Back Pain - My Experience with Workers Compensation, Lawyers, Disability
I am 38 years old, suffering with excruciating lower back pain for 5 years. Pain in the back was tolerable in the beginning, but now it is horrible. I love my wife and three children and I tried to express my sufferings due to the back ache to my family, but they never took it very seriously nor did they understand the magnitude of my problems due to back pain. Intense lower back pain was intolerable and often I had pathetic expressions and unfriendly gesture causing misunderstanding among my extended family members and friends.
Prior to my back pain, life was good. I had graduated from high school and I enjoyed working outdoors. I cut the grass, did landscaping and later worked delivering groceries to food store. After 12 years of manual work I got a job as a store supervisor in one of the local grocery store. I worked for 3 years at same grocery store. I was paid well and had medical insurance. I got married when I was 25 year old. My wife worked part time on and off. We went on holidays, visited families. We took kids on vacation; we drove long distance and spent our family time together like average American families. We were happy as a family. We just had bought small house and we were paying mortgage with my salary and also we were able to take one or two small vacations a year.
Few days after my 33rd birthday, I fell at work while carrying heavy object on my shoulder. Initially I felt sudden severe jolting lower back pain with weakness in left leg. I knew I had work related back injury. I reported the fall to manager of the store and kept doing the table work. I thought I would be fine in couple of hours. I went home, though I had difficulties to sit and drive. I was restless and eager to go to bed. After dinner I went to bed and I could not lie flat on bed because of increase intensity of lower back pain. I had to either sit or stand to prevent severe excruciating pain associated with tingling in my leg. I was afraid to go to emergency room. I had heard horrible stories about emergency room. Patient had to wait several hours to see doctor to get evaluated for lower back pain. Patient will not be treated for back injury unless hospital gets approval from insurance company to evaluate and treat lower back pain caused by back injury. I was afraid if insurance companies refused to pay, I might be responsible for several thousand dollars of unpaid medical bills.
Around 10 pm I was unable to tolerate my lower back pain. We had to call my sister in law to look after our children and my wife had to drive me to ER. I was asked to wait to get admitted for several hours. Admitting clerk was trying to find which insurance company would be responsible for payment of all my treatment. It was impossible to solve the problem as it was already 11.00 pm and neither workers compensation insurance agent nor medical insurance agents were available. I was in waiting room lying on gurney until 8.00 am, but I was given pain medication.
I wanted to get better, go back to work, pay my mortgage and take at least one vacation with my family. I completed all task and followed all instructions given by a doctor, nurse, worker’s comp adjuster and any one who had anything to do with my treatment or injury coverage.
I agreed for medications, physical therapy and injection treatment. I had several visits to insurance doctors who are also called independent medical advisor (IMA) and nurse appointed by insurance company. When all treatment failed, I was asked to see a neurosurgeon. Surgeon had suggested to me that I had serious problem and need surgery. IME doctor, insurance nurse and insurance adjuster agreed with surgeon and wanted me to consider surgery. I was afraid that bad thing might happen after surgery. I was told if I denied surgery then I may loose worker’s comp insurance. I wanted to go back to work, but I knew I would not be able to work. I was afraid of surgery. I had heard all bad stories about surgeries and complications after surgeries.
I felt world is collapsing around me. Quality of life due to back pain had gone down considerably. I had to stop doing all the activities that I used to enjoy prior to back injury and the back ache that followed. Worker’s compensation insurance was compensating my monthly wages. I was making now 60% of my regular income. Wages calculated by workers comp were lower than the salary I was paid for 40 hours. I was unable to pay mortgage. I was asked to vacate my house, which was very humiliating for me and my family. Secondary effect of back pain was that it caused psychological problems as well. I would have been on the street or admitted in lunatic hospital if it was not for my wife. I never thought I would be staying home popping pills, while my wife doing all work and keeping up part time job.
I have no words to express my gratitude to her for supporting me and my children during this challenging phase of our life due to that back injury of mine.
I was unable to attend any school events and sporting activities of my children. I was depressed. I was unable to think normal with all the drugs floating in my brain. I was dependent on pain medications to feel better. I was doped with narcotics. Not taking pain pills would render me in severe pain, I felt I was useless without pain medications. I had never looked at my watch when I was working. But after the fall at work which led to back injury, my attention would only be at the watch, waiting for 4 hours to pass by so I can take my next pain pills.
