Saturday, August 19, 2006

A New beginning (part 1)

I guess the best place to start this blog is at the point in my life that I now consider the new beginning. At the time I thought it was the end of everything I knew, and in a way it was. I knew three things for certain; I loved my wife and kids tremendously, I loved my job and planned on working there until I retired, and finally, I knew I was the man of the house and my job was to work hard and provide for my family.

I worked as a shift supervisor in the distribution department for Quad/Graphics. Quad is the largest privately owned printing company in the United States, and one of the best company's I have ever worked for. I worked the night shift (7 p.m. to 7 a.m.) and was basically in charge of making sure every department had the product they needed to run their jobs, packaging up all finished product to make ready for shipment to post offices across the U.S., overseeing the recycling department, and coordinating with our in-house trucking company to make sure product moved smoothly from plant to plant and everyone got what they needed when they needed it. Oh yeah, I also got phone calls from almost every other department whenever they had a question they couldn't find the answer to because they knew I had the contacts to find the answers for them. I had anywhere from four to twelve guys under me depending on the time of year, and no management above me while I worked at night (which was the way I liked it).

The night of October 26, 1998 started like any other with one exception. My recycling guy was on vacation so I had someone covering for him that didn't normally work in that department. About midway through the night he came to me and said the lights were on indicating a paper jam on both our main cyclone and the back up as well. I knew it was probably just a piece of paper blocking one of the eyes, but we only had fifteen minutes to get the problem fixed. If we didn't clear the jam quickly the cyclones would automatically shut down, and if this happened the entire press room and Bindery would shut down as well. I don't remember the exact figures, but if everything shut down it would cost the plant literally thousands of dollars a minute so this was rather serious.

I went to the roof to show my cover guy how to access the recycling system and the sensor eyes. To access the cyclones there was a small three step wooden ladder that you could move back and forth between the two cyclones. I started up the ladder, and the second step gave way (it was completely rotten) sending me crashing through both the second and first steps. I never lost my balance, but when I landed on my right foot it caused one of the discs in my lower back to blow out. I had excruciating pain shoot down both legs to where I thought I was going to throw up, followed by complete numbness from the waist down. Luckily there was an I beam running across the roof that I was able to hang on to until I was able to walk down off the roof. It took over an hour before I was able to get down from the roof and get back to my office.

I tried to continue to work, but the pain forced me to go get an MRI from a back specialist. The doctor took one look at the results and scheduled my surgery for the upcoming Monday. When the doctor talked to me after the surgery he stated that I was probably within hours of losing bowl and bladder function permanently. The surgery was not able to fix all of the problems that I was having, and the surgeon I had was not willing to do any more surgeries so I had to find another surgeon. The last thing my first surgeon said to me was, "good luck, ninety percent of marriages end in divorce when something like this happen." Needless to say, my wife and I were a little shocked at his words (and a little ticked off at him as well).

I used my second opinion option allowed by workmans compensation rules to find another surgeon, and after a battery of tests it was determined that I needed to have my spine fused at L4-L5. Shortly after this surgery the disc below blew out, and I ended up having yet another fusion surgery at L5-S1. Structurally everything that needed to be fixed has been taken care of, but the initial injury has left me with severe nerve damage in my back and legs. I have constant pain in my back, and I have no feeling in my right leg from the knee down. I use narcotic pain medication just to get through my days, and I am unable to work because of the constant pain and the build up of pain from repetitive actions if I am not able to change what I am doing every few minutes.

My permanent restrictions are such that I am not supposed to pick up anything weighing more than ten pounds. That only amounts to a gallon of milk. I haven't been able to pick up my kids since they were 5 and 3 years old (they are now 13 and 11). One of the hardest changes I had to deal with in my life was how I was now able to define myself as a husband, father, and man. I wasn't able to do any of the things for my family or myself that I thought I needed to be able to do to qualify as a productive human being. It has taken me years to come to terms with my new lot in life. (More to come later)