My trip to an immigration check-in last week was one of the first for our group of volunteers. When I reported back to the group, I titled my email “Educación de un viejo gabacho,” education of an old gringo. Unlike my blog post about the trip, my email reported details of how to find the offices and what to expect while there, as well as giving them links to the emerging media stories about the wave of refugees from Guatemala, which I didn’t know about before I went.
The kind of education I talked about in the blog post continued yesterday afternoon when I drove another neighbor to a doctor’s appointment . Turned out he was going to the same building where I’m currently going to PT for impingement in both my shoulders. He went upstairs to the office where I have gone many times for my neck and back problems. He was seeing one of the few doctors I haven’t seen in that group, but who has a good reputation.
When the receptionist handed him all the paperwork one usually has to fill out when coming to a new doctor’s office, he asked me to help him fill it out since it was all in English. As I told our coordinator later, the whole visit stretched beyond the limits of my Spanish, beginning with this paperwork. But between the Spanish I knew, the English he knew, and Google translate on my phone, we got through the papers. I learned that he was at the doctor’s because he had hurt his back while working for a landscaper. He had lifted something too heavy without a support brace. Fortunately the law required the landscaper to have workers compensation insurance because otherwise he would have had no insurance coverage for an injury that threatened his ability to work and support his family. (His wife came to the office with us.)
To make a long story short, during his meeting with the doctor I learned that the MRI showed that the injury had caused his spinal disc to bulge and pinch the nerve in the lower back. He finally had been sent to the right doctor to treat this condition. What was upsetting to learn was that he had visited another insurance doctor repeatedly, who kept sending him back to work while clearing him for progressively heavier lifts. As a result he was in constant pain and at one point could not sleep for three days. I know exactly how he was feeling because my herniated disc is in the exact same spot as his, only difference being that mine was caused by age and arthritis and his by work. I could tell by the look on the doctor’s face that he was not happy to hear how the other doctor had put my neighbor back to work even after the MRI clearly showed the bulging disc. My neighbor and I both expressed our puzzlement at the other doctor.
We left with prescriptions for PT and an epidural shot that have to be approved by the workers comp adjuster, whom the nurse said is usually quite prompt in processing such paperwork.
When I was working, I was a manager who had many personnel out on workers comp leave. I was also a member of the board of a joint insurance fund for municipalities to share in managing such risks. In both jobs we unfortunately had to deal with employees and their lawyers who abused the system. We even had to hire private investigators to track and film employees working on other jobs while supposedly recovering from injuries on the municipal worksite.
So yesterday was an eye-opener for me. I saw the other side of the system where a doctor seems to ignore clear signs of disabling injuries in order to minimize the costs of these injuries to an employer and his insurance company. I was thankful that we have laws that require this kind of protection for a worker and his family, even at the expense of abuse by a few others. And I was thankful that my neighbor finally got to the right doctor.
P.S. It also helped that my neighbor is a legal permanent resident. I dread to think of what his situation would have been if he’d been injured while working off the books.