Managing life with a temporary disability
October 6, 2019 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Three weeks ago my Achilles’ tendon spontaneously ruptured, and now my leg is temporarily disabled. Neither my apartment nor my company’s office are ADA compliant and my bosses already violated ADA laws by disclosing confidential information to my coworkers. I’m looking for advice on how to handle my employment, living situation, and my general lifestyle for the time-being. Detailed account inside.

I tried to type out this situation as a story and it didn’t make any sense at all, so I guess I’m doing this one as a list. Sorry, I hate doing this.

Demographic: 29 years, male, single, lives in Denver.
Company: Employed since 11/2018. In good standing, promising employee, “asset” as they tell me. Office is small, upstairs with no elevator, about 10 minute drive from apartment.
Housing: Lived at since 06/2019. Converted Victorian, live upstairs with no elevator.
Injury: Complete Achilles rupture. On crutches and non-weight bearing for several weeks, progress is very slow and incremental and takes 4-6 months before mostly recovered. Also cannot drive for two months or so.
Social: Absent. No friends to help, no partner, a few family members to run essential errands on occasion.

Key events & dates:

September 12 - Injury occurs spontaneously while pushing an electric scooter. Go to emergency room, confirm injury, and set up appointment with orthopedic physician to schedule surgery.

September 13 - Have appointment with physician, set up surgery for September 16. Also send brief email to all coworkers explaining that I got the injury, scheduled a surgery, and laid out rough plan of action for my return to work. Boss, Director, and most colleagues are understanding and sympathetic.

September 16 - Get surgery, everything is successful, go back to apartment and rest for a couple days.

September 18 - Finally open laptop. Start responding to emails, see several emails from non-sympathetic coworkers pressing me to do projects for them. Work from home next few days.

September 24 - Have first post-op appointment with surgeon. Get heavy plaster cast removed and feeling like a new man. Switch to adjustable boot and I’m allowed to take it off and start doing some stretches.

September 25 - Feeling confident and ready to return to civilization, I ask Boss to pick me up and take me to the office. On the way to work Boss tells me he’s mad at HR lady. Apparently Director requested that I receive a Lyft gift card so I can get to work independently, and HR declined saying I’m allowed to work from home instead so it’s not their responsibility to get me to the office. Regardless, feels good to see humans again.

September 27 - Key plot twist: Leave the office to head home and call it a successful first week back in civilization. Lyft parks across the street, so I scurry across the street to get into the car. I get to the curb, try to go up, and this is the point where I have an extremely embarrassing fall. I step with my injured leg a couple times and ultimately face planted on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant. In a lot of pain, I go home and set up an appointment with my surgeon because I was certain I re-inured my leg.

October 1 - See surgeon first thing in the morning. After a brief inspection he tells me that I did indeed re-injure the tendon and that it required another surgery. I go home and call Boss. I explain to him the entire story of my embarrassing fall, explain that I re-injured my tendon and that I have a surgery on October 7. At the end of the call I explicitly request to Boss that he tell absolutely no one in the office this information until I have more details and I’m comfortable with delivering the information myself. I did give him permission to disclose this information to Director and HR lady. Later in the day I receive a chat from Boss saying he wants to have a phone call with himself and Director to set a new work from home schedule, but the call does not happen.

October 2 - Working from home, but no phone call happens despite me pressing for one. Towards the end of the day, I tell Boss that I’ve decided that I’ll come into the office the next day to have this meeting before I’m out of the office for however long.

October 3 - I get into the office and go to my desk which is immediately next to Boss’s office. Coworker in Boss’s office hears me, turns around with sad eyes and tells me how bad she feels that I fell and got injured again. Within the next half hour, multiple coworkers came to me and said that they heard about my fall and were asking about my next surgery. This prompts me to call and immediate meeting.

The meeting - I ask Boss and Director who all knows about the situation, the setting in which they were told about it, and the reason for why they were told. I explained that I’m not mad and understood that it likely wasn’t malicious, but that it’s a serious breach of trust and confidentiality. I heard no apologies and they attempted to justify their disclosure of this information as something that all my coworkers need to know since it could potentially affect their duties. The conversation then transitions to them siding with my pushy coworkers after the first surgery and they basically sided with them implying that the company needs to look after its best interests. This was followed by a very brief discussion where they attempted to establish rules and expectations for me while I’m working from home moving forward, but nothing was established at all.

