Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Thank God for STD! Oops, lest you get the wrong idea, that’s Short Term Disability insurance. I finally decided that I should stop working and apply for it. Now if I’d gone to the ER the night I had the heart attack, there probably wouldn’t have been any question about it…I would have been advised not to work and that would have been that.

But, not knowing that I had, in fact, had a heart attack, I stayed home one day and then went back to work. It seems foolish now, but keep in mind that I had that performance review back in June and got low scores on Productivity and Absenteeism, so I was panicked that I had already taken two whole days off and missed all those visits. So I’ve been working ever since, but last week I only made 5 visits and it just about did me in. I’d go see a patient, then come home and sleep for 2 hours before going to see the next. But after the angiogram last week confirmed that I definitely had a “myocardial infarction,” I decided I should take some time to recover from the event and my upcoming procedure. Hopefully there won’t be any problem getting the doctor to sign the form stating that I have no business lifting 50 pounds on a daily basis.

This whole episode has given me lots of food for thought about ageism, disability, and the precarious grip many of us have on our health insurance. A recent poll conducted by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found that over half of the people surveyed reported that they have gone to work when they were sick even though they felt they should stay home because of the financial issues that are involved. Robert Blendon, of the Harvard School of Public Health, says the poll suggests there are two main reasons people go to work sick: There is no paid sick leave, or they feel pressure from their employer to be on the job, regardless of whether they are ill.

As I have written before, my company offers Paid Time Off, but if you use it, you’re still expected to complete all your visits, so what’s the point? As long as you can plan ahead to use your PTO for a vacation and work in all those visits ahead of time, no one blinks an eye. But if you have to use that PTO for an unexpected illness or emergency and can’t make up all the visits you missed, it counts against you. Or you can take maternity leave for 6 weeks, no problem. I guess I should have planned this heart attack 9 months ago…

Over the last year, I have often worried about what I’ll do if I can’t handle the physical demands of my job any more. I was a bit reassured when I read the details of our Long Term Disability plan and found that, if I’m no longer able to do THIS job but still capable of working at some other job, the plan pays at least part of the difference in wages if the new job doesn’t pay as well. I may have been reading too much into a comment one of the office staff made yesterday when I called to say that I was taking short term disability. I told her I wasn’t yet sure how long I would be out, and she responded, “If you’re able to come back at all.” It seemed an odd thing for an office person to say and made me think that the district manager (the one who gave me the bad review) had said something. But what these folks don’t realize is that for most people, taking disability or early retirement isn’t an option for one simple reason: the need for health insurance until Medicare kicks in at 65. Like it or not, by the time I’m able to retire, I may be needing therapy more than my patients!

I think I’m beginning to understand how John McCain must feel. This month marks my 30th anniversary of doing occupational therapy. You’d think that experience would count for something. I was working in this field before many of the therapists at our company were born and when my supervisor was learning to read. But I find that I am less valuable to the company than someone right out of college because they are able to make 30-40 visits a week without breaking a sweat.

Recently our employee newsletter had an article encouraging us to purchase clothing, hats, and backpacks with the company logo on them, as a way of promoting the company. There were photos of the owner and some other employees sporting their gear in various locations, such as at the Golden Gate Bridge, on the beach at Cancun, etc. We were encouraged to send pictures of ourselves in our company gear. I’m sure we’ll get lots of great photos of therapists at the Grand Canyon, on Broadway, on cruises, in Hawaii. Gee, I can hardly wait to submit mine…waving from my bed in the cardiac cath lab.