I am known to be a strong health advocate, which is not to be confused with being someone who has been able to maintain good health, a healthy diet, or even a healthy lifestyle. I have lived most of my life with a “do as I say, not as I do” approach, until recently that is. Over the last two decades plus, I have spent my time fighting for myself, and others to get the proper health care and attention that is needed. All too often, we are all faced with dealing with a diagnosis that is not easy to be discovered.
For some, a broken bone appears obvious even to a six-year-old on an x-ray. An intestinal ailment such as diarrhea… no mistaking that one either. But we are a species of many illnesses that are all too often difficult, if not possible to diagnose. Even my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was originally misdiagnosed as the “common cold” because of how rare a cancer lymphoma is, and how untrained doctors were back in the 1980’s to recognize it.
So it is not bad enough that doctors and other medical personal have a difficult time diagnosing what ails us, what happens to the human being who works for a large corporation who has their own health services department? While I do not begrudge anyone who needs a job, I obviously will not give anyone the level of credit to care for me, that is working for a corporation because I feel there is a blatant conflict of interest. And I apologize to those who may be offended by my comments if you are one of the few that probably exist that will admit that you just might lack the qualifications to deal with someone with a complicated health history.
I need to preface my next paragraph with this example. An employee gets hurt on the job. In most cases, if the injury is not obvious, the health representative of the company, and all the pen pushers that read and prepare the reports, will do all that is possible to make sure the injury is not recorded as compensable… “worker’s compensation.” Many employers are very comfortable with going the appeals route through court in hopes that out of some number of denials, regardless that the injury is legit or not, maybe only one or two will appeal the denial. Employers are willing to take that risk because face it. If you have 10 work injuries and the company’s insurance pays for all 10, the company’s insurance loses. But if you deny all 10, and only 1 appeals, even if the lone appeal wins, the company will still see the lack of appeal by the other 9 as a win. I have painted the mindset of a possible employer situation.
Now I go one step further. Let us say that an employer is a bit more aggressive in the punitive area when it comes to dealing with absences and disabilities. Again, most employees do not walk around with lawyers in their back pockets to pull out and reference as needed, so often they enter a health suite of their employer without any representation. But the truth is, beyond the “nurse” or health tech that is examining you, are a bunch of pen-pushing zealots whose job it is to decrease truancy in the work place. And one way to do that, is to crack down on employees who have extreme health issues and rely on a law that is meant to protect people dealing with long term or life long issues, the Family Medical Leave Act.
If you are lucky, you will go through your life calling out “sick” once or twice a year for a day or two. But for other who have chronic or serious issues, absences can be lengthy and complicated. And with FMLA, employees who have these issues are protected from their employers cracking down on them for health that cannot be controlled. Just as taxes and traffic tickets, employers look for ways to get around this law, because face it, there is a company to run.
So a “disability management” department representative sends out paperwork to be filled out by the health professional of the employee. Which makes sense. If the employee is seriously ill or the condition is difficult, the employee will see their doctor. But it is the next step that I have the problem with. Upon the return of the form to the company representative, the representative is not happy with the information that has been provided and wants more. Failure to comply will result in the denial of disability work benefits, so the employer representative will insist on a full HIPPA release (you know, that other law that is meant to protect your health privacy) so that the employer representative is free to “speak” to the employee’s physician, or rather interrogate the real doctor.
Allow me to illustrate the nonsense. Radiation damage over 24 years ago caused damage to my heart requiring open heart surgery. Not many people reading this will have any idea of the involvement or recovery time involved. But guess what? The doctors who operated on me, as well as the long term specialist I see at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center do. And so, it was decided that I was to allow six months for my breast bone to heal (it took longer because of the radiation damage). My cardiologist determined that it was not necessary to see me for another follow up visit for three months following my initial post-surgery follow up.
Not good enough demanded the employer representative. They wanted me seen every month. That is right. The cardiologist and surgeon, who are most familiar with my open heart surgery have no idea how to follow my care up, but the employer rep does. If I did not comply, I faced possible punitive actions such as denial of short term disability benefits, rejection of FMLA coverage, and possible termination.
There have been several more times that I have missed lengthy period of time at work because of emergency health issues, all tied directly to my late term side effects. And each time as I had to deal with them, I had to deal with an employer representative who questioned the relationship between my absence and the late effects, “how do you know that your late effects caused this particular absence? What tests were done to confirm this relationship?” It is ridiculous to continuously question me on this. I want to work. I do everything I can to get back to work as soon as possible. But seeing how the job itself put my body at risk, I could have actually made an argument for worker’s compensation as the work itself caused my flare-ups, but I really do not want to fight about it. It is exhausting. I know my body well enough that when it has had enough, I have no choice but to listen to it. I have experts, EXPERTS, not corporate shills, who know the permanent damage caused to my neck, shoulders, back, immune system, circulatory system, and so on.
Bottom line, I am a good and reliable worker. And I have rights. I will wave the flag of the American With Disabilities Act as well as the Family Medical Leave Act for the rest of my life. The sad thing is the amount of money a company is willing to fight against worker’s rights, might just actually cost more than the absence itself.