Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Heart It's Sight

When you look at me now, you would not guess that one morning I woke up paralyzed on my left side, blind in one eye, and barely able to speak. I look normal now. I don't look like someone who spent weeks in the hospital and months relearning how to walk, talk, and think. For many years I have been very proud that I recovered from my brain injury enough to pass as a normal person to the public. But there is another side of a visible recovery that many people don't see.

I have spent over a decade practicing little strategies every day that keep me looking functional. If I don't have a strategy, I ignore it or try to downplay it. 

1. My entire left side has dulled feeling. It's like I have a layer of latex coating my skin, organs and muscles. If I am handling a knife or am around a fire, I need to keep my eyes on my left side, I can't multi-task. I don't know how badly I injure myself. Securing a seatbelt when I am on the passenger side of a car is hard too. My family knows enough to offer to help. It depends on how I'm feeling driving with others if I ask for help. I have gone without a seatbelt to avoid the feeling of shame in asking for help.

2. Since I was paralyzed on my left side, the entire weight of my left arm was hanging from my shoulder for a week. That week stretched out my shoulder tendons and ligaments so my left arm does not sit correctly in the shoulder socket. I avoid dancing to YMCA and keep heavy items on lower shelves. I also have difficulty putting on my bra and blow  drying my hair. I always put coats on left arm first.

3. Cognitively I still have a high IQ and can learn things quickly. My memory is not what it used to be. Before I order coffee, I need to rehearse it in my head so when I order it, I look like I am reciting something someone else told me. Sometimes when I am asked to remember a particular detail about something, it's like my memory is of an empty suit jacket. I can remember where I was, what the page looks like, the scene around me but not the actual thing I need to know. The more I try to find it in my memory, the farther away it gets. I have trouble writing capital E's as well. I also sometimes completely forget to rinse off my left side in the shower.

4. Motor skills bounced back really quickly for me after my injury but recently my doctor informed me that I relearned how to walk when I was 24 and now that my body is aging, I might need to pay more attention. I was very upset hearing this but I had just told my doctor that I felt like one leg was shorter than the other so learning to walk in a 38 year old body is the better option!

There are many other OCD like rituals I have to keep it together and this is what they mean when they say that you really never recover fully from a brain injury. It's not the end of the world but it is a daily reminder.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Anxiety Hill


If you have ever grappled with anxiety and live in the Boston area, this winter is like Guadalcanal, the Battle of the Bulge, and Stalingrad combined. (Can you tell I'm a history major?) How can a human being with unique brain chemistry cope with three weeks of snow storms?

Well, for storm #1, Juno, freak the fuck out. Buy every grocery item you could possibly need, fill up your heating oil, buy a new shovel, and research how to use planting pots to heat a room. Because the memory of Nemo from 2013 is fanning the anxiety flames in your mind. What if I'm stranded again? What if I lose heat and power again? What if a water pipe bursts again? The night before the storm, cook up a bunch of meals that could be eaten warm or cold. Then remember that before you were medicated or done therapy, you had bought a Red Cross emergency pack stuffed to the gills with survival gear. That is when the rushing thump of blood in your ears starts to get quieter.

Quincy received 3 feet of snow in two days Tuesday and Wednesday. I chose to park on the street not in the driveway because my landlady’s son was out of town. He sometimes plows the driveway and other times yells at us for asking for plowing. After I had my car accident with neck and back injuries, my request for plowing help was met with a, “I don’t run a home” response from him. Class Act. My workplace was closed for two days. We didn't lose power thanks to the snow being fluffy but the winds were howling. The new shovel I bought is great but the mouth is two feet wide so you wind up lifting a lot more snow than you are used to. So I hurt my back in my first round of shoveling. I also chatted with a neighbor from down the street who brought up another anxiety I grapple with. Neighbor lives with an elderly person with medical issues and our street was so bad, emergency vehicles would never be able to make it to his house. I know it is very unlikely that the stars would align for me having a second stroke during a blizzard but that possibility haunts the back of my mind. I have nothing to fight that anxiety.

The people who live in my building have all been incredibly helpful. Second floor guy shovels and salts the driveway. First floor couple shoveled out my car during Juno. I baked Thank You cookies and gave them a card. Juno was very bearable thanks to them, power, fluffy snow, work closing, and copious amounts of French toast.

The next week Monday we got a foot of snow. Work was not closed so I had to take a personal day since my street was impassable. Again amazing shoveling teamwork from all. There also is a guy on my street who owns a plow and he basically cleans up our street since Quincy just sends a front loader once. Everyone keeping up with the snow math? We're up to 4 feet of snow.

