Saturday, December 8, 2012

Back Injury: Life Changer

Exactly a year ago today, my life changed forever...

Note: This is going to be a super long, detailed, in depth post about how I hurt my back and how it seriously changed my life... for the better. I'm telling you, everything happens for a reason.

I sit here with a little notebook and fat folder. These two simple items contain every little detail needed to successfully complete this blog post. They are records of everything I experienced throughout the 5 month battle to get my old back...back. Hehe, play on words.

Wow, I'm already getting goose bumps... *takes deep breath* Okay, here we go...

It was an ordinary Thursday in December 2011. I had finished my sociology and algebra classes from the day and had gone to my 3-11pm shift at a nursing home as a Certified Nursing Assistant, or CNA. I worked so hard to become a CNA in the first place... took a year long course my senior year of high school and passed every single thing on both the written and clinical exams. It was my time to shine as a real CNA. By this time, I had worked at this facility just over 3 months. I actually started the day after I started my first semester of college, so it was all pretty hectic. Anyways, back to an ordinary Thursday. I was going about my business, working my tail off, sweating more than I had ever thought was possible, just to give the very best care I could to my patients. Did I mention I had 15 patients... to myself?!

Thursday, December 8, 2011. It was around 7pm. 4 hours down, 4 to go. Seriously, who doesn't count down the hours when it comes to working a job? I had just finished helping a new co-worker with one of her patients and was about to go on break. Ever hear that song "Fly" by Hilary Duff? That first line... "In a moment, everything can change." has never meant more to me. I was literally just about to go on my dinner break. But then she yelled for me to come to her and there it was - a patient face down, on the floor of the bathroom.

I freaked out. 3 months on the job and I was faced with a situation I couldn't get out of. So many things were going through my mind... if I had just gone on break a minute sooner, I wouldn't be in this situation... is the patient okay?... is this my fault?... no, this couldn't be my fault, not my patient... it was one of the scariest moments of my life.

After the initial panic had vanished off our faces, we knew we needed to find help. I stayed with the patient asking if they were okay. They were responsive, which was a good sign, but out of it, since it was a nursing home and most of the patients weren't completely "with it".

My coworker came back with the floor nurse, who eventually came back with the supervisor. Then we got another CNA from another floor. There we all were surrounding the patient in the bathroom. The nurse and supervisor watched as the three of us CNAs tried finding the best way to pick the patient up. I was originally on the right side of the patient but somehow it ended up being my in front of the patient (we had been able to somewhat sit the patient up at this point) and and the other two CNAs on each side of her. We counted to 3 and lifted her up off the floor - with no help from the patient since she was hurt and out of it and it took some doing, as the patient was overweight. It took maybe 5 seconds at most to lift the patient into the wheelchair and wheel them out to call the ambulance. Yet another reason that earlier quote from the Hilary Duff song has never rang more clear...

Almost immediately after the incident, I felt funny. My lower back started getting uncomfortable sensations. Everyone had cleared out of the room except my original coworker. I told her about my worry and said I was going on my break to see if it would subside. Needless to say, it didn't. Every minute that went by, the pain increased and became a lot more noticeable. It was a painful, burning sensation I had never felt before. Let's clarify - when I was what, maybe 14 years old? - I had gone to physical therapy for a little while for mild back pain. It cleared up and I never had much trouble since. So I knew this was much more serious as the minutes passed. I called my boyfriend, my parents, concerned, asking what I should do. I knew the answer - I just needed support and clarification.

After my dinner break was over, I talked to a friend of mine from another floor, also a CNA. She suggested just as everyone else did - go fill out an incident report. Incident reports are like a time bomb. If you don't fill one out during the shift that the incident happened, it's like it never happened on the company's time. Therefore, I knew I had to do it - even though in my mind, I was worried but convinced this couldn't be something terrible - it would pass, like everything else I'd been through.

Boy, was I wrong.

