Heavy Equipment Operator Injured On A Road Job
I was injured 4 years ago while operating heavy equipment on a road job. After working over pretty rough material for about 2 weeks, I started to experience severe pain through my entire back and after taking a few days off without pay to see if some R&R would fix the problem, I went to a doctor who diagnosed severe muscle strain/sprain and I was restricted to not working.
As I was working out of town at the time, I returned home and at my employer's request, went to see the company chiropractor who did x-rays and noted a severe rotation problem in my entire spine. His treatments were basically futile as the amount of spasm in my back muscles undid any aligning he would perform so he was forced to refer me to an orthopedic doctor, and my long nightmare began.
I went from doctor to doctor (all affiliated with the same practice/conveniently, in my state, you can't see another doctor unless the one you are seeing refers you) with diagnoses ranging from para spinal muscle spasm to cervical strain/sprain to lumbago and almost every other minor muscle ache you can think of. During this time, I was losing more and more of my mobility; I would experience such severe pain that I would pass out from it my doctors told my that I was hyperventilating-what a joke).
I was terrified-the only test that had been done was the x-ray that the chiropractor had done which had shown a spine that resembled a cork screw which they conveniently lost. I would call my Work Comp. analyst in tears because I was getting worse by the day. I was 120 lb. woman and my neck was so swollen that a large cervical collar would barely fit around my neck. I had to wear that collar even when I slept as my neck was so enflamed that it couldn't hold the weight of my own head.
When I requested something from my doctor to control the pain, I was treated like some kind of a drug addict and was denied. One weekend I ended up in the ER-it took 2 shots of morphine to settle my symptoms down to where I was even coherent, and the ER doc said to go back to the doctors office and argue with him if I had to to make him prescribe something. I did so.
The receptionist told me that they did not just hand out narcotics to everyone who claimed that their back hurt. I told her that I did not want narcotics - I just wanted something that would work-she said she had scheduled patients to attend to and I would have to call and make an appointment. I barely made it home - my husband went down to the doctor's office completely furious because of the condition he found me in and returned with a prescription of valium-not what I had in mind, but at least it knocked me out so I wasn't in pain.
This kind of terroristic medical treatment went on for the next 7-8 months. The only medical tests they had done were 2 bone scans. A bone scan will basically only tell you if you have cancer or fractures. It was pretty obvious that I didn't have a broken back, so it was pretty safe for me to assume that they were trying to prove that I did not have a work related injury since the only thing they were willing to test for was cancer. They also suggested that I have an MRI of my brain to rule out MS, but Work Comp. would not cover that expense as it was not work related. I finally insisted on having a second opinion and decided to travel to another state to get one.
I saw a neurologist in Montana who immediately ordered MRIs of all levels of my spine because of all of the inflammation that was obviously present my neck was swollen to where it was level with my ear on the left side and my husband had to help me walk). While we were in his office going over these MRIs with him, he noted several problems with my spine including multiple ruptured cervical discs, multiple bulging and herniated lumbar discs, and it appeared that the rotation in my mid-back had cut off the blood flow to T-5 all together and according to him, these were some very serious problems. He even went as far as to call my other doctors "butchers".
My husband and I left his office with vary mixed emotions that day, not knowing that the worst was yet to come. I called my WC analyst to tell her what the doc had said and she said she was going to call him to get his report. I wish I had brought a tape recorder to that office that day-I don't know what he was threatened with, but when I got a copy of his report, 1/2 of it was blanked out the whole first 3/4 was blank on the first page) and my evidence was gone. At least he had written me a prescription for Baclofen (a medication for spinal cord injuries); within 3 days of being on this medication, by symptoms were brought somewhat under control and I had some relief from the horrible pain.
When my WC analyst learned that my symptoms had settled down, she wasted no time in setting me up to have an IME. It had been EXACTLY 1 year since I had been injured and even though I was still in constant pain, I was at least able to get around a bit better.
They flew a doctor in from Utah in order to convince me that it would be an independent opinion since I was on to the doctors that had been treating me to that date and didn't trust them as far as I could drag my car with my teeth. I was in this doctor's office for a total of 45 minutes-25 of which was spent filling out paperwork. He examined my back for a few minutes and assured me that even though I had already had between 40&50 steroid shots in my neck and back, if I had more injections with some special PT and message that I could return to Med. duty work. This was all I had wanted to hear for the last year-a doctor was telling me that my back could be fixed and I could go back to work.
2 weeks after that, my family moved back to Minnesota due to failing health of our aging parents. The IME had brought my disability payments to an end, but at that time, I wasn't concerned as the doctor had told me that I would be able to return to work as soon as I had these "magic shots". I was advised by my WC analyst that I could not have this treatment done until I accepted the IME. When I got a copy of it, it said that I had a 5% whole body impairment with some miofacial problems and marked psychological overlay. He said that I was at an ascertainable loss, but at the same time, recommended further treatment-a contradiction in itself.
