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Crowley: Workers' Compensation Remains Traumatically Injured: [2017-09-20]
Editor’s note: This column was originally published by the Chico Enterprise-Record in its bi-weekly North State Voices column.
A year ago, almost to the day, I rolled my ankle on the job.
I work in agriculture. I wish I could say I was saving someone from some disastrous accident, pushing him or her aside as a tractor lay claim to my foot. Nope.
We had finished the almond harvest, and walnuts were beginning. After lunch, I jumped on an all-terrain vehicle. Stopping at an orchard, I stepped off the ATV right into a hole. My right ankle rolled. I felt and heard a pop. I went to the ground in excruciating pain.
I called my boss. He came to pick me up, literally. Then I called my wife. “Honey, everything is OK, but I’m pretty sure I just broke my ankle.”
We headed to the hospital. “I think I broke my ankle,” I said grimacing. I was in my work clothes and noticeably dirty from the morning’s tasks.
One of the nurses asked, “Is this a work injury — I mean, is it work comp?”
Curiously I said, “Yes, ma’am, I believe it is. I injured it at work if that’s what you mean.”
The next thing I heard amazed me: “I’m sorry, we don’t take work comp.”
Certain hospitals and specialists in the area do not take work comp. Right or wrong, after the experience I had last year, I do not blame these organizations a bit.
We headed over to another urgent care facility. I had two X-rays at two different times. “No breaks,” I was told twice.
We insisted on a magnetic resonance image. Something was wrong. “Well, we have to go through physical therapy before we go to that step.” That didn’t make sense. We went back, insisting on an MRI. It took months for the approval from work comp.
Then I was told my only options for orthopedic care were locations outside Chico. The closest was Yuba City. By the time I saw a specialist, it was six months after the break. Yes, the break.
My fibula had cracked, which was likely the pop I experienced. The results of the MRI showed a severe tear in a ligament. My specialist said, “If I saw you a few weeks after the injury, you would have been in a cast for six weeks, completely immobile, and then a boot.”
As I was told, modern orthopedics essentially treats any severe sprains or tears as a break. What I heard then was absurd.
My specialist — who was the shining light in all of this — told me two things. First, if we had treated it immediately, the ankle had a high likelihood of healing properly. Second, because it had been six months, the ankle had likely healed improperly and that was probably why I was having constant soreness and instability.
“So, what do we do now?” I asked.
“Well, they will likely make you go through PT (physical therapy) before we can entertain other options.”
Wait, the MRI shows a tear. We also got another round of X-rays with the specialist, which demonstrated instability and abnormalities.
“It’s how the system works; we still have to go ‘more progressive’ routes.”
After 10-12 rounds of physical therapy, the soreness and instability remained. Finally, work comp buckled like my ankle.
Almost a year after the incident, I had surgery. My ankle is stable, and I am in the physical therapy recovery stage. Time will tell how things go from here. I’m optimistic, I think.
Workers’ compensation, from my experience — like my ankle last September — is severely injured.
Agriculturalists must pay into a system that is not patient-focused, allows for little (if any) freedom of care and, in my situation and opinion, has done more harm than good.
In a time fraught with uncertainty and even hostility about our current health care systems, statewide and federally, I am bewildered at the prospect of bureaucracies getting more entwined in our medical needs and decisions.
I started writing in public forums because I wanted to give agriculturalists — both employees and employers — a voice regarding crucial issues affecting our everyday lives and work.
This is what I know about the current state of workers’ compensation: It is failing the people it was meant to care for and serve.
Rory Crowley is a Chico farmer and columnist for North State Voices, which appears each Thursday.