It was about 9pm by the time I decided to just go report it. I went to the supervisor (who always intimidated me, so this was fun to begin with) and said I wanted to report that my lower back started hurting after lifting that patient, which she actually saw happen. Long story short, I had to fill out paperwork explaining the situation and documenting everything and she asked if I wanted to go to the hospital, as they have to ask that when the regular clinic I'd usually be sent to is closed. This is where I was stumped - I wanted to reject it because I didn't want to seem dramatic, but she said she'd have to document  if I rejected it and that could nip me in the butt if this progressed. So, I called my parents again. I ended up debating with them for like, 20 minutes, in front of the supervisor, which was clearly annoying her. So sorry I'm only 18 years old, lady. Psh.

Ironically, I had been dropped off at work that day by my dad because my car was having troubles - this was back when I had my 2000 Saturn. It was unpredictable, to say the least. So my dad ended up picking me up to bring me to the hospital. Surprisingly, it was a fast night compared to most. Most nights I went to the hospital throughout my life, I'd be there until 3 in the morning, at least. That night, I was out by 10:30. A hour. Go figure. I was able to return to work just before my shift would end to hand in the paperwork to the supervisor and go home and get some sleep before my final exams for English and psychology the next day. Mind you, I was given a pain pill and muscle relaxer - so waking up the next day was no small feat.

---Let's be clear on something. The main reason I got hurt was because in that moment, I was actually putting the patient first, above me, above everything else. See, my the company I worked for didn't understand that because although they said that putting the patients first was always their first priority, their actions spoke very differently.

Anyways, I woke up the next morning at 7am, groggy and achey. I went to school and took my finals. The lady who hired me (my manager? She was the ADNS, I think) called during my first exam - I called her back after. She just wanted an update on the situation and we discussed light duty options. I had to get an official note from the doctor at the clinic that the company was affiliated with stating I would be on light duty status first, but basically from that day on, I was on light duty status. Yeah, that was fun. It consisted of the most mindless, mundane tasks you could think of for 8 hours. My new shift was 8:30am to 4:30pm, three days a week. (I always worked 24 hours a week since I attended school full time - conveniently, it was my winter break when I started light duty, so I was able to do the day shift) Anyways, it wasn't fun to say the least, but let's not forget people constantly asking why I was there, when I was going to return to my normal duties and shift, and oh yeah, the most intense pain of my life.

During the process of working light duty, I need to attend physical therapy sessions 2-3 per week. What I ended up doing was seeing a physical therapist at the nursing home since the facility also had a rehab. I would see the physical therapist for about the last 30-60 minutes of my light duty day in hopes of getting better. I honestly don't know why this person was a physical therapist. All he did was temporary relief - nothing to actually make it better. It was like great, make my misery go on longer. Thanks.

I would go to the session and lay on my stomach with a really nice feeling hot pack on my back for about 20 minutes. Those did feel really good because I only have a dry heating pad at home. Anyways, then he would do certain massages or the occasional stretch. We even tried this electronic machine - oh, what was it called - it's like an EKG, only hooked up to the muscles in your back. It feels like little ants crawling all over your back and it surprisingly did help a lot - but only for maybe an hour. That was the problem. This guy did nothing to heal my back over time - just the temporary. Not only that, but he tried to convince me I either had scoliosis, fibromyalgia, or some mental disorder kind of pain... he became more insulting as time went on. It was oh-so-subtle, but it made me feel bad, as if I didn't feel bad enough already.

But this wouldn't last long. I had to go to an orthopedic doctor. I had x-rays done, a bone scan - ruled out everything. It was a muscular injury. I know that doesn't sound like much, but trust me, it was no walk in the park... even that was hard to do with this much pain...

The administration at work wasn't doing much listening to me and they were doing several things that were irresponsible and wrong. Such as not pay me for the night I was injured and left to the hospital, lowered my light duty pay to minimum wage, etc... so my father decided to have a meeting with me and a couple of the "higher ups". Yeah. That didn't go so smoothly... my dad ended up embarrassing me because he completely went off on them, uncharacteristically at that, and it didn't get us much anywhere, except now I had the chance to talk to someone from the insurance company that was paying my medical bills from the injury. In the end, that lead to where I had to be in the next few weeks...

It was maybe my 3rd appointment with him about a month after the incident happened and I had told him nothing was progressing and light duty even hurt it a lot. That's when he decided to put me out of work completely - no duty. Take note people - this is another significant moment that changed my life forever.

