When I left my ER at 7AM December 26, 2009, I fully expected to return to work that night. When I was admitted to a neighboring hospital an hour later, I thought I would be returning to work after discharge. When I was discharged unable to walk without a walker, I knew I would have to file for FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) and take a few weeks off to recover. I still fully intended to return to my job in the Pediatric ER, seeing patients and supervising medical students and residents. 6 weeks later I was still unable to walk past the stop sign at the end of our street, and it was then that I knew that my working life would have to change...but I STILL INTENDED TO GO BACK TO WORK.
I met with the hospital CEO to discuss how and when I could return. Per the American Disabilities Act (ADA), work places are required to make adjustments and allowances to help you do your job. My neurologist at BMS had already signed off on my state disability papers, because sadly, multiple sclerosis is a no-brainer. Our state sees the MS diagnosis and automatically approves applications. My hospital had been saying they were going paperless and to all-electronic charting for 3 years. It had never happened in the ER, even though the rest of the hospital had converted within the preceding 6 months. I asked that the ER make the change so that I could rest my hands and type instead of writing (At this time, even my signature was 'off.' My fine motor control was diminished, and typing/using the computer was a legitimate alternative to the writing we did so much of in the hospital (remember that CYA medicine discussion?)). The CEO refused. I asked to work part-time for a few months while I did rehab to regain my strength and endurance. She refused. I asked to work staggered shifts or to be the evening double coverage (which we were already paying outside docs extra to moonlight and cover the busier times). Again, she refused. She refused each and every ADA modification I requested. Her quote, "If you cannot meet the obligations spelled out in your contract, then your contract is null and void, and you will no longer be an employee of this hospital." Bottom line...major ADA violation.
Now I could have contacted an attorney and sued her and the hospital for ADA discrimination, but honestly, I just didn't have the emotional ability to fight that battle. I also knew that any money that I won, and any money that the hospital spent fighting me, would come at the detriment of the children that I have dedicated my life to caring for. Money at the hospital was tight, and I wanted our local kids to have more ICU beds and operating rooms and oxygen monitors than I wanted to fight a legal battle for my 'rights.'
So what did I do? First of all, I prayed. I had been praying throughout this whole ordeal, both alone and with my husband and family. I prayed a lot. I prayed for God's peace that passes all understanding. I prayed for our family's finances. I prayed for health. I cried out in frustration, knowing the Holy Spirit could interpret my cries. And God provided an answer...an answer that we thought, at the time, would be a temporary solution, but now, 4.5 years later, we are still living under. I applied for long term disability from the hospital. I cashed in a long term 'own occ' disability policy we had bought years before ('Own occ' basically says that if you are unable to continue in your chosen occupation, for me, specifically, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, then you'll be paid x percentage of your salary for life. Most insurance firms don't offer this anymore, and most people have never heard of it. Of those that have, most never bother to sign up, figuring they'll be a surgeon or anesthesiologist or family practitioner for life, because that's our calling, and that's what we spent so many years training to be.).
After several more months of paperwork and appointments, I was finally approved for both policies. My family was able to start digging out of the mountain of debt we had acquired trying to get through the previous months without my salary and with mega-hospital bills starting to come in. We are still working on that debt, but I know God will continue to provide. And God does have a sense of humor. I was and I believe I still am the ONLY physician to ever leave our hospital system on disability. I was 35 when I was diagnosed and went on disability, and by the time my hospital disability checks stop, the hospital will have paid me several times more than they would have if the CEO had just allowed me to continue working part time. My monthly checks from them are actually still higher than what my part time salary would have been. And that makes me smile. God wins every time.