Really? This Is How I Go Out?

When I first became sick, way back in 2003, I never dreamed I wouldn’t get well and return to my career as a Pediatric Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant. After all, I only had a virus…A virus that entered through my mouth migrating it’s way into my brain! From the beginning of my career, though, I caught every single virus or bacterial infection from either the children I worked with, my own children, or my co-workers. My work was very ‘up close and personal’, as many of the children had very low muscle tone. They lacked the ability to sit unassisted, hold their heads up, or even difficulty with swallowing. With this type of low muscle tone, can come drooling. It never bothered me, I guess because my own children drooled on me? It just happened sometimes. Of course, I washed my hands, almost obsessively at work, but I still got sick. I tried working in exam gloves, but my hands sweat profusely!, It ran out and down my arms after just a few minutes. I’d try to work wearing a mask, but I felt as if I couldn’t breathe! I don’t know how doctors and health professionals do it…

When I was sick, though, it might appear I was attempting to ‘one up’ everyone then, by a simple cold turning into Bronchitis or Pneumonia. A stomach bug that lasted 24 hours for everyone else, would last 48 hours for me. I missed work, a lot of work the first two years. I had Pneumonia twice in that amount of time, with a Pneumonia vaccine! My doctor said this wasn’t normal, of course, and ordered tests. This would have been in the mid-90’s (yes, that long ago!) and it showed my immune system was stressed to the point I couldn’t fight off infection well enough. This doctor was a Pulmonologist, but also an Immunologist. He told me there was a medicine used for Acid Reflux (Tagamet) had a ‘side effect’ of improving one’s Immunity. There’s a side-effect I could live with! So, I was now on 3 prescription medicines and I was only in my mid-40’s! I think it helped me…a little…maybe?

There were other medical ‘issues’ that affected my work. Such as the time I worked an unusually long 14 hour day. One of the O.T.’s and I had a Life Skills Group that was so much fun! We taught cooking, cleaning, ironing, grooming, Social Skills and more. When the group ‘graduated’, it was also a banquet for their parents. They had cooked the meal, set up and decorated the room, then served their parents’ dinner. Somehow, at clean up time, most had disappeared, thus the very long work day. I’d been on my feet all day, again, very unusual. When I did finally get home, I took off the Doc Martins I’d worn. I got up to shower and as soon as weight was put on my right foot, I collapsed! WTF? I’d felt something ‘pop’ and my foot was killing me, immediately swelling. I hobbled into the shower, then got into bed to raise, wrap and ice my foot. In the morning, I called work, then went to the doctor. By now, I couldn’t bear weight on it at all, so Mike ‘piggy-backed’ me inside. Xrays showed my arch had collapsed! What? Yep, I had 6 broken bones, all 5 of the Metatarsals and the Sigmoid (a tiny bone under the big toe joint)! I broke down crying as they cast my foot then gave me crutches with a no weight bearing status for 6 weeks.  Crutches and I do not get along…Kudos to those who are able to use them, but that means they’re in better physical shape than me! There’s a lot of energy used in getting around with crutches. I thought of the children I worked with that depended on crutches and were thrilled to use them… Me? I used an extra wheelchair at work and did my job like that for 6 weeks.

As you see, I’ve had more ‘stuff’ happen to me/my family than the average person. Continuing my career took more sacrifice than I planned…in the end, too much sacrifice. It took my life in many ways, as I’ve been unable to work in my profession since 2007. I left work and never went back. I planned to ‘rest up’. I planned to eat well, exercise, and get back my health. I planned on going back. Once I was ‘me’ again. It never happened. Yet, I’ve thought about work (there) and all those children every single day since. Although the children I worked with aren’t children. They’ve grown into the wonderful, independent, and beautiful young adults now. Some reconnected with me through Facebook and have told me how much I ‘did’ for them…Few people are as lucky as I was and LOVE their jobs the way I did, I know that. I should be happy with my memories, but I’m not. I’m going through a grieving period, again…

Today, the 16th is my birthday…big whoopie…The year I was diagnosed, with all that God awful testing, was on my birthday. This birthday, my professional license will lapse. On some level, I grieved this when I went on Disability for my Vestibular Disorder, but now that I won’t/can’t renew it…here comes my grief again! I say I can’t renew it, because since I left work in 2007, it seems the O.T. Licensing Board adopted some new Amendments. Adding to or amending the O.T. Laws and By-Laws isn’t unusual, and I don’t remember (Brain Fog?) reading when changes in options for Retirement Status were made. I’m sure I received notification and felt it irrelevant at that time. Remember? I was going to back to work… Regardless, there are changes. It seems, there IS no getting out of the profession unless you continue to pay dues and keep up with a lessened amount of Continuing Education. It came down to basics, it is just too expensive to keep my license. Oh, I wrote to the Board pleading my case, asking for clarification on Retirement Status policy. I received a ‘Robo-response’ type email, restating the changes, “Refer to Amendment such and such”. Really? I may have a Vestibular Disorder, but I can still READ! I wrote a second letter, going into more detail of how I became sick, was on Disability, etc. SAME response!

So, this is my final goodbye to a career I truly loved…American Occupational Therapy Association/AOTA, you, of all Professional Associations, need to acknowledge those of us who became sick, on the job and are now on Disability because of it.  I find it sad, a Profession that works with people who what? HAVE DISABITIES! Allow us to exit this wonderful profession holding our heads high, able to say, “I’m a Retired COTA”. I’m told, I can’t legally state this as of December 16th. According to them, I’m an OTA with a lapsed license. Where’s the pride in that? I will never be able to work as a COTA again. That’s not enough?

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