Repetitive Strain sets in… Workers Compensation continued! “Workers’ Comp” is a four part excerpt from my first book, Down and Out in California.
I have only three or four outfits that are appropriate for an office environment, and my head coverings don’t match any of them. My clothing is all polyester blends that I purchased at a discount store. I feel uncomfortable and odd in the long skirts and formal blouses. Sometimes I wear stockings and they chafe me as I use the pedals of the Dictaphone.
I look around the office and realize that most people are wearing the same. Asking around I find that no one thinks or knows about wearing natural fibers. I do, but I prioritize weed and spend most of my money on it, after rent. There’s nothing left over for smaller market choices.
I think about this, the artificial fibers, the artificial light, the artificial air, and all the building materials and dirty ventilation in the average office building – not to mention the smog.
I yearn for the country, for a break from the assault on my senses. Don’t understand what’s brought modern culture to this set of choices, where we all sit indoors all day engaging in repetitive strain and false exteriors. What happened to our dreams?
I bet no one here in this office wanted to grow up and work in workers’ compensation.
Today’s story has me typing about a man’s family who are suing the electric company after he was electrocuted and died on the job. He was a lineman, up in a bucket with two people, and the operator down below was a witness as well.
Something went wrong, something was unshielded that was supposed to be, it wasn’t a clear cut case of operator error. There are suits from two of the people who were with him, claiming mental and emotional damage from having to watch their coworker burn to death by voltage.
Part of the defense is that this man was addicted to methamphetamines. It’s still a cut and dry case of company negligence, whether or not he was high on the job it is clear that it was not employee error that caused the accident.
It makes a good case, though, to paint the claimant as a deadbeat drug addict. The proof of that goes further into members of his family who are trying to get the money, and are also involved in some way or another with the tweaker scene. I’m disgusted by the way the War on Drugs has reared its ugly head in this story, and as I type up the details I modify them to give him a stronger case. I never find out where that case ends, but I am proud of my small act of civil disobedience.
It’s not the first or last time I do that. Many of the depositions and notes mention the claimant’s use of marijuana. None of the things I type do. These are the only edits I actually make.
I am not a traitor to my kind.
The pain in my hands is throbbing. It’s affecting my work. I begin to drink massive amounts of coffee with artificial creamer and artificial sweetener, in small Styrofoam cups with red swizzle sticks. The coffee helps the pain in the hands and allows me to be more productive.
The coffee machine lives in the room with the IT guy, a sarcastic nerd who spends almost all of his time surfing the internet and playing video games, whether at home or at work. I befriend him and his girlfriend, a recovering bulimic model. I am in there often, talking to them between typing. It slows me down and allows me some extra weeks on the job.
With the one male secretary, a stereotypical innocent, ditzy blonde that works in the cubicle next to mine, we become a clique within the work environment. They are all younger than I am, but I enjoy the company. We hang out a bit outside of work, but the friendship ends up just being about the common work environment.
My friends at work notice that I am always stretching my hands, and that I wince when I do so. I’m in denial about it.
Christmas passes and there is an office party at a restaurant. It’s a long table of all the employees and much eating and drinking at a lower middle-end pasta and seafood grille in Playa Del Rey. We can bring a date. I bring The Mad Scientist. He is uncomfortable around any group of people, especially in loud places. He’s quiet and awkward at dinner, and not affectionate.
My co-worker clique compare him to Lurch from the Addams Family the next day. I get up and walk away, never to hang out with them again. I’m disinterested in their small-minded judgmental attitudes. I see that they are insecure and belittle people frequently, and that I’ve been using this as a way to vent steam on the job.
They are all white people of privilege who are playing small, and I lose interest in their company suddenly and wholly.
Throughout my time working as a transcriptionist, I am technically not working for the law offices, but still the temp agency. They remove a small percentage of my wages for having found me the job, but their invoicing and payment cycle is more rapid than that of the law offices so I don’t have a problem with this setup. It’s one day while staring at the paystub that I realize if I were to sue for workers’ compensation, it would not be Bret Macintyre and Friends on the other end of that lawsuit, but the temp agency. I finally admit that I am suffering from a work injury.
