Montana workplace injury survivor Danny Lee tells his story of pain and loss.
My workers’ comp story is not much different than many others, but I’ve found that not many people really want to talk about it. Before I was injured I lived the typical Montana experience. I had a good job, good benefits and the opportunity for lots of lucrative overtime, as well as a great family and lots of hobbies. I coached T-ball and Little League Baseball. I taught my family how to ski. I played racquetball and handball. I loved hunting, fishing and whitewater rafting and bringing in the firewood. You get the picture.
I was young, healthy and in shape. I liked my life. I thrived on being active and energetic. I prided myself on being the first to help another person in need. Then it happened—an electrical explosion that threw me against a wall. No biggie, right? I’m young. I’m tough. I’ll shake it off. I’m a dedicated employee. I’m not going to make a big deal out of this. I took a few days off, saw a doctor, a physical therapist and a chiropractor.
I didn’t realize it then, but my life was never going to be the same. The pain persisted. There didn’t seem to be an immediate medical solution, so I just did the day-to-day thing. But those things were starting to change for me. I was traveling on a one-way road that was all down hill. I couldn’t stand or walk for long periods without my pain level going through the roof. I took a shop job at work. I didn’t want it, but it meant less walking. Overtime became a thing of the past because I could hardly stand 40 hours. I didn’t seem to have time for hunting or fishing trips anymore. I found myself saying, “Sorry, son, I just can’t coach your Little League team this year.”
Nothing changed quickly. I made life-changing decisions at a snail’s pace. When you are in constant pain, time and events get muddled. I was deathly afraid of opiate-based painkillers, so I mostly just put up with it. I would lay in my room with the lights out wondering how things got this way. My marriage fell apart, and other family problems arose. I ended up financially ruined after working the better part of a lifetime. Can I blame those things on my workplace injury? What difference does it make? All I know for sure is that the way things played out in my life was not according to my game plan.
At the ripe old age of 55, I had my first half-dozen surgeries. The nerve damage was irreversible. My surgeon told me that I’ll never work again. How can this be? I’m only 55. I used to be the bull of the woods, but now my hands don’t work right and I can’t feel my leg. My balance is very iffy, and that is on a good day. I don’t have as much pain now because I think I’ve gone numb to it, but I still have days when I’m more than reminded of the fact that PAIN HURTS.
For all my whining, I’ve got to admit that not a day goes by that I’m not reminded that I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m still kickin’. Since becoming involved with the Labor Management Advisory Council on Workers’ Compensation and subsequently the WorkSafeMT Board, I have realized that a lot of workers are getting injured far more severely than me, and many of them are getting killed.
If by sharing my story, just one worker realizes how damn much is at stake with every move he or she makes on the job, I’ll keep on telling it. Thinking safely and acting safely does not make you a less productive employee. It makes you a more valuable asset to your employer, your family and yourself.