Move Over, Norma Rae

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    I never thought it would come to this.

    When my left knee began to ache ferociously a few months ago, I thought it was just a remnant of an old injury that I'd sustained back in my early 40s. I'm on my feet a lot, and being neither young nor thin, I suppose I had it coming. Then the ache became a roar, and finally it was so bad that I had to see a doctor to find out why it wasn't healing. He promptly informed me that I had a torn meniscus and probably some major osteoarthritis that would have to be dealt with surgically; the MRI I had a few days later confirmed it. In the meantime, I was to wear an immobilizer, take pain pills, use the RICE protocol, and stay off it as much as possible.

    So in order to continue working, I've been using a wheelchair for at least part of the shift for the past several weeks. I'm not happy about it, but when I get tired from dragging this bad leg around or need to go a long way down another hall, it's been invaluable. With a husband who's only working 20 hours a week for minimum wage, I MUST stay employed---I don't have the luxury of taking time off while I wait for my surgery date (scheduled for the 23rd of this month). And until a couple of days ago, I thought I was doing well.

    There are times in every nurse's life when s/he questions whether or not continuing in this career is worth the heartache, the emotional stress, and the wear and tear on the body. That moment arrived for me when my DON sat down at the nurses' station with me and informed me that the administrator was "uncomfortable" with my using the wheelchair at work. Seems that it didn't look right to some VIP who was visiting the place......and since I didn't have a doctor's note stating exactly what was wrong with me, I shouldn't be using it---or any other visible form of support, such as a walker---during my shift. Not even AFTER my operation.

    My initial response: "Huh??"

    My secondary response: confusion. What on earth did using a wheelchair for part of the shift have to do with the amount of work I was producing? Wasn't I getting everything done as usual? If I hadn't been, I could've understood the concern, but being able to scoot along whenever I had to go to the other end of the building made the difference between completing my work in my usual timely fashion or being in so much pain that I couldn't even think straight, let alone finish everything I had to do.

    And it wasn't like I was always in the chair, either; I only used it when I absolutely had to. But because I didn't bring in a copy of my medical record for this purpose---like the immobilizer and a pronounced limp weren't evidence enough of my problems---I wouldn't be allowed to work if I couldn't do it unassisted. I would have to take FMLA leave (unpaid, of course) until I was cleared for normal matter if that was a week or a month. In the meantime, my hours were being changed anyway due to budget cuts, meaning I could work as few as 20 hours per week (and lose my health insurance), or maybe as many as 48, which is about 16 more than I can handle even when I'm at 100%.

    My third response was indignation. I've broken my backside for this organization, I care about my residents and staff, and I've saved the facility not one but TWO lawsuits, thanks to my diplomatic skills and a willingness to spend some 'quality time' with the more, um, intense families. If that's the thanks I get.........besides, as I said to myself, my condition is NONE of their business, and I wasn't going to waste my time or the doctor's time getting "permission" to use some form of support so I could get through each day a little easier. So when I went to work yesterday, I was determined to make it without any help whatsoever......they weren't going to put ME out to pasture if I could help it.

    This attitude lasted exactly one shift...........and this morning, after spending the night flopping around in pain like a beached fish despite two Vicodin and an Ativan (and nearly falling because the knee had the nerve to lock up on me when I got out of bed), my inner activist roared to the surface and screamed in my ear, "Are you SERIOUS? You are a professional nurse---you don't work for an Alabama textile mill, and you aren't Norma Rae. How dare they treat you like this!"

    As a matter of fact, I am serious. And I'm done feeling hurt and disappointed in my employer; now, I'm royally ticked off. I've loved this job, and this place, more than any other in my entire career; but I have only this one body, and I'm not going to let ANYBODY tell me I'm not allowed to take care of myself just because they don't like "how it looks". Heck, if I were a visitor to the building and saw a nurse going about her duties in a wheelchair or with a walker, I would think it an honorable thing to keep her working despite her disability (and mine is only temporary, for crying out loud!). But I guess that's just me.

    What I'm going to do from here on out, I don't know; but I don't see myself continuing much longer in this position with the prevailing attitudes and the uncertainty regarding my hours, even after I recuperate from the arthroscopy. I'm a fifty-something nurse with years of experience and I will NOT let myself be abused again---not here, not anywhere.

    Is there ANY nursing facility, hospital, clinic, or other healthcare setting that doesn't treat nurses like dirt? Inquiring minds want to know!
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  3. by   sharpeiluv
    It seems to me that you need to take some time to take care of yourself. I'm thinking from your post that you are a staff nurse, and bedside nursing is not an easy thing to do. While I admire your determination, I would be concerned about the long-term effects and the potential for injuring joints above and below your knee, including your back. You are using altered mechanics to protect your injured knee. Do you have disability insurance? If you do, now would be the time to see if you can claim benefits to get you and your husband over this bump. I would be checking with Human Resources on this. Most employers do not want to lose a valuable employee. You are expensive to replace!
  4. by   annacnatorn
    Do I know how you feel!
    First Hand! I am there right with you. I am studying to be an RN, so I am currently an CNA/CHHA..I worked for a Hospice Agency. I gave all, I mean all of myself to them, nights, weekends, endless hours. I did field work, office work, name it, I did it. I thought that this company..the owner would take care of me if something happened. I thought I was the "star" employee. I received nothing but compliments from my families, vendors that I had dealt with, marketing responses were excellent. I was the number one go to when a patient needed something. I was happy. I loved my job.

