Thoracic Outlet Syndrome From A Job Injury
The following is "My Story" that began five years ago - little has changed. Three years ago, I was finally sent back to the last doctor that treated me - he said that there was still nothing that he could do for me, but he would send me to my neurologist that has been treating me for pain control. When the report came back, there was no mention to my doctor at all. Why? Because the insurance company attorney and the nurse case manager got a hold of him.
Doctors that are hired from work comp are paid an exaggerated rate for their 10 or 15 minute evaluation, as a matter of fact, this "Doctor" was paid OVER $750.00 for a 15 minute exam. It is a very lucrative business for these doctors - they are richly rewarded for their "expertise at frauding injured workers out of medical care that is desperately needed NOW...
They tell the insurance companies what they want to hear - because they know it will get them hundreds of more "fast patients". In and out the door. These testimonies hold up in court - over our own doctors that have been treating us, regularly, and know our history and our injuries. The following story that you are about to read is "My Horror Story" with the work comp system. I have been diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Sounds easy enough, doesn't it? I wish that it was.
Surgery involves going under the armpit to first of all remove the 1st cervical rib, that has been drawn up from the scalene muscles in the neck - resulting in entrapment of the nerves and arteries into the arms from the region of the bracial plexus. Before they can get to the biracial plexus - they collapse your lung. When they reach the bracial plexus, they must be extremely careful not to disturb the phrenic nerve, which in turn controls your diaphragm, which in turn controls your lung capacity and your ability to breath on your own. And we are not done yet....they continue up into your neck to "disinsert" 3 sides of your scalene muscles to also help with the entrapment.
Once this is done - it takes months of physical therapy to regain only a portion of what you had before. In most cases - the pain never goes away - the surgery only at its best - will restore blood flow to the arms, and correct a small portion of the nuerogenic damage to the nerves. Surgery is not a cure.
Once you start having surgery, chances are very high that you will continue to have surgeries for life because of scar tissue. The longer you wait for surgery, the more damage that results, and the harder it is for the surgeon to safely go in and repair the damage. The risks of permanent damage to the phrenic nerve is very common by this time - which can leave you living the rest of your life on oxygen. This in turn leaves you with life long, and life-threatening pulmonolgy problems. This is a lifelong disability. Mine effects both arms, so I would need to undergo surgery for both sides. It does not go away.
Medical for this can run into 100's of thousands of dollars over your lifetime, many times millions. It is cheaper for them to pay a death benefit - than to cover Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. While I appreciate your interest in exposing fraud of "unijured workers" Mine is not an isolated case - we are all treated the same. When you are thrown to the wolfs of work comp, they show no prejudice - we are all treated the same. The following is a story that I wrote in March of 1999 regarding my case. I ask only one question of the dirty hands of people working for and covering up for workers comp. "If you had an injured spouse, or child, would you watch them deteriorate and not take them to a doctor for over 18 months.
Living with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is no easy feat, then add in the stress of workers compensation and the lack of timely and appropriate treatment, and you open a Pandora's Box of emotions, pain, family disruptions, financial ruins, loss of savings, homes, marriages, and in severe cases, loss of life from suicide. The list goes on... These "symptoms" represent a whole mass grouping of injured workers across the nation, injured on their jobs, with a wide variety of injuries.
The only thing that can be said of the "system" is that they are not prejudice - they treat us all equally, as criminals. We are "guilty" of fraud until proven otherwise, and the cards are stacked against us from the beginning. For a Thoracic Outlet Syndrome patient, we live in daily, constant, unrelenting pain - unable to do even the most basic "taken for granted' chores and daily activities. I developed problems almost overnight. In June of 98 I started to experience intolerable pain in my elbows - neck and shoulders. 5 workcomp doctors later - I was fired from my job in February of 99 - and have been in a downward spiral every since. I have had to hire an attorney to fight for my medical and weekly benefits that should have been paid to me from the beginning. I have had to fire 2 attorneys, because they were clearly "sleeping with the enemy".
I live in Iowa and my doctor is in Denver - so I now also have travel expenses on top of the medical that should be provided to me as a result of a work related injury. I worked diligently for this place for close to 5 years to provide for my family the extras that we all want our children to have. I worked ungodly hours - thousands of mandatory overtime hours, because had I refused to work, I would have lost my job and so I missed many school activities - because I wanted to be able to give my children a college education so that they would not have to work in a factory or an assembly line. This is the same factory that preached to us all the time that we were a team, that we stuck by each other, and were family orientated and proud of it.
We were a two income family for a reason - not because we were greedy - there are no boats or travel trailers and new cars in our yard. It was to give our children a better start in life. I stayed at home with our children till our youngest one was in 4th grade. I took pride in my home and the values that we instilled in our children. We made every attempt to pay our bills on time. We taught our children the value of a dollar - and of being honest and respectful to others. Honesty and respect costs you nothing - and is worth an unlimited amount of value. My honesty and respect for my employer has cost me my livelihood and my arms - and taught my children to be distrustful of corporations, insurance companies and doctors that traditionally you are brought up to believe in.