So here are the questions:
Obviously I need to get this work situation figured out ASAP. Oddly enough, I haven’t spoken once to HR during this situation and they haven’t reached out to me directly either. HR refused to give me accommodation to get to and from work when I’m able to return, the building itself isn’t ADA compliant, and my bosses obviously violated ADA laws by disclosing medical information despite my request for them not to. I’d obviously prefer for this to run smoothly, and I’d really like to keep my job. However, it seems like they now feel inconvenienced and are attempting to mess with me. Should I consult with an attorney to gain legal protection now so I have a case prepared in case something happens?

Going up and down stairs on crutches is horrifying and I’d also like to remove that fear from my living situation. What steps should I take to use this situation as a reason to legally terminate my lease prematurely?

And bonus points for helping me make the best out of this adverse situation. I live with very chronic depression (read: previous asks) and dealing with this life changing injury has been extremely difficult. It’s already starting to push me deeper into isolation and I see the potential for it getting much worse as time goes by. Any suggestions on time utilization and perspective would be great.

Thanks a bunch, Meta.
posted by omgkinky to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry if I didn’t read the whole thing, but are you eligible for FMLA either now or after your 1-year work anniversary in November?
posted by matildaben at 12:43 PM on October 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

So sorry for your injuries. Do you have a sense yet of how long it will take to recover to the point where you can manage the stairs to your apartment? This random article suggests that breaking a lease because of a new disability may be possible if it's a long-term disability, but obviously you'd need a lawyer to answer this question. I don't know if Denver has a tenant's rights organization, but this low-income legal aid org may be able to refer you to someone if you don't qualify. Your landlord may be sympathetic enough to let you move regardless (especially if there's strong demand for rentals there). How long do you expect to have to work from home?
posted by pinochiette at 12:49 PM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Going up and down stairs on crutches is horrifying and I’d also like to remove that fear from my living situation.

When I was in a similar position I just straight up set aside my dignity and skooched up and down the stairs on my bottom a lot of the time until I could manage a little weight-bearing on the injured side. Not fun, but preferable to a serious fall (I was facing a 1.5 storey spiral climb/descent around a large unobstructed centre well that went down an extra storey to the basement and a below-hip-height railing).

I live with very chronic depression (read: previous asks) and dealing with this life changing injury has been extremely difficult. It’s already starting to push me deeper into isolation and I see the potential for it getting much worse as time goes by.

I really struggled with the physical and social isolation too. In the end I dealt with it, somewhat, by finding a really active online forum where I could chat with people on a variety of topics, and by attending an in-person mental health support group (even though it was challenging to get there).
posted by Secret Sparrow at 1:09 PM on October 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

Hey, fellow Denverite. This sucks. Do you *want* to break your lease? I ask because with InstantCart, Postmates etc, you may be able to manage without leaving your apartment for a few weeks... and the stress of moving doesn't sound like it will help.

The job thing isn't great, but if you like it I'd just document the hell out of everything, try to act smiley, and soldier through as best you can. Good luck!
posted by cyndigo at 1:33 PM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

IANAL but I have read lots of Ask A Manager, and I think if you sent this to her she'd say:

HR saying you could work from home IS providing accommodation. They don't have to provide your preferred accommodation, just make it possible for you to do your work. The social isolation sucks, but they found a way to keep you from having to go up and down a flight of stairs on both ends of your commute, which is pretty ideal from a tendon-healing perspective.

Your boss was a jerk to tell your co-workers against your explicit wishes, but he hasn't violated any laws. HIPAA prevents medical workers from telling medical information to people without permission, but he's not bound by those laws.

I'm sorry - this is all frustrating as hell, and the last thing you need on top of repeated injuries and surgeries.
posted by current resident at 1:35 PM on October 6, 2019 [34 favorites]

> Your boss was a jerk to tell your co-workers against your explicit wishes, but he hasn't violated any laws... HIPAA prevents medical workers from telling medical information to people without permission, but he's not bound by those laws.

There may be privacy laws in Colorado that would apply. HIPAA is not the only consideration.
posted by megatherium at 2:16 PM on October 6, 2019

You could try one or two canes instead of crutches. I can’t use crutches at all and found it much easier to use a cane when I broke my ankle. Walgreens has some with motifs, if that entices you. Mine were green snakeskin.
posted by dianeF at 2:21 PM on October 6, 2019

Should I consult with an attorney to gain legal protection now so I have a case prepared in case something happens?

