I have a lovely friend, former co-worker, and former roommate, R, who is still in my life despite the fact that she left CA in about 1991 or 1992. Luckily for me, she moved to NH, so it’s always wonderful to catch up with her when I am home to MA for visits.
It’s hard to look back to when I met her in 1989 or 1990, and realize that it hasn’t been just an instant or a week or two of passage. That 25 or 26 years have passed since we first met. She’s made my life better with her zaniness and determination to force the world to adjust to her preferences, and I couldn’t picture the world without her in it.
So, we talk pretty regularly about what’s right and wrong with the world, and our journeys, and she always make me think. I appreciate her pushing me to justify my thoughts, and our latest conversation (and what ultimately sparked this blog) was her challenging me on my feeling of entitlement to stop working and have my employer cover my income while this decision about my abilities is being made. It was her conversation and my inability to answer the question clearly that sparked the creation of this blog about my journey to find answers.
After digging around for examples, I latched onto the example of my leg cancer.
When I was a kid, rough housing in the Fall leaves with the neighborhood kids, I jumped down the hill into a pile of leaves and yard debris, and put a branch through my shin, to the bone.
Flash forward 15-20 years or so, and I am noticing that the old wound is changing. The skin around the scar is now pink and bruised looking, vs. a dimpled white area, and I go to the dermo who looks at it and says not to worry. This goes on for about 10 years of occasional checks, and no one is concerned.
Next, we move on to 2012, and I’m preparing for a family wedding of #1 nephew, and I’d like to wear a dress. It’s a semi-formal affair, and I don’t want to be the embarassing Auntie.
While I haven’t worn many dresses since my home was destroyed by PG&E in 1996, as all my clothes and accessories were destroyed and I’d never really gotten back into the habit as work clothing styles had become more casual, in this case vanity reared its ugly head. I’d get a second opinion from a new doctor, as I wanted to see if anything could be done to tame the blemish.
Makeup on a shin in humid weather was not my idea of fun. So, things being what they were, the skin turned out to be cancerous. 5 procedures. 120 stitches. 6 weeks of hell. $8,000 in costs, of which I’d ended up paying only $800.
Thank you, Obamacare ! First time in years that anything dealing with my health wasn’t ruled a pre-existing condition, and I didn’t end up paying the entire cost myself.
So, R and I are talking through my options for going on disability in order to determine if I’m well enough to keep on working and must continue to suck it up, or if I’m right, and my COPD has progressed to the point where I ask for mercy. I want to stop driving so much, before I end up hurting myself or someone else while I’m driving back and forth to work when I’m having a bad day and must meet my responsibilities anyway. Or, before I get fired or laid off because I’m hiding the impact of the disease on my abilities to keep up, and I lose my job due to pride.
R had a very good question that stumped me. “Why should your employer get stuck with the bill because I think I can no longer work? Why is it their problem?”
Stumped, I pointed back to my cancer surgery and said that my birth defect was no different.
My skin cancer dated back to a childhood injury (per the dermotologists theory of why it appeared on only that spot and nowhere else on my body) – my employer and I both contributed to the insurance payment for that cost – so why was this coverage issue any different? If I had breast cancer or needed new glasses or dental care – it all comes out of those same series of benefits I have access to as part of my employment agreement and my years of co-pays.
We don’t have socialized medicine in the US. If we’re fortunate to be able to work for a larger company, we get to buy or be given medical benefits as part of our employment contract. While this breathing difficulty was worsened while working for the big fruity computer company during my trip to China in 2009, I no longer work for them. Their statute of limitations as my employer of record has passed.
So, the guys I work for today are left holding the bag because I work for them now, and buy benefits through them. Social Security / Disability is the government entity I must deal with, however, since I’m employed, they shift the administrative burden to my employer until SSDI has made its assessment and agreed to accept responsibility for me in exchange for all the payments and co-payments both I and my various employers have made over my 42 years of working.
While they did nothing to contribute to my breathing difficulties, my present employer is the one left holding the keys to my financial stability as I begin this journey to: a) see how bad I am, and whether or not I can do other work for my employer which doesn’t involve me being on the road each week, or b) make the determination that I should stop working.
It’s nothing personal about my employer. It’s just how this game is rigged.