I took a circuitous route to Rancho Mirage for the California Applicant Attorneys Association winter convention, stopping in Oceanside to check on Mom and Dad.
Mom, as you may recall from earlier posts, had gone to the hospital a couple weeks ago with congestive heart failure and pneumonia. She since has been released to a rehabilitation facility.
Dad continues at status quo - too weak to get any better, but too stubborn to deteriorate.
I visited with Mom and checked her status. With dementia she is easily confused, but it seemed to me that otherwise she was just Mom. A bit weak still but, in talking with the therapist, making rapid recovery. I would expect her to go "home" within a week.
Dad breaks my heart of course. Here was a vibrant man, bright in the eyes, quick of wit, and at age 91, in very good shape despite a long history of coronary issues and surgeries, who all of a sudden was reduced to less than 100 pounds of skin and bones.
But he's still very aware, very sharp of mind, and desirous of something other than his current fate - either recovery or death, but anything other than status quo.
And during these past two months of regular visiting, handling "the business of Dad," and watching the progression (or lack thereof), I've noticed considerable fatigue.
I wasn't ready for this. My wife says she hears me in the early morning hours as I work, sighing heavily. I'm not aware of this when it happens, but on reflection do recall such behavior.
I'm tired all day every day. My usual zeal for life has been compromised.
Flying down to Oceanside, in between radio calls to air traffic control and managing flight, I wondered why I was so exhausted.
And it occurred to me that while I have a tremendous amount of help from my brother and sister in law, and some participation in the process from my sisters (who are not well geographically situated and don't have easy air transportation like I do), that there was an element missing from their realities.
That element - I am the primary decision maker.
I've always prided myself that I was a good decision maker. I can make a decision and I'll stick with it and execute it. I don't hesitate and don't second guess. If I made the wrong decision based on subsequently received information then I make another decision to change the original decision, and again execute.
I didn't count on guilt being associated with a decision.
But guilt is what has been dominating my emotions.
Ultimately it was MY decision that put Dad into living-limbo. I see Dad and get overwhelmed with the fact that I decided to pull him out of the hospital and back to home with hospice care.
What I was hearing from all of the professionals, and from Dad himself, at the time was that he wasn't supposed to live more than a couple of weeks.
Now its been eight weeks and I see no declination in health, only a miserable status quo.
If you're a workers' compensation professional for any length of time you can't escape this guilt either.
Claim adjuster, attorney, doctor, judge ... whomever - we have all had those cases where we second guess our decisions because the outcome was much more different than anticipated, and the person most affected by the decision process suffers.
If you've been in workers' compensation for any length of time you can't escape that one case that tugs at your heart, and you do everything you can to remedy whatever the situation is only to see either a failure, or worse, no change.
While we can say we're professionals and that it's our job, we have feelings too. Those feelings can not just be turned on or off. They linger. They affect our behavior. They affect our health.
Sometimes I sit here writing this blog and come to a pause. I reflect on what's going on with Mom and Dad. It makes me weepy. Should I have done something different? Did I explore all of the alternatives adequately? Did I make the right decision?
Of course I'm much more close to the situation than one would typically be to a workers' compensation case. We have this way of distancing ourselves through language, numbers, paper so that we are not burdened with the emotions tied to making decisions that can drastically affect the life of another human being.
It's not an easy place to be and I can't help but think that many of us who have dealt with claims for any length of time have been there too.
A friend counseled me lately on my guilt. He said, "Don't forget to tell yourself the good things about you. You are getting too much negative feedback from your own inner judgement gland. Blast it with some positive inner-reinforcement. Like most things in your life, you are doing your level BEST with this, given what you have to work with."
As we go through our days, managing injured workers, doing our level BEST with the best judgement and decision making skills we have, we need to remind ourselves that there are good things that we do.
Our industry isn't perfect. What we do is tough work. There are a myriad of laws, confusing regulations, complex emotions that we have to deal with.
At the end of the day we're exhausted.
And there are good things we have done for others.