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Workers Compensation: A Fallacy

There are probably many people reading this who know someone or have themselves experienced a workplace injury and WCB’s attitude toward compensating the worker. In fact, the Workers Compensation Board changed their name to WorkSafe BC, to reflect the greater scope of their reach and because they’re known for not compensating workers, or cutting compensation off arbitrarily.

This could all be hearsay but I do have direct experience. I have had to file twice in my life. The first time was for a repetitive stress injury to the soft tissue of my hand (my fingers and hand swelled) due to writing so much in quintuplicate for the movie industry (with one period that consisted of about 30 hours straight). In this first case, WCB did cover treatments but only until they thought I should be better. A known fact about the human body is that people heal at different rates and many other factors come into play. So I had to somehow manage to get better, without affording the therapy while still working.

The second time was perhaps harder to pinpoint but indicates the arbitrary decision making of case workers. I was working inside underneath three air conditioner vents. I have a couple of conditions, the major one being chronic myofascial pain syndrome (MFS). It is similar to fibromyalgia but more treatable. I can be fine for a long time and then experience a relapse brought on by certain conditions. Then I will proceed into a chronic pain cycle, which can take years to get hrough. I can function but am often in pain all the time.

Myofascial pain can be triggered by various events, some of which are: stress, cold, injury. This means, at the onset a person can try to work through the pain with exercise, which can backfire, causing more trigger point cascades. A trigger point is an area on the body that when pressed refers pain to other areas. People with myofascial pain and fibromyalgia have specific spots on their bodies which will be major trigger points. Each person may not demonstrate pain in all of them but may in most of them. A trigger point is often a hard knot. I’m not a medical expert but from what I’ve read it involves muscle tissue and fascia (the thin membrane that covers muscles [like you see on chicken]). A trigger point cascade can occur where one trigger point starts a progression of spasms and knotting that create other trigger points.

At my worst, I was trying to work out and increased the problem unknowingly. I had trigger point cascades down my arms and back, to the point where I could barely hold a fork or chew. That was an extreme episode that I don’t wish to visit again. Overall, my muscles will spasm and knot up and will forget how to release. I had ten years of chronic pain before the combination of the right muscle relaxant (many painkillers and analgesics don’t always work on this type of pain), a massage therapist who understood how to work with trigger points, and about four months of very warm weather which took me out of the chronic stage.

As I’ve mentioned, stress, injury or cold can trigger myofascial pain. Other conditions can be associated with it, such as Reynaud’s syndrome. Reynaud’s is also called red, white and blue because it will be brought on by cold and the vessels in the extremities (fingers and toes) will constrict, causing the limbs to go from red to white to blue as the blood flow is suppressed. People with this condition will experience sharp, knifelike pain and numbness. I have found, when I experience Reynauds, that the only way to bring circulation back to the extremities is to bring up my core temperature.

I have given these two examples here to wind back to workers compensation. The three air conditioner vents that I was sitting under blew a lot of cold air onto my back. I’m more susceptible to cold, but was the only person in my area who was under three vents (no one was under more than one). Because the muscles tightened up, when I moved suddenly, sitting at my desk, I threw out my back. I was a contract worker so I couldn’t really take time off but I filed a claim. I went to the chiropractor a couple of times but couldn’t afford more than that.

Recognizing that this could be another chronic pain onset, I wanted WCB to cover therapy for a couple of weeks. In all, if I had had treatment right away I could have put off the chronic pain. It would have taken probably a month at most, consisting of chiropractic to adjust my back, and massage to keep the muscles from tightening up and pulling my back out again (believe me, I live with this often, muscles pulling my ribs out while I sleep).

My case worker was on holidays so I talked to someone else first. When the case worker came back, he didn’t even talk to me but denied the claim straight out. I wrote back citing the specialist that had originally diagnosed me. I was willing to be examined, get letters from the specialists about the condition and other documentation if needed. I said that the cold of the air conditioning was the problem and the case worker wrote back and said that cold never hurt anyone. Never. Cold.

