As I write this, my 83 year old Mama is dying and likely won't live to Monday, June 3, 2013. She is in a facility and is being well cared for. She is no longer speaking, drinking or eating, just sleeping with morphine. We exchanged "I love you the muchest there is to love" and mutual "thank yous" yesterday.
I am her primary caretaker and the past 7 months have been a roller-coaster. No relatives in town. She had lived independently up until November 11, 2012 when she had a fall at home and broke a rib. She entered Assisted Living at her facility of choice on Friday, December 14, 2012. We had lunch at her favorite spot and I drove her around while the movers set up her new space in 2 rooms. We listened to Handel's Messiah on NPR and then they broke in with news of Sandy Hook and I turned the radio off. It was an emotional day. She didn't want to leave behind her home and her things. Everything took a very rapid decline from December 14 forward.
My life? Well I'm a workers' compensation paralegal. I've done both defense and claimant's work but the past 7 1/2 years I've spent helping those who are injured on the job. It is a very stressful job under normal circumstances that requires 10+ hours of overtime per week just to keep up with the gerbil-on-the-wheel pace. What follows below the squiggley is a personal account of what has transpired in the past year with my job and the past 7 months with my Mama. Specifically, I will address how our society is predisposed to give dispensation to Mothers who are expecting vs. those of us who are seeing out and caring for our elderly parents in the last stages of their lives. Babies are cuter. Before anyone gets their hackles up, I love babies and infants, although I have none of my own. Our society has made a judgment that babies are more important than our elders. I take issue with that.
Let me preface all that I'm about to write by saying that the law firm that employs me has less than 50 employees and is, therefore, not subject to ANY laws regarding FMLA. Also, I live in a "Right to Work" State. For the uninitiated "Right to Work" is an Orwellian term that means you can be fired for any reason or no reason at all, shy of the biggies - race, sex or age discrimination. Pursuing a suit on any of those fronts is an arduous and often expensive endeavor even with the help of the EEOC.
A year ago my bosses purchased another law firm. They took on their files, their office space, 1 lawyer and 2 staff members. There were growing pains. Huge pains. Our existing staff of 5 1/2 paralegals watched our work load almost triple. Our firm had averaged 129 files per year in the 3 years preceding June 2012. In 7 months we added 387 new to us clients/files. This was in addition to the 51 files we had secured between January 2012 and June 15, 2012 and other existing active files from previous years. Our current NEW file count in 1 years time is approximately 480+.
The files we inherited from the new firm were a gobbley-gook mess and the 2 staff members that were grandfathered in from the former firm did not know how to work the files in an efficient manner. Messy files were taken away from them and given to the 5 1/2 of us to handle. In other words, we added no real staff to a work load that tripled.
In November 2012, we lost an office manager to pregnancy-3 months paid leave from which she did not return. In January 2013 the other bilingual paralegal left for paid maternity leave. She also did not return. This increased my work load even more as I am the only other individual in my office who speaks Spanish.
In summary: no real new staff, in fact we lost people; 5 people whose work load tripled beginning in June of 2012. Almost every new file was accompanied by daily or near daily phone calls from the injured clients, some wonderful, some exceedingly bitchy and whiney. Full on chaos. Since last Summer, 5 of us put our lives outside of the office on hold and began coming in at 7:00 a.m., working through lunch, and coming in for 4-6 hours per weekend just to try to get the work done. I did the same until my Mama fell on November 11, 2012.
Following her fall, Mama was hospitalized and it was clear I had to get her into a facility ASAP. There was no other family in town so it was all on me to do what had to be done. After moving into an Assisted Living facility on 12/14/12, my Mama's health took a quick decline. After 3 weeks in assisted living before she was hospitalized again. This time for severe edema. This was early January and I was told to come get her toy poodle, Cherie. This was in the midst of having to break down her home/possessions. She was a sentimental, cleanly, and very well organized hoarder but lining up people to dismantle her life and having to sort through things that were family heirlooms, etc. well, that took time away from work. I was so busy doing FOR her, I didn't have the time to spend with her and I'm still trying to show up at work and not fall off the wheel. All the while, I kept both of my bosses apprised of what was going on and begged them NOT to give me any messy inherited files from the former law firm which they had purchased.
On January 31, 2013, I had finished vacating my Mama's former rental home. No small task. On the same day, I was told by the Assisted Living facility that I needed to move my Mama's things out of her 2 BR Assisted Living apartment as she was not making progress and was now in the medical ward. She had quit eating. I watched her decline to Gandhi weight. Still trying to stay on the wheel at work. Relatives came and went to visit, say good-bye, etc. - took a couple days off from work to be with them and Mama. By mid-February, she was "officially" in hospice care. I was told she had 1-6 months to live. By this time, I had moved her things 4 x and had held her hand during 2 hospitalizations. I was so exhausted emotionally and physically that I was no longer capable of working through lunch or putting additional time in on the weekends. When your Mama is dying and your job is to listen to people in pain all day-well, it was vampire blood-letting.
After Mama became ill, everything became about "staying on the wheel" for her, for work and for the dogs. In addition to my caretaker duties for my Mama and my job which had tripled, I went from having 1 dog to 2 additional dogs. A stray that had meandered into my life just before she fell in November and Mama's toy poodle. 3 dogs and a Mama. Dog Vet appointments came and went. Gotta stay on the wheel. My bestie dog Buddy of 12 years, was slowing down but I attributed that to arthritis and figured dying Mama vs. doggie arthritis - Buddy would have to wait. Stay on the wheel.
