Her name is Sonia

Her name is Sonia

By Fila Paragas.

Along my journey, I have come to know friends who are afflicted with chronic pain and their stories from different life circumstances. Each has a story to tell and share.

Fila Paragas

Strangely enough, I became aware of a young lady who also had worked for the United Nations and hurt in the line of duty.  Her name is Sonia.  Sonia is unable to sit too long in front of a computer and has to lie on her back most times and still suffers from pain.

For most chronic pain sufferers, the scene may seem so familiar and breezing through your day and doing simple daily chores taken for granted by others oftentimes seem impossible.

We’ve just celebrated September as Chronic Pain Awareness month.  Her brother wants to share with us, her chronic pain story – and rightly so.  Sonia was hurt in the line of duty, fired from her job, denied disability, and left destitute.

This is the story of his sister, Sonia…

“My sister is sick for the past few years. I have witnessed personally, and how I followed the events that made her sick, while she was working despite the pain; and how she was threatened on the job, and how she was forced to take sick leave, and to be fired while in the hospital.  My sister is a diplomat of the United Nations for over 12 years and it is in the organization that she has been abused psychologically, professionally, physically on the job and in her sickness until she became disabled and in chronic pain.

She had dedicated her life to advocate for the human rights of the most marginalized populations. She left Italy at 20 years old, two degrees, one in Rome and one in Seattle, and with two Masters Degrees, and a scholarship from the European Union.  She speaks 5 languages and the first in the family to work on human rights. She worked for Amnesty International in San Francisco and Latin America, for Doctors without Borders in Angola, and for the European Union. She worked in Colombia following local mediation between urban guerrillas including FARC. In Angola, she was responsible for more than 100 people between doctors, nurses, patients including malnourished children and AIDS patients. She survived in Angola to armed attack with a kalasnikov (rifle).

Only today, I can speak about it, maybe for the first time, because the danger that is she is now in is much more serious than any she experienced so far in her life journey. She did not want that I share this out of discretion, and she does not like publicity, so I did not say anything to anyone, or to my mother, as she may have died of fear. I did not speak about it because Sonia taught me that good is done in silence.

However, now I want to say all I know.  After sacrificing her family (and only God knows how important is family for us in Italy) for her work, in 2002, Sonia started working for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in Thailand. Her work was focusing on human rights of prisoners, and on the prevention of fatal diseases such as AIDS, and on the use of drugs. Sonia is really an “Iron Lady” and understands that; from a diplomatic realm, she can help a lot more people. She lived in 11 cities in 24 years and she does not mind if this would bring her closer to assist the least fortunate.

Rarely complaining, the work environment was treacherous and the intense psychological stress together with her demanding job and long hours spent at (inadequate) computer station became fatal for her physique. She was in pain all the time and could not stay long on the computer and needed to lie down flat, continuously in constant pain. She started many medical treatments. Pain became more acute but she continued and had to work with great sacrifice.

Until one day, we received a call she had been urgently hospitalized and she was under intravenous morphine. My mother and I reached her the next day from Italy to Bangkok on the first available flight. I found her in the hospital immobilized and unable to move, and unable to bring and hold the phone to her ear. A hardship of pain prevented her from even smiling at us. A local neurosurgeon intended to perform surgery to the spine with the possible risk of paralysis. Immediately, I sent her exams for a second, third, and fourth opinion. I was scared she would undergo a surgery. Indeed all other opinions suggested her nerve was very inflamed and she needed to rest and they recommended no surgery at this time. So we all came back to Italy for a period of 4 months as she was on sick leave. But since then, it has been an infinite series of medical specialists and continuous treatments.

She had to work and managed rests in between. She used a wheelchair and hired a driver so she could lie in the back seat of the car until she arrived at the office – and when she took taxis, she would have to lie down flat. However, the pain became unbearable. She was later assigned to Cambodia in 2010, an office virtually left to itself, which I had heard had closed down indefinitely. It was not an easy destination for a disabled person with debilitating pain conditions. She accepted and tried all medical treatments, including pharmacotherapy that saw her intoxicated, but the pain never. The pain worsened. She went through more tests and hospitalization and finally received a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. She was treated with different painkillers.

While in the hospital, her post was cut and she was fired – despite the fact that she regularly provided the medical reports to her responsible superiors and related offices. I know very well how many specialists we accompanied her to see, and appointments we took for her over the years, and the very many medical reports and certificates I have scanned for her to submit, and how many times I saw her crying, lying down on the floor or in bed – in the dark and unable to move. Pain continues.

My sister has fought to do good for others. To find out that the UN totally undermined the most basic human rights of its staff is an extremely sad discovery, more than the handicap she suffered. For the UN to deny her the recognition for injury in the line of duty, and to deny her disability for such irreversible disease, is more excruciatingly shocking.