    Dooms Day happened. I was working with a patient, I completely tore my rotator cuff, a series of inaccurate treatment took place, then refusal of my injury to be reported to workman's comp, finally gets reported then I get to the correct Doctor. Before accurate diagnosis, I suffered muscle atrophy in the deltoid as well as the rotator cuff, now 2 surgeries later, I am still off work. I can't lift, pull, NOTHING. I think I am done. I was promised to get and never got from my employer. He even told me "I will take care of you. Your my little......." I to have saved them from numerous law suits, calmed many of families down. (feel free to read my other postings!) To add insult to injury, I recently discovered that the company went out of business, and did not tell me nothing. So, I have nothing to go back to.

    I am Hurt, frustrated, tired of having my family do when I can't. My Parents are aging, my Father needs assistance with everything and I can't do it. My driving privileges have been revoked due to medical condition. I was once the "do it your self mom, nurse, wife", now I have to wait for a ride to the grocery store! I feel as if my life has been stripped away. I don't know if I will regain what I need to go back or go on.

    In a sense I feel violated.

    This plainly and simply sucks.

    Many sleepless nights are spent crying because of the pain, the loss, the hurt, the frustration.
  5. by   llg
    It sounds like your employer did not handle your situation well at all... but they do have a legitimate concern about an employee using an "accommodation" without going through the proper procedure to get it approved. There are OSHA regulations, ADA rules, liability issues, etc. that they must deal with. It's not reasonable for a staff member to expect to be accommodated without getting it approved, supplying a physician's report, etc. I'm not saying the employer would have handled it well had the OP gone through those proper channels: in fact, they probably would still have handled it badly. I'm just saying that an employee should expect to have to jump through a few hoops to get such a thing approved.

    That said ... as a 55 year-old, I can appreciate where the OP is coming from. Many of us have "given, given, given" thoughout our careers and it is devastating to learn that our employers feel little or no sense of obligation to treat us well in return. All we can do is try to treat each other well ... and make preparations for the day when our bodies, minds, and spirits start indicating that it is time to move on.

    To you younger, healthier nurses out there ... make plans ... prepare ... save you money ... It will probably happen to you someday, too.
  6. by   Crystallynn
    The ADA laws will most likely apply to you and reasonable accomodations are required to be given. I will post a few links to get you started. Good Luck.
  7. by   country mom
    Just for clarification, can't your doctor write a note for you, specifying the accomodations that you require? Just to flip the coin over, if you were a manager/admin/whatever kind of suit, and saw an employee going around in a wheelchair wouldn't it make sense to be just a tad bit curious as to WHY this employee was requiring a wheelchair, and wouldn't it make sense (and also a necessity for liability purposes) to ask the employee to get some kind of documentation from their doc as to what's going on and whether or not they are physically able to perform their job? It's not a question of the quality or quantity of work or the level of commitment, it's a question of physically being able to perform the job you were hired to do, and, who is liable if you make your condition worse in the course of doing your job.

    I'm sorry you're hurting and feel trapped. I hope you can find a resolution that allows you to heal and recover, because this anger you are feeling can't possibly be good for the healing process.
  8. by   daytm
    The Americans with Disabilities Act would likely cover you but again, you'll have to provide documentation (doctor's note) to your employer.
    Your situtation and how your employer is treating you is absolutely unexceptable and nurses EVERYWHERE should stand up and pay attention.
  9. by   Kooky Korky
    Fight but fight sensibly. You need the money, you want to keep the job. They don't really need you. You are expendable and pretty easily replaced. Sad but true. you are not coming from a position of strength.

    Give them the information they need, get on FMLA, see is ADA laws apply to you, do what you have to do to keep your job and your insurance. Offer to work nights so no VIP's see you.

    Good luck. I know it's loathesome to have to kiss backsides of morons, but you need to keep your job, right? Swallowing pride isn't so bad. Eat chocolate afterwords or something. Sorry you have to endure this. I pray for a speedy recovery. By the way, were you injured on the job? Got a lawyer?
  10. by   carluvscats
    Thanks for sharing your story. It doesn't sound like you are asking for any advice, so I just wish you the best of luck as you work it all out. I believe in happy endings, and with what you've been through, you certainly deserve it.

    To answer your last question...... no. At least from what I've seen so far.
  11. by   nurse grace RN
    I agree with Daytm
  12. by   merky
    Eesh, makes me wary. I am just beginning nursing school. I am happy you are sharing your story, though. It needs to be heard.

    *No you ARE NOT Norma Rae!*

    I will keep this in my head whenever the powers that be attempt to treat me like an indentured servant!
  13. by   P_RN
    If I could, I'd climb up on that table with "Vieja" Rae and raise my arms.(can't really d't rotator cuff injuries. I'm mad as H... and didn't take it any more.

    Now since I *won* my cause I am literally broke. I got full SS and Medicare in 2002. I got full state retirement in 2004. McDonald's workers make about what that got me. The BON says I'm a Nurse, I just can't work as one so they "allow" me to call myself inactive. It sucks greatly.
  14. by   scoochy
    Your post was very timely for me. My cousin's wife died on Monday from ALS. We were having a discussion about how fortunate he was to work for a company that literally bent over backwards for him so that he could care for his wife at home while continuing to work. They allowed him to work 4 hour shifts, or whatever hours he was able to give them. They considered him a valuable employee.

    He was very disheartened to hear my view on how my employer would have dealt with this most unfortunate situation. Suffice it to say, it would be very similar to yours; if you can't work your scheduled hours, then it is FMLA or nothing.
    It is a sad state affairs when a health care institution cannot take care of its own. The health care industry is now a business; nothing more. Caring, what's that???

    The only words I can offer you? Use every service available to you (if any), and believe that all will work out.

    God Bless!