The next day, the entire train system for Boston was a wreck so work was delayed until 11:00. I got on a train at my usual stop around 10:00. The trip on a normal day would take thirty minutes to get to Boston. I sat down and noticed a lot of unhappy faces and grumbling. So I asked my seatmate what train was it. It was the 6:00 AM departure train! It had taken them four hours to travel seven stops. The train did not move for an hour and then we were asked to de-train. In theory another train was coming to pick us up. I called into work and took another Personal Day. Annoyance trumped anxiety for this round. Commute annoyance and not having a work from home option.

This past Monday and Tuesday, Quincy got over 2 feet of snow. My landlady's son plowed over my only snow shovel in the middle of the storm. The bright orange shovel. This is when I started to feel the crazies creep in. I had no tools to get out and there was nowhere to put the snow. I started imagining using Tupperware as snow scoops. Second floor neighbor drove out to buy a shovel. We had been sharing my orange shovel since his had broken.  For those playing along, this puts Quincy at 6 feet of snow.

Since I take the train into work, my commute has been a mess for two weeks. I'm lucky when it's under two hours. I have to admit the Commuter rail passengers have kept my spirits up. Lots of nice chats with strangers and a level of exhaustion combined with a dark sense of humor. The subway passengers are either awesome or complete assholes. A lady was shoving into me as I got into a packed subway car tonight bitching about how she had been waiting longer and I have no right blah blah blah. I took a step out of the car and said, "Well, you win. Have a nice Valentine's Day." After that, an awesome gal on the platform complimented me on my response and we joked around a bit.

Today all the 6 feet of snow weighed me down and amped up every worry ever. I had to have a good cry in the bathroom at work to feel relief. Why? Because we're supposed to get another foot of snow Sunday!! That is 7 feet of snow in total. Yeah, "May you live in interesting times" is definitely a curse.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The Honeymoon is Over

For two months I looked forward to work, smiled all day, and enjoyed each opportunity for learning. I'm sure I drove my co-workers nuts. I'm starting month 3 now and here's the thing...

1. No one ever gets fired no matter how poorly they do their job.
2. No one tries. This past week I have been correcting two years worth of errors.
3. My first week on the job, half of my department informed me they are actively looking for jobs elsewhere.
4. Some of my co-workers are thieves and violent offenders (In HR having access to everything can be kinda horrifying).
5. My salary is $20K below market. In fact, the higher the salary the more inept the employee - work riddled with errors and lack of basic knowledge (ie math or weeks in a year).
6. And yet the benefits are amazing
7. This could be a lifer job.

Eyes are wide open now. I am still happy and grateful to have a job and enjoy the kind of work. But I think to survive I'll need to stop caring and being surprised with each example of idiocy I encounter. The two years of errors I corrected this week found over $80K for the company. And I'm sure my supervisor does not care. I don't even think he knows my name.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

MA Health Connector, No Brain Cells

YOU CANCELLED MY HEALTH INSURANCE!!!!! I can't wait until Charlie Bakers guts the entire agency.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Whispering Eye: MA Health Connector

This is venting and I hope after writing this, I will feel better.

My new job does not provide health insurance for the first ninety days. MA Health Connector cancelled my individual purchased health insurance September 30. That didn't stop them from cashing my October premium payment. My health insurance was cancelled because my documentation for a qualifying event was incomplete. After a frantic phone call, I found out I should have submitted a particular letter stating my COBRA coverage was cancelled. It would have been really nice to have known that or any kind of instructions. I also requested a refund of my October premium.

I could submit a waiver application form to the OPP. Yes, I always giggled inside saying or hearing that because you know me. I submitted the 10 page document mid October. Meanwhile, a 1 month prescription refill of generics cost me $142.00. MA Health Connector still had my October premium money. Too bad. That could have helped pay for medication that helps me live.

Further into this Kafkaesque shitstorm, I got my waiver approved. So I called to see how I could get my health insurance back. Another paperwork submission requirement. 1 the letter they sent me saying they cancelled my insurance and 2 the letter they sent me the day before for my waiver approval. I guess MA Health does not keep records or own a photocopier. Benefit reinstatement paperwork was faxed over October 23.

Since I'm a shitstorm veteran, this week I called to check if they received my reinstatement paperwork and where was my October premium refund. This is the part where I wanted to be able to throttle someone over the phone. My refund request had not been submitted and it would take 60 to 90 days. They did not receive my reinstatement paperwork. Once the rage blackout subsided, I filed a complaint with the Attorney General's office. The same day I was put in touch with Healthcare For All. They are angels amongst us. They work to get people healthcare by being advocates and pulling strings at MA Health Connector. The next day, HCFA got my refund pushed up to a Nov. 15 disbursement. Getting my health insurance reinstated will be another battle. One month tax penalty thanks to MA Health Connector. 