Friday, January 13, 2012. I was to be on no duty, as in no work period, for the next month while continuing physical therapy. When I told my work, I was scared. But I thought nothing of it and did what I had to.

Thursday, January 19, 2012. I got a letter in the mail from the company insurance company. (They didn't even spell my name or address correctly) It basically stated they would no longer be covering any expenses dealing with my back injury because my orthopedic doctor stated falsely that I had been in an automobile accident. Therefore, everyone at my place of work now thought of me as a liar. During the next few days, I tried reaching the person I had been talking with at the insurance company to discuss this false accusation. Please take note, the words automobile accident never came up during any of my appointments with the orthopedic doctor. In these few days, I was also trying to call my manager to ask a few questions about my circumstances of no duty. Finally, I got a hold of the insurance company to state that the accusation was false. After much debate, she believed me and suggested I start with a nurse case manager. My nurse case manager was very nice and had set me up with a physiatrist, which is like a physical therapist/doctor who does wonders for your back. She knew I was having no luck at all with several different kind of pain pills, muscle relaxers, my current physical therapy regimen, and current orthopedic doctor.

Then the next day I got a phone call from my manager at work... Thursday, January 26, 2012... 11:54am... (told you I had my journal right next to me...)

I was happy at first because I thought she had finally returned my phone call and I could ask my questions. However, she automatically asked if I had known anything about what the doctor has stated. I explained to her almost exactly what I had explained to the insurance company. However, the phone call was over in 3 minutes.

I was terminated.

Over the phone. Red flag #1.

When I hung up the phone, I immediately ran out to my mother bawling my eyes out. I couldn't make the words come out of my mouth. I was fired.

My mother, being the fire-y, super supportive woman she is, automatically came to my defense and was angered at my *former* place of work. But alas, in reality, there was nothing she could do...

A little over a week passed and it was time for my first appointment with my physiatrist and nurse case manager. My nurse case manager was a lovely woman. Very supportive, helpful, kind, and willing to be the support system I needed from a professional. My physiatrist was also awesome. She was a woman - which I automatically - stereotypically, maybe - accounted to her being more patient, kind, and willing to listen to all of my troubles and really help. The other two doctors and my physical therapist were all men - not very kind, understanding, or helpful ones at that.

I would work with the physiatrist, nurse case manager, and a new physical therapist for the next 3 months, approximately. My first appointment with the physiatrist and nurse case manager was Wednesday, February 1, 2012. My last was Wednesday, May 30, 2012... :)

Now you think I was done dealing with that lovely establishment I used to work at, didn't you? Yeah... that's where you'd be truly optimistic - and wrong.

I went out for a leisurely dinner with my family on a Saturday night. We had so few of those anymore due to my hectic school and work schedule. When we came back, there was a voicemail on the house phone. I listened to, with everyone else in the room - it was the ADNS. She was calling because she had heard from my physiatrist that I was able to resume light duty. Red flag #2. Now, this is true - the physiatrist did fill out paperwork in case I wanted to go back to work on light duty status - but I had told her the situation outright and said she can fill it out but I wasn't going back after what they did to me. Both the physiatrist and nurse case manager fully understood and thought the situation was unfair and terrible, but she was just doing her job filling out necessary paperwork. So of course, once the ADNS got a hold of it, she would pester me again.

---Side note - I called and talked with a lawyer the day before about my rights and how to go about the situation of being fired under false pretenses and never getting a pink slip to file for unemployment. This incident will become very clear shortly...

Anyways, I called her back two days later. I needed time to think - plus, she wasn't there normally on a Saturday or Sunday anyway. I talked it over with my boyfriend's mom, my parents, everybody who was close to me and could guide me in some direction. It became clear that I needed to call her back and firmly ask for a pink slip and that was it. I had no intentions of accepting her offer to go back on light duty when I was terminated, meaning fired. Let go. Zippo, zilch, you're outta here.

I remember that day... it was after school and I was in my boyfriend's room. We were sitting on the bed and I was shaking. I was scared out of my mind to confront her because 1) she was authority 2) I never liked standing up to authority, even if it was just and 3) I didn't know how the conversation would go. Fear of the unknown.

