An advice column appearing in the Chicago Tribunetwo weeks ago highlights just one of the many challenges that an injured worker may face during an extended recovery. While the discussion did not have anything to do with his original injury, it was definitely related to the social support structure that is so important for a recovering worker.
Or in this case, the social support structure that was sleeping around on him while he was recovering.
In the column “Ask Amy,” a woman seeking advice explains that her husband was injured on a construction site and was placed in a rehabilitation center for three months. While dealing with the stress of hospital visits and taking care of their two toddlers, his “best friend” (you will shortly know why I used quotation marks) suggested she needed a night on the town. He got her a babysitter, and they went out, having, according to her, “a wonderful dinner, dancing at a club, and had way too much to drink.”
So naturally they capped off this fantastic stress reducing evening by having sex in his car.
But, she wasn't done there. According to her letter, she was “overwhelmed with guilt.” Being the bestest buddy that he is, our wayward Lothario “came over the next day to help me get over my angst.” It seems Dr. Feelgood's prescription for angst reduction was bedding her, as they had sex again.
Score one for stress reduction.
Long story short, this turned into a full-fledged affair, and all of her husband's friends apparently know about it. And since no good crisis is complete without an unexpected pregnancy, she disclosed she was indeed expecting, and worried the baby was not her husbands.
And just in case you think she could sneak this by her injured hubby, she disclosed that, in her words, “If it's my lover's, the secret will be out because the baby will be biracial.”
Her husband was coming home the following week, and she kinda sorta wondered what she should do.
There has been an increased focus in recent years on the importance of psychosocial aspects of an injured workers life. Understanding both what has happened to a worker in the past as well as what is happening in their life right now can make an impact on the trajectory and success of a workers' recovery. Part of this focus has been to remind workers' compensation professionals of the critical difference that a recovering workers' social support structure can make.
A support structure perhaps like a wife overwhelmed, who exacerbates the situation by finding an outlet that makes the situation much worse.
Think of our poor construction worker. He was injured, seriously enough to spend three months in a rehabilitation center. We can assume that there will be much continued therapy and a longer road to this recovery. He has lost his job. He has lost, at least for a time, the ability to support his family. And when he gets home to continue his recovery, he will discover that his “best friend” added to that family in his absence. Do you think this may affect his progress in healing?
As ludicrous as this situation is, there is a lesson for our industry here. Don't forget the spouse. Don't neglect the family. There are lives completely intertwined with most of the injured workers we see. Traditionally they have not been viewed as “our problem,” but that simply is a lack of vision on our part. What happens in these people's lives beyond the purview of the injury will still affect the job we have to do, the money that we must spend, and the outcome we hope to see.
Today we take care of and support the injured worker, however, we could save money and improve outcomes if we also learn to support the people they depend on.
At least that is my advice for this particular column.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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