Sunday, January 5, 2014

Can We Help Each Other

A new calendar year begins. The holiday season usually brings a chance to slow down a bit, and usually a chance to reflect. Many in this part of the State instead spent much time reflecting on the violence that visited last week, and the inferences that may be drawn therefrom. 

At the outset, you may wonder what the following has to do with workers' compensation. However, in the end, workers' compensation litigation is a series of interpersonal encounters. Workers and employers are the reason for workers' compensation. But in the litigation process, a variety of others become involved. We all touch many lives and many touch ours. But do we know, or take the time to care, what others are going through?

Injured workers interact with adjusters, physicians, therapists and other medical providers. Physician and other providers interact with adjusters over authorization and documentation and referrals. Employers interact with medical providers and adjusters over return to work, restrictions, limitations, and provision of treatment. These are fundamental, but there is so much more in some cases. Nurse case managers become involved in some cases. Various testing facilities may become involved. Attorneys bring their expertise and perspective to the disputes. A work injury may necessitate a great many communications between any or all of these, and perhaps others. 

Christmas Eve 2013 turned bizarre in a small Pensacola suburb. 

Last spring, a young man was charged with vehicular manslaughter after he allegedly struck two people with his Mitsubishi 3000 GT. One was injured, another killed. In 2014, the prosecution of that crime would have continued. Before dawn on Christmas Eve 2013 he purportedly led the Pensacola Police Department on a high-speed chase through town. They allege speeds approached one hundred miles per hour. They eventually stopped him, blockading his Corvette between two police cars. He allegedly ran over one officer's leg, and struck one or both police cars. An officer then fired into the Corvette, killing the high-school student driver. 

Hours later, in the evening of Christmas Eve 2013, more tragedy struck. Sharon Aydelott was a science teacher at a local middle school, and coached the high school cross country team. She was discovered dead in her home, beaten and with multiple knife wounds. Later Christmas Eve, her 17 year old son was arrested for the death. In the days that followed, he would make his way through the preliminary criminal justice process. He is currently detained and charged as an adult with second degree murder. A grand jury may decide to increase the charge to first degree murder. His story made news nationally because it is shocking and because he is a student athlete with college potential.

Christmas Eve 2013 marked with the death of one student and one teacher/coach, and the arrest of another student for murder, all at one high school in one very small suburb/town. 

The local news has of course covered both stories. A dead coach and teacher, a dead student, a student charged murder. Both young men attended the same high school, where the teacher also coached. Here in a quiet suburb, three lives radically changed on Christmas Eve 2013. These events will of course affect more than these three lives. There is a police officer who pulled the trigger. There are friends and family who will struggle in days and months to come with their reflections upon decisions, actions, and perhaps inaction. In this tiny suburb community there will be reflection.

A high school student wrote to the Pensacola paper, and it was anonymously published. And this youth's perspective speaks volumes. The focus is on the tragedies of Christmas Eve 2013, but the message is worthwhile for almost everyone. 

The young author acknowledges acceptance "we can’t change the actions or consequences of those actions from two troubled students of our school." Who are the people involved? "They are not just names in the headlines. They are real people." The author notes that one might take issue with the decisions that were made, but reminds us that "they were regular kids just like the rest of us. They were not monsters."

If the anonymous letter ended there, it would be worth reflecting upon. These thoughts of this anonymous high school student, grappling with the emotions and challenges of tragedy are insightful. But there is more. 

The author tells us "these events opened up our eyes. We don’t know what happens behind closed doors. We don’t know who is fighting what battle. We all pass someone in the hall who is fighting a secret battle. We shouldn’t ignore that just because of what the news says about these kids." This evidences insight and wisdom beyond years.

This quote struck a cord with me. I have the opportunity to speak with so many people across the Florida workers' compensation system. Without exception, they face challenges, whether their stress is public or private. 

Some are professional challenges; their business is growing, shrinking, or changing. Some face personal challenges; children, parents, employment changes, aging, illness, injury and more. I have followed the challenges of David Depaolo on his blog this last month or so. He has been open and public about recent family challenges he has faced. I am impressed by his strength not only in facing those challenges, but in his public discussion of them. 

Simply stated, life is a challenge. When others share their challenges with us, as David has in his blog, we gain a glimpse of those battles. As the anonymous insightful young author noted so aptly however, "we don’t know who is fighting what battle." Absent someone sharing, I think we more often do not know.

What can we do? Perhaps nothing. We can ask "how are you" when we greet someone. Does this have any meaning, or has it become cliche, answered with the automatic "fine?" Can we resolve this year to know that everyone we encounter is likely facing some challenge, fighting some battle? Can we acknowledge that life itself is a challenge, struggle and sometimes battle? Can we accept that our disagreements need not make us disagreeable? Can we reach out to our fellow travelers and treat them with respect and dignity, despite the fact that we meet in the midst of dispute and disagreement? In short, can professionalism prevail?

I will make a renewed effort this new year. Will you?

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