Just My Luck – Chapter 6-8
Meanwhile, Back at the Office
While I was recovering, the rest of the world mysteriously moved on. After six months on short term disability with Aon, that coverage period ran out and my long term disability insurance, which was an option I selected and paid for while working for both Marsh and Aon, was brought to the party.
However, when the long term disability insurance kicked in, Aon kicked me out. Aon’s standard procedure was to automatically terminate any employee who did not return to work before his/her short term disability coverage expired. Apparently, no exception was made for anyone sidelined by 9/11. This was not something like workers’ comp insurance that had regulated procedures. This was a decision made by Aon as a normal business practice in employee management, but I was not aware of it until it happened. It may have been in the Employee Handbook, but I didn’t think to check it out. I was having some difficulty in reading at the time.
I was therefore very surprised and discouraged when I received the form letter informing me that my employment at Aon had been terminated. Apparently their empathy was reserved for the families of the lost. Certainly, that was the company’s first and most important obligation, but was that their sole obligation? Six months after taking my leave, I was still in no condition to resume my work and responsibilities at Aon no matter what. Not knowing I’d be terminated after six months was ultimately immaterial, but it would have been nice to have been given some warning before they assembled the firing squad.
Marsh and Aon, to their everlasting credit were very generous to the families of their employees killed on 9/11. One of the optional benefits an Aon employee could purchase via payroll deduction was inexpensive additional life insurance from a life insurance company owned by Aon. As a no-additional-cost standard benefit every employee received life insurance valued at two times his or her annual salary. The optional supplemental benefit was for additional coverage in salary increments to a combined total of from three to ten times salary. Whether or not one of our lost employees had chosen to pay for more coverage, Aon gave each surviving family of those killed on 9/11 an automatic death benefit of ten times the employee’s salary. Marsh did something similar. In their treatment of the families of the lost, I was proud to have been an employee of both firms.
Aon’s treatment of surviving employees who suffered emotional trauma on 9/11, however, did not differ one iota from standard procedure. I was automatically completely cut loose from the firm because my recovery period exceeded six months. So as I dealt with the distractions of PTSD, I could add to my plate the worry of being jobless and wondering how I would provide for my family.
A few months later, my long term disability insurer (who shall remain nameless but who apparently has something to do with the Rock of Gibraltar) chose to ignore the diagnostic and recovery evaluation provided to them by the psychiatrist who’d been working with me for several months. Instead they unilaterally ceased my disability payments on the basis of their own “consulting” psychologist’s evaluation, mad
e after meeting with me for less than two hours. In his infinite paid-consultant-to-the-insurer wisdom, he pronounced that I was fit to resume my job and my benefits should be cut off immediately, e.g., several months before the policy coverage would expire and unquestionably before I had actually recovered to a level to do my job again. It should also be noted that I had purchased this coverage for nearly my entire career for an eventuality like this. This was not an employer provided employee benefit.
I appealed the decision from “the rock” and provided extensive supporting materials from my psychiatrist as to how far I’d come and what was yet to be done. Cleverly, the policy stipulated that the appeal had to be ‘decided’ by the insurer’s own in-house appeals board. I have no idea how many, if any, times the good folks on the insurer’s company payroll decided a case appeal against their employer, but I know I wasn’t one of them. So the financial bind tightened. But on the advice of my psychiatrist, I did not return to work until I was able to handle the responsibilities. So we lived on our savings for the next few months.
I have to say that being on the receiving end of the rigged game this major insurance company played was eye-opening. Greed is everywhere.
It happens that I’d also purchased another long term disability policy to cover my relatively small montly mortgage payment on our first house back when I was a teacher. I continued to pay its monthly $12.44 montly premium for 25 years. That insurer paid my claim without hesitation and without fail until I returned to work.
Ultimately, 11 months into my recovery, I could read and retain again and my powers of concentration were sufficiently restored in my opinion and Dr. K’s that I was ready to resume gainful employment.
