Patient response to our first blog post has been strong, and there are many more stories to be shared.
Carl Barker, a professional truck driver, was injured when a lever under an axle wouldn’t unlock; he strained his right side when he physically forced the axle’s release. He ignored the injury for six weeks, believing that it was a just pulled muscle, but it turned out that he’d torn his rotator cuff and several tendons needed to be reattached. It took him nearly two years to find a doctor who was willing to take his workers’ compensation case, and to have the surgery approved by his insurance provider.
Regrettably, his surgery was unsuccessful, and his pain actually increased immediately afterward. When endocet (the generic form of Percocet) brought little relief, he was prescribed Nucynta, but because it wasn’t available in a generic form, he felt that the insurance company “dragged their feet” when it was time to refill the prescription. (The generic prescription, by comparison, was filled very quickly.) While his case was being reviewed over several painful weeks, he had to cut his existing supply of Nucynta pills in half to make them last longer. To deal with the intense pain, he resorted to supplementing the half dose of Nucynta with the leftover endocet. He went through a difficult medication withdrawal during this period, and suffered a great deal of stress while waiting for his case to be reviewed.
Over time, Carl came to the conclusion that “they take advantage of your not knowing.” After much frustration over the next year and a half, he realized that he needed to hire a lawyer. A turning point for him was reading up on the subject, and the book that was most helpful was California Workers’ Comp: How To Take Charge When You’re Injured On The Job, by attorney Emily Doskow. He highly recommends that other wounded workers read this as early in the process as possible, to better understand their rights and work to avoid the kinds of delays and unnecessary pain he had to endure.
Scott Morrison, a former cement worker, broke his collarbone at work. He had to wait four months for his workers’ compensation insurance to approve an epidural in his neck to relieve the pain. He was prescribed Percocet, but found the pills too much of a roller coaster. He was then prescribed a different pain medication with a steady 12-hour release, but his insurance denied it the last two times it was prescribed. He, too, felt he had little recourse but to wait in pain.
Another long-distance truck driver (who asked that her name not be used) was injured in an eighteen-wheeler after a brake failure. She was gaining speed down a highway with a 7% grade, and used the runaway truck ramp to stop the vehicle. On a stretch of highway infamous for its big rig casualties, she felt lucky to have come away from the brake failure with her life, and only a few injuries to her neck, shoulders and mid-back.
She was prescribed the muscle relaxer Flexeril; immediately the insurance adjuster sent her a letter saying that she had only 30 days to recover, and that her prescription would not be refilled. She was alarmed that she was on deadline to heal, and the stress this deadline caused was counterproductive. Shortly thereafter, when her insurance company reorganized and decided that her physician was no longer in network, she received a letter saying essentially that she had four days to secure acceptance by an in-network doctor or her entire case would be dismissed. She was not given appropriate legal notice (21 days, by law), nor was she provided a list of named physicians to choose among, nor was her lawyer copied on the letter. These are basic patient rights under California law; it appears that the insurance company tried to close her case, working under the mistaken assumption that she was ignorant of her rights. (This happened in spite of the fact that she’d already informed her insurer that she had hired a lawyer, and given them his complete contact details so that they could work together.)
How many are accepting the fate of quietly living in pain after being wounded at work? Let’s hear more patients writing in. Email Paula@WoundedWorker.org with a brief outline of your patient experience or to request a phone interview. We’d be pleased to hear from you, report your story, and work to better the outcomes for others. Thank you.