In May of 1990, I was 18 years old. A friend and I decided the summer after our Freshman year at the University of Wyoming was not to be spent flipping burgers. We wanted to work in an environment with people, we were after all psychology majors. The day after interviewing at the local nursing home we received phone calls confirming our hire date and the first day of a half dozen days of training.
In June of 1990, I lay in the emergency room unable to feel my legs but very much aware of the terrible pain coursing from my mid-back to my toes. A 350 pound female patient had a seizure while moving from her bed to her wheelchair (used only because she did not like walking). The full weight of her body lurched back and pinned me up against the dresser behind us. I held her up for a moment, but my 5' 11'' 120 pound frame gave in. We slid down the front of the dresser until I hit the floor and 350 pounds landed on my stomach and crushing my hips and lower spine to the ground.
The first physician said pulled muscles and injected numbing agents, the next cried strained ligaments and conducted an epidural. Eventually my spine ended up in the hands of a terribly incompetent surgeon who diagnosed me with ruptured discs at Lumbar 4 & 5, but conducted a surgical procedure on L3 & L4, which significantly weakened L3. We did not know about this error until he had also conducted a procedure that removed the disc tissue at L4 &L5, leaving massive surgical scaring, severe damage to nerves to my right leg, bladder and bowel nerves and weakened the disc structure at L3 and S1.
I am now 33. I completed my Sophomore year from bed with lecture tapes and copies of lecture notes. A move to Las Vegas resulted in graduation with a BA in psychology (summa cum laude) and an Ed.S. in 1996 (top of my class). The most difficult element of attending classes and working was my inability to sit for longer than 30 to 60 minutes without significant pain. Frequent severe pain episodes put me in bed for hours to days and sometimes weeks. But through it all I accomplished my dream to work as a school psychologist regardless of the noncompliance of my spine.
Before the field of school psychology became a dream I had plans of working for the FBI or the criminal justice system; however, the fragility of my spine ended such desires. I found tremendous satisfaction in working with families, students and educational professionals - especially developing programs and educational systems for empowering learners with different strengths and weaknesses and especially teaching them self advocacy skills that would help them reach their own dreams.
One dangerous element of my choses and beloved profession was the need for --- sitting. A simple skill for others was a pain sentence for me. I recreated my office, meeting and testing environments to protect my hidden 'disability.' Through the years doctors were frequently impressed with my achievements given the weaknesses in my spine (from the accident and surgeries). The inability to not carry a child was something my husband, also an educator, came to terms with and instead dedicated our 'free-time' to the children and students we worked with.
In January 2002, I had to face the fact that my spine was not as stable nor as stubborn as my desire to 'save the world.' Soon I found myself just trying to 'save me.'
In September 2002, I was officially put on medical disability. I never closed my case with Wyoming Workers' Comp (WWC). and soon my monthly compensation was provided. I had been earning over $60,000 and was shocked when I received the first WWC check for $491.24 - the 2/3's amount of my salary from my original injury date in June of 1990. At first I didn't care - I would soon receive appropriate medical care, have a surgery or what ever and be back to work. How foolish I was.
During the fall of 2002, while my attorney fought to have my most recent salary used for compensation, my husband and I started searching for a physician. Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation had changed since my original injury and they now no longer provided 'pre-authorization' for medical treatment. After having exhausted all of the local neurosurgeons and spine centers near my home (obviously not in Wyoming) we started looking more globally.
During the winter and spring of 2003 we contacted 57 national neurological and spine speciality centers. We were denied EVERY SINGLE TIME FOR ONE REASON - WYOMING WORKERS' COMP. WOULD NOT PROVIDE PRE-AUTHORIZATION FOR MEDICAL SERVICE/TREATMENT!!!! That is in capitals because it is the only reason I am submitting this today.
September 2003 passed by and I had declined from bed rest and walking to bed rest and walking with a cane. I had stopped driving long before as I could not trust the strength of my right leg to press hard enough on the brake pedal.