In mid to late March I got a brief respite. Mama was eating again, brightening up. She got out of hospice and started P.T. again. She was still unhappy and lonely but physically getting better. I took a deep breath, and started trying to attend to my long neglected needs - doctor's appointments, etc., vet appointments etc. and STAY ON THE WHEEL at work.
In mid-April all hell broke lose. Finally got Buddy to the vet and it turned out my sweetheart didn't have arthritis. He had an inoperable tumor in his mouth. His days were numbered. I didn't know it yet, but so were my Mama's.
After brief progress in P.T., Mama developed a 4+ UTI with blood. She had never had a UTI her entire life. The facility bungled her care SOOOOOOOOOOOOO that I considered sueing them. Although I've worked for lawyers my entire life, I'm NOT a litigious person. This facility advertised on NPR and all about town as "A Caring Community." That was lipstick on a pig. Turns out the $ spent on marketing was not spent on actual care. There had been many mangled things before the UTI but they demonstratively showed such a LACK of caring that once I commanded their off-site doctor to write her a script for an ambulance and got her to the hospital, I let the facility know she would not be coming back. This was April 30th. The ER diagnosed her with a touch of pneumonia, dehydration and a horrid UTI. She was admitted for 4 days and I returned to work the following day STILL TRYING TO STAY ON THE WHEEL.
Upon her discharge, I had to move her to a new facility and had only 1 weekday to figure that out. Translation - more time missed from work. This was early May-5 moves and 3 hospitalizations, STILL TRYING TO STAY ON THE WHEEL but it's difficult to do your job when you're not there to do it.
This diary was initially drafted on May 31, 2013. Today's date is July 6, 2013. A lot has changed in that time. My BFF dog, Buddy, was euthanized on May 24, 2013. On June 2, 2013, my Mama passed away from pneumonia. Her memorial service was held on June 14, 2013. Instead of 3 dogs and a Mama, it's just 2 dogs and me.
I took an unpaid leave of absence beginning May 14, 2013 to care for my Mama and with a doctor's recommendation that I take some time off because I was beyond burnt out. I ended up in the ER on May 7 because I thought I was having a heart attack. Well, my heart and lungs are fine...it was "just" stress. A triple work load, 3 dogs, caretaking my Mother through 5 moves and at that time her flirtation with death in February. My dog was actively dying, I thought I was near dead from exhaustion, and little did I know my Mama would be dead in a short 2+ weeks.
Less than a week after I took this approved unpaid leave of absence, my boss called me. He told me, "At this time in your life with your Mom and everything, well, you just have too much going on." "You've done some good work for me in the past, but I think it is time for you to hang up your cleats and move on to something else". (Keep in mind, this is a firm that represents injured workers and is ostensibly all about workers' rights). He proceeds to tell me, "Take all the time you need off, but when you come back, you're going to train Ashley (the 21 y.o) and you will need to look for another job. Ashley, the 21 y.o. had worked for us in a full-time but limited capacity since January. She knows absolutely nothing about workers' compensation. My response was, "Uh, hum, okay"...because at the time my Mama was still declining and I could not formulate a better response. In a bright spot of Karma, Ashley announced on Facebook the night she was offered my job that she was pregnant. As stated earlier, young pregnant women in my office go out on paid maternity leave and NEVER look back).
Because I am very good at what I do under normal circumstances, and because I built up some good will and loyalty with a former boss, now a judge, my current boss had his ass kicked at a lawyer's cocktail function. He realized he stepped in a big old pile of age discrimination, and called me to say "You misunderstood". "You are a valued member of this family and you can take all the time you need to look for another job." "In fact, I'm going to hire someone to help you find a job". So now my dog is dead. My Mama is dead. My job is to train a young girl who will leave when her baby comes in January - with FULLY paid time off for 3 mos maternity leave, do MY job and look for a job with hired oversight from my boss. He waited 2 weeks and put the "job coach" on me.
If the personal narrative above sounds "victimy" to you, check yourself before you respond. The personal IS POLITICAL and I will tell you I did a great job until my Mama took ill. I will also tell you that "blaming the victim" is Reagan thinking.
One of my coworkers, very hard working, broke a company policy and disclosed to me her salary. 30K for a job that demands 50-60 hrs a week. She is being paid slave wages. SLAVE wages. Like a Mitt Romney wet dream she all but has a cot in the office. I, on the other hand, am the highest paid employee. I have the most experience and I'm bilingual. Everything was hunky dory until our work load triplicated and I could not triplicate myself in return to do the job, take care of my Mother and 3 dogs.
Now I am supposed to be thankful that my boss, who is all about his cocktail party image, is "keeping me on with no time limit" until I find another job. Excuse me while I barf on this supposed patronage. My boss is pushing 60 and is less and less interested in actually working and, increasingly "addle-pated". Age discrimination from him to me? I laugh and say projection.
I don't feel old. I am in my early 50s and look 10 years younger than my age. But the stark reality is I am supposed to be thankful to still have a job although my performance only fell off because of lawyer incompentent business management "skills" and because my Mother fell ill at the same time they decided to be greedy. Perfect storm.
Last night I saw a woman about my Mama's age - early 80s or so - out on the street in the heat begging. Begging. The rich want their $ and at the same time turn a blind eye to human suffering. They don't connect the dots between their tax breaks and the human beings on the streets. They blame the victim. Zero empathy. They OWN "the death panels". There is real death in those "death panels". For all the Republican embroyo love posturing, they do not care about life. Our society doesn't respect the elderly. Infants are cuter. We are all crabs in the bucket now unless we band together and start fighting back.
I put my Mama first. I lost my job. I had no choice but to do what I did and if I had it to do over again, I would've made the same choice. The consequences are unfair but you only get 1 Mama.