lunch coverage; an old axe

To: ———–, Nurse Manager 7L, 7B
From: Judi Goldberg
Date: Sept. 28, 2004
Subject: Lunch Coverage

————–, Director Cultural Competency and Diversity Program
————–, Director Behavioral Health Services
————–, Director Psychiatric Nursing Operations
————–, Chief Department of Psychiatry
————–, Deputy Chief Department of Psychiatry

The inconvenience of individual differences and not wholly interchangeable parts, in this time of doing more with less, has cost us compassion; an awesome price for nurses.

I am a nurse–a mastered prepared clinical specialist with 28 years experience which includes opening (and being the nurse manager) of a free standing psychiatric unit, teaching psychiatric nursing in a community college, precepting nursing students, mentoring new graduates and newly hired nurses without psychiatric experience, serving on a variety of hospital committees, consulting, and more than 20 years of bedside nursing–whose value is now being measured by a “can she cover for lunch” standard; an awesome price for patients.

The fact is, I cannot cover for lunch; I am disabled. No longer able to endlessly do more than two things at once, no longer able to metabolize the sum of ambient affect generated by the workings of an acute inpatient psychiatric unit; I cannot be in charge. I once was able to do it 12 hours a day, several days a week. Now I can not do it even for an hour.

I had a 2 CM acoustic neuroma surgically removed. It was a 14 hour operation during which the tumor was successfully excavated and my acoustic nerve was damaged, which has left me totally deaf in my right ear; my facial nerve was damaged, which has left me with right sided facial paralysis and weakness and my already damaged cochlear nerve was severed, which has meant learning a new set of skills with which to orient in space. But most notably, even four years later, it has left me with a limited and depletable fund of energy, and headaches which are related to both facial muscle weakness and adhesions at the surgical site.

In order to return to work it was necessary to accurately assess and acknowledge my limits and abilities. In order to preserve my job I was forced to apply for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. After a thorough review of my records and an appalling interview during which among other things Mr. ———, (ADA Coordinator) asked me if I was lying, I was granted dispensation: eight hours a day (on a twelve hour unit); twenty-four hours a week (though I’d been hired for 32) and no “charge nurse” responsibilities. It is the inability to carry out charge nurse duties which has caused the greatest stir, and has been the most difficult for others to believe, or perhaps, to understand. In as much as, in my role as a nurse, the inability to be in charge was particularly challenging for me to come to grips with, I understand the conceptual difficulty it has posed for my colleagues. However, four years later to still be asked can’t you just do it for an hour underscores an ignorance, a disrespect and a mean spiritedness which borders on cruelty. After all no one asks if they can whisper in my right ear just for a minute. Or, seeing my lopsided smile, asks if I would smile, like I used to, just for a second.

There is a blinding arrogance and an undeniable privilege that accompanies well-being and intact physical abilities which do not even for an hour suggest that one give thought to how fleeting and capricious health is. I remember my initial forays into the world of perfect human beings–those who weren’t called upon to wear their different abilities on their faces for the world to see. I remember the sidelong glances, the cocked heads, the pitying stares and I remember deciphering the language of I’d sure hate to look like that. At the same time, I remember knowing that if this was as good as it got, it was good enough; I was once again more than a brain tumor and able at last to participate in and enjoy the other aspects of my life.

When all is said and done, the greatest difference between those of you who still do not grasp why I cannot be in charge for even an hour and me, is that I have the courage of my abilities and the wisdom of my limits, and you are great pretenders. In the face of ever increasing demands, you pretend to do what you can not. I have the freedom of not being able to.

Please consider this notification that any (further) need to justify (my) limitations in the face of an already granted ADA accommodation is tantamount to harassment.


§ 10 Responses to lunch coverage; an old axe

  • Judi,
    This is absolutely incredible!
    This should be published everywhere!
    I am deeply, deeply touched.
    Softly contemplating,

  • Ralph Becker says:

    This letter should serve as an icepick to their ears. Except that those ears seem to have been preplugged.

  • Lindy Le Coq says:

    This helps me know those times in your life more deeply. It reveals also a health care system in distress. People who are overworked, wanting relief, will grab for it anywhere. Even when they know, intellectually, their request is out of bounds, their physical/emotional need overrides logic. Or maybe they were just ass holes.

    Years ago (though it could easily be today) a colleague, when asked how she was doing responded with this: “I feel like I’m in the middle of a fast flowing river, barely able to tread water, with just one nostril above the surface.”

    And it is this sort of stress that we providers of human services are subjected to and are expected to continue to provide regardless of budget cuts, increased hours, and decreased rewards. Survival mode behavior. Reminds us we are animals.

    One day I looked this Bozo in the eye and said: “I provide a public service, but I am not a servant. Good bye.” At least that’s how I remember it now!

    Eventually I will be vegetal, LL

    • judigoldberg says:

      i was known to say, if i’m going to be a prostitute i’ll choose the corner thank you very much. and yet for all of it, i loved nursing. until i didn’t, and then thankfully, i was able to retire…

  • Judi,
    I read this again, and again, I am struck with how absolutely excellent this is and important to be said. Thank you again, Cathy

  • Creighton Le Coq says:

    Oh Judi, people just don’t get it. “just for an hour?” NO. dis-ability – until it happens to YOU, you just don’t get it. So very well stated.

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