Our youngest daughter graduated in May of 2000 - and at one time she told me that she thought she would take "a year off" and not go to college in the fall. The real reason - 3 weeks prior to that conversation in March of 1999, I was having a major pain cycle - and while sitting on the kitchen floor where I collapsed from the pain and medication, she put her arms around me - and said, "Oh, Mom - I can't leave you next year - who will take care of you?" While SHE FED me - because I was unable to feed myself because of the pain in my arms, she became my caretaker - the mother. She has taken me to the emergency room in the middle of the night for shots when the pain has been unbearable so that her father can sleep because of the hours that he puts in. She worries that something will happen to "Dad" - and then what will we do?
She has called her father on the cell phone - scared out of her wits - screaming at him because she thought he should have been home by then, when he was in fact 5 minutes from home. Why? Because she came home after forgetting her cheerleading pom-poms and found me in the bathroom convulsing in pain and throwing up - after seeing me not even 5 minutes before and I was "fine". Fine - yes, because I have learned to hide the pain. So then she took her cell phone to the school 3 blocks from our home so that I could call her in the middle of her wrestling tournament if I needed her to come home. She did not want to leave me that night - my husband was 5 minutes from home - I insisted she leave. She brought me the portable phone and an ice cream bucket to throw up in because she was terrified that I would not be able to stabilize myself on the toilet and keep my head from falling in because I have no strength in my arms anymore. She left in tears....and called home, from the gym - while the tournament was going on - to make sure that her father was home.
My husband now works 7 days a week - as well as each night after he finishes his "regular job". When he comes home - he then cooks supper for us - and hand feeds me if necessary. He does the laundry - a load before he leaves at 4:30AM - throws it in the dryer and starts another. When he gets home - he folds and re-loads the dryer because I am unable to take the wet clothes out. At one time he was a recovered alcoholic - and I say recovered, because he has started to drink again. If I had "a taste for alcohol" - I would join him. I can see the stress on his face everyday..... His drinking from the stress has brought back a hurt and anger, and hatred for him that I thought was long behind us.
Work comp has destroyed my life, his life, and is beginning to drive a continual wedge between all of us. We live in a house of horrors, no one knowing what tomorrow may bring - or what problems I will face next when the mail comes with yet another past due bill - or if my pain will escalate once again, or if the next muscle spasm that I have will result in me having to go on oxygen full time. I no longer drive more than a short distance - my arms will not allow it. I have become a prisoner in my own home, dependant on my daughter or husband to take me to my doctor. My daughter combs my hair for me when I shower. I don't shower everyday because it is so uncomfortable to hold my arms up to wash it, the short amount of time that it takes to shave my legs puts me in pain. Brushing my teeth is a chore because of gripping the brush. My teeth are falling apart because I cannot grip a tooth brush long enough to properly brush them anymore. The pain medication has taken a toll on them, as well as the constant "gritting" of my teeth because of the pain.
There is nothing that I used to do than I can do comfortably anymore. My everyday clothes are my pajamas - because this also has made me a prisoner in my own home. If I dare to dress and go out, if I get a chill, it immediately throws my upper back into spasms and increases the never-ending pain I already have in my arms. A heavy warm coat is out of the question, because the weight on my shoulders is also to much to bear. The symptoms are endless - my fingertips are numb - sometimes freezing. My shoulders feel like someone has tried to pull them out. My arms feel like someone has put a blood pressure cuff on it - pumped it up as far as it will go and super-glued it to my arms. The pain across my upper back - shoulders - and neck area sometimes gets to the point that the muscle spasms are so severe that it puts pressure on my phrenic nerve, diaphragm and ribs - making it very difficult to breathe and talk. At times it feels like someone has reached up under my shoulder blade and tried to tear everything out that is under it.
Sometimes my vision is blurred - my face goes numb up to under my eyes - at times it feels like someone is ramming an ice pick into my ear. I "loose" my train of thought - words that "are there" are gone. Some days my arms feel like they have been run over and crushed by a steam roller. Those are the things that I live with daily - along with many other people that have the same thing. And mine is mild compared to many other people with TOS.
We are looked upon as individuals that surely must be hypochondriacs or sheer lunatics. So how could one disease cause so much damage and so many symptoms? It is like an infectious disease - in that while the person that has TOS deals with the physical pain - it spreads to those that love and care for us - wrecking havoc in their lives as well. I used to live in a well maintained home - if dust and dirt could be made to pay rent - I wouldn't worry so much about the mounting bills. My husband wouldn't have to be working the hours that he does - my daughter could go to college next year with her friends - and my son would not have to offer to pay for his sisters education. If selling drugs weren't illegal - I could sell the medication that I have a whole cabinet full of that do not work and put any drug dealer to shame.
