The Story of My Wife

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Chief Bottlewasher
Jul 13, 2011
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Since you wonderful folks have known me for a few years now, I guess this is as good a place as any to zent. So, here it goes.

After three plus years of being unable to work due to her back problems, my wife is finally getting her hearing with social security next week. After being rejected on two previous attempts, we will finally have our turn in front of a real person who will decide our financial future. At this point, it is make or break for us. If we fail in this appeal, we will most likely lose our home, and our hopes living above the poverty level in retirement.

My wife, Johnna, was working under a disability insurance policy through Hartford Life Insurance---provided by her emplyer---when her back went bad in late 2010. Some of you will remember me saying that I started making wine to help her with her pain. Anyway, the money we have received from Hartford is the only thing that kept us above water. Without it, we would have lost everything when she stopped working. We had bought a house the year before, and had gotten married the year before that. Naturally, we had big plans for our future, and neither of us saw this disability come---like anyone does!

The disability policy though Hartford says that they will pay her for 36 months if she cannot perform the job she was doing when she became disabled. Then, she will be "evaluated" to see if she can perform "any work". That time has come. They, in their conflict of interest, have determined that she can work "any" job. They have stopped their payments, now, at the same time our hearing with SS has come up. We have lawyers fighting for SS, but due to financial restraints, we have been forced to appeal to Hartford on our own. We do not have money to pay a lawyer up front to fight Hartford (for money we may never get), and the amount of money involved (the difference between her potential SS payments and the check from Hartford) is not enough to get any lawyer interested. I.e., they have bigger fish to fry. We may win both (best scenario, not likely), lose one or the other (totally doable), or lose both (my greatest fear). As an eternally optomistic man, I am amazed at my overwhelming feeling that we are going to fail. I have wrestle six months with this pending hearing approaching, and I can't shake this sense of impending doom.

If this has already bored you to tears, I apologize. What I wanted to do was share Johnna's letter. This is what she wrote to Hartford to appeal the termination of her disability payments. She will also ask to be allowed to read this to the judge next Wednesday.

If this helps anyone who understands her situation or anyone who lives with someone who has a chronic ailment, I will consider this a good work. Here is her tale in her own words.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to appeal the termination of long term disability benefits paid to me under the above policy stemming from my former employment with Buffalo Wild Wings, Inc. It is my assertion that the decision to terminate said benefit payments does not take into consideration my continually deteriorating condition, the daily debilitation caused by my chronic pain, nor the average level of activity which I can perform on a regular (or daily) basis. Included is a letter from my doctor stating his opinion on this matter.

In early 2010, six months before I became unable to work as a hospitality manager for Buffalo Wild Wings (BWW), I began regularly experiencing mild to moderate dull aching pain in my middle and lower back. As time passed and the pain persisted, I was able to “work through it” with the aid of OTC anti-inflammatory medications and frequent breaks. However, since my job required a great deal of lifting, bending, and walking (12-16 hours, 5 to 6 days weekly), the ability to perform my job adequately came more and more in question. Although I did my utmost to conceal my escalating difficulties from my superiors, subordinates, and my family, I could not hide it from myself. Soon, while at work, the pain drove me to hide my tears---and fears---in a toilet stall of the women’s restroom. I did not want to face what the increasing pain might mean. I feared the loss of my job (which I dearly loved and sorely miss), the loss of income, and the loss of usefulness. My coworkers at Buffalo Wild Wings were like family to me. The eventual loss of their companionship broke my heart.

The summer of 2010 brought more pain, this time throughout my body, in my muscles and joints. This new pain accompanied constant fatigue and confusion, headaches and dizziness. In October of 2010, with the urging of my superiors at BWW and my family, I sought medical advice from my long time primary physician, Mark Hodges, M.D., for what I hoped would be a temporary and treatable condition. On November 8, 2010, with the advice of doctor Hodges, I made a claim for disability coverage via the aforementioned policy, and with an ache in my heart, said farewell to my friends at BWW.

