Apologies in advance for the lenght of this post - but you don't have to read it! Also - there are no pictures - so its a long post - hope you have enough stamina.
I thought I'd bring my blogging friends up to date with stuff as I've been a bit on the quiet side for a while. Its not that I didn't want to post - I was just more concerned at who else might be reading so i posted less and held back when I did post - being an employed person at a company that will use something that's 'in the public domain' against you.
Being off work for a while was inevitable after what I'd been through - and was held back even more when I had the second operation. Eventually, I was in a situation where I was being bombarded with phone calls, letters and visits from work - none of this could be shared with anyone because there was always a chance that it would be seen by someone who wanted to make menaces (is that a real phrase?)!
I eventually went back to work in September under duress and after discussing the situation with my Union rep, I went back because I was at the point that if I didn't, my contract was going to be terminated under the sickness capability policy and procedure. I'd had a major operation that is renowned in the medical profession for being one of the most difficult to recover from (this is written in medical papers and on-line journals etc), but that didn't matter - it was the policy that said I had to go back. So whether I'd had a cold, a broken leg, or 'stress', I was being treated with no consideration for the situation I found myself in.
As some of you know, I returned to work week commencing 6th September. I had to take my pillow with me so that I could try and sit comfortably. I only had to go in for one afternoon the 1st week, increasing to 2 afternoons the 2nd week. I barely made it through the first session of week 2. The HR Officer recognised how much pain I was in, and suggested I return to my doctor as it was clear for all to see - I wasn't fit enough to be at work. The Health and Safety Officer had been trying to set up my chair in a way that I would be as comfortable as possible. When he finished, he'd said to the HR Officer that I was clearly in a lot of pain. Well I'd been telling them that for months and as you all know - it didn't improve for a very long time. I ended up being off another 10 weeks.
During November, I felt in the frame of mind that I could start thinking about returning again because I'd had a couple of OK days - and you really know they're OK days when the others have been so rubbish.
The Dr. had changed my medication again to something called Pregabalin, and put me on the maximum dose (along with everything else I was taking too). I went back to see him and said that while I'd had a couple of OK days - I wanted more (being greedy like that). The pain consultant at the clinic had prescribed some morphine patches - well, he'd told my doctor that these were an option should I need them, so in order that I were able to return, he prescribed them.
I went back to work week commencing 15th December. After my first session where I did the housekeeping in my e-mail in-box, I just about got through it. However, I had to go back to the doctor asking him to increase the patch as I was back in pain. He did so and i was on 10mgs. I'd asked him to put on my return to work note that the medication might, and were having some side effects- but he didn't want to write that down because he said that my employers might not let me go back. Fair enough. I was experiencing a very dry mouth; memory recall problems, trouble stringing a sentence together, lack of focus, problems with remembering words for things. But my back was more comfortable - and I'd always promised myself I'd return when that felt OK and it wasn't on my mind 24/7.
Despite all the side effects - which I saw as 'pay-off' for no pain, I went back and on my very 2nd afternoon session on a phased return - I was forced to have an interview because they'd 'saved it' long enough while I went off again. So I sat in through the interview and did the best I could. The next time I was in the office was the following week for one afternoon. I had to have another job interview for another post I was ringfenced for. Again, I struggled to remember words, recall what I knew and relate my experience and answer questions. I'd been asked about some recent legislation the government had brought in - but I didn't have a clue. I'd been ringfence for a job that I had no experience in. Someone had seen fit to put me up for it. I didn't ask about the job because it didn't exist on the structure. It was literally a brand new post. I'd not heard about the previous interview I'd had and no one had given me the outcome of it.
A while after, I was called back to the interview room for feedback and outcome. Well, surprise surprise - I didn't get it. I was told that I couldn't answer questions they expected me to know. They said that I couldn't tell them about the legislation I'd been asked about - they'd checked with the Director and he told the panel that he'd provided me with all the information including about the post, the purpose of the post etc. Yes, I'd had the info - and I'd read it 3 times. I'd even been on the intranet and looked at the other policies that had an influence on the post - but I couldn't remember a single stitch. I couldn't even get basic words out, id have to ask and ask for the question to be repeated - it wasn't sinking in.
I went back to my desk, then went in with HR who informed me that I didn't get the first job either. I was gobsmacked. I asked if my current situation had been taken into account and whether the meds would be taken into consideration. She knew fully well how they were affecting me - she'd witnessed it on numerous occasions. She said they wouldn't take them into account. She then informed me that because I hadn't secured permanent employment from the ringfenced posts, I was now at risk and on the redundancy register. I told her I didn't want to be made redundant and that I'd stick around to see if anything came up. I had 12 weeks to secure a job.
