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Walk A Mile In My Shoes
On January 9 of this year I had surgery on my right shoulder to correct a painful impingement caused by 19 years of casing and carrying mail. I spent 3 months working a limited duty assignment following the surgery. Iím not sure that anyone who has not suffered a disability can comprehend this situation. One day I was a totally independent person with an important job to do, and the next I was in pain and begging for work.
Every day I would show up at the Post Office hoping that this day I would have something better to do than piddling jobs that no one else wanted. Some days I would go from supervisor to supervisor asking if there was anything I could do, all the while watching my fellow carriers going about those familiar tasks that once were mine.
I used to envy them even during bad weather. At least they had respectable jobs. I was fortunate to have a few substantial assignments that took several days to complete.
There were times when I almost felt that I was needed, that if I hadnít been there that job would not have been done or at least not done so well. Most days I felt like I was in the way, a bother to the supervisors who not only had to cover my route but also must find something else for me to do. It is a very uncomfortable position in which to be and is almost guaranteed to erode oneís self-respect.
Fortunately I did not experience any rejection by my fellow carriers. At least no one said anything to my face. There was, however, a rumor going around that I would be the next 204B.
Having been branch president the previous year, that one really hurt. I did have a number of people question whether I would ever be able to carry again. I guess some people figure that if you get injured; you should just lie down and be disabled.
Several years ago we did have a carrier who suffered multiple repetitive motion injuries. This carrier tried a few times to get back into her job but it seemed like the injuries only multiplied. She suffered harassment by her fellow carriers and management and eventually was forced to retired because of stress.
People seem to have the idea that if you are not visibly suffering, you must be faking. My answer to those people is that a limited duty assignment is intended to ease the pain and make it possible for injured people to do meaningful work with less pain, so naturally the injured person will not seem to be in pain.
I also try to remind people that just because you see an injured person doing something that goes against their medical restriction, it does not mean that person is faking the injury. I know from personal experience that sometimes you get so tired of not being able to do anything that you cheat a little just to feel useful again. If youíre lucky you donít get hurt and you gain back some of the self-respect you have lost. Sometimes you find that you are able to do a little more than you thought and it gives you hope that maybe you will get better some day.
The very last straw for me came just a day or so before my doctor released me to half days of carrying. It was one of those days that I had very little to do early in the morning. I got tired of asking and the supervisors had ignored my requests that they make a list the night before. I finally sat down at the supervisorís desk and announced that I would just sit there until she found work for me.
She was too busy so she sent me to the back room. Later she told me that I was never to do that again and that I was "ruining the morale of the office". She made it quite apparent that my morale was the least of her worries. She even suggested to the postmaster (in my presence) that maybe they should send me to another office if there was not enough work for me here.
I was so angry and upset that I cried for over an hour and I am usually unruffled by what others say. The stress of being on limited duty was simply getting too much for me. I practically begged the doctor to release me. Fortunately, by that time I was ready to go back to my job, both physically and mentally.
I expect to make a full recovery eventually, but will always carry mental scars. I ask my fellow employees to think twice about belittling a fellow employee who is on limited duty. Unless you have walked a mile in that personís shoes, you have no idea what he or she is feeling. There may well be some employees on OWCP who do not have legitimate claims but you cannot tell the real ones from the fakes from the outside. Unless you have a medical degree it is simply not your place to judge them.
Mary Anne Florence is a member of NALC Branch 1207, Loveland, CO. She has spent her entire 19 year postal career as a letter carrier. She has been Trustee, Steward, Chief Steward and President of her branch and is currently serving as OWCP representative. Her favorite project was starting a newsletter for her branch and serving as Editor for 3 years. She occasionally works in the office of the National Business Agent of Region 4 in Little Rock helping to process Step 3 grievances.