Thursday, March 13, 2008

Follow-Up From Hospital Hilarity

I SUPPOSE THE LACK OF follow-up on that last post is a bit of a cliffhanger. Fear not, I am actually alive, and will now detail the events of the past week-and-change.

I awoke on Monday feeling well and headed to work as usual. I felt a little nervous once I got there, though, but without any of the problems I'd had the previous week, and notably without any chest pains. My first task in the office was to send an email to my boss, the managing editor (ME) of the publication; her boss; and another exec who has been checking in on my sanity (which, by the way, my ME's boss had not done once since I became the last man standing in the department . . . not that I need daily handholding, but some sort of support would've been nice).

In this email, I briefly stated what had happened, what had led up to it, and the emergency department doctor's conclusion that the chest pains and breathing difficulty were stress related. I told them point-blank that nothing was more important to me than my health, that I was not going to let the drop in staffing make me sick, and that I would do whatever I needed to do to stop it from happening again. I avoided the "woe is me" script — that's not professional — and just laid out, in a positive but firm tone, that I just didn't think the job was the same as it had been when I started, and that I would do as much as I could, within the the parameters of health and ability, to manage things in this new version of the position as best I could.

My next email was to human resources and was far briefer. I asked the junior member of the department (she's in the office more frequently; her boss splits duties between two facilities). I asked what the conditions were for claiming COBRA benefits. I said that I knew it was available to those who'd been laid off, but I wanted to know if it was obtainable under all conditions of employment separation, including voluntary departure.

I didn't write this second one to scare anyone or to set an ultimatum. I just wanted to make sure I had a way out. Never mind the recession in progress. At that moment, one of the few reasons I had to return to work was subsidized health insurance. I needed to know that I could leave if things got worse, so I wouldn't feel bound to a damaging job and suffer long term because of it, which I've seen happen to family and friends.

I don't know how these two parties subsequently got in touch with each other. The ME may have contacted HR out of fear that I might quit. HR may have alerted my bosses when I asked a question that addressed that same possibility. Either way, the notes set off an alarm, and I soon received visits from all parties (the ME via email). The senior HR person in particular came down to answer my COBRA question, but also to determine what was wrong on my side. I kept things brief with her, as this person has a poor "beside manner" (there's a reason I sent my query to the junior HR person). But I did tell her that if it came down to my health or the job, my health was always going to win. She asked that I give them a chance to restaff the department before making any sort of hasty decision.

I also let the designer and artist know the score, because if I had any sort of relapse, their progress with the current issue would be severely screwed. The artist was sympathetic; as I've mentioned, he had a bad reaction to stress a couple of months back. The management could go to hell when it came to my health — these are the people who laid folks off back in December and gave them 20 minutes to leave the building. But I didn't want to leave the art crew in the lurch.

I proceeded with the day's tasks as swiftly as I could, only feeling any jitters near the end of the day. As I'd racked up an extra hour on the previous Friday, I cut out at 4:00. As before, once I left, my breathing returned to normal. I wondered if this would fade, given continued lack of new symptoms.

What I really wanted to hear was my primary care physician's opinion, which came Tuesday night. Aside from a little tension in my chest (no pain) Tuesday morning, I had no recurrence of bad feelings. After reviewing the report from the hospital, the doc agreed that it was stress, that two quick twinges with no other cardiac symptoms or markers in the tests were not life threatening, and that (most important to me) I could go back to the gym. I headed from there to my parents' house to share the good news, then returned home and hit the hay in anticipation of a morning trip to my health club.

I stuck to 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer the next day, which passed without incident and felt great. No problems at work; in fact, we got the damn issue that had been causing all the problems on press. I returned on Thursday morning for my first resistance training since the day I first had the pain, then instead of going to work, headed down to Jersey City to help on the phones during the WFMU Fundraising Marathon. Fun and relaxation amid a sparkling, springlike day. With the issue gone, Friday at work was far calmer, and I basically just put my desk back in some sort of order before diving into a weekend of utter slothfulness (aside from two problem-free trips to the gym).

It's taken me some time to get back into the swing of things with my workout. Not keeping up with it while I awaited the official word to return was quite a disruption, and losing the hour on Saturday night fucked me up for two days. After back-to-back gym visits over the weekend, I couldn't get my ass out the door Monday or Tuesday mornings. It'll probably take a couple of weeks to get back to where I was before all of this bullshit hit, but at least the progressively warmer mornings and earlier sunlight we'll get over the course of March will grease the rails. (Good thing, too; with gas prices surging, walking to the gym is my better option.)

We've moved fully into producing the April issue. I've felt fine at work so far, trying to use the lessons of the March issue to avoid its pitfalls. I have reached out to people to get them involved as early as possible, so the burden of production and scheduling can be shared. I divided the labor of editing and producing copy with my boss early this time, so we don't have to make these sorts of decisions as one deadline after another collapses under the weight of reality. Above all, I've tried to structure things so my own sanity is the factor that isn't in danger of collapsing.

So that's where things stand. I am looking toward summer, however, specifically the beginning of June, for my triumphant return to Las Vegas. I've already told the ME I plan that chunk of time off, and there's a plane waiting for me to buy a seat. Once that's done (and now is better than later, what with oil prices forcing airlines to bump up prices), the only major decision is which hotel will host my bilious carcass.


India said...

Aren't communications with HR supposed to be confidential??

Anyway, it sounds like you handled the situation masterfully, as usual.

Schizohedron said...

You'd think so, huh? That's why I'd love to know what the sequence of communication was after I sent those two emails (and I sent them not three seconds apart). I sent the HR one to a different person from the one who actually came down to talk to me, but the first person to respond to any note was my ME. I doubt she would've contacted HR, but you never know. During such a panic call, HR might have said, "Oh, we just got a note from him, yada yada. . . ."

I don't know if the junior HR person alerted my boss (she seems more circumspect), but I can envision the senior one — who has all the charm of an overworked hall monitor — doing so.

Thanks for the compliment; I dispensed with several nondiplomatic mental drafts of the note to the higher-ups that Sunday night, so I didn't write something unfortunate and have the COBRA question answered for me in the wrong way!