Chronically Employed: Arrangments Made by Her Employer Helped Cecilia Stay on at Her Job, Despite Illness

July 5, 2013

Cecilia De Los Santos, 42, Dillon, CO.

GG: What sort of job did you have before getting sick (or were you a student or fully unemployed?)

CDLS: I’ve been working at the Summit County Sheriff’s Office since March 2006. I started getting ill around September 2007.

GG:  What is your disease/disability, and how does it specifically stop you (or make life more difficult for you) to work a full-time job?

CDLS: As a result of a pituitary tumor that was removed in December 2007, I have adrenal insufficiency, and I’m also being treated for Hypothyroidism and Hypoglycemia. I also have a visual disability as a result of my pituitary tumor removal.

Because the neurosurgeon had to move my optic nerves out of the way to get to the tumor, I lost my peripheral vision, and in my central vision I lost the outer half of my sight from my right eye, and in my left eye I lost the bottom left hand portion, my lower half from my nose down, and above my eyes on up. My visual field is along the bridge of my nose-the inside portion of both of my eyes. My ophthalmologist says that the damage is irreversible and it will either stay the same or gradually get worse. I’ve had an MRI done each year since my surgeries, so for now my vision has remained the same.

I get nervous walking in parking lots because of all the cars and how busy parking lots can be.  My disease/disability has made my job difficult because I spend a lot of my time on a computer.  I often have to take breaks throughout the day and do other tasks that take me off the computer for a while. Our office has fluorescent lighting so when I returned to work after my medical leave, they removed the lights from above my area so the lights wouldn’t put so much of a strain on my eyes. There are enough lights around me that I can still see without being directly under those strong lights.

If I’m having a bad day and not feeling well, it will affect my concentration, and I will get brain fog with tasks that I do on a daily basis that all of a sudden become a challenge. The majority of the time I’m at my desk doing my work and also assisting at the front desk. There are also times when it’s necessary for me to go downstairs to the Summit County Jail to register any sex offenders who are incarcerated in our facility. With working in a law enforcement environment, you always have to be prepared for anyone who may come into the office needing assistance.

I assist with Spanish translations for the Sheriff’s Office and jail. There are also times that I assist the Summit County Combined Courts with Spanish translations also. In some instances, I may also need to be available to go with one of the Patrol Deputies or Investigations to interview individuals out on the field. More times than not, I can usually assist by doing the translations in our office or by phone.

I always need to be on top of my game and aware of my surroundings so I can do my job and assist others. I love my job and that is what keeps me motivated to do the best I can. This also can count against me because I tend to push myself at work. There are times when I know in my heart that I’m not feeling well, but I stay and continue to work or I wake up in the mornings, feeling like I should stay home but I go to work. When this happens, I end up paying for it and I end up feeling worse.

GG: How does the job you have now changed to allow you to work on your own terms?

CDLS: My employers are very understanding and supportive of my situation. They are usually the ones who get after me for coming to work when they know I’m not feeling well.

I work my 40 hours a week and if I’m unable to work due to being ill, then I have a sick bank that I have hours accumulated that I can use or if needed, I can use my vacation bank. If I miss work, I also try to make up those hours if I’m able to. Within the last couple of months, I haven’t been able to make up any hours missed because I will just feel worse if I attempt to. Making up any extra time puts too much stress on my body. I definitely put a lot of stress on myself, worrying about how much time I have in my sick and vacation bank.

There is some extra money for me that I could either get paid for or put in an overtime bank and use towards any hours missed during my normal work week. It’s a good back-up to have. This can be a challenge also if I’m not feeling well, then I’m unable to take calls. I do my best to answer all of their calls no matter what time of day they need me because it’s difficult for the Patrol Deputies to do their job if there is a language barrier.

GG: Do you still encounter any challenges with your new profession because of your illness? How did you work around it?

CDLS: It’s honestly a challenge on a daily basis just to get up and go to work, much less work the entire eight hours. In the mornings, I can get worn out just by waking up and making myself breakfast, doing my hair, applying make-up and getting dressed.

Doing anything after work is out of the question. If I do any extra activity than my normal work routine, I usually pay for it the next day by physically being unable to get out of bed, fatigued and weak, and unable to move at a normal pace-more like a turtle’s pace.

My weekends are my recovery time from the week and to get prepared for the following week.  More times than not, I’m having to take naps during the day because I’m so worn out from the week.

GG: Do you work alone or with other people? How did you explain your situation to them, or did you have to say anything at all?

CDLS: I work in the Records Division and there is one other Records Clerk that I work with.  We have worked together for as long as I’ve been employed there, so we have our own system that works for us. I’m thankful that between the two of us, we are able to have a good handle on tasks and we keep our Department in order.

We have another employee who works in the Administration office that I trained in Records when she worked for us part-time so she is always available to assist in the event I’m out of the office. After working at my current employment for seven years and dealing with my health issues for the past five years, everyone at work has an idea of what I’m going through, so I don’t need to explain anything. They are always looking after me and making sure I’m okay.

GG: How do you handle necessary benefits like insurance that comes with normal 9-5 jobs? Did you use a spouse’s insurance, a parent’s, or did you use government funding?

CDLS: I receive health insurance through my employer. The thought has crossed my mind that it wouldn’t hurt to look into disability and its requirements in the event I may need it in the future. I honestly wouldn’t know where to start looking into this. One of my biggest fears is that one day I may not be able to work full-time then I won’t be able to afford to see my doctors.  For now, I’m pressing on for as long as I can and being optimistic.

GG:  What is an average day like for you at your new job?

CDLS:  At my job, every day can be different. In Records, our main priorities are processing any case documents, reports and tickets that have been turned into us, processing ticket payments, etc. The list goes on and on.

In the midst of my work routine, my daily life also revolves around when I need to take my medications and when I need to eat. I must have food and medications on hand at all times. I have alarms set up on my cell phone for each time I need to take my pills throughout the day.

GG: What advice do you have for other patients looking to start a new kind of job that fits around their illness?

CDLS: My advice would be to make sure you find an employer who is understanding of your needs and is willing to work with you. If you don’t have that support system, then it’s only going to make your situation that much harder. When I was first diagnosed with my tumor, I had no idea what was up ahead for me and neither did my employer. Once I came back to work, I was open and honest with them about what was going on and that I still intended on working for as long as I could.

They helped me make my work space as comfortable as possible by removing my lights above my area and purchasing a new computer monitor for me that was LED, so the screen would be a little more clearer for my eyes. They make sure I get a ride to and from work if my husband is unable to drive me. They have gone above and beyond what I ever could have imagined, and I’m thankful for this. It’s important that you keep that open communication with your employer and co workers so they will know what is going on with you.

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