You can get a lawyer now to explain your rights and assist with communicating and negotiating with your employer. An attorney in your jurisdiction can explain how state and federal protections apply to your specific situation, unlike any answer that you may receive in this thread, which is unable to provide you with legal advice that you can rely on to make decisions about how to proceed.
posted by katra at 2:58 PM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oddly enough, I haven’t spoken once to HR during this situation

Can I ask why not? It would seem like a prudent step to take immediately. you do not want a go-between 'translating' their directives and your requests back and forth. and their commitment to let you work from home until a doctor certifies that stairs are safe again would be a good thing to have in writing.

My other advice, as someone who has had different injuries/surgeries of similar severity: do not ever try to go up your office stairs on crutches again. If it's go up the stairs or lose your job, stay where you are and call a lawyer instead. I understand what you're saying about the toll isolation takes on your mental health, but no matter how bad a few months of being a shut-in will be for you, accidentally putting weight on a non weight-bearing leg will be worse.

Unless or until you can move somewhere safer, see if you can get a family member (or hire someone -- care dot com or similar, or ask a physical therapist for ideas/recommendations) to walk you up and down the stairs at home, as long as you're on crutches, on the rare occasions you can't have something delivered or have to go to a medical appointment.

your mental health is more important than your physical health sometimes, but in this case they are inseparable because sabotaging your physical recovery in a way that permanently incapacitates you will harm your mental health more severely and for much longer. I really can't stress this as much as it needs to be stressed. If you can possibly afford to hire an occasional visit from a massage therapist, cleaner, or in-home health aide, you can get some intermittent human contact to maintain a sense of connection to the world without putting yourself at unnecessary and horrifying risk.

Depression after surgery is common even for people who weren't depressed before it. Time distortion during rehab is normal and probably inevitable. If you can resign yourself to the next months being the longest and worst of your life, and focus only on getting through it, it will be so much better than trying to think of ways around it and ways to almost-not-quite break your medical restrictions.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:18 PM on October 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'm going to just focus on getting by, as I don't have much to add to the work/legal questions. I am so sorry you're going through this.

1. Physio - have you seen a physiotherapist to help you learn how to navigate? I broke my leg, so I had different weight bearing restrictions, but I had a lot of help about how to safely do stairs, etc. I agree that the 'bum' approach can work. I had to do two flights of stairs quite soon afterwards (again, slightly different risks) and I did do them on my bottom. I wore a longer sweater that I then took off. Once you can weight bear a little, steps get a lot easier, and again a physiotherapist can help you with the right technique for which foot goes first, etc.

2. Aids - have you looked into aids like a knee crutch (again, check this against your requirements) or knee walker? Also, can you rent and will your insurance cover a scooter, if you have somewhere to put it at your rental place?

3. At work, is it possible to work from home 4 days a week and then group all your meetings into the last day (using Lyft and bum techniques), or work from a ground-level space nearby and have colleagues pop down/over to visit you?

4. Isolation - if work is your main source of social activity, you could also invite colleagues over for after-work board games or delivery food (pizza night, etc.) Friends, ditto. If you are looking at a number of months of recovery time, it would be worth seeing if you can make your apartment a bit of a social hub. It doesn't have to be perfect and foodwise and entertainment wise you can keep it simple - binge watch something over a weekend afternoon, screen horror flicks for Halloween. Don't fret about a bit of mess, just invite people in.

5. The degree of difficulty you are having now and will have right after surgery is huge. It does get better once you can start a bit of weight bearing. Please remember it won't always be this way; I know it's really hard. The re-injury is sure to have shot your confidence very understandably.

6. Get as much sleep as you can, it's very tiring to be in pain /and/ cope with all the things you can't be doing /and/ be worrying about everything.

I hope that you realize neither the injury nor the reinjury is your fault. Some people won't get it, but a lot of people who have been through injuries will, and will probably total get the isolation and needs that you have. If you make specific requests like "hey coworker, could you bring me the XYZ reports and if you have time, stay for a cup of coffee oh and I'll order it through the app can you bring it up with you?" I bet there will be people who will oblige.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:05 PM on October 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Re: stairs, get an appointment with a PT as soon as you can, like tomorrow. There are several ways of handing stairs safely with crutches, and you need a pro to train you. I understand the fear (broken foot and broken spine here), but there's help, and you shouldn't spend the next two months shaped by that fear.
posted by Dashy at 6:08 PM on October 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry that you're going through this. I've ruptured both Achilles tendons over the past seven years and just had my fifth surgery on my left ankle (I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that affects my tendons). Stairs suck more than most people realize and being 100% non-weight bearing is horrific - not just the fear of doing more damage, but how much it stresses your other leg, wrists, etc. Yes, there are actual ways to do stairs (it takes a LOT of practice), but it's still always scary, especially while you're newly out of surgery.