I was a supporter of Obamacare but now I hate it. Open enrollment periods are horrible. The way it used to be was you could contact insurers directly and buy from them. MA Health Connector was just a site with a list of premium rates. Now, it's a call center full of "workers" who have no idea what they're doing. If you miss the open enrollment, you can expect the above and I really hope you won't get sick or injured.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

47 Days

Work has been going very well. I've gotten up to speed enough that I can do some regular tasks and can lighten the workload from my fellow analysts. I am very happy and look forward to work most days. I am one of 3 analysts plus a senior analyst. Basically, we control and update all personnel data in Peoplesoft running reports for benefits,compensation, job structure, and EEO requests. I'm getting heavily trained in benefits which I've really enjoyed. Now those paycheck deductions make a lot more sense to me!

was able to settle into a commute that gives my knees a break and allows a bit of flexibility. I drive to a Greenbush commuter stop 6 miles away. I just need my car involved in my commute. It helps me feel more productive and in control. The walking to the bus routine with the walking downtown had me wrapping and icing my knees at night. Plus, I found out that I get nauseous standing on a moving bus. So commuter rail is win win for me. I usually get a seat in the mornings. Also how awesome is it that there's an app for parking? No more tightly folded $1 bills. And the T on Time app is really handy for South Station track information. Sometimes relying on recognizing conductors isn't the best option. 

It's funny, I did not realize how my last job was such a poor fit until this job. Waking up without a pit of dread in my stomach is so nice. Getting learning disability accomodations was painless and I have been completely supported. Maybe because now I work in HR people understand how to work with people who need accomodations? At my last job, as an accountant, I was told I wasn't trying hard enough if I had trouble understanding something and I was penalized in my performance review for learning difficulties. In this job, if I say, "Okay I visualize X as an umbrella..." I have co-workers who tell me that's a good way to think of it and run with the visualization! That makes my heart sing.

I am the oldest in our little analyst group so it's a fun mix of me having more professional experience but lacking in specific job knowledge. Like I know how to compose an appropriate mass email, create a report with multiple ways to doublecheck the data, and can translate contract language into calculations. But how to troubleshoot that at my new job is where my fellow analysts come in. Heck, I am still learning the data fields in the foundation tables!

The only downside of being so happy is that it makes me friendly to strangers on the T. Which conflicts with the whole city rule "Don't talk to crazy." Thursday morning, I saw an older man being packed into the crush of everyone around the door area. He had a backpack on and was kinda in the way. I noticed there was an empty seat and told him "Sir, there's an empty seat over there." Then he replied with some crazy ramblings about my eagle eyes and how he's taking a sculpture class while heavily breathing on my neck. Next, I felt something hit me right in between my shoulder blades. It felt as hard and forceful as a kick or punch. The wind was knocked out of me and I gasped, "You hurt me." A nice guy allowed me to switch places with him to get away from Mr. Crazy Sculpture Man. I don't even know what happened but it hurt for a little over a day. I'll save my happy talking to sane people I know from now on. On the T, you won't even get eye contact or a smile from me.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

City Legs

I started my new job Downtown September 8. The weather was gorgeous and I had the best first day outfit. I had planned out my route on the T. What I didn't plan for was the bowels of hell heat at Park Street and how completely out of shape I was. Working in the suburbs can turn you soft as you sit in traffic and sit in your cubicle with the biggest walk you have is to the conference room. A sweaty face is fine but I have this weird sweat spigot in my neck hairline. No, I didn't take a shower, that's sweat thanks.

It was nice to have something else to worry about my first week. Which was really great. I like the people I work with and it felt like coming home the first time I logged into their Peoplesoft system. I had a lot of training and it's great how patient and open people are with my questions. Bitter aside -my old job looks like breaking rocks in a gulag compared to this new one.

The sweat problem has gotten much better after four days. Now, I just get a sheen or glisten in the morning. I'm also experimenting with my commute. The first week, I got the red line at North Quincy. So, that was $5 per day plus cost of gas. Work subsidizes fare. After a commute home where a drunk/crazy/mentally ill guy took out 2 people by falling and landed in a poor screaming lady's lap next to me, I started rethinking things. 

This week, I have been walking to a bus stop and catching the commuter rail at Quincy Center. This is my first time using the bus and I'm really impressed! On-time, friendly, clean, and I always get a seat. The commuter rail is fast and I can occasionally get a seat. The title of this post is from overhearing a lady on the train. It was good to hear someone else comment on ALL THE WALKING! I've been walking to South Station now for the evening commute. Quincy Center does not regularly have commuter rail stops but there are 3 lines going through: Greenbush, Lakeville/Middleborough, and Kingston. It's cool, very flexible, and slightly confusing. Too many options.