I staggered into my office after lugging that pink suitcase up the three flights and went about my day like it was normal. Not that it could potentially be my last. I had already begun moving the few personal items that I had had time to place there, back to my apartment. No reason to have to pack a box of things when I was let go so that everyone around me would know. If I was fired (which it was looking like that’s the way this would play out) I would simply walk out the front door and hop on my bike and go home. No one would know, it would simply look like I was leaving for lunch or an errand or something. I just would never come back from said errand.
As I began scrolling through emails that needed answering, my boss walked into my office and tossed a form on my desk and sat down in the chair across from me. “Well, you’re welcome. I made some calls, It looks like your job is saved.” He laced his fingers together behind his head and leaned back in his chair triumphantly. I was surprised he didn’t put his feet up on my desk.
I was not impressed. I didn’t even pick up the form, “and how, pray tell, did that happen?”
“I have a friend who is an attorney in the unemployment office for the university” (I wondered if it was the wicked queen)
“and I had sent her an email asking about the procedure for you if you had to fill out a termination form and step down for health reasons. She told me that actually you are covered for something like this under the Americans with Disabilities Act. You need to fill out that form requesting a reasonable accommodation from the university. Then they will determine whether or not that request is an ‘undue hardship’ or not. Keep in mind it could still be rejected but I think you have a pretty good shot here.” (his friend was definitely not the wicked queen. I’ve never met her but in my mind she looks very similar to Glinda the Good Witch of the North.)
I think that my boss thought I would jump up and fall at his feet with gratitude and relief at this news. And really I should have. My job was most likely saved which solved the very real and very large problems of insurance and income. But I must tell you I was not happy.
I was outraged.
I had read about the ADA before in an “1865 to the Present” History class that I had to take for my core curriculum in college. (See guys? You do use those classes for something.) I knew the basic outline and had thought of it briefly during my many sessions of wracking my brain for a creative solution to my employment woes, but for some reason I had defined disability in my head as an outwardly physical impairment such as the use of a wheelchair. I had not thought of skull base tumors as fitting into that niche nor had I realized that asking for what I would phrase on the form as “adequate time to heal from subsequent removal before returning to work” as a reasonable accommodation. I had always thought of ramps or elevators when I thought of “reasonably accommodating” requests.
I also knew that the ADA had been passed in 1990. This option had been available to me from the very beginning and no one had brought it up. No one. Not HR, not the unemployment office, not my boss, not my other bosses in the Dean’s suite, not even my LAWYER boyfriend! For the past month I had been walking on pins and needles trying to find a way to save my job and it had never truly been in danger. I could have been focusing on other things like the tumor pressed up against my brain trying to kill me. Or resting up for what would be my third surgery in 2 months.
I had a flash of my meeting with the Administrator of the Dean’s office where I had been given a stern talking to and a smack on the wrist about my absences. If my entire sinus had not been filled with a vascular neoplasm I’m sure smoke would have come out my nose.
I took a deep breath and tried to compose myself. I had so many expletives that wanted burst forth from my mouth it would turn this blog into an NC-17 movie but I knew that was not the way to go. Now was not the time to turn into a fire breathing dragon. I simply said “Thank you, I’ll fill this out before I leave at lunchtime.”
When I was finished and it was about time to meet my mom to go to the airport I walked into my boss’s office to hand him the form. It had only taken me five minutes to fill it out but I took an hour figuring out what I wanted to say when I turned it in.
I chose to use a battle tactic that my mother had used on me growing up that had proved to be highly effective.
As I said in a previous post, when my parents decided to have children they decided to devote their lives to our well-being. Along with this comes the unpleasant job of providing adequate discipline. Some of my very good friends have children and I can tell you, though not a mother myself I’ve witnessed some unbelievable battles of will between parent and offspring, it’s war out there on the playground people. You’ve got to cowboy up.
My parents used good cop back cop and they were better at it than Mutt and Jeff. My dad was assigned the thankless task of being the intimidator. He was the one who yelled, who threatened, who gave you “the stare,” and also when I was very young spanked us. (Don’t worry guys it only happened once, I’m a quick learner) My mother was the quiet confidant who listened and didn’t raise her voice. The scheme is genius. I was so intimidated by my dad that I hardly ever stepped out of line but in my teenage years as I felt more invincible (a.k.a. foolish) I did not feel afraid to call my mother if I was out doing something I was not supposed to be doing and needed help.
There’s only one flaw to the duality of this parenting technique. My mom spent the most time with me growing up and since I knew she didn’t yell and she wasn’t scary I tended to take it for granted every now and then not giving her the respect she deserved. For this she had the ultimate weapon. We’ve all heard it, “I’m not mad Stephanie, I’m just disappointed. You really let me down.”
To me these few sentences are like biological warfare. She would always use them as her closing statements. She would get up, take a few steps to the door of my room, look back with a sad expression on her face, and then turn to go. (virus implanted within the host) I would sit in my room triumphant. Unaware that I was now patient zero. That hadn’t been so bad. No yelling, no “stare.” She was just disappointed…and I guess she should be…I knew better than that…she’s just looking out for me…she said she wasn’t even going to tell dad…man, she’s always on my side…even when I do something stupid…why am I always doing stupid things…why don’t I think about that beforehand…man I really did let her down…she’s so awesome and I’m so selfish…I hate that I let her down…I’ll never let her down again, I’m going to be the best daughter ever. Then I would clean my room and after dinner volunteer to do the dishes. (Full replication and infestation of host complete.)
So as I walked into my boss’s office I kept my hand steady and my voice soft. I handed the form to him and then took a step back and crossed my arms over my chest, took a deep breath in, and stood up as tall as I possibly could. He was sitting at his desk so he had to look up at me and I looked down and did my best rendition of “the stare.” Then I exhaled and tried to look sad. (Instead of angry.)
“While I’m extremely relieved this solution has presented itself just in time, I’m very disappointed it was not brought to light sooner. It is my understanding that this course of action was available to me from the moment I was diagnosed. I have been beside myself for the past month agonizing over how I would be able to keep my job. I love working here. One of the reasons I was so attracted to this position was the glowing praise people gave the university for benefits awarded to its employees. It saddens me that at this moment I cannot express the same sentiment. I expected more.” (Virus implanted.)
But evidently the university had developed a vaccine for this type of attack. As I turned to leave I heard some rebuttal regarding recent changes in interpretation of the law that had just recently happened and that’s why this had not come to light until now. But I was a legal assistant before I had come to work at the University. I knew how to use Westlaw and Google. The final rules to the ADA went into effect in 2011; there had been no changes to the language since. (That I am aware of.) And I had read every court case regarding Title I, II, and III between 2012 all the way back to 2006. There was nothing at the state or federal level “interpreting” illness as a new item that could be included in disability. There was no need, the language is already in there in Sec. 12102.
I didn’t stop or turn around to argue, there was no point. I had filled out the form, my job was most likely saved, and it was time to focus on the task at hand. I scooped up my bear, grabbed my pillow, and started teetering down the stairs with my pink suitcase. Once outside I jogged over to the car idling outside my office building, threw my bag in the back seat and jumped in next to my mom. It was a gorgeous day and we rolled the windows down and cranked up David Guetta’s “Titatium” on the radio. I don’t know if it was the relief of knowing my job was safe, the clear day, the speed of the car, my gal pal Skipper in the seat next to me, or the pop music blasting from the radio but at that moment I felt invincible.
Bulletproof. Nothing to lose. Fire away, fire away.