The UN should have protected her health beforehand, but nobody did anything. And now the UN does not intend to support her after she dedicated her life to the organization. In all frankness, in the UN we discovered an environment, people, and colleagues who are all afraid to testify on Sonia’s current health status, when they all saw her with their own eyes – lying down on the floor from extreme pain. They are all afraid to tell the truth, out for fear, as they later confidentially told her in private. And this is why the UN should continue its reform, inclusive to its employees who highly risk falling sick for obvious reasons – working in such unhealthy environments. With extreme sadness, the UN badly expels its most precious staff – people like Sonia, who dedicated her life to its supposedly noble mission.”

Sadly, her painful ordeal is still ongoing, with no end in sight.

Fila Paragas is a former UN/WHO officer.  She wrote her illness memoir after her long suffering from chronic pain conditions from a minor bone fracture in the foot and her efforts for recognition of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), by her former employer, the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland.  Her memoir recounted her long journey with the medical community to reflect the poor knowledge of pain by those involved.  Her E-book is on Amazon Kindle. For more on the book and the author, click here.

Authored by: Fila Paragas

There are 7 comments for this article
  1. dona at 1:56 pm

    It’s a heartbreaking story. I have no real word to express how much suffering had to undergo Sonia and her family. First of all the terrible pain in the back which prevented her even to seat in front of the computer and afterwards how she was fired by the UN in spite of all her devotion in the job in spite of the illness.

    I am particularly moved by her story because I have faced similar situation. I had twisted my left ankle six years ago and I was trying to attend office daily in spite of excruciating pain and difficulty to move from home to job. After a few month the pain was so bad that I was trying to work from home until I was no longer able even to seat for 10 minutes in front of the computer. Afterwards I was hospitalized and the doctors diagnosed CRPS. I was afterwards prescribed morphine for 18 months and also having physical therapy and massage twice a week. Since I could not go out from home and I was trying to work part time on good days with less pain. After 2 years I was fired from job because no doctor could say how long will last this illness. I was very upset and angry what even was increasing my pain.

    With the passing years I am able to manage the pain better without morphine. I am also again able to walk without crutches. But I think that the most important is to never give up hope and try to become more positive in spite of feeling that lot of injustice has been done.

    Thanks for having shared your story. I am praying for Sonia that she will feel better. My thoughts and heart goes to her and family.

  2. Cherylmarie at 7:47 pm

    It’s so sad. You work your arse off for a company, have loyalty to them, and when you really need their help they kick you to the curb. I hope something positive happens for this lady, her story is very sad.

  3. Angelica Heavner at 9:29 pm

    Unfortunately this is all to common. I am so sorry your sister and her family are being put thru this. My advice, as you obviously have very good records, sue them. Its unfair treatment and in the real world illegal. As long as she is out on medical being fired is not legal. Sounds like she was being bullied and needs to go on the defensive side.
    Its a hard road but necessary for her and others that will come behind her. Places like this and the hospital someone else commented about will continue to do it as long as they can until someone fights back. My prayers are with you all. Keep fighting its the only way to go.
    I have CRPS because of carelessness from a hospital er. I did sue, because they left me no choice, I did give them a chance to fix this. They were found guilty of all charges. In my area and the hospital I went after not to many ever win against them. Most settle out of court, for a very small amount, I didn’t. I wish you luck.

  4. Ibin at 7:32 am

    Sonias’ profession is unique but, unfortunately her condition of intractable pain, is not. Millions of patients have struggled with pain while attempting to hold their employment. I hope she is able to find pain management as millions of others like her are attempting to do.. The quiet unrest of the patient with lifetime pain has been managed without incident and negative health consequence for decades. With the current medical “experts” input and influence upon the governing health agencies in this country, the patients condition of incurable life time pain is being totally disregarded “for the sake” of the few who choose to destroy themselves as well as the “legitimate” patient. Sonias’ wellness will be in my familiies’ prayers.

  5. F.S.T. at 8:29 pm

    A heart -rending story about the suffering of a woman who dedicated her working life to the good of others. As a woman of faith, I believe this will not go unnoticed. As I read, I couldn’t help but feel her pain as her experiences unfolded. The lying on the floor. The umpteenth opinion. The unrequited pain. The feeling of hopelessness. Then it struck a nerve when I read her diagnosis, “Fibromyalgia.” I was at the same time stunned and very familiar, because I, too, suffer that complex and painful (often unrelenting) affliction. No one can possibly understand it unless you’re a sufferer, or a very close family member. I pray she finds relief.

  6. Stephanie Scarbrough at 7:18 am

    Heartbreaking… too often our employers leave us when we have our greatest needs, due to hurting our bodies for our work. I was fired from a hospital that I worked at for 14 years, because I was now disabled from injuries on the job. I was afraid to sue, since my employers had already blackballed me in the state. How frequently does this happen? They come up with false reasons and discard us like we are garbage, usually after quite a while of wonderful service to the organization. Hugs to Sonia, from someone who understands all too well! 💜

  7. nana at 7:11 am

    I am so sorry for your Sister’s struggles. You would think that, of all employers, the WHO would be compassionate but in the end they are all cold employers “dealing” with ADA and disability issues.

    My heart goes out to her and your family.

    Thanks for sharing.

    M

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