Thursday, October 11, 2012

Team Robin

Have any of y'all been following the recent health struggle of Good Morning America's newsanchor Robin Roberts?  She's been struggling with a rare blood disorder called MDS and has recently undergone treatment and a bone marrow transplant.

Robin left on medical leave not too long ago to begin her long and difficult journey to better health.  Shortly before she took her medical leave, she talked about how blessed she feels because not only does she have the support of her friends and family, but she had the support from her employer.  She even went as far to say: "Forty percent of Americans can't even take a sick day, and here I know I will have a job when I come back."

I was in that forty percent.

I drew the bad hand of a rare heart issue combined with a pregnancy, and immediately felt as though I was not going to have the support from my employer.  When medical issues began to arise, I was on their radar.  I started to become reprimanded for a performance that I had always been complimented and praised on.  I started to hear comments around the office about what a struggle it was going to be to have to deal with a second (the first being another co-worker and dear friend) female in a year to take medical leave.

My medical condition worsened quickly, and my paid leave time was quickly running short.  I began to inquire about FMLA, and was originally told that I likely would not qualify because my performance level was not what they wanted it to be.  Now, I'm no lawyer, but I knew this was wrong.  I went to a higher source.  I gained approval for intermittent FMLA.  It didn't end there.

If you've been around my blog long enough, you will know that my condition quickly changed from a minor pregnancy complication to a rare, life-threatening condition.  The combination of the condition in someone my age and pregnancy was nearly unheard of.  The level of fluid drained from my pericardium "set records," according to my surgeon.  Nearly 3400 cc's of fluid, and that was the second surgery.  It was a long hard road.  It was harder because of my job.

I loved my job.  I loved my clients.  I still think of them all the time, and wonder if anyone told them why I just disappeared.  Leaving the job I loved for an unknown period of time was also weighing on me.  To make matters worse, we knew every day I wasn't allowed to return to work was one day closer to the termination of my employment. 

After my first procedure, I was contacted regularly by my employers requesting a date of return.  I gave them the hopeful date, only to be disappointed. Not only could I not return on the day I hoped for, but I spent that day in the back of an ambulance, headed back to Nashville for a second surgery.  I remember texting my employer from the ambulance, apologizing that I wouldn't be able to return like I hoped.  I received several text messages, including one about 12 hours post surgery, asking for a date of return.  I didn't have one.

I hoped at every appointment to be released to return to my clients, for the chance to go back and tell them that I wasn't abandoning them, and that I wanted to continue to work with them.  I never got the chance.  I was told time and time again that my leave time was running out, and if I didn't bring a release to them by the end of that period, I would be facing termination.  I was consistently reminded the legal matters to the process, assuring me they weren't doing anything that wasn't "common business practice."  Every step of the way towards my recovery also lingered with reminders that I was losing my job, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.

As soon as the legal amount of time required by the FMLA laws passed, I was released from my position.  My clients would never know.  Here I was, nearly 6 months pregnant, not sure if Ethan and I would live to see his due date, and I was out of a job.  If we did live to see his birth, I had no job to return to in order to support my new baby.  Thankfully, Jason still has the job he loves, but we knew it was not going to be an option to literally cut our income in half for any extended period of time.

I can't tell you that I would have not felt any stress or anxiety in that time had my employer backed me the way that GMA is backing Robin Roberts.  I can tell you, that I could have focused more on my family, my health, and my child more easily had I not had the worry of losing my position and therefore losing the ability to financially support my family.  I could have enjoyed my post-partum days more, instead of worrying about when I was going to find a new job and how much time we had before we were in huge financial trouble.  Those early days with Ethan, as joyful as they were, were robbed from us because of the issues that were before us.

Granted, I'm no Robin Roberts.  While I saw myself as an asset to my clients, I was not irreplacable based on credentials and experience.  I didn't have the entire country watching, praying and supporting me during my time of medical struggle. But I shouldn't have to be.  I was simply a young woman, new in her career that adored going to work every day and felt completely loyal to the people who took a chance on a girl fresh out of college with no experience.  Life slaps us in the face from time to time. It happens, and it will probably slap Jason and I in the face in the future. 

I've been told time and time again that what happened to me is common.  It's legal, even though it may not be right.  It's appropriate, though it may not be moral.  So some of us get lucky to have compassionate employers like GMA that will provide love and support to their employees during those times.  Some of us do not.  The fact that those types of luxeries are luxuries instead of the norm is a shame. 

I understand that business has to go on and the world doesn't stop just because someone falls ill, but I also understand the meaning of a temporary replacement.  The ability to heal without additional stressors shouldn't be our luxury, it should be our right.  God doesn't put a time limit on our struggles, and extreme conditions are rarely resolved within twelve weeks.  I wasn't asking for additional paid time off, all I was asking for was the ability to know I had somewhere to return to in order to keep my family afloat.  What I got was a phone call of termination and the verbal request to re-apply once I was well and saw a position available that I was qualified for.  Legal obligation fulfilled.  I guess I shouldn't ask for anything more, right?  Call it what you want, but I do ask for more. I found more in my current position, while others aren't so lucky to ever find it.

It's inspiring to see GMA support Robin Roberts the way they have.  I am always uplifted to watch an update of her journey, how positive she has continued to stay, and how much her professional family continues to let her focus on herself until the physicians deem her healthy enough to return to her post in front of the cameras every morning.  It is encouraging to watch the strength of a professional relationship unfold as Robin continues to fight her battle.  It's nice to see that there are large corporations out there that still work with ethics based on compassion and loyalty.

Team Robin, Team Good Morning America.

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