In the meantime, I'd started to struggle more and more with joint pain - more than ever before. I had mentioned it to my GP on a couple of occasions, but he'd always said we needed to get the other pain under control and would only talk about the most important issue (my operation site and the nerve damage). He had however, referred me a couple of weeks before to the hospital to see the rheumatologist, because I'd told him that my mum had Osteo Arthritis and was being checked out for Inflammatory Arthritis too. Either it was that or the side effect of the medication I was on. I went, had my physical exam as well as providing family history. He said the good news was that it wasn't arthritis and it wasn't the side effects of the meds. He said I had something called Fibromyalgia and another condition called Joint Hypermobility Syndrome.
Explaining this he said that he'd asked me to do some manoeuvres to my thumb, legs, wrists, little finger (all a bit weird)... he then said if you are what people used to call double jointed, it meant that you could move your joints round further than normal and have more flexible joints. This explained a lot because when I was younger, my mum used to get me to show people my arms and look at how weird they were and how far I could bend them. Later in life, it hurt to move them like that anymore. Classic signs! He said that dancers and sportsmen and women trained their bodies to be that flexible. I was unfortunate that I was born like it. Basically, your joints are flexible because they naturally over produce collegen. Because they've been flexible when you were younger can be an advantage but later in life - you could end up with pain in them - this becomes the 'sydrome'. Simply having flexible joints is called Joint Hypermobility. I don't fully understand it and need to read more about it. All I do know is that its painful and my knee's feel like an old persons when they need a knee replacement. Only mine isn't 100% of the time. Its unpredictable. I might go to bed OK, then the next morning, its bad again. When this is so, I have to walk downstairs one step at a time.. Its hard to tell which leg should be the lead leg as they're both as bad.
Went to work and told HR Officer about my diagnosis and whether it would or could be taken into account in the interviews, after all, other colleagues were registered disabled because of the condition and got preferential treatment (certain concessions under the DDA) - because they were all registered disabled and I'm not. The officer said because they weren't aware before the interview that I had these conditions, they couldn't be taken into consideration. My argument was that I didn't just develop the condition over night. I still had the condition despite not having had a diagnosis before the interview - (although it was suspected). What can you do?
The next few weeks I was struggling terribly. My back was OK - which left other pains being able to come to the fore. If that makes sense. I hardly felt any other pains when I had my back pain at its worst. However, once that was under control, it 'allowed' other pain to be felt.
I was struggling to get out of bed - and I don't mean in terms of "oh no, I don't want to get up" - I mean physically. I literally had to drag myself to the edge holding onto the edge of the mattress so I could swing my legs out. Once out - I couldn't stand up straight, then struggle to walk to the bathroom. I was (and still am) like an old woman, all bent and slow. It was a good job I was only there for half a day because I wouldn't have made it very well in the morning, but I knew that it was inevitable I'd have to go in when it was morning some time because a phased return doesn't last forever - usually 6 weeks. However, it seemed that because I was on the 'risk register', I was allowed to go in the afternoons only on my phased return and while I was struggling - it later dawned on me that I really didn't have to go in at all if I was on notice - so I was doing the favour.
I wasn't well. Each time I was at work, I'd be in the office of the HR Officer sobbing. Sobbing with pain; because I felt like I'd been treated unfairly; and basically because I wasn't well. At one point, I was placed with a team that needed some help. I sat with an officer who i'd never really had a lot of time for before (i wasn't alone there). She gave me some work and I apologised because I warned her beforehand that I may have to keep asking her to explain what I needed to do as I wouldn't be able to remember (It was only bloody filling at that too)... I explained it was the medication that was causing problems with my memory - and being in the situation I was in - my lack of confidence. She piped out - "I wish I could blame all my mistakes on my tablets"! She's not know for her tact and diplomacy. Nontheless, this insensitivity upset me because I was already feeling low having to work with her in the first place. And the only reason I was there at all was because I hadn't secured a post through the ringfenced interview process.
During my daily meeting with the HR officer (she was my only contact really because I basically had no line-manager, no team, no purpose and no job). Struggling as I had been, I asked if I would be able to put annual leave in rather than call in sick if I ever needed to (testing the ground) because I didn't want to affect the sickness figures again- and i didn't want to put myself at risk of triggering one of the trigger points in the sickness policy. However, I was told that annual leave couldn't be used because it masks genuine sickness which should be recorded and monitored. I did accept her point as that the organisation would rather staff use their annual leave entitlement to have a proper break from work. I don't think it was sold like that in a staff conference, but that was basically the reason.