Paper plates are now the "good china". Real mashed potatoes are a delicacy - when I can peel them. I can no longer sleep in the same bed with my husband of 19 years. I have to use pillows to prop everything up. Any movement wakes me from the few hours of sleep that I get. My husband can no longer hold or even give me a gentle hug. My sleep is interrupted most nights by fits of restlessness and horrific nightmares - dreaming where I dream that I am in pain and crying for relief - only to wake up and find that it is not a dream at all - but reality. I daydream about what it would be like to develop Alzheimer's Disease - if I got it - would I forget tomorrow the pain I have had today....
My dreams of holding grandchildren is impossible - how can I hold something so precious and take a chance of dropping them? How could I hold anything or anyone if I have to have both of my arms amputated because work comp refuses to believe me and give me the treatment that I need - and cannot afford on my mine. Their stalling has only had one positive effect - I am positively loosing more and more of my arm capacities every day. I used to be able to do many things and enjoy them - drug free. Now the drugs don't even help. I used to be able to sit down and type a letter such as this in half an hour - now it has taken me all afternoon.
Somebody once said that they would rather have TOS than cancer - I think I would rather take my chances with cancer - more people are cured with that and go into remission than this - and I wouldn't want that either - just as I surely would never wish TOS on anyone. Surgery is no guarantee of "gainful results". I would much rather loose my hair than my arms. I am in no means making light of cancer patients or the nightmares and ordeals that they go through - cancer is just as devastating - but I think sometimes it would be easier - it is diagnosed faster, easier, and is believed...... Cancer patients do not have to deal with workers compensation....
I have been sent to workcomp doctors that are "paid" to pass you around and say there is nothing wrong with you. I have been told I could not seek other treatment. I could only go to their doctors, and had to be accompanied by a work comp nurse - as though I was a child and did not have the intelligence to comprehend what would be told to me. I have had work comp doctors falsify my records - had doctors write reports that never saw me - and I am expected to believe in them and trust them when they finally decide they will offer me treatment with doctors that are completely dishonest and out of their league when it comes to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
I have firm diagnosis' of this devastating disease from a very immanent clinic in Denver that specializes in this - where the doctors have written books - research papers and have had articles published in medical journals. I have been to the Mayo Clinic - where they also agreed on the diagnosis - and agreed that The Vascular Institute of the Rockies is one of only a couple places that has the knowledge and experience to deal with this. Now workcomp tells me after over a year of no treatment from them - they can offer me the same treatment 45 miles from where I live. If there was in fact such competent doctors that close to me - I would have seen them already and allowed them to treat me.
If workcomp was so positive that I was faking - they would have "closed" the door on the claim long ago - put their cards on the table and it would have been over. If I was faking - I would "ride" this out and collect a check in the end and deserve an academy award. I'm not that good of an actress - if I were, I would not have been working in a factory. For over a year they told me that my doctor in Denver "was not authorized" - yet they provided no doctor - and I paid for this doctor.
We live in a country where medical care is to be given when needed. We are offered the choice of our providers - and given the privilege to seek second opinions and the best that there is to be offered when we feel that is necessary. With work comp - you have no choice - if you question their knowledge or authority - you are labeled as being "non-compliant" and faking or malingering. They take their time in treating you - playing games and making you jump through their hoops. It is degrading and humiliating, and in the meantime your condition continues to deteriorate, your bills add up, your family and social life fall apart and they wait for you to throw in the towel so you can regain what little bit of dignity and saneness that they haven't stripped you of...... As of this date - Jan 2001 - I have been sent back to one of their doctors. I received notification in June of 2000 that I would be "treated".
My appointment with this doctor was the end of August of 2000, she promised treatment. I returned in October for my follow-up with her, and was told there was nothing she could do for me. The insurance company did however offer treatment for me at a pain clinic. The doctors diagnosis? Tendonitis, work related, no disability as a result of said injury. You DO NOT spend thousands of dollars to send someone to a pain clinic for tendonitis for one month, and say they have no long term disability from it.
I returned to Denver, saw yet another specialist, and now have additional documentation that I have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome - and that it is work related, and that these doctors will testify for me to that fact. I am sitting here tonight - 3 years and 7 months after seeing the first work comp doctor, and have yet been rightfully treated by any of their doctors, and have not received any money or benefits. At this point in time - the money is irrelevant. I have asked to be treated medically.
There is no amount of money that will ever give me back my health, my life, my husband, my children and the rest of my family and friends. I am 45 years old, and feel 145. I have told my family, that should anything happen to me, that when the autopsy is done, that they are to make sure that my bracial plexus is rammed down the throat of the Iowa Workers Compensation Industrial Commissioners throat, as well as the insurance company, and the place that I used to work at.