The next day I walk into the boss’s office and let him know.
“My hands hurt. A lot. I don’t know how long I can keep this job.” I admit.
He stops what he’s doing.
“Aw fuck. You’re the best. We’re going to miss you.” He looks truly dismayed. He slumps his shoulders.
“Well, I’m not quitting yet.” I say.
“Don’t hurt yourself.” He says, quickly. “It’s just not worth it. It’s never worth it for work. If there’s anything I’ve learned from doing this work for the last decade, it’s that. Don’t get injured on the job.”
I nod. It’s a good lesson.
“So, technically you are not my employer, ya know?” I say.
He immediately gets what I am going for. “So you want me to tell you what I think about filing a claim against the temp agency?” He smiles, I can tell he’s pleased that I’ve come up with this on my own.
“You’re very observant.” I smile back “It’s no wonder you’re the boss.”
“Flattery always gets you free legal advice. That said, you know that I am not your attorney, and you are not paying me, correct?”
“Yes sir, I get that any advice you give me isn’t really advice, and is probably bullshit.” I’m used to the boss, and I know that he loves me best when I am frank, honest, and when I curse as much as he does, which is a considerable amount. He’s the person I transcribe the most, and I know him better than he knows me through this. It gives me a sense of familiarity and a camaraderie that could be false – if he didn’t treat me that way as well, and even before I began treating him that way.
“Don’t file a claim. You can go to your doctor and you can go to their doctor before you file a claim, and I recommend you do that, because what I’m telling you really depends on the extent of your injury. If you’re severely injured, you’ll of course have a better case. But you just told me that you are not quitting, so you can’t be that injured yet.” He looks at me sternly and continues “Please don’t get that injured, I’d feel terrible.”
“I’ll try not to. So you’re saying I can choose to go to the doctors and then see where to go from there.”
“You could, but it’s a waste of your time. You know how long these cases take and how much they cost. Chances are you are going to not get anything for years, if you even do, and what you get you could have made ten times over if you’d invested that brilliant mind of yours in something other than chasing insurance money.”
And I do get it. Yet I still make one doctor’s appointment, with a doctor provided by the temp agency’s workers’ compensation insurance company, who I know from typing up these stories for the last five months will under-exaggerate my injury.
I visit the doctor, just past the ability to be a silver-haired fox, still trim and somewhat dapper but definitely works out. He tests my flexibility against various markers including a protractor, which brings back images of junior high geometry and makes me chuckle. He tests my grip strength. I note and succumb to the urge to over-exaggerate my injuries, and shake my head at the game that we all are playing.
The doctor declares my injuries moderate, but existing. He calls it as RSI or Repetitive Strain Injury, and I’m glad for that because I know that he would try to convince me to get surgery were it the dreaded Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. I am a proponent of integrative medicine and understand that that can’t be a good idea, force widening the pathway for a nerve by cutting into the body. Luckily, nothing so invasive comes with my diagnosis. He recommends I don’t type and prescribes wrist braces. I use them for a while at work but they seem to me to just make things worse.
I’m enough in love with the stability of the job that I let the injury go pretty far before I eventually quit.
I can’t open cans or hold on to the handlebars of my bicycle or do basic things with my hands. The humor of contracting a work injury while typing about work injuries is not lost on me and it keeps me going a little longer as well. It’s a fun story to tell. I never pursue a workers’ compensation claim against the temp agency. Bret pays me for an extra two weeks when I leave, which I thank him for repeatedly.
The only good thing about this work injury is that it starts me on the path to body awareness and regular repair through talented bodyworkers and healers of all modalities. Before this moment I had no consciousness. Here consciousness is born.
Before I leave Bret calls me into his office and asks me to have a seat for my exit interview. He looks at me seriously.
“Do you think we’re the good guys or the bad guys here?”
I ponder it.
“About half and half.”