Earlier in the week I was buying gas at the supermarket filling station in the middle of a large parking lot. As I climbed back in my truck, I noticed a middle-aged man walking across the lot. Actually “hobbling” would better describe his gait. While his left foot seemed to proceed normally, he “dragged” his right foot at right-angles behind him. He wore a stylish light winter jacket, slanted woolen cap, striped scarf and glasses.
For some reason I imagined that he was gainfully employed but possessed of some physical handicap, perhaps a cerebral palsy-type disorder. Yet he seemed to be moving purposefully. But the extra effort and concentration required to drag his affected limb was obvious. I felt that he must be a stalwart individual, someone to be admired.
This was the image that I strove to bring to mind since Wednesday. On Wednesday I finally got a telephone call from Unum, the insurance company that has been sending me a disability check since my bone marrow transplant in 2004. They have been reviewing my case since early last summer. If you recall, the review was precipitated by my starting to work ten hours a week at a local specialty wine and spirits shop – a move inspired by a desire to get out of the house and to earn some “pin money.”
Bruce, my disability benefits specialist who has always been easy and civil to work with (as I have striven to have been also), called to tell me that, effective that day, I no longer met Unum’s definition of disabled and consequently my monthly payments would cease. An eight page follow-up letter is in the mail. We spent about twenty minutes on the telephone as Bruce elaborated on the review process and answered my questions.
All of my hospital and doctors records had been reviewed by various personnel, including a nurse, a family practice physician and a hematologist. These evaluations were shared with a vocational counselor. In the end it was determined that I could perform at least three types of sedentary nursing positions – a medical case reviewer for an insurance company, a tele-triage nurse, or a nurse consultant. Wages were calculated for each of these generic jobs. These potential wages exceeded Unum’s determination of what constituted “gainful employment” for someone with my education and experience.
An appeal procedure is still a possibility but one that I am unlikely to pursue. The phone call came as something of an expected shock. The process had lingered so long we had begun to think that the decision might be leaning on my favor. My reaction was stronger than I imagined. How would this change my life? Will I succeed in this next phase of my career?
Actually I have been trying to be proactive. I had updated my resume and posted it on several sites. Over the past two months I applied for six positions at three hospitals and a pharmaceutical company. The result – two interviews but no job offers. My nursing license expired five years ago. So I have been doing on-line CEUs before applying for renewal. I alternate between excitement and dread at the possibility of returning to nursing. I still have a certain measure of disability – blind in one eye, no sense of smell, fatigue, difficulty reading, chronically marginal blood counts, and a propensity to get every infection that comes around. I have had to call in sick a number of times for my very part-time wine job.
But then I think of the man in the parking lot who seemed to have a more pronounced disability than I.
Over the years I would occasionally question my disability. But I was not feigning anything, I was not being dishonest. I have spent an inordinate amount to time in hospital over the past six years. And years after my transplant I am still seeing the clinic physicians on a regular basis. In fact the joke is that no matter how I try to extend the time between appointments, I always seem to need doctoring on a more frequent basis. I never felt guilty about receiving my checks. It was insurance after all. I paid disability premiums for years even though I was healthy and never expected a serious illness until I was in retirement age.
So here I am, once more in the position of having to redefine myself, a prospect suggesting both hope and fear. But then you think of the alternative, especially in wake of fellow-blogger Daria Maluta’s death, your life is cast in a different, brighter light.