In October 2003, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism brought on by a medication that had been prescribed for too long a time period. By November 2003 I was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis and suspected adult on-set asthma due to inactivity and a compromised immune system. I had not had a menstrual cycle for a year and had many related symptoms.
In December 2003, I took my last steps, which had become walking with a cane and my husbands arm. It had been months since we had gone to dinner, the movies, or had a beautiful cabernet with dinner. For the new year I received a rented wheelchair, my husband and I not ready for permanent wheelchair use continued renting it until it was too obvious I would need one until I could get to a physician.
Every six months we would contact the initial 57 clinics (identified as the best spine centers by US News and World Report), but rarely made it past the appointment or billing desk without the pre-authorization for medical care. New illnesses arrived and became chronic.
July 2004 I was hospitalized for an unknown Candidia infection, which became systemic. I had been through 7 pain medications as most had such terrible side effects I could only tolerate them for a few months at a time. My pain management physician grew increasingly frustrated as pain treatment trials were attempted, but failed. He wrote letters, made phone calls to my case manager and even to spine centers literally begging physicians to see me.
In August 2004, I was put through an Independent Medical Evaluation per Workers' Comp. It was not only far from 'Independent' it concluded that I was not disabled. The evidence of being wheelchair bound with complete bed rest, being diagnosed with eleven chronic illnesses and prescribed 24 medications, I had been approved for Social Security Disability ON THE FIRST APPLICATION in January of 2003.
After the denial (which was performed by one VERY unprofessional and incompetent individual) I landed a phenomenal attorney and knew things would start moving. My husband and I had lost a number of immaterial material items like a house, a vehicle, my salary, a social life, traveling and many community activities from many volunteer hours with several social organizations, after-school programs for students, parents and teachers and the time or strength to publish an educational intervention system.
Beyond material items we lost contact with some fair weather friends and my beloved profession, we watched as my body literally decayed before our eyes and tried not to notice the gradual loss of our a passionate and beautifully ornate love life. Before long, my nights filled with constant pain led to different bed rooms so my husband could get some sleep. Some evenings drag on past two and three in the morning as he holds and rocks me and this lifeless, over weight and ugly body.
I am a political prisoner. My jailer is Wyoming Workers' Compensation. Recently, it was decided that my IME would be reviewed by a medical board - that was decided some time in October. I have learned most recently that they will get back to my case over the holidays. They will decide whether or not I deserve a new IME. And it is so good of them to wait until after the holidays so that they are not burdened with the meeting or discussions that may lead to my freedom, my first chance at getting to a physician after almost three years of pain, suffering and loss.
I am a Christian, I am a healer, I am a giver, I am a believer. I cannot understand how or why an agency is able to get away with the murder of life, the slow decay of hope. I cannot understand how my husband must feel standing by completely helpless as his wife screams and cried in daily pain, sometimes so intense he is forced to slap her face to bring her around.
My husband is terrified every morning as he leaves for work. Will I be breathing when he gets home? Will I have fallen off the toilet and been laying helplessly on the floor for hours. Did the physical therapist remember to lock the door after doing my two hours of physical therapy?
I think having a spine injury, less severe than the beloved Christopher Reeve, but severe enough to keep you in bed and wheelchairs if you are denied medical care is what makes this so difficult.
This is not a popular disability. There are no 'failed back surgery walk or run competitions." I have never heard of a ruptured disc fundraiser or a Workers' Compensation Prisoner 'sit-in' -- but there should be!
THERE IS NO REASON I SHOULD BE LIKE THIS. ALL I MAY NEED IS A SIMPLE SURGICAL PROCEDURE AND I WILL WALK OUT OF THE BUILDING. I COULD HAVE MY LIFE BACK AND PRETEND LIKE THE PAST THREE YEARS WAS JUST A BAD DREAM.
I SHOULD NOT BE DENIED MEDICAL CARE BECAUSE I CHOOSE TO NOT LIVE IN WYOMING. EVEN IF I DID THERE IS NOT A MULTI-DISCIPLINARY SPINAL TEAM THERE TO TREAT ME. THIS IS INSANITY - I AM A POLITICAL PRISONER BECAUSE I WAS INJURED IN WYOMING!!!!!