The poking and prodding commenced. Baseline x-rays showed bulging and deteriorated discs in my back; in my cervical, lumbar, and thoracic regions. Bone spurs jutted from the vertebrae in numerous places, aggravating the surrounding nerves. My neck gave me headaches, my middle back made it painful to bend or turn, and my lower back severely hindered my ability to sit or stand for any length of time. The headaches were dull and throbbing, rarely relieved with medications, and often involved burning pain shooting into one or both shoulders. My lower back maintained a constant dull ache, like an abscessed tooth---persistent and unrelenting. My middle (thoracic) spine was the worst. The MIR showed a disc bulging into my spinal column. At unpredictable times, with just the slightest twist or turn, the disc would brush against the raw nerves of my spinal cord, causing excruciating stabbing pain that could only be dulled by strong narcotics. The pain and medications often caused confusion, profuse sweating, shortness of breath, and nausea.

To top it all, the “new pain” I had been experiencing was diagnosed (via the 18 tender point test) as fibromyalgia, an often misunderstood syndrome. Luckily, my doctor was my strongest advocate, and was willing to try various forms of management. After several trials, certain antidepressants were prescribed which---in spite of some undesirable side effects---helped to reduce the pain in my joints. Unfortunately, regular exercise (one of the best ways to control fibromyalgia pain) remained out of reach due to my chronic back pain.

Since I have begun seeking treatment in late 2010, I have suffered through: ill-advised chiropractic manipulations that made my pain worse; numerous epidural injections into my spine with steroids and pain medicine with unbearable pain and side effects; a brief stint with a TENS unit (electrical shock) that aggravated instead of relieved; and a brave go at physical therapy sessions which left me dizzy and couch-bound for the intervening days. All of the surgical physicians I have seen (neurologists/orthopedists) say the same thing. As long as I can walk and talk, breath and move, they won’t touch me. Given the condition of my back, surgery is too risky, and would very likely do more harm than good. Go home, they say. Take your meds. Come back when you get worse. For me, it has been nothing less than a prison sentence.

As a pathologist, Dr. Hodges has prescribed many different medication regimens, including fentanyl medication patches (a pain medicine 100 times more potent than morphine), antidepressants, narcotics, steroids, supplements, and anti-inflammatories. I am appalled by the number of pills I have been forced to swallow with little or no relief. Becoming addicted to (rather than dependant on) some of these potent treatments has been one of my greatest fears. As a result, I restrain from taking anything until the pain becomes unbearable.

It’s hard for me to believe that this all began little more than three years ago. All of the days of my life between then and now have run together in a blur of pain, as my condition(s) continue to deteriorate. My world has literally shrunk to the confines of my house and the elusive comforts of my family room sofa. I used to work at a job that I loved for 50 to 60 hours a week. Now I can’t even do a light load of laundry, or push the vacuum around, or sit and read with my grandchildren, or make love with my husband without suffering---sometimes for days---with the consequences. Some days I don’t feel really bad (relatively speaking), but those days are growing farther apart.

Before 2010, my husband (a veteran firefighter for 20+ years) and I were avid travelers and adventurers. We often went camping, hiking, snowboarding, mountain biking. After dating for seven years, we had married in 2008 and bought a wonderful home in 2009. Now he (the wonderful man that he is) spends most of his time at home when he is not working at the fire station. He is extremely helpful, and very understanding, fetching for me when I am flat on my back, or admonishing me when I overdo it. When I am depressed with my situation, he is there to lift me up and help me to see what we have, rather than dwell on what we have lost.

When I became disabled, we lost 30 percent of our household income. My husband (our “accountant”) somehow was able to adjust our budget so that we would not lose our home. I don’t know how he did it, but it was like a miracle. He worked extra hours, refinanced our house to get a lower rate, and gave up most of his recreational activities so that we could stay in the black---financially speaking. It bears telling that without the payments from Hartford, we would have floundered. We would have lost our home, our dreams, and our way. We would have ended in bankruptcy and misery. For that, I have you all to thank.