I wonder what those people feel who suffer frostbite and hypothermia and die of exposure? One of the best ways to get through myofascial pain is to apply heat, along with therapy. This case worker didn’t consult any medical expert but made his own uninformed arbitrary decision. I would have had to go to a new level to fight this, to get the therapy that was now some time from the onset of the injury. And what else causes myofascial pain? Stress. Having already taken ICBC (our provincial car insurance company) to small claims court for not covering the therapy costs of the injury that originally began my relationship with myofascial pain, I knew how stressful that process was (I won, BTW). I didn’t do it and have spent several years getting out of another bout of chronic pain. And of course all the subsequent visits to my doctor for muscle relaxants (trying to find some that work), the few visits to the therapists, and days I take off work when the pain is too much, or for doctor appointments puts more strain on our health care and system. In the long run, it costs way more than what the initial treatments would have been.

This is just one example of how workers compensation is a fallacy. I have heard far worse stories. And I have only touched the tip of the iceberg on what myofascial pain is all about. It is a more accepted condition these days, very hard to diagnose and many doctors pooh pooh it still.  Wikipedia has a very short entry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myofascial_pain_syndrome  And should you have a workplace injury that brings on this condition, you can expect workers compensation to not compensate, to not help you get better, and like many other injured workers, leave you out in the cold.

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Let it Snow, Oh No, No No!

Okay I’m not yet  done whining about winter, or describing snow. This is seriously the biggest long term dump of the white stuff in a very long time. Many years ago we had a blizzard on Dec. 23rd. I was going to Tacoma for Christmas but on the 24th I couldn’t get my Honda Civic out of the parking spot. The snow was up to the tops of the doors. I did go, catching a taxi and then the Greyhound over the border (an experience I never want to repeat because customs officials treat you like a street person if you take the bus).

Last year, we had several small snowfalls, that melted in between, and then froze, making the streets look deceptively clean but with the thinnest sheet of ice that denied traction. And it was cold. This year, a week of freezing temperatures with snow and then Saturday and Sunday’s big dump has made this more unusual. Yesterday it continued to snow steadily, and for most of the day it really was like someone shaking a big sugar shaker as the snow fell straight down. No wind whatsoever.

My landlord shoveled the walks twice and this morning there was another four inches of snow. It was snowing when I awoke, or maybe raining as it was very light. My back patio is snowed in and everything carries large caps of the white stuff. My round patio table looks like a giant cake with white frosting.

I have a little tuxedo cat named Venus. She loves her territory and hisses fiercely at most interlopers. She also tends to like the comforts of home more than the outdoors ( a direct opposite to the late great Figment who loved his outdoors and would have been out  exploring in the snow.) Yesterday, I picked Venus up and put her out the door, under the eaves where there was still some loose dirt. She does tend to like the great outdoors for doing kitty business. But no way. Since the snow and cold last week her fuzzy butt has not touched the ground.

All the lines and tree lims now have about two inches of snow sitting on them. When it starts to thaw (and I did here dripping from the eaves this morning) it will be really messing with big snow splats falling on our heads.

Yesterday the snow was still dry and powdery and the sky a silvery white. Today, blue is peeking through the clouds and the temperature is near zero. So that means everything is getting mushy. My car is pretty much buried in the ruts of the side streets with a good six inches or more sitting atop it.

So I took the bus but I had to walk along sidewalks thick with the overnight snowfall (on all walks) then up past the schoolyard and through the school parking lot. You can guess none of this has ever been shoveled. I was lucky enough to find a few tire ruts to walk in which made it slightly less tiresome. But I was panting and my legs hurting from walking on the sliding snow. It’s softening up and underneath those inches of gray brown sludge is still a lovely layer of ice. I was sweating by the time I got to the Drive.

The double length buses going south on Commercial got stuck. The back end would slide and pull backwards. Finally one bus made it to the stop. We trudged out through the muck because he couldn’t get close to the curb buried somewhere under the snow. We all sat at the back because the driver needed some traction. It sure is white here in Vancouver today. The streets are mushy and you have to dodge cars shooting past and sling the slime at you.

And why do people get this stupid grin on their faces and say, Looks like we might have a white Christmas after all. As if it’s special. As if it’s romantic. Some dumb song or two talking about snow in nostalgic terms does not make it better. Go backt to the mountains, evil snow, go. Go now. (Oh wait, BC is almost all mountains…sigh.)