Being able to read again was a huge relief. My livelihood depended on my abilities to read, analyze, and write. I never lost the ability to recognize words one at a time, nor did I lose the definitions of the words. Extracting the author’s intended meaning when the words were combined into sentences and paragraphs, however, eluded me. My consciousness was on constant alert and commanded a great deal of my attention all the time. I wasn’t alone in that. Bob’s wife, who had been in the vicinity when both planes hit the towers, told me that for a long time after 9/11, whenever she heard the sound of an airplane overhead she needed to acquire the plane with her eyes to make sure it wasn’t a threat. My reading problem was similarly a product of an inability to focus my attention away from self-preservation and onto the words on a page. The breakthrough that re-engaged my reading comprehension was, of all things, the Harry Potter books. I’d dismissed those stories as children’s stuff when they were all the rage, but when I began to read them after 9/11 they easily captured my attention. I have now read them all, more than once. I own and have many times listened to the complete set of the Harry Potter audio books (Jim Dale did a masterful job bringing depth and texture to the characters as he read). Doris and I also saw each of the Potter movies released after 9/11 on the big screen and have DVDs of all of the movies. Finally, in honor of my breakthrough, the back of my SUV has long sported a white oval magnet that implies I’m from “Hogsmeade.”
I was advised to seek out the President of and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Aon’s holding company to ask to return to the company in a modified capacity. Obviously, while I was recovering, someone else had to do my job, and that person deserved to keep it now. I was more than happy with that. I wanted a less stressful job if possible. The COO wasn’t my favorite executive and he didn’t necessarily hold a high opinion of me, so I needed to propose something he would consider and that I could live with.
Technically, I was no longer an employee, and he had no obligation to bring me back into the company.
In the end, I suggested I work as a special projects at-large resource for major new business proposals and that I be based in the Greenwich, CT office rather than in NYC. I also suggested that in recognition that mine would be a lesser contribution to the firm in that position, my former salary should be reduced by 25%. (Considering that I’d likely never see another bonus, my proposal effectively was for 50% of my 2001 total earned income.) I felt it was important for me to “go first” when it came to what my job and modified salary should be. If he were to propose a lower salary first, which I anticipated might be the case, I would need to justify why the pay cut should be smaller. This way, by my suggesting a number I could live with, he would have to overtly disagree in order to reduce the number further.
He called me from the back seat of his limo on the way home from his office in Aon’s corporate headquarters in Chicago to tell me he was willing to give my proposition a try.
I was, and remain, sincerely grateful to him for that.
When my years of treatments ended, I liked the man I’d become a great deal more than the one I was before 9/11.
Part of that was certainly pharmaceutical; when Dr. K. started reducing the dosage of one particular drug, I started to revert back to grumpiness and short tempered overreactions to insignificant concerns. We found a good “maintenance” dosage of the medication that helped me maintain perspective and I still take that pill once a day. I like recognizing the difference between small issues and important ones – it makes me easier to live with and happier to be around others. I was very lucky to be able to choose to retain that healthier perspective by remaining on that medication. I doubt that many people get the opportunity to make that choice.
But a greater part of my reconfigured self was the result of the questions Dr. K posed in her counseling and the time and space I had to step back and devote some serious thought to fundamental and substantive concerns. Some were practical and others metaphysical. All of them were predicated on how I should spend the most important currency I have: the time remaining before I will inevitably die. I cannot help but spend it, so I might as well try to make at least some of it count. That’s where living a life worth living and being content come in. More about that later.
A Tag-along Ailment
My insistence on being treated by a psychiatrist proved important in other ways as well. As an M.D. not only did Dr. K. write prescriptions and carefully monitor and evaluate their effects, she also deduced problems that were not directly in her specialty.
About three years into my treatment, Dr. K. said she was pleased with our progress in nearly all areas except my short-term memory problems. She suspected that some cause other than PTSD might be driving this symptom. She arranged for me to have blood drawn and sent to a lab to test for Lyme Disease. When the results came back I learned that I’d had Lyme Disease for two years already. Its memory loss symptom had been masked by the memory loss attributable to my PTSD.
I lived near the epicenter of the area where Lyme Disease was first discovered and remains most prominent. It was, therefore, also where the physicians with the most experience and success in treating the disease practiced. So another specialist MD was called into my life. Her diagnosis and analysis confirmed that I had the disease for two years and that it had spread to my nervous system and brain.
I learned that Lyme disease is not really cured by any treatment known as yet, but that it can be rendered dormant and remain so for the rest of one’s life. The latest of my growing personal collection of MDs put me on a regimen of a strong antibiotic, Tetracycline, large doses of which I had to inject via a shunt in my arm three times a day for six months.
I didn’t complain once about the aggressive treatment’s intrusion on my time and life, nor have I regretted the experience. It simply worked. The Lyme has been dormant ever since and I ardently hope it stays that way.
Right now it’s only a letter-opener of Damocles hanging over my head.
Just my luck.
©2016 James Ash