When I first started this blog I mentioned that I had sustained some injuries on the “about me” page. Yet, I never stated what exactly happened to me.
Today, I’m going to explain the circumstances leading up to my accident and what happened to me on the day of October 9, 2013. But, I’d also like to share what I’ve learned from the experience.
At the time, I was working at a company that trained people with developmental disabilities. The goal of the company was to help these individuals find employment. This was done by actually creating jobs at the facility.
We had several contracts where we repackaged bulk items such as condoms and surgical gloves into smaller packages. We then distributed them to health departments all across the state. We also did bulk mailings for local utility companies and several other types of outsourced jobs.
Work was rewarding, especially when I saw the light bulb of understanding go off in one of my clients minds. Some of them achieved independence by getting a job and/or their own apartment. Yet, the job was also challenging. It seemed the government was constantly implementing budget cuts and the staff was expected to do more with a lot less.
Several months before my accident, my department had gotten a new manager. From the beginning, he gave the staff the impression that he did not care about anything except the bottom line. We were told to review our standard operating procedures and tweak them for efficiency.
He also wanted us to push the clients to work quicker, so we could ultimately get more contracts. This added a lot of pressure to an already overworked staff. Since I already have a good work ethic, I was working at 120 percent. I was pushed into overdrive.
However, this was something I prided myself on. I’ve always had great stamina and endurance. It didn’t matter what I did, I always went the extra mile, and I did it with integrity too. There was no such thing as doing a half ass job or cutting corners, in my book.
In the days, weeks, and months before my accident, I was given signs that things were not right in my life. I was always busy doing something. Yet, the busyness was always work or chore related. There was always a list of things to do.
Fun and spontaneity had left my life. Life seemed to have gotten the best of me, as I ran on the proverbial hamster wheel, on automatic pilot. At the end of the day, I would return home exhausted. I barely paid attention to my boyfriend or my pets. I had even quit one of the greatest joys in my life, singing in my church’s choir.
Most of the time, I worked extra hours, without even taking a lunch break. I would hear my inner voice telling me “You have to stop this. You’re killing yourself.” I began questioning if having good endurance and stamina were actually good things. I questioned my motives. Why was I doing this? What was I trying to prove? Am I being a perfectionist only to cover something else up?
My opinion of the company I worked for also changed. It seemed as if we had walked away from our mission. Training the client was not the priority anymore. In fact, we were told to restrict a client from working on a job if they could not produce.
In the past, we would have given more individualized attention to a client who was struggling, until they mastered the skill. Or, we would make adaptations to the process to help them out. At times, we even made “jigs” for clients who did not have the use of a leg or an arm.
Even if management did give us permission to cater to a client in need, the staff couldn’t do it. We were constantly filling supplies and/or doing quality assurance on the product already produced. There was just no time for any of that anymore. It was all about the bottom line. It was starting to feel like a sweatshop.
Every person in my department was worn out. Bickering and complaining became the normal dialogue. In fact, every single person wrote letters to human resources, complaining about our situation. All except for me. That is, until after I had my accident.
Change didn’t seem evident. More and more was expected of us. We were even told to watch our hours and try not to get any overtime. Things got so bad, that one staff member retired several months before she had planned. Our manager didn’t care and he found a replacement very quickly. This pointed out to the rest of us that we were all replaceable.
I remember telling other people that I had to stop giving my all to this position. I remarked, “they won’t care if I injured myself. All they would do is send me a nice, pre-printed card, saying get well soon. And, I would be replaced without a second thought.” But, I just could not stop giving my all. I suppose it’s not in my nature.
On the day of my accident, I had just come back from delivering some finished work to one of our contracts. The end of the day was upon us. It was closing time. When all of a sudden the warehouse bell rang. It turned out, we had a delivery of multiple pallets.
Since it was already the end of the day, and we were told to watch our hours, several of my coworkers decided to stay and help out. This was not necessarily a good thing. Too many people were frantically running around.
I suggested that I and another coworker bring the pallets in. I then designated another coworker to verify what was being brought in. I explained that anyone else was really not needed and they could go about their own business. This must have fallen upon deaf ears. Because there was either two people doing the same job or someone bouncing around trying to fill whatever void they saw fit.
Now, this is what happened. I went into the trailer to bring out a pallet. There was a problem with this particular pallet because I could barely move it. I laboriously pulled at it and managed to get it out of the truck, over the ramp, and onto the warehouse dock. Yet, I could not manage to move it any further.