But it’s warmer, though we’re still getting snow this week. Snow in our rainforest. Evil snow, herald of doom and darkness in all those fantasy novels. Come to think of it, Mordor might be welcome right now, for warmth if nothing else.

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Winter Wonderland

I hate winter. I’m a bonafide cold wimp and left Calgary many years ago, partly to escape hideous winter, and we had chinooks to temper the bluster of the icy season. When I was in art college, doing photography, I’d go shooting in the winter until the oil in my camera froze up. Those days, I’d get so cold that it felt like my bone marrow had frozen. There was this deep aching, numbing feeling in my limbs and the only thing that would alleviate it would be immersing myself in a very hot bath.

I’ve become more constitutionally delicate with cold, and sometimes can suffer from Raynaud’s Phenomenon, which causes the extremities to go through white, red and blood in coloration. It’s numbing and can feel like someone shoving needles into my hands. Luckily I don’t suffer it often but cold is a factor. So forgive me if I hate winter.

Yesterday, in Vancouver it was icy cold and clear. We’d had a small snowfall on Saturday (where I went no further than my neighbor’s) but the roads were clear and dry. All the foliage, of which Vancouver still has plenty of in winter, was a dark, crisp green. Just like the fridge when the temperature is set too cold and all the vegetables freeze into organic sculptures. There were many of those sculptures: the somewhat slumped and crunchy looking ivy, the ferns in perfect emerald stillness, the trees (rhodos) with drooped and pale leaves. You just know that when the weather warms we’re going to have a lot of sludgy slime.

But that’s just it. When the weather warms… Alas, predictions say cold till Christmas and maybe a bitter January and February. What? This is Vancouver, a coastal rainforest, temperate, not too hot in summer, not too cold in winter. Usually only a day or two of frost but not freezing temperatures and snow. I’m wearing snow boots that give me blisters in minutes but at least I have a grip and won’t crash onto the ground, which happened two years ago, injuring my shoulder.

Gah! It’s -2 right now and snowing and snowing and snowing. What happened? Whoever’s weather we’re getting I wish they’d come and reclaim it. There is supposed to be more snow on Sunday. Sob** Vancouver snow is worse than Calgary’s ever was. In Calgary it fell dry and sparkly. My only favorite snow memory was always the first snowfall, when the city was blanketed in diamonds under the streetlight. The world was muffled in white silence and usually I could hear a distant dog bark or maybe a car. In the evening, (as a teenager) walking through it from my friend’s to my place, it would feel like I was the only person in the world, no other footprints yet marring the surface.

That was a good memory and even if the snow stayed, it was crunchy and you could get a grip on it, whether in boots or a car, and you could build snowmen and igloos (Yes, we built an igloo once, how fun was that?). Vancouver on the other hand, has the majority of drivers not used to driving in snow. And our cars don’t have snow tires. And the snow becomes this wet sludge that melts through the most waterproof boots and is slippery for any sort of tires. I hate it, a lot.

More worrisome than my whining is the fact that we’re getting this weather. It’s unusual, but not as much as it used to be. There is more snow and more freezing temperatures. That could cause a problem to the ecosystem with flora and fauna that are not used to surviving in such weather. I wonder what the birds do and I can tell you I haven’t seen any in the past few days. Not the murder of crows that always goes east to roost in the evening, not the ubiquitous sky rats, seagulls.

Many of the cats are staying indoors over the past few days, just like the humans. Many Vancouver homes tend not to have basements, or not ones that go below ground. Our water table is too high. This also means that most homes don’t have plumbing that runs that deep beneath the ground. We always have to worry about freezing temperatures and pipes freezing or bursting. Just like the ice toppling that gondola tower at Whistler, because water froze and expanded. We have a lot of water here, as rain, as constant moisture, which gives us those green winters.

There have been years that I saw cherry blossoms on New Year’s day. Those have also been unusual but not as much as this winter wonderland. Mostly I wonder why we’re having this winter. I hate snow and cold, a lot.

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