Eventually I decided to go for surgery. I felt reasonably pain free for 3 months after surgery. I was ready to go to work. My wife and children’s were happy. We planned to buy another house once I go back to work. But, my pain slowly started creeping up. It was 4 months since surgery. I started feeling weak in my leg. After 6 months I was in intense pain, dragging my leg and I was unable to lift my leg. Insurance nurse, doctor and adjuster felt I was acting. I heard a word malinger during my visit with IME insurance doctor. I looked into dictionary for word malingerer and I cried. I had never cried even after surgery or when I lost my house. Tears were pouring out of my eyes because now I was considered a liar. I am not a liar. I was advised multiple investigations by a surgeon who had operated on me. I was in pain and symptoms were getting worse. I was treated like a malingerer. I was humiliated and insulted. I felt like a beggar. I was begging to get better and begging to get treatment, so that I can go back to work.
Neurosurgeon who had performed surgery wanted me to consider another surgery. Surgery was indicated to prevent permanent nerve damage and hopefully get better. Surgery was involving insertion of plate, nail and wires in my back. I was scared of surgery. I was also afraid of permanent nerve damage. I decided to consider surgery. I had to go through several investigations as suggested by neurosurgeon just to evaluate surgical procedure.
Workers comp was getting tired of my phone calls and annoyed with cost of my treatments. My wife was also involved in calling worker’s comp since my monthly check was discontinued. Finally worker’s comp representative advised me to consult attorney. I met Lawyer and I was advised to sign several papers. I was unable to read or concentrate because of pain and medications. I was scared. I had nothing to lose except compensation. I was least worried about compensation. I was more worried about my treatment and cost of treatment. I was not sure whom to trust. I wanted to get better; I wanted to feel normal for all my remaining life.
I was becoming a burden on my family. My in laws and brother in laws were helping us for daily expenses. I had nothing, no medical insurance, and no monthly wages. Workers compensation shut me down on the ground that my case is under dispute since I had lawyer. I felt everything was going according to workers comp plan, since I was forced to get lawyer. Next, I was dropped from all services. Nurse hired by worker’s compensation suggested every thing was to teach me a lesson. Lesson for what? I was the one who was suffering with lower back pain. I was the one who had back injury while at work. My life was ruined. My wife and my children all were affected because of my problems with back. I was labeled as a malingerer and a drug addict.
After several trips to lawyer and independent medical doctor I was allowed to go for spinal fusion surgery. I prayed morning, afternoon and evening. I prayed to get better, I prayed to help me to go back to work, I wanted my last job. I wanted medical insurance and weekly salary. I wanted to take vacation with my family. I was hopeful that my last chance of getting better would work for good.
Now, it is 2 years since my spinal fusion surgery. I was considered permanently disabled due to back pain. I received compensation from worker’s comp for just about $ 130,000. I paid 1/3rd of this amount to lawyer as a percentage of compensation. In addition I had to pay for all incidental expenses, which were $ 34,000 as per contract. I was left with $ 53,000 after paying my lawyer $ 77,000. I was eligible for disability. I was getting $ 830 per month as disability benefits. My pain was now worse than before surgery.
I can walk only with walker. I cannot go up on any steps because of pain and severe weakness in left leg. I cannot stand for more than 5 to 10 minutes. I cannot walk even a ½ block. I tried almost all pain medications. I was dependent on pain medications. I was found unconscious several times at home. I had several warning from my wife to stop medications. I wanted to stop medications, but I had no tolerance to anything around me. I was afraid without pain medications I might loose my temper. I felt with medication at least I was quiet and sober. Now, we are staying in small rented apartment. I stopped all medications. I am living my miserable life with my time schedule. I sleep when I am tired and I eat when I am hungry.
Pain wakes me up at night, but I still avoid taking pain medications. My back is killing me, muscle spasms are driving me nuts, and I am uncomfortable if I stand, sit or lie down. Trust me, I am not a malingerer nor am I a liar or a drug seeker.
I remember all the promises given to me regarding pain relief. I remember all instructions given to me regarding pain medications, physical therapy, injection treatment and surgery, which were eventually unable to relieve my lower back pain. I will not forget the circus created by workers comp, lawyers and independent medical evaluators. I trusted professionals and followed their advice. What do I get? More pain, no job, no home. Despite having both legs and hands in perfectly working conditions, good eye sight and hearing abilities, this back pain of mine has led me to live a life of a disabled at a young age of 38 years. I really hope and pray that my kids or friends should not go through what I am going through in my life.