After much delaying the inevitable, I dialed the number and put my cell phone to my ear. My boyfriend held me. When she picked up, she immediately asked if I had gotten the message she left Saturday night. I said no, not thinking - I was beyond nervous and distracted by knowing what I had to say. She told me the gist of the message and I said how I was calling because I never received a pink slip from my termination and asked if I would be getting it in the mail or if I needed to come in and pick it up. She said, "We don't do that here." Red flag #3. That's not normal. After persisting to the best of my ability, she finally asked for the last time if I would be returning, as it didn't sound like it. I said no, I'm not. Soon after that, the phone call was over. I cried into my boyfriend... I knew she would turn this around to make it look like I quit - I had no documentation of my firing, only a stupid phone call.

---By the way, if you're confused about those red flags I keep interjecting randomly, they're referring to how unprofessional this "establishment" was run. Pfft.

That's when I decided to take action. The next day, I called a commissioner to set up an "emergency hearing" with a commissioner - that's what the lawyer suggested I do first. He had said if the problem doesn't get resolved there, then to come back to him. In the end, I never talked to that lawyer again and never had to pay the pricey fees of having the luxury of one available to me. I got lucky.

I set up the appointment Tuesday, February 7, 2012. The appointment took place Wednesday, February 22, 2012. Up until this point, I was still going to physical therapy as prescribed by the physiatrist, all to be covered under the company, rightfully so. The commissioner was late to start the appointment, it was unbelievably nerve-wracking. Here I was, 18 years old, recently fired, hurting back, and a person who never liked to stand up to authority - even if it was called for. Well, here I was doing just that. I ended up going with my dad because he had actually been through similar circumstances before and could help me out and provide support where needed because again, I was only 18 years old for crying out loud! I may have legally been considered an adult, but let's be honest. In these circumstances, I felt far from it.

Anyways,  I was expecting some courtroom scenario. It was far from it. It was the commissioner at the head of a table while my and my dad sat on one side across from the lawyer who represented the place I worked. It was a sigh of relief that at least no one I knew from the place had come to represent themselves - that would have been 10 times more intimidating. It was basically just each side telling their side and providing proof where they could - this is where my folder and notebook I mentioned I'm sitting with right now came in. I brought them with me to provide all the evidence I could - even writing down phone calls, as a friend of mine told me could help. In the end, I didn't need much evidence but I won my case. I was reimbursed for the night I had left to the ER and had to clock out (which is wrong to begin with), a day I had to call out of work due to my back injury, the loss of money due to being cut down to minimum wage on light duty (which was also wrong - I should have been cut down to base pay) and paid what I would have made on light duty up until the day of the appointment with the commissioner, which was nicer than he had to be. But he completely saw my side and gave me what I deserved - the money I had lost due to this insanity and closure. He also stated that all my medical expenses would be covered under the company's insurance until I had healed to the best of my ability. So in the end, everything ended up working out in my favor - even though it hadn't from the start.

Now that I had the security of knowing I would be able to heal in the time and care I needed, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. Within the next 2-3 months, I healed slowly but surely. Each time I went to physical therapy with my new physical therapist - who was also a sweet, compassionate female, I improved. There were times it hurt or I fell into a lull, but those times passed and my back healed to the best that it could and strengthened, too. It took 38 physical therapy sessions, from the beginning of my back injury at the company's physical therapy. My first physical therapy at an outside place recommended by my physiatrist was Thursday, February 16, 2012 - my last being Thursday, May 10, 2012. My physical therapist combined physical therapy techniques with yoga and pilates techniques for the ultimate healing experience - slowly but surely, I felt better and got off all pain medications and muscle relaxers. I still take a pain pill or muscle relaxer every now and then when I push myself too much but other than that, my back feels mostly like normal. It'll never be how it was before the incident and things aggrivate it easier now, but it's dramatically better than it was when I injured it. I can honestly say that was the worst pain I've ever experienced in my whole life...and for a good length of time, too. Walking hurt. Turning to switch sides in bed hurt. Heck, sometimes even breathing hurt. It was that bad and the place I worked at just didn't have the heart to realize that. Someone once said that I'm 18 years old and am not able to hurt my back. Needless to say, that hurt my feelings and made me angry because I was living proof of it. How rude.

