Jeanette isn’t looking for back injury compensation for the slip and fall accident: she knows that in the state of Washington you cannot sue your employer. But she does want something done to prevent another accident.
“I was the first person in the clinic and I brought my patient into the exam room for a routine procedure,” Jeanette explains. “I got him undressed and on the table before I fell flat on my back. The liquid soap dispenser had sprung a leak all over the floor. It was such a light color that I couldn’t even see it.
“I was on the floor for a few minutes - the fall had knocked the wind out of me. ‘Well there’s a dance I’ve never seen before,’ laughed my feisty 95-year-old patient. ‘And I don’t ever want to do that dance again,’ I replied.
“When I got up, I finished the procedure and got my patient out of the room. Then I called my supervisor and Mr. Fix-it from housekeeping to clean up the mess. Then I went to Urgent Care. A nurse practitioner poked and prodded and said I likely just bruised my back and prescribed ice and aspirin. At that point my back was very sore but I didn’t have excruciating pain until the next morning, when I literally crawled out of bed. I barely managed to take a shower and tried to get ready for work. I was the only nurse scheduled for work that day and I’m dedicated to my job; I had no choice.”
Jeanette lasted just two hours at work. Back at Urgent Care, she saw a physician this time. Her right leg was numb and shaking so they took x-rays. She was given IV narcotics for the pain and went home (her son and husband picked her up) with pain meds.
“No obvious herniations showed up in the flat x-rays so I was frustrated, and not sure what was going on with my leg,” Jeanette says. “I was off work for two weeks and they had me follow up with occupational therapy. I could only work 4-hour shifts rather than my normal 10-hour shifts, 4 days a week.
“To get an MRI, I had to request a referral to see a surgeon; Occupational Therapy wouldn’t refer me. And because I am on Group Health, my family doctor couldn’t see me for this injury. When I finally had the MRI, it showed a ruptured L5-S1 disc that was pushing on the sciatic nerve. Next up I saw a neurosurgeon who said, ‘We should have seen you a long time ago and you need surgery.’ I lost a nerve because I waited so long.”
Jeanette’s injury had caused a bone chip to put so much pressure on that particular nerve that it was permanently damaged. And now she walks with a limp.
“I can’t feel my last two toes, my entire heel is numb and all the back of my leg is numb,” she says. “My leg gets heavy. And the surgeon said this condition will be forever. But the surgery helped: at least I no longer have back pain.”
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“I’m hopeful that something can be done legally so that Group Health will stop using these dispensers. They put a tiny dish under the soap dispenser opening so that it will then drip on the floor. That was their quick fix. I would like a back injury attorney to write them a letter. We deal with the elderly in this neurology clinic - what if a patient fell on the soap and broke a hip, or worse?”