I told my analyst that I didn't really agree with that, and she said it didn't make any difference-my disability was cut of and my only option was to accept the rating and then they could process my vocational award. By this time, I just wanted these monsters out of my life and wanted to get these shots so I could go back to work and get on with my life, so I signed the rating and had WC set up an appt. with a doctor so I could get it done.
When I went in to see my new doctor, he couldn't believe that I had been released to return to work and immediately restricted me to not working. He suspected that I had been "under-diagnosed" and contacted WC himself and informed them that he wanted to do some more tests. My analyst flatly refused and insisted that he set up an appt. with a pain clinic to have those "magic shots" done. He did so reluctantly, but still withheld me from working.
When I went to the doctor at the pain clinic, he examined my records, then my back, then held his head in his hand and almost puked. His exact words were," As much as I despise them, I have to advise you to get an attorney. You've been misdiagnosed!" My heart almost fell out my behind-I just looked at him not knowing what to say-he could tell he had just destroyed every hope I had by the look on my face. He talked some more about the Hippocratic oath and wondered how the doctor that did that IME could even call himself a doctor. I call!
ed my analyst as soon as I left his office wanting to know what I should do-she smugly told me that there was nothing that I could do because I had accepted that IME. I argued with her that the IME had been a misdiagnosis-she said it didn't matter. I asked her how I could get an attorney to straighten out this mess-she said I couldn't because there wasn't anything under dispute according to the statutes-she was right about that.
I thought about it for awhile and decided to apply for Total Temp. Disability, knowing that it would be denied, so that it could be disputed and I could get an attorney. I had to argue with her for 1/2 hour just to get her to send me a form-she finally sent 1.It was denied, and my case entered the legal system. My new doctor did an accurate impairment rating on me after treating me for a year and rated my spine at a 25% impairment without considering the severe pain that I have to deal with, and guess what-NO PSYCHOLOGICAL OVERLAY (except for the kind that anyone who has sustained a disabling injury would have). I soon found out about appointed attorneys too. I lost my case at the first level and insisted on appealing. 1 month before my District Court hearing, my attorney told me that I needed to drop my case and start all over because I had a frivolous suit-I refused to do so and he threatened to rescind if I didn't drop it. I called the District Court and found out that m!
y file was completely empty-the state hadn't even bothered to prepare their case, so they were apparently in on this thing together. I called my attorney back and told him that I had no intention of releasing him from my case and that I had every intention of being in that court room and suggested that he do the same or I would have him disbarred-then I wrote a letter to the District Court Judge telling him what was going on with my attorney and asked for his help.
My attorney ended up preparing a hell of a brief his job depended on it) and I won my case. The Judge replaced my attorney with a real attorney one that's not on their side), Work Comp. appealed it to the Supreme Court, and I WON!! My case set legal precedence, this is something I am quite proud of even though it hasn't done me much good. It seems that WC thinks that they're above the law and now they've gone against their own written policy to continue to deny my benefits, but a victory is a step in the right direction. It also showed me one very important thing-they don't own the courts.
So, this is the only hope that I cling to; my livelihood has been stolen from me-I will never be able to return to work. I am now on Social Security at 30 something years old, I will be in constant pain for the rest of my life, I will always be on heavy narcotic and anti-seizure medication, I will never be able to have any more children. I have had nerves cauterized 14 times so far in my spinal column-this will have to be repeated as the affected nerves regenerate you have to be conscious for this-it's VERY painful) I have a future of fusions and severe pain to look forward to. FUN FUN FUN.
Last month, Work Comp set me up for another IME-Here we go again. This wonderful piece of $%*#$% is trying to say that the 9 doctors that I have seen since I have moved here have all been mistaken. Apparently, the discograms and all of the fluoroscopic x-rays and diagnostics mean nothing as he is siding with the "company doctors" who treated me in Wyoming. He even went as far as to say that they have performed 14 rhizotomies (the cauterizations) and 2 disc reconstructions unnecessarily-Work Comp. forgot to tell him that I insisted on going to a neurosurgeon for a second opinion before having any of this done. He actually accused these wonderful doctors, who were ethical and caring enough to help me, of doing nothing but turn me into a drug addict. What a surprise. Bummer for him that I'm not as ill knowledged as I once was-you can't argue with diagnostic evidence and I have my ducks in a row now.
As soon as I'm done with Work Comp., he will be the next one in court; I see it as my civic duty to all other injured workers to take him out if there's any possible way I can-he should have listened to me when I tried to tell him that Work Comp. hadn't provided him with a complete medical file-a doctor is supposed to LISTEN to their patient, not just the people who pay him.
So my story ends, for today anyway. Hopefully you've learned something by reading it. Though it was quite long, it was very incomplete compared to the hell I've been through and more that I'm sure is still to come. If you find yourself on this same road, good luck to you-you'll need it. If your on the other side of the desk, shame on you for being so heartless and cruel-may you never be the victim of your own system, even though it would probably do you some good.