Definitely work from home - no more going back. Document *everything* that you remember; it's good that you've already done it here. You never know when you might need that information in the future -- it may not be a bad idea to look into CO short term disability requirements just in case. Peapod your groceries (or whatever it is that you have in your area). A rolling office chair will save you in the kitchen, so will a chair or a stool in the bathroom in front of your bathroom sink so you can sit down and brush your teeth. It saves SO much energy.

Can you Skype into your office (as well as your family) for some human interaction? I'm assuming this is your right foot since you said that you can't drive. If that's the case, your doctor may be able to contact your insurance company and get you qualified for a visiting RN (and possibly a visiting PT). While they are at it, order you a shower chair.

Memail me if you need to talk or have questions. Feel better and good luck.
posted by dancinglamb at 9:17 PM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Does your company offer short-term disability as a benefit? When my husband was ill earlier this year, he was placed on short-term disability. It was through Prudential, who handles that benefit for his company. He had been employed less than 1 year, so there was no 1-year restriction. He had to have the doctor fill out a form and fax it to Prudential, and then later, when it needed to be extended, the same thing again. At the end, he had to notify them that he was returning to work.

As an aside, we also got a doctor's note, from the hospital doctor, and later our GP, that he wasn't able to return to work yet. This became a moot point when he applied for the short-term disability insurance and the doctor filled out their form.

Can you go online and look at your company's benefits page? Or call the HR person and ask? Not all companies offer this benefit, but many do. It also kept him from using up his PTO days for being out of the office for a month. And he was not required to work, or even check in with work, except to keep his supervisor notified as to when he would be returning to work, which he did via text about once a week.

Nthing consulting a lawyer, just to know your rights. Maybe you can get one to Skype you or consult over the phone, so you don't have to go in for a physical visit.

I find it appalling that they want you to continue to work while recovering from a severe injury, even at home. You should be focused on resting and healing, not accommodating your boss and co-workers.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:33 AM on October 7, 2019

If you want to keep this job, I'm sorry but I think you're focusing on the wrong things. The cat's out of the bag and that sucks, but I'd try to move on. Give them as few details as possible going forward, but be sure those details DO include an estimated return time.

I agree that working from home is an accommodation, even if that's not what you want. I hate to say this, but try to see this from your boss and coworkers' perspective: their coworker is out of commission, they don't know for how long and they haven't had you working from home before, so they don't know how that will work or what the workflow should look like.

That meeting where they were supposed to lay out expectations for what WFH would look like for you--were there any takeaways at all? Could you propose (suggestions here, not ultimatums) some ideas of how it would work with your workflow? They don't do your job, so it might be hard for them to imagine good solutions. You're in the prime position to do that thinking for them.

I also recommend the butt-scoot method for the stairs.
posted by purple_bird at 9:01 AM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Channeling a bit of hydra77 here..

I blew out my ACL, and had to have surgery. Much like Achilles. It's a huge pain.

But, um... you are going to have to step up a bit yourself.

Your boss likely was trying to help, as a boss. They're already being pretty accommodating - all the usual stuff - work from home, no prob. They're not fawning all over you, but they're taking your issues in stride. You may be misplacing some of your anger and frustration on them unfairly.

You may be doing more harm than good to your work relationship here.

No one owes you anything here, except some patient understanding. Especially since you didn't seem to follow orders about using crutches and taking it easy in the soft boot so you ended up re-injuring yourself.

Now, you should already have been going to physical therapy (PT).

You're just going to have to be patient.. take your time on the stairs. It will come along and you'll get used to the slower pace. Factor in the extra time it is going to take to do things.

It will take 6-8 weeks to get you to a place where you can begin getting better. Don't think you're getting better in the meantime. You are mending. Until you are mended, you can't focus on re-building.
posted by rich at 12:44 PM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you do choose to consult with an attorney, Lowrey Parady is an amazing Denver-based labor law firm.
posted by zeusianfog at 12:47 PM on October 7, 2019

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