It is not unusual for Social Security Disability to send an applicant to doctors they pay to do various evaluations. So I’m prepared for that possibility and I’m not surprised when I receive notice of two appointments, patient forms to fill out with my medical and psychological history or that the appointments are nearly two hours away from our home. The notices inform me that the first appointment is on a Saturday and the second on the following Friday. The appointments are located in offices in a city that is nearly a two hour drive from my home and with which I am unfamiliar. There are form letters I have to return letting Social Security know I plan to keep the appointment. I return them.
Two days after I get the letters my phone rings.
Social Security Benefit Specialist (SSBS): We received your reply that you plan to keep the appointments we’ve scheduled for you. Will you be keeping those appointments?
Me: Yes, I will be there.
SSBS: It’s very important you keep the appointments. Will you?
Me: Yes, I don’t foresee any problem, I’ve made arrangements to be there.
SSBS: Call if you are unable to keep these appointments.
Me: Yes, I will.
We hang up and I think, why bother to have me send the acceptance letters in if you’re going to call? Five days before the appointment my phone rings and I answer.
SSBS: This is a reminder call that we’ve received your written acceptance of the appointments we’ve scheduled for you and your verbal consent as well. Will you be keeping the first appointment?
Me: Yes I will.
SSBS: We also sent you background paperwork for the doctors you need to fill out before keeping the appointments. Will you complete them?
Me: I’ve done it already.
SSBS: Have you filled them out?
Me: Yes I have.
SSBS: It’s very important you cooperate and keep the appointment and take in the completed paperwork. Will you consent to do that?
SSBS: Thank you.
This time when we hang up I look at my daughter and say, “You know I’m beginning to worry about these appointments.”
“…a time to weep and a time to laugh…”
Ecclesiastes 3:4a NIV
The day before the appointments we repeat the conversation a third time. I look longingly at a large binder clip on the shelf by my bed thinking it may be the only way I keep myself from telling this SSBS she’s the one a few French fries short of a Happy Meal. I remind myself, she’s just doing her job, following some written script from the “How to Talk to People Who are Dummies”.
The first appointment is with a psychiatrist. Her office is located in a former private residence. I’ve filled out the paperwork that asks all the invasive questions, giving all my personal history prior to my arrival. Of course, I have to fill out basically the same thing all over again once I get there.
The drive took nearly two hours and I am on a diuretic, so yes, I have to use the facilities. Oh my! The bathroom is not handicap accessible whether you’re wheelchair bound or not. (Just putting up handrails doesn’t make it accessible people!) First my wheelchair and I can’t fit in the bathroom at the same time and the door shut. Second, once we get the wheelchair and me somewhat in I can’t reach the handrails to get myself up, so my husband has to stand outside in the hallway, blocking anyone from coming down our way to help me out of the wheelchair and to get to where I can do what must be done. It is then I discover the toilet is one meant for children!
I must say everything was within reach though. I was able to take care of business and wash my hands with my amputation propped in the wheelchair because there wasn’t anywhere else to put it. Again my husband has to come to my aid in order for me to get back into the wheelchair. Thank God for my husband.
Thankfully the psychiatrist is amazingly kind and although I’ve now repeated my life story, personal and medical three times in two days including the filling out of the initial paperwork, she doesn’t make me feel that my tears are unwarranted as we explore it all again. We didn’t discuss the bathroom.
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
Proverbs 17:22 NIV
The second appointment is located in the same city a few blocks over from the psychiatrist office on the following Friday. Again, Social Security and the Advocate Group are kind enough to call me two additional times to remind me of the appointment and to ask if I plan to attend. The morning of the appointment, although I’ve called to toll free number to tell them I am coming as well as replied in the affirmative to the Social Security Administration, the doctor’s “nurse” calls to ask me if I’m coming. Turns out they have no way of accessing the messages on the 800 number we’re given to call, and the SSA doesn’t tell them our reply. Who knew?
This is the appointment for the physical. Although I am directed to go to a chiropractor office and don’t know it won’t be the chiropractor who does the exam. There is actually signage set out directing us into the office and I wonder if people notice the unusual high percentage of handicap people slowly making our way toward the nearly hidden office. I feel like a cow being herded into the corral and I fear it isn’t going to be pleasant.
We are greeted by “the nurse” who has never met a stranger, which is Southern for she starts talking and can’t quit, bless her heart. The cordless phone is semi-attached to her hand while the other one waves in the air to emphasize what she is telling us. Again, I turn in the paperwork they’ve sent me and again, fill it out all over again as I did the week before.
When it’s my turn to have my eyesight checked we discover just how non-wheelchair friendly this office is with electrical cords running everywhere, thresholds on doorways difficult to get the wheelchair over and no room to turn around. Once I’ve proven I’m not blind, except without my glasses, and that I am alive because I have both a pulse and a blood pressure reading all for which the nurse has to put the phone down to do; we spend ten minutes tracking said phone down afterwards so we go back out to wait on the doctor.
He appears and my heart sinks. I’m not sure when the last time I saw pants like he was wearing, those summer seersucker pants, pulled up above his navel in a wrinkled wide blue and white pin stripe. No tie but he does have a normal shirt on under his flapping lab coat. He reminds me of Barney Fife off of Andy Griffith crossed with a Mad Scientist. Soaking wet he might weigh a 100 pounds if you left his shoes on. To complete his look he has glasses that give him the appearance of a having bat wings across his eyes. His hair is only slightly more rumpled than his pants. I really could have gotten around his appearance if his batty demeanor didn’t carry on through the exam.
“So I see you had your left leg amputated in June of 2011. So you just have the one leg then?”
He lifts up my dress to see and I wonder if he thinks I have a spare leg hidden somewhere on me. Maybe I have one tucked away in my purse?
Me: “Yes, just the one.”
Doctor: “Okay, well…I can’t do that one…”
He proceeds to flip and fight with the stapled forms pages trying to figure out how to do the physical exam since I am wheelchair bound. It appears I’ve thrown him for a loop. After several minutes of different “tests” he decides he needs to feel around on my right leg. He pushes in with his thumb.
Me: That hurts.
Doctor: Really? (Pushing harder.) This hurts?
Me: (Tears in my eyes now.) Yes, really. It hurts.
Doctor: Are you sure? (Pushes harder with his thumb, nail and all.)
Me: (Crying now.) Yes, yes I’m sure.
The doctor doesn’t know how blessed he is that my husband, who is the one sitting on the actual exam table, didn’t take the good doctor’s legs off. Under my breath I keep reminding him the doctor is just doing his job. I’m also hoping that all the painful part of this physical exam is done with.
I wasn’t that blessed. But mercifully it was brief.
I didn’t ask to use the bathroom.
I didn’t warn those coming in as we were leaving I figured