Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the tag “immune system”

Stay Home If You Are Sick? What If You Cannot?


Your child has a fever or vomits in school, you get the phone call to come and pick the child up.  Even when there is only ten minutes left to go in the day.  Last year our school district came up with some goofy policy in dealing with lice.  To be honest, I am not sure who does the actual determination as far as contamination when it comes to eggs and nits, but once again, the kids get sent home.  For the child, it is no big deal.  If there is homework missed, it would probably go home with a classmate if it was important, or a test would just be made up when the child returned to school.

But as adults we are expected to endure much more.  Not only are we expected to get to work, crawl into work, or be rolled on a stretcher into work, but we are expected to be exposed to all kinds of germs, bacteria, and viruses.  Currently, we are in the midst of a major flu outbreak.  It all depends on which media source you want to listen to, to determine just how bad the outbreak is every year.  A few years ago, it was the bird flu that was concerning everyone.  Last year swine flu acually led to my company having an attendance policy just for that outbreak.

If an employee had any sniffle, the company wanted you to make the decision to stay home.  Of course, we had a strict attendance policy that did not pay the employee for the first three days out sick.  But if you were sent home from work by health services suspected of swine flu, you were not allowed to return to work for seven days.  So the employer sends you home at your expense for three days and then you get paid for the remaining four.  The kicker is that the reprimand system kicks in at five days.  Nine days out you are suspended for five days (that is right, you are suspended five days for inconveniencing your employer if you are sick nine days in a year).  But at day twelve, potentially you will be fired, for being sick.

Consider this, whether paid sick time or unpaid, absenteeism is a huge expense for a company to absorb.  It is definitely worse if the employer has to pay the absent empoyee to do nothing at home, while expecting those who have come into work to make up the lost time, often without any extra pay.  So it becomes an accepted and tolerated procedure, reprimand the employee for not coming in to work, whether withholding pay, or by punitive actions such as suspensions and terminations.  The ironic thing is that this usually has no impact on the person who abuses any attendance system but has exactly the opposite effect on the employee with the legitimate illness.

It is normally the employee with the legitimate illness who is not used to getting a paycheck deducted with sick time.  Often times those employees live on budgets, so the stress of not missing pay from the check has the potential to make things worse.  So the reaction is for the employee with the legitimate illness to force themselves to work.  The employee is already at risk because of the depeleted immune system, but with physical exertion and exhaustion, the chances of recovery or worse, the illness becoming more dangerous,  has to be recognized at least as unfair. 

And if there is no concern for the legitimately ill employee, there should be even more disappointment in the concern for the other workers who are not contaminated with whatever bug the sick employee is dealing with.  So while the media spreads global fear of an Armageddon-like epidimic of flu, employers with their absentee policies actually contribute to the spreading of illnesses like the flu, strep throat, and other contagious diseases. 

If you are watching the bouncing ball, one sick person is bad, but risking several sick people is okay.  The cost of lost labor for one employee is bad, several employees out is very bad from a lost productivity point of view.  But that is exactly what employers create.

There is one final critical thing to be considered.  And it something no one, sick employee or greedy employer does not even consider, because it is something that neither can see.  There are people in the world, and especially in the work force who have what is called a compromised immune system.  A compromised immune system can be depressed supressed, compromised, and a few other descript conditions.  And unless one of those less unfortunate patients speak up, there is no way to know.

I am one of those who have a compromised immune systems.  I was not born this way, I was made that way.As part of the staging process of my Hodgkin’s Disease and determining the need for chemotherapy or radiation or both, a procedure called a laparotomy was performed.  One of the things done during this surgery was removal of the spleen to see if the organ is riddled with Hodgkin’s.  It was considered “no big deal” as I “didn’t really need a spleen” as others do without.  It was actually quite commone, not just for staging cancer, but in many forms of trauma, the spleen was removed.  This creates a condition for a patient being declared “asplenic”.

In recent times, it has been realized just how important the spleen is to the human being.  The spleen kickstarts your immune system and keeps it fighting whatever is fighting against your body.  For example, have a cold?  Your spleen helps to fight it.  Scrape and cut your knee?  The spleen helps to fight infection.  Having a heart attack?  The spleen helps to recover.  Simply put, no spleen, the chances of your fighting an infection or surviving are made that more difficult.  To help give me a chance, over the last several years, I had been given multiple pneumovax and menningicoccal vaccines.  My body does not respond in antibody production like it needs to which means that if you have a cold, I have an even bigger chance of coming down with it.  In spite of my children being innoculated for chicken pox, if there is a child at school who was not vaccinated, comes down with chicken pox, my daughters could carry it home.  Strep?  Increased chance.  Twice last year (within nine months to be exact), I was taken to the emergency room to be diagnosed with two different pneumonias, one case being septic, the other double.  But both types were determined to be “Community Acquired” which means I got it from someone else.  Someone else who was sick and either came to work, came to church, or some other public passing, created a near-fatal situation for me.  No, I know it was not on purpose, because they did not know I was at an increased risk or surely they would have avoided me.

