblocks, in just hurting all the time and being so tired of hurting and never having any energy left over for anything in me thatâ€™s creative and just getting through day by day, moment by moment of pain and being so tempted just to end everything so I can stop hurting but absolutely determined that I still have stories to tell that only I can write and that most of all I wonâ€™t Â give up on raising my girls myself. Yes, Doc, Iâ€™m in pain, but more importantly, Iâ€™m really, truly suffering and I need your help.â€
Iâ€™m sometimes asked why I have sneered at so many doctors. Itâ€™s because Iâ€™ve known more without compassion than with. I have noted, however, that the ones Iâ€™ve chosen for myself and my family have been of the com- passion variety. Â Itâ€™s the ones chosen Â for Â me who have been the real stinkers.