*** By the way, there are three or four other states with this policy and one of them just lost a HUGE class action law suit for doing it - a bunch of people who were being denied appropriate medical care sued to have the law re-written and for financial losses caused by delays in medical care.
This year we are sending out Christmas Cards. We haven't for two years. There didn't seem to be anything positive to say. Although there is even less positive news to share this year we are sending everyone a card with an angel - and I am coming out of the 'injured closet".
Being injured, disabled, or less than what you were or want to be - when it is out of your control - is something very very difficult to deal with. So, this year I am going to try to be unashamed of what has happened to me, to my husband and to our life.
There is power in numbers and maybe with my and your humble cry, we will be heard when we demand treatment that is governed and provided for better than the animals that roam the plains, hills and mountains of Wyoming's pristine and beautiful land. The introduction of wolves in Yellowstone has experienced more press than the lacking worker safety and real compensation or treatment of Wyoming's people.
At the risk of sounding too negative or dramatic please consider this - the UNINJURED, NOT YET INJURED and the INJURED WORKERS OF WYOMING - MUST STAND TOGETHER and demand not just safety and compensation - but the 'insurance' of APPROPRIATE safety and compensation - WHICH REQUIRES NO BARRIERS TO MEDICAL TREATMENT........
WYOMING WORKERS SAFETY AND COMPENSATION IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SAFETY, COMPENSATION AND PROVISION OF MEDICAL TREATMENT FOR ALL INJURED WORKERS REGARDLESS OF THE INJURY AND HAVE NO BARRIERS TO WHERE THE MOST APPROPRIATE MEDICAL TREATMENT CAN BE ACQUIRED.
WILL YOU BE THE NEXT WORKER WHO REQUIRES THE TREATMENT OF A TOP NEUROSURGEON IN DENVER, COLORADO, OR THE MAYO CLINIC? IF YOU ARE YOU WILL NOT HAVE WYOMING SAFETY AND WORKERS' COMPENSATION PAYING THE BILL FOR AN INJURY YOU SUSTAINED WHILE WORKING FOR A WYOMING COMPANY OR EVEN THE STATE ITSELF.
WILL IT BE YOUR CHILD, HUSBAND, FRIEND, PARENT -- WHO DO YOU LOVE THAT WORKS IN WYOMING THAT YOU ARE WILLING TO LOSE OR BE WITNESS A SLOW DEATH OR DEMISE BECAUSE WYOMING WORKERS' SAFETY AND COMPENSATION ONLY PAYS FOR WYOMING MEDICAL CARE
THE LEGISLATORS CANNOT CLOSE THE DOORS TO NATIONAL MEDICAL CARE, they cannot be allowed to deny medical treatment to a worker who has to move out of the state for work - the legislators cannot deny care to workers who need treatment in another state BECAUSE WYOMING DOES NOT POSSESS the extremely diverse LEVELS and specialities OF HEALTH CARE or TREATMENT AND THEY CANNOT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST WORKERS injured while working in Wyoming WHO cannot continue to live in Wyoming their entire life.
I met with federal level Wyoming electorate assistant in June 2004. When they heard my story -- especially the critical portion about me being injured at the age of 18, in a position that was only a summer job -- they had a single answer ..........Well, why don't you MOVE BACK TO WYOMING????? I am not kidding!!
When I informed this worker that given my unknown injury effects (as I have not been able to have any testing completed because they will not provide preauthorization), even if I lived back in Cheyenne, where I spent my childhood and was an East High School graduate, I would STILL have to look to Denver, Salt Lake City or the darn MOON to receive the care my original injury now required.
They had no response.
If you work in Wyoming, if someone you love works in Wyoming, make sure no one gets hurt on the job for there is no medical treatment over the state line, no treatment provided with authorization (which means no medical treatment in these days of malpractice) if moving from Wyoming is ever dreamed of.
Permanent residency or political prisoner is not equality, not fair and not necessary for the fine people of Wyoming - native or just visiting!