Workers compensation is both a blessing and a curse. Sure, I have no out of pocket expenses for the treatment of my Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). However, the amount of time it takes to get anything done is not only aggravating and stressful, it also has the potential to make my condition worse.
For example, it has taken up to ten days to get my prescription filled after the doctor prescribes it. Ten days from dropping it off at the pharmacy until the time I take it home. That means ten days of withdrawal from both anti-depressants and pain medications.
Withdrawal is hard enough on your body, going through it once. It’s even worse when you have no choice but to go through it every month.
Organizing my workers compensation and my treatments is a full time job. Everyday, I will spend three to four hours researching new treatments and different programs that help CRPS. I will spend at least an additional three hours talking to my lawyer and my doctor’s office. Even with a lawyer representing me, I end up doing most of the legwork in my treatment. It’s not as easy as calling and seeing if a program or a certain doctor accepts my insurance.
Currently, I’m trying to get approval to attend the Washington Rehabilitation Institute’s Complex Regional Pain Syndrome inpatient program. This program has a wonderful success rate and could push me into remission. What is so special about this program is that they put an epidural catheter in your back for several weeks to allow you to detox properly from narcotics and participate in physical therapy without experiencing pain. The goal is to ‘normalize’ the nerve responses, and remind them that the area really doesn’t hurt.
After much convincing, I was able to get my doctor to recommend Washington Rehab to my workers compensation adjuster. The adjuster then sends the program to a review panel. Unfortunately, the panel approved the program but not the location. So now I have to search for another program that I already know does not exist closer to my home.
If this process is not complex enough already, it is made even worse by the fact that no one talks to each other directly. I talk to my doctor and my lawyer. My lawyer and my doctor talk to my adjuster’s lawyer. My adjuster’s lawyer talks to the adjuster. The adjuster then talks to the potential program.
It’s not even a simple matter of everyone making a phone call. My doctor has to write his recommendation in my chart notes. My lawyer has to copy and show the appropriate chart note to my case worker’s lawyer, who in turn shows it to the adjuster. All of this has to happen before they can even start arguing if this is the program I should be attending. It ends up taking several months.
Meanwhile, I’m not getting treatment — I’m getting worse.
When I finished physical therapy in February I could still walk, granted, with the assistance of a cane or walker. I was also prescribed a wheelchair (which my workers comp has yet to approve) because my physical therapist knew I’d keep going downhill physically without further treatment.
I still haven’t gotten into a rehab program. I haven’t had any further treatment, other than monthly doctor visits to refill my prescriptions for pain medications that hardly scratch the surface of my physical pain. I’ve had to rent a wheelchair on my own and now it is the only way that I can get around.
It’s slow, it’s frustrating, and it’s potentially causing long term, irreversible damage to my legs. The worst part is that, as best as I can tell, this is how things usually go with workers compensation. I can’t believe that there’s not a better system, or that it’s not somehow better regulated. It seems to be perfectly normal not to have a call returned for weeks after leaving multiple messages.
Now that my adjuster has lawyered up, the process has come to an agonizing halt. It doesn’t seem fair that workers compensation, which is supposed to be helping me after an on-the-job injury, is even allowed to get a lawyer.
Anything to keep me from receiving the necessary treatments, I guess.
Before I started this whole ordeal, I thought that the worker’s compensation system was established to help people who got injured on the job one way or another, to stay healthy, get better, return to work, and back to being productive members of society as quickly as possible. That couldn’t be further from what I’ve experienced.
But for now, I keep trudging along. I keep making my phone calls and doing my research. My hope is that either I will get approved for the program that I want or they will settle my case so that I can choose my own doctors and treatments.
Either way, it will take more time and much more damage to my body to get there.
Something in this system has to be changed. It isn’t right to be treated like this.
Amanda Siebe lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and son. She writes about her daily battle with chronic pain and CRPS in her blog “Life in Pain.”
The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.