My comments are more than just pushing for hand sanitizer every two feet or training everyone to cough into their elbows.  It is about awareness and consideration.  The flu might not be fatal for the majority of people, but for some, there is an increased risk.  Unlike last year when my employer forced a swine flu absence policy, it does not show any signs of improving preventive care today.

Remember Jim Henson, creator of the muppets?  Died of complications of strep, originally thought t o be pneumonia.  He was also asplenic.  In spite of agressive treatments used on asplenic patients, the creator of Kermit the Frog passed away at the age of 53 after two cardiac arrests.

I should not have to state publicly that I do not want to die, and that I do not want to catch what someone has.  It is common sense how to prevent the spread of things like colds and flu, clean hands, and staying home when you are sick.  I only wish employers realized that people do get legitimately sick and while there are those who play the system, those who do not, should not have to pay with their lives.

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Working While Going Through Treatments Or Not Recovered Enough


It is amazing.  From the moment I was diagnosed with my cancer, I could feel the resentment from my co-workers.  Think about it.  When we hear of someone having cancer we think, “aw, poor guy” or “why her” and most likely some other stereotypical responses.  But for some reason, from co-workers, unless there has been some sort of life-time bond,  will most likely feel resentment.  My co-workers in 1988 were not different.  I did my best to minimize my time lost from work for diagnostics and treatments.  In fact, in nine months of chemo, I missed a total of eighteen hours of work.  That’s right.  I missed the last hour of work, two days a month.  And my co-workers were jealous of me for it.

If I need to be fair, because I really did not talk about what I was going through.  I did not want anyone to know what it felt like that I was going through.  When I had good days, no one would know any different, and if it was a bad day, I did all I could to hide it.  I did not want to be any more of a burden to them, than what I was.  But that was not good enough.  The jealous attacks were relentless and would eventually cost me any shot of promotability, because I “could not get along with my co-workers.”

As I underwent all of my treatments, I risked exposing myself to everything that these people brought into work with my immune system being run down from the chemotherapy.  Simple colds would carry extra danger to me the least of which delaying my treatments if I got sick.  The stress from the fractured relationships also were difficult to tolerate.  Given the choice, I do not think I would work while undergoing treatments again.  It was not worth it to me, and it made no difference to them if I was there or not.

Over the next many years, I had been fortunate not to have any other major events to require any kind of lengthy absence.

But nearly twenty years later, that same ugly behavior would show up.  After the initial shock that I had emergency heart surgery, a little over a week later, co-workers had been babbling about me at work.  It seems that I was spotted walking in public.  Imagine the gaul that I had, walking around my block, getting the exercise that I was ordered to do.  Forget the fact that I had to stop at the end of each street as I went around the block.  Word got back to work that I looked totally okay and healthy.  I was spotted in the drive-thru of a Dunkin Donuts by a supervisor after dropping my wife off at work and kids off at school.  It did not matter that we only had one car at the time, and I had follow-up doctor appointments and cardiac rehab to get to, but I was reported to be out joyriding. 

When I returned back to work following the heart surgery, which I had been threatened by my employer with termination, because even though the doctor wanted me out six months, my employer decided I could go back in three, I convinced my doctor to release me.  And she did so, with some stipulations.  With the ADA (Americans With Disability Act) to support me, there would be some restrictions on what I would be able to do, which because of the size of my employer, they would have to accomodate.  Also, because we do not park on plant site, my doctor had given me a temporary handicap placard for parking.  I was still getting short of breath, and with the warmer more humid weather coming, this was going to be an issue.  The first day back at work, someone complained to management that I had been parking in the handicap stall, and if I was not better, then what was I doing back at work.  Now realize, this is the same person complaining about me being out of work.

Four years later, I am still dodging these horrible jabs from my co-workers.  I have had a couple more issues pop up, and then of course there are the many doctor appointments that I have.  But hey, I am not on social security or unemployment right?  That should be an admirable thing right?  HELL NO!  Each day I go into work, risking my health being exposed to who knows what just because someone will not call in sick.  And really, I have had no real absentee issues except for a couple of bouts with pneumonia and sepsis, other than my appointments.  I still am a fairly reliable employee to show up for work.

But my co-workers know something is wrong with me.  I do not discuss anything at work anymore.  But they sense it.  And for that reason, I appear to be a threat to them.  I have wathced them chase several people from my department and into retirement.  One co-worker who had MS was forced out because he could no longer handle the harrassment and sabotage from my co-workers.  I am a little more thick-headed, but I definitely allow my stress and blood pressure go to heights that no one should endure, especiallyl when they are on medication for blood pressure and have cardiac issues.

Would I work through treatments or rush back to work, just to make my co-workers happy (which I know would not)?  Or would I be better off staying at home?  Taking the time to heal and recover?  I would have to sacrifice everything I have worked for, but my job is coming at the risk of my daughters losing their dad, and my wife her husband.  My last bout with pneumonia, was double pneumonia.  And more than a month later, I am still dealing with its effects.  But tomorrow will be my eighth straight day working, with another five to go before the possibility of a day off.  And for what?  To shut my co-workers up?

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