However, the cessation of our current payments from Hartford will involve another 30 percent loss of our current household income. Even upon reducing our budget to the bear bones, we would be forced to make impossible choices between food or medication, electricity or water, and would greatly curtail my ability to pay for health insurance and medications. Like many Americans effected by the Great Recession, we are currently “underwater” with our mortgage (having purchased our house a mere four years ago). Selling our home would be a financial disaster from which we might never recover. My greatest hope is to some day find a treatment, or medication, or surgery---whatever it might take---to improve my condition enough to return to work (of some kind) and ease the financial burden my husband has been forced to shoulder. The guilt that I bear for our currents difficulties is never far from my mind.

Currently, my activity level does not allow me to seek or maintain employment. Any prospective employer would be required to excuse me from work at any given time, or for any given day. I never know in advance what tomorrow will bring, what level of pain I will face. I cannot schedule or plan anything. I have been repeatedly forced to cancel or reschedule doctor’s appointments or visits from my family due to the unpredictability of my condition(s). I can sit or stand for no more than 30 minutes at a time before the level of my pain increases to the point where it causes nausea and dizziness, requiring me to lie flat on a soft surface (sometimes for hours) to take the pressure off of the herniated discs in my spine. Some days, I can push myself beyond these limits, but those days (maybe one or two a week) are invariably followed by days of suffering and the increased use of narcotics to dull the pain. There is no employer I can imagine who would or could retain an employee under such conditions. For this reason, and all those listed above, I request the reinstatement of my long term disability benefits.

Attached, you will find a letter from my primary physician, Mark Hodges, M.D., outlining my condition(s), treatments, and his professional opinion regarding my current employability. Please contact him or myself if you have any questions regarding anything contained in this letter.

I hope you can understand why I felt the need to write this letter in order to submit an appeal regarding the termination of my long term disability benefit. Thank you for taking the time to reconsider my position in this matter.

Johnna D. Land
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Dave I'm really sorry to read what is going on in your family's life. It seems like stuff like that is happening all over. Sending you a big hug, and positive energy.

Pam in cinti
Life is never easy Dave. There are a few other members here going through the same pain in one form or another. It pains me deeply to see this. Each and everyone of you are in my thoughts. Good luck to you guys. Let us know how you make out.
Wow, Dave... I had no idea! I feel bad now about that joke I made awhile back about how she'd never leave you because of all the DB you make for her. I'm sorry to hear of your situation! I know some of her pain because my job sometimes has me in pain for a week after a particularly bad day to the point of not being able to sit up in a chair or even lie flat. I really have my fingers crossed for an eventual recovery for Johnna. A combination of Robax Platinum and red wine have been my pain relief of choice to date for those really bad times. Best of luck with your hearings!

Just let me say I am sorry for what you and your wife have had to endure.

You are in my prayers. Best wishes for a positive outcome.
I hope it turns out well for Johnna & you, Dave.

I might have been one of the people Dan was referring to, as I'm in the middle of a "make or break" situation myself involving my Autistic brother's needs and the amount of help received to shoulder the burden.

Several times, I've about lost faith myself.. But I keep reminding myself, that some 'sayings' aren't 'sayings', merely because they 'sound good'. The one I've been holding on to, that I'll leave you with..

"It's always darkest, before dawn."

Chin up, bud.
Good luck, Dave and Johanna. You will be in my thoughts and prayers.
I know the OP was rather long, and I appreciate you all reading through it. And your thoughts and prayers are very welcome.

I know it might sound like a cliche, but Johnna was always very much a "people person". She loved being around others. Her job as a restaurant manager at BWW was perfect for her, and she was very good at it. Everybody loved her there. She had a great following of regular customers and total loyalty from her employees. She was one of those rare managers who could easily bridge the gap between boss and friend. It breaks my heart every day to see her is such pain, and know what she has lost. She deserves none of this, and I spend each day trying to fill the gaps.