To this day, I still get a bill every now and then from the hospital or something, asking me to pay. But I just send it along to the insurance company and pay know mind - or money - to it, as it should be.

So to end this blog post on a high note - I'm as healed as I'll ever be. I still need to stretch every night for the rest of my life, which my physiatrist emphasized, which was a lot to hear as an 18 year old... "the rest of your life"... but I'm hanging in there. I also strengthen 2-3 times a week with these strengthening bands that I close my door on. They feel more like arm workouts than back workouts, but they're doing what they need to. I feel good most of the time, like I said. I only take a pill every now and then, really not often.

What I want my readers to take away from this blog post is that I'm a strong individual with the odds against me so many times in my life, with so many things happening at once. At times, I felt useless, frightened that I would never heal properly, scared I'd never get another job, depressed about my situation, you name it - I lost myself for a few months. I lost sight of my passions, lost hope in myself, felt like I would never be who I was again. Now, I may not be that person completely anymore. However, I'm a stronger, more confident individual from it. I didn't become a worse person because of a bad situation that happened to me. I turned that unfortunate situation into a positive one, which I hope is what I am doing for the people reading this. The purpose of writing this long, sometimes emotionally painful blog post was to help people who have lost their way as an individual or experienced similar traumatic circumstances. My back feels great, my sense of self feels even better. I have become more confident when it comes to things like job interviews and speaking with managers and authority. I have learned not to let my voice not be heard when it should be. I've become such a strong person from what happened and I'm so happy with my life right now...

I'm genuinely happy.

That's a really hard thing for most people to say with confidence. I've been there too. I would be happy with some parts of my life, not everything. Well, now I am. I'm happy with my constantly improving health. I'm happy with my family. I'm happy with my boyfriend. I'm happy with my school work and grades. And...

I'm happy with my job.

I'd like to take this moment to announce that as of a couple weeks ago, I've been working as a packer in a warehouse. That sounded so scary to me at first because I knew it would involve using my back. But I've conquered my fear and proven to myself that I can work hard in an environment that takes using your back. Sure, it took some getting used to, as this is my first job since the one I had described throughout this blog post. But I've done it. And honestly, I love it. Sure, it gets boring and tiring. (I work Friday-Sunday and go to school Monday-Thursday, phew!) But I love the environment, the energy, the people!! My manager and supervisor are amazing women who truly appreciate what a hard worker I am. My coworkers are super helpful and friendly. For the first time, it all feels genuine and I just love the environment. And today, yes TODAY - some seasonal positions were laid off due to lack of work - instead, I was kept, recognized for my hard work by my manager and supervisor, and have been told they'd like to keep me as a permanent position when the time comes. How awesome is that?! I know that God is good and this is where I was meant to be. Like I always like to live by, everything happens for a reason! I even worked a full day on the one year anniversary of hurting my back. How ironic and awesome is that?!?!

So I just want to say thanks to anyone who actually read this whole blog post. You're so awesome and I love you so much for it!! I really hope this inspires people to be the strong, confident individuals you were meant to be and hopefully I help someone along their difficult journey! I promise you'll get through it - and you'll come out stronger than you ever thought imaginable!!!

Remember to have a positive day! :)


P.S. Here are a few songs that are HUGELY relatable for me... please take a listen - they'll make this blog post a lot more clear!

"Changed" by Rascal Flatts:
---This one is pretty obvious. "I changed for the better"... "the pain won't go away"... "I'm even starting to forgive myself"... all very relatable lyrics.

"Lessons Learned" by Carrie Underwood:
---"There's some things that I regret, some words I wish had gone unsaid, some starts that had some better endings. Been some bad times I've been through, damage I could not undo. Some things I wish I could do all, all over again. But it don't really matter, when life gets that much harder, it makes ya that much stronger, oh. Some pages turned, some bridges burned, but there were lessons learned." - 'Nuff said.

"Wide Awake" by Katy Perry:
---Instead of this song relating romantically to my life, I would be referring to where I worked when listening to this song. It's how I felt during that time of my life, although I had heard the song after the fact.

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