The truck driver decided it would probably help if he pushed while I pulled. I agreed and gave it a big yank while he pushed. The pallet jack rolled along very quickly.
The pallet jack picked up momentum as it rolled down the slope into the warehouse. It did not stop until it rolled over my leg as I tripped over something. Then, I remember hearing big clanging echo as my head hit something metal.
Meanwhile, the truck driver continued pushing the loaded pallet jack, with nearly 700 pounds on it. Since the pallet was loaded high he could not see that I had fallen and didn’t stop until one of my coworkers yelled stop!
When I looked down at my leg it was buried beneath the pallet jack right up to my right knee. I was yelling and screaming and I foolishly tried to push the pallet jack off of my leg with my free leg.
I’m not sure how they got it off me. But, when it was off, I was able to realize I was lying between the forks of an empty pallet jack. Apparently, someone was trying to be “efficient” by placing an empty pallet jack in the once empty aisle, so I could simply grab it and head back into the truck.
Remarkably, nothing happened to my leg. I used to always complain about my skinny chicken ankles and calf’s, but they were a blessing on this day. My leg was wedged between the wheels of the pallet jack.
However, my head was a different story. The clanging echo sound was actually my head landing on the metal cylinder of the empty pallet jack. I actually landed on my neck and caused some serious damage.
The extent of the damage was not determined right away. Let’s just say that the first Workers Compensation doctor they sent me to was not very nice.
I was initially taken off from work for one day. Even though I complained about the pain, my request for an MRI was denied. The doctor claimed that Workers Compensation would deny the request based on what the x-rays showed, which he said was degenerative joint disease. Instead, he sent me to physical therapy, without even a true diagnoses.
I had to endure working with extreme pain and going to physical therapy for over a month before the doctor agreed to send in a request for an MRI. When I finally got the MRI the results showed that I had a herniated disk at level C5-C6. I also had a bulging at level C6-C7 and a small central disc protrusion at level T2-T3.
Even after the results from the MRI, the doctor still released me to go to work at full duty. He held strong to his claims that the majority of my injuries were from degenerative joint disease. I complained and said, “I cannot continue going on like this.” His reply was, “Well, this is beyond my expertise, so I’ll have to refer you to a specialist.
On my way out, I was very candid and asked, “Since you have obviously written me off, what is your personal opinion?” He replied, “You have shot your back out and if you continue in your line of work you will continue to cause more damage. You need a sedentary job.”
Again, I had to work with extreme pain before I saw the specialist. Once I met with the specialist, he took a look at my MRI images and told me “I’m taking you off work. You risk paralysis if you continue to work under your condition.”
It’s been a long journey in the Workers Compensation system. I’ve had to jump through many hoops. But finally, after a year and a half, I was given surgery to correct the damage done to my cervical spine.
The surgery I received was a C5-C6 anterior cervical discectomy P.E.E.K. cage with trinity allograft interbody fusion, with an anterior plate.
Basically, they went in through the front of my neck and cut out the disk. They then inserted an artificial disk made of Polyetheretherketone (PEEK) polymer that is filled with a bone from a cadaver that was harvested by a tissue bank. They then held it all together by screwing on a cervical plate that is composed of titanium alloy.
Here’s what the artificial disk looks like.
Here’s the incision.
Here’s my x-ray after the procedure.
Hopefully, everything works out for me. Nonetheless, I have learned a lot from this experience. I think the most important thing I’ve learned, would be to slow down. I didn’t have much choice in the matter. I literally cannot do anything at a fast pace without causing myself to end up in pain. I also cannot do anything for too long without the same effects of pain.
Unfortunately, slowing down is not the mentality of the Workers Compensation system. I’m back in physical therapy and their main goal is getting your endurance back up so you can return to work. It doesn’t matter if you’re in pain or not, as long as you can do it.
Another thing I’ve learned is to make your life matter. Do the things that you always wanted to do. You never know when something might happen to you that changes your whole life. If you are not pursuing your own dreams, then you are working to make someone else’s dreams a reality.
I don’t ever want to be back on the proverbial hamster wheel, running on autopilot. I want to be present and available to the people and things I love.
It takes a little work. Our society doesn’t function like that. It’s against the norm if your every minute is not consumed with some kind of activity. We’ve been conditioned to expend all our energy to the system. And lately, I have started to believe that everything trickles up to the top percentage.
If you are not in that top percentage, you are simply a slave. Just like in the movie The Matrix, our energy is being used to run the system. But, there’s always room for change, and it all starts with me.