On the other hand, she is still a very special lady, still as lively as she can be, still intelligent and whitty, I love her with all my heart...and I get to have her all to myself! :i

Again, I thank you all. If you think I might have been fishing for sympathy, you are correct. We could use some of that right now.
Dave I wish you both the best in all of this. It is truly very hard to go through it all and remain positive. Your story is becoming more and more common all the time, unfortunately. Whatever happens you have each other. I hope that you two recieve the "best" option in your hearings. Good luck.
Im very sorry to hear about this Dave and I feel yours and your wifes pain and know EXACTLY where you are coming from. We have been fighting this SAME scenerio for 3 years!!!!! The only difference is that my wifes back and neck injury was caused by a mentally challenged person where she worked who attacked where she was working for the state. We have been through hearing after hearing so far and each time have been rejected. For the first 7 months she was collecting workmans comp but then for some reason we were cut off from that right around the time the company I w9rk decided that to survive in this economy they needed to cut our pay 15%. Luckily between the money we saved and a9 small inheritance she received with her grandmother dying we were able to drop the house we had bought and that I had invested about $48000 into with repairs and jome improvements we had to drop that house on the bank and walk away but were able to find a foreclosed house and buy it outright with no more mortgage. Recently though after yet another hearing getting declined our lawyer somehow started getting money out of workmans comp so we were finally able to buy the furnace that this house has been missing for 2 years. Luckily the house had a big wood burning stove as thats how weve been heating house. That said I too know how your wife feels as I have 3 bad discs also. My wife has gone through 2 surgeries on her neck so far with another coming up shortly.

I hope this has a positive outcome for you both. Fingers are crossed and prayers sent.


A number of years ago, I did a real number on my back (lifting lugs of grapes into the crusher).

I was in so much pain! Back pain is the absolute worst and is always underestimated by those that have not experienced it.

I was only put out of commission for 3 weeks, but I think I may have just a small taste of what your wife is going through.

I am so very sorry to hear about your troubles. The agony that your wife is going through must be horrific. Having the financial worries on top of that must be unimaginable.

The only thing I can say at times like this is to have faith in God. He will see you through this. My hope is that you can find a specialist that can help your poor wife.

My thoughts and prayers are with you my friend.

Keep us posted Dave. We will continue to hope for the best.
Dave, maybe sympathy was not the word you were looking for - support is probably more fitting! And you two seem to have a very special relationship and seem like two wonderful people. Good things come to good people. You have all of us for support during your time of need. Just keep the faith in God and each other and things should turn out ok. Bless you both!

Sorry to hear about your wifes back problems. I, unfortunately know exactly what she's going through. I have scoliosis of the spine and am in constant pain. whether standing or sitting, my back hurts but its understandable because my spine is shaped like an "S" lol. My back is actually the reason behind the whole "McBonging". I won't get into the benefits of "that which will remain unmentioned" here but I will say that I work as a Chef in very busy high volume establishments. Could that happen with out it? Maybe but I'd have to be eating pills all the time which would probably be worse IMO.

I'm hoping for the best outcome for both your wife physically and your household economically. Good luck brother.
Dave so sorry. I know what its like i have been told to my face hey get up do something it helps to move so many people just dont know or dont want to know what its like to have back pain that bad. I like you have been very lucky to have my wife as yours has you, she understands but i see in her sometimes just the overwhelming look of defeat when it comes to what we live on now and what i used to have as a income. I got lucky my insurence was approved but every year comes up for review and every year i get worryed really never goes away. I took up wine making as a way to try to do something to keep me busy as i can only do a small bit for a short time. The wine gives me something to use other than pills been on them for way to long. Smoked for 50 years so smoking herb just is notr something i wanted to do besides i get the munchies bad really bad and the fact that i am 250 now says i dont need that. I have sympathy for you both i do hope things workout for you .

I wish and hope the best possible outcome for you two. I truly believe having the chance to share that letter and your story in person has to have a positive effect on your outcome. Please let us know how it turns out.
You have a lot of people pulling for you.
My thoughts and hopes are with you and your wife. I think it's a terrible shame that there are no law practices in the country that choose to work to represent the little guy rather than be in business to make $$$ for themselves and so would be happy to take on what for them would be "small" cases but which for their clients would be all the difference between making do and living in the poor house.

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