The pain became all-consuming, mind numbing, blinding, and debilitating. This has been my reality since the April 2010 accident. After April 2010, my ability to function at even a basic level was drastically reduced. The level of pain and my ability to function became the measurements of my life. Pain, the minimization of that pain and finding ways to feel like I wasn’t suffocating became my primary thoughts throughout the day, from first waking breath to my last conscious thought through the tears.
Upon waking and attempting to take a deep breath a ripping, tearing pain would flow through my chest. The pain would be so intense that it would bring tears to my eyes. I almost began to fear breathing for the pain could be that unbearable. Movements out of bed and through the apartment became slow and minimal. It would take whatever rest I could get to make it to the kitchen to put the kettle on and then get to the couch. Shallow breathing became the norm for a breathing pattern and I found myself holding my breath at the point where all breath was gone.
Breathing with and through the pain was one thing, yet the sensation of suffocating and not getting enough air became frightening. Each and every breath feels like I’m trying to breath through layers and layers of thick cloth. The lack of air and pain took over my life, from the moment I woke until I collapsed from sheer exhaustion.
Doing simple chores became difficult at best. Changing the bedding would have me in tears before I got the comforter on the bed. Cleaning the bathroom was torture. I would manage to do either the tub or the surround but not both. Bathroom floors were steam mopped and I was glad that I had spent the money when it was available. Even making meals like cooking eggs would leave me gasping for air and holding on to the counter for fear of collapsing.
I began to avoid any activity that would change my breathing pattern. To my mind and to what I was feeling it was the only thing that didn’t flair the pain to such a state that I didn’t have to bury my head and cry. Nights were the worst though. As I would lie down the sensation of being crushed and suffocating from being unable to breathe would become overwhelming. I would in fact fall asleep each night, crying, unsure if I would even wake in the morning.
Each consultation with Dr. McIvor at the Firestone Clinic would be a disappointment. There was never a comment about the pain, no discussion what so ever. His only concern was that the lung capacity return to what it was before the April accident. Dr. McIvor would never discuss or even acknowledge my complaints of pain. The last time I saw Dr. McIvor, in March 2011, he said I should consider joining Curves to lose weight, an insinuation that I wasn’t active. Yet with the April 2010 accident I had to give up my much-loved belly dancing and other activities.
In fact all exercise had ended, no more walks downtown or to the market across the street, no more sight-seeing and shopping trips to Niagara-on-the-Lake, no more dinners out with friends, no walks along the beach with friends … NOTHING and the inability to do things that brought be joy was devastating. Even driving became difficult. The smell of traffic exhaust and smog made all but the shortest trip excruciating. I had to give up taking my mother shopping for her weekly groceries. My sister became her lifeline for groceries and necessities. Eventually I would come to depend on her and friends for my grocery shopping trips.
Monthly visits to my family doctor showed no improvement in symptoms. The pain never subsided. My family doctor thought it prudent to see some other specialists to see if we could find some relief. I was sent to a muscular-skeletal specialist to make sure that there was nothing structurally wrong. When he looked at me and was amazed at my flexibility, he said he had no idea why they would send me to him and that my pain was definitely not a muscular-skeletal problem. My family doctor suggested a heart specialist and again the results were clear.
Still there was no help from the Firestone Clinic. Dr. McIvor wouldn’t even discuss other medications, causes or anything else to do with the continuing pain and difficulty breathing. Each time I would mention being in pain, feeling like I was suffocating conversation stopped and he would not discuss anything else. My appointments would end then with a reminder to make another appointment. In October 2010, Dr. McIvor reported that my lung capacity had returned to pre-accident levels. It really amazes me that the one hospital clinic that began with input from the steel companies in this city was the only clinic coldly rejecting my symptoms and ignoring my pleas for help!
With this last report from the Firestone Respiratory Clinic, WSIB cut off all benefits. Every time my advocate tried to contact WSIB to get the benefits re-established WSIB was unresponsive. There were numerous phone calls that were never returned or they were returned after hours. Letters to the board went unanswered. Even my advocate admitted to me that something wasn’t right. Of course by then I began to understand all too well that WSIB was not there to help employees but the blatant actions surprised me.
The only bright point in this whole unbelievable saga came November 23, 2010. Eleven months and 3 weeks after the date of my WSIAT Tribunal a decision was finally rendered. In a 16-page report the Tribunal panel awarded me the decision. The WSIAT Tribunal agreed that the number of incidents showed ongoing respiratory problems. “In conclusion, and in the view of the Panel, this worker suffered an exposure to substances in the 1995 accident that were a significant factor in the onset of what became an ongoing permanent respiratory condition. In that regard, the worker did not recover to her pre-accident state and is entitled to benefits….” The Tribunal noted how ArcelorMittal Dofasco had accommodated me through various plant locations. I would be entitled to years of lost wages and other benefits. The sense of vindication was a blessed relief although ArcelorMittal Dofasco made certain that it was short-lived. Just how long and with what force the retaliation would take was something I would just have to wait for.