By now, I was on the verge of calling in sick, but was afraid that it would again put me at risk under the terms of the sickness policy and procedure. I was informed that any further absense would be picked up where it was left off last time - and before, the procedure was progressed as far as the point of termination - thats why I returned in September.
On Friday 10th December, I couldn't take it any longer. After speaking with someone in a department that I been sent to help out in she kind of explained it from her point of view. I'd never met her before that afternoon - so she looked at the situation for what it was, with no bias toward or against me. I came to the conclusion that I couldn't carry on. I was in chronic pain, the tablets were having a terrible affect on me and I was just simply going through the motions by being at work. Who was to say that if a suitable post came up and i did get another interview that I'd be able to get through it, afterall - things weren't getting any better? Also, what if I did get a secure permanent job. I was still in the same position health wise, plus, if I still ended up going off sick (which was inevitable), I'd be finished under sickness capability with nothing.
I also realised that - to say I'd worked there for a long time (13+ years), I hadn't received much support - I'd not witnessed this 'caring employer'... Did I really want to challenge things (I had a right to challenge the reason why I ended up on the redundancy register by writing to the CEO - I had a reasonable case and a good arguement). So, I'd made up my mind... I was taking the redundancy. This would give me the stress free, pressure free opportunity to put my health first, take time to recover and to feel like I wasn't looking over my shoulder all the time.
After discussing the issue over the weekend with the OH and my boys, they were in full support of me taking the redundancy package. My mum was happy too and said it was important that I now take care of myself. My health had to come first. We'd survive, we'd manage. I know for sure that wouldn't have managed if I had another 37 hours a week job; one afternoon was traumatic and painful enough.
I informed the HR officer the following Monday (13th December) when I phoned in to say I'd got an appointment with the pain clinic - and because of my new recent diagnosis I really wanted to speak with the consultant. I also wanted to speak about the medication I was on and to see if they envisaged me being on these amount of meds long term - how on earth could someone survive on that amount of medication. It seemed that they could - and indicated that I would be.
My decision was received with surprise; well shock actually, but the officer fully understood. The biggest weight ever was lifted off my shoulders in a nano second. I can't explain how that felt. Mentally at least it had made a massive difference.
I asked if things could be taken care of right away as I wanted to confine the redundancy to 2010. I didn't want it to drag on into 2011 because I wanted to leave all the negative things behind. So the last time I went into work was 10th December. My last official day of employment was 31st December.
1st January - in with the new. Start off on a positive note and hope it continues in a similar vein.
I'm really happy with my decision. It was the right one for me and my health and it was the right one in terms of the fact that I made the decision to leave and I walked away with a package. The day after the pain clinic, I went to the doctor who signed me off straight away. It was such a relief because I didn't have to worry about the procedure anymore. How terrible is it that the sickness absence policy which is basically written to manage those employees who aren't genuine put so much pressure on me and brought me so much grief. A policy where 'one size fits all' doesn't differentiate between someone off with 'stress' or a broken leg - or indeed someone who's had a major surgery because of a tumor??? How can one policy try and cover so many different things. How can there be no sensibility applied to genuine cases. It messes with performance figures thats why.
Anyway, I'm now officially a lady of leisure. (in my dreams).
The even better news? As you know I applied for the Funky Hand Design Team to join Anice as a Funkette, and was successful; I've got 2 Brides-to-Be looking for me to do their wedding stationery for their summer weddings, and I completed the stationery for my friends wedding stationery who married on 28th December.
Everything looked absolutely stunning. I had loads of her family and friends coming up to me asking me if I was 'the lady who did the stationery'. The brides sister has also asked for my details as someone she works with is interested.
Watch this space for more details. I have my diary and files and folders ready and a little system Iin place, so am really hoping it takes off. I need a name for my new venture - so if anyone out there has any ideas - please leave it in a comment as I want to make some business cards and flyers and need to get cracking.
Well, that was long winded and I suppose I could have made it much shorter - but that just wouldn't be me now, would it??? Forgive any bad grammar - i'm really tired at the moment and have almost fallen to sleep on a couple of occasions while writing this.
Thank you for sticking with it if you did get this far. I really do mean thank you. Also, I apologise if this isn't as interesting as you might have anticipated it to be!
I AM NO LONGER JUST A NUMBER!!!
P x x x