I often tell people one of the worst things about my illness/injury disability is the fact that I do not appear to be injured, sick, much less disabled. It is a burden that I have had to deal with since first realizing about five years ago that there was no job that I would be able to do in a full-time capacity, and that I would probably never return to the workforce.
In 2009 after I was able to take a short-term medical leave from work, I was approached by a member of upper management from the plant where I and others had become ill and or disabled. He was enquiring about my symptoms and he asked me how soon I thought I might be returning to work. I told him that I had no idea when I would be able to return to work
I had known this man since our high school days, and he had known that during the 1990s my wife and I had served as officers for a spiritually based social service organization. He pressed me and asked me if I would be able to return to that type of career? I informed him that not only did the injury/illness affect my physical being but that it also affected my ability to think, to make decisions, and had also affected my short-term memory. I had guessed that he thought that I should be able to do a white-collar job. I remember telling him, you must have your head on straight to do that type of job.
Fast forward five or six years and after thankfully qualifying for social security disability and Sherri, my wife working in a non managerial position in the afore-mentioned service organization. While at work one day Sherri was approached by a man named Randy who years earlier we had been in training with. Randy asked Sherri if there were any possibility of the two of us returning to our former career with the organization, adding that it was “never too late”. Sherri is aware that even if we wanted to go back that the limitations due to my injury/illness would prevent it. She smiled and acknowledged Randy by nodding her head. I considered Randy a friend and was not surprised when Sherri told me that he had passed our names to a retired officer who would like to visit with us about the possibility of returning to our former careers.
Sherri knows me as well as anyone and although it took some time for her to learn how ill I am, she has repeatedly told me that she understands that there is no job that I would be able to do in a full-time capacity. We live in a relatively small city and when I was first injured/made ill the somewhat controversial story was front page news. Sherri is often asked about my health and well-being, understandably she has grown weary of trying to explain my health issues which I fully understand. It is hard enough for those of us affected to explain an invisible illness/disability to others. Imagine trying to explain something that you have not experienced and do not fully understand.
While at work one day Sherri received a call from the retired company officer, his name was Dick. He asked Sherri if it would be alright if sometime he and his wife Mary took us out to eat and discuss the possibility of our return to the organization. After arriving home from work that day Sherri informed me about the conversation and told me that she had told Dick that we were not interested. I suggested to her that we should at least give Dick some type of explanation since he was following up on a lead from Randy, she agreed.
That evening I called Dick to thank him for his follow-up call to Sherri and asked him to also please thank Randy on our behalf. I went on to try to explain to him that even if Sherri and I were adamant about returning to our former careers that I believed once the organization found out about my health issues that we would be ruled out. Dick explained that he and Mary would still like to visit with us about our decision to leave the organization to help determine if something could have been differently in an effort to help others who may be in a position to leave. I told him that the next time they were in the area we would try to meet with him and his wife Mary.
After a week or two had passed we got a phone call from Dick letting us know that he and Mary would be passing through our area and wondered if they could meet Sherri and me for lunch or dinner. It was decided an early evening meal would work best so we arranged for a date and time to meet at a local restaurant to share a meal and get to know one another.
When Sherri and I arrived at the restaurant Dick and Mary were already seated and waiting for us. They introduced themselves to us told us a little about themselves and asked if we had any questions for them. Dick explained to us that the officer who had encouraged Dick to come out of retirement was interested in how best to minister to former career people who had for one reason or another decided to leave the organization and to determine if there might be a possibility for return. He went on to tell us that medical doctors could determine the physical and mental health of those candidates that may choose to return but the officer had told Dick that the doctors could not report on the “heart” health of those candidates. Sherri and I understood that Dick was not discussing the organ that pumped blood but that it was his job to determine what was the health of our inner being. Dick then asked if we harbored any bitterness toward the organization? We assured him that we did not. Dick and Mary asked about our family, we discussed many mutual friends that we had met while we were still working within the organization. Dick then began to ask about my health problems and wondered what I was currently doing. I explained my health issues as best I could and explained that thankfully I had received Social Security Disability Compensation. The hour plus that we had spent together seemed to fly by and after the table had been cleared Dick and Mary told us they had a fairly long drive ahead of them and that they should be leaving.
After Dick had graciously given the waitress a credit card and we began to gather our things to leave Dick leaned across the table and looked me in the eye. He said to me, that when during the earlier phone conversation I had told him that even if Sherri and I were adamant about returning to our previous careers that when the company learned about my illness we would be denied, he then asked; “You knew that you would not be able to do the job, didn’t you?” While still looking deep into each others eyes I found myself so overwhelmed that I could not speak, I could only nod in affirmation. There was no look of disbelief or condescending tone, instead he bowed his head and launched into a prayer for us.
I must admit that I do not remember what he prayed. With head bowed and tears streaming down my face I could only think about the fact that he believed me. This man who had been a total stranger just over an hour earlier believed me beyond a doubt. What was different about Dick and the many others I had tried to convince over the years? Was it the questions he had asked or the responses I had given? I had answered the same questions in the same manner many times in the past. Was it that Dick had a gift for seeing deep inside someone to their inner being or “heart”? Was it a combination of all things combined? I still don’t know.
I only know that he believed me.