In January, 2003 Falco was a passenger in a car, waiting in line at a drive-through pharmacy. The driver in the car ahead picked up her prescription, put her car in gear and floored it—in reverse. "I had a better chance of hitting the lottery than this happening to me," says Falco, wryly. "The driver was in her 80s and she was wearing cataract sunglasses at nighttime. She got out of the car with a cane and could barely stand; they should have done a drug test on her."
Falco had back pain within seconds. She was not unfamiliar with back injuries; as well as being a nurse, she had back surgery several years previous, but she was back to work within six weeks and never had any back problems since.
But now she was in excruciating pain. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital (where she also worked) and they took x-rays, started an IV and gave her a shot of Demerol. They determined that Falco had soft tissue damage and sent her home.
"The next day I couldn't move," says Falco. "I stayed off work a few days but the hospital called, it was the first Sunday in February, and said they couldn't do without me so I went in. But I was totally dysfunctional; I couldn't move my neck and had severe pain in my lower back. I had to walk down the halls, check charts, but I couldn't do it. Instead I had to go home and said I would call in when I felt better.
I first saw a chiropractor; then a neurologist and other specialists. During this time I got short term disability, for three months. And all this time I am paying for long-term disability. When I ran out of PTO time, [A paid time off (PTO) policy combines vacation, sick time and personal time] I paid my Unum policy out-of-pocket. After three months I got long-term disability and social security (I was 54).
After two years, First Unum cut me off. Unum then said they were going to take payments out of my long term disability (LTD) money because I owed them my social security money--all of it. I had no idea that they had this 'rule', that I couldn't collect social security. Next, they reduced the amount of my LTD—I just got the difference between my social security and long-term disability amounts.
It took a year for Unum to give me the right amount and they finally cut me a check for $4,000--after a long battle.
First Unum sent me to one of their medical examiners (a knee specialist). He knocked my knee, made me turn around and that was it. During this time I was going to a pain management doctor and was taking heavy narcotics including morphine, Fentanyl patches and OxyContin.
Six months later, in January of 2005, they told me I no longer qualified to get disability because my injury was 'just anxiety' and I had 'no other problems'. I have no idea how they came to this conclusion except I was on Xanax - the nerve pill—for a while. It helped me relax and quit smoking. I also went to a psychiatrist and he said Unum is nuts.
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On December 29th, 2005 I had a morphine pump placed in my stomach. If I walk 150 feet, I want to die. If I stand for a few minutes making a sandwich, I want to die. I can't take clothes from the washer to the dryer. I have a long scrubby brush to wash my feet. I am in constant pain with any activity. I went on a cruise and couldn't even walk to the dining room—I was walking like an ape. This isn't anxiety and it really makes me mad.
I can't understand how the government lets Unum get away with this. If it wasn't for my family and friends, I would be out on the street. We have to get together and do something about this."