Sometimes you have to jump on a limb. You have to leave the rotting branch you’re standing on for the next branch you can reach. Sometimes, it’s a big jump, other times a simple step. One wrong move could end with you lying broken at the foot of the tree instead of standing one branch closer to the victorious crown. Many stay in jobs that confine them. Slowly constricting their will until it is not their own. These live in fear of the future. They fear the boss will slash their job at the slightest infraction. They put up with schedule changes of unusual and random proportions. They might work the graveyard, from 11pm to 4am. And then go to 2:30pm to 11pm and then back to graveyard and then go from 4am- 2:30pm. And any foul schedule changes the boss throws at them all in one week; until they aren’t sure when they go in from one day to the next. They realize that this is an injustice but they feel powerless to combat it. I know how this is. I was there. I was afraid.
I went from working two jobs, a full time, at a machine shop as a machinist, and a part time, at Dollar General. When the part time cut my hours drastically, I quit and stayed with my full time. That was when the crazy shenanigans started. I was suddenly working 48-60 hours a week or more. My schedule started changing. They told me I had to come in on Saturday, every Friday they would tell me, “I need you to work Saturday.” I could never make or keep plans for the weekend. And after that my schedule turned upside down. I hated the graveyard shift. I was not made for sleeping all day. Staying up late is one thing, staying up all night for a week or two at a time is punishing. I was dragging all the time. Then my schedule changed to a weird 12pm to something time. And it was crazy. I was the only one coming in to work at that time. I watched one shift leave and another take its place.
I put up with degrading and deriding comments and whispers of my stupidity because I bit my tongue instead of fighting back, I lived in fear of losing my job for a made-up reason, or some stupid reason. (My cousin had been fired just before because she was taking medicine after a new girl was hired and became the boss’s favorite.) I put up with beer in the work refrigerator, put there by the bosses. I let the slander wash over me, trying to keep my red-hair in check. I went from being the favorite, to the butt of jokes, to the favored one, to the one they were mad at, to the reliable employee who puts up with their attitudes. My bosses were never united, hardly ever. One would tell me one thing, the other would come in and tell me another. One would say I was doing good. The other would say “you need to get faster, let me show you how to do it,” make me do it their way and then leave. There was a time when my temper was up and I was fighting little battles. But I was still afraid of losing my job. I needed the money. I put up with more insults at that time. I was just sooooo stupid. Don’t ever put up with it. It is never, ever worth it.
I quit my job on November 12, 2014. It was the best and scariest day of my life. I had hurt my hand on August the 5th 2014. They finally turned it into Worker’s Comp on the 25th. I worked in agony for twenty days. I finally got fed up before then and got a doctor to excuse me from work until we could figure out what was wrong with my hand. I had reported the sharp, tingling, shooting pain that ran down to the end of my thumb and forefinger when it happened. My boss was uncaring. I kept complaining about my hand. But they thought I was lying. I went to the neurologist. He said my nerves were perfect. But I didn’t get to see him until October 10, 2014.
My boss stopped me sometime after the neurologist appointment. I was walking for exercise on the highway. They pulled across a lane of traffic on a curve to stop where I was. Just to badger me about my hand and what was going on. But these were never said in civil manner. I was not a quarter mile down the road when they stopped me again, asking the same questions.
November ____, 2014, I went to see an Orthopedic doctor in Conway, Arkansas. He said it was carpal tunnel. Sometimes it happens without it showing up. I received the most painful and weirdest feeling shot of my life. I had my eyes closed, I fear needles. Dr. H______ gave me a steroid shot in my wrist. After that my hand went through a whole spectrum of feeling from tingling to “I must be asleep” to little running lines of pain to numbness to more tingly feelings and then it went to a dull ache. It helped. But he also released me to go back to work after telling me to sleep in a brace at night.
I called Worker’s Comp and then my boss. My boss told me to come in the next day at 2:30pm after asking me what the doctor said I could do; and wondering if I was going to be in and out or if I was going to be able to work 40 hours a week. I told them 40 hours. When I went to work, I brought them a copy of the doctor’s release. They came in and asked me if I did my exercises before work. I was perplexed. What exercises? They started talking about how their sister worked at different chicken plants for years and she didn’t have carpal tunnel. Their sister did these exercises that prevented it. I looked at them, hard. What were they even talking about? I had never heard of carpal tunnel prevention exercises. Surely my doctor would have told me about them. They started asking me if I could be cured. Over and over and over.
“Are you able to be cured?” They said. “Can you be cured? Do you want to get better? You should do those exercises. Answer me. Are you curable?”
They seem to think that silence means stupidity, not that I was thinking. I cut into their tirade,
“Don’t start.” They snapped.
Maybe I shouldn’t have subsided. I surely wish that I had kept speaking, but what they said next made me open my mouth.
Do you want to get better/cured/well, etc., they asked. I cannot recall the exact phrasing.
“J____. Do you really think I want to lose the use of my hand for the rest of my life?” I said this with some heat. They were starting to annoy me. I was trying to work and teach myself to deburr screws with my right hand instead of my injured left.
They laughed, saying, “Oh it’s just carpal tunnel surgery, not the end of the world.” As if I was being dramatic. Where had surgery come up in our previous conversation? Did they have no concept of a rhetorical question?
They took the work release saying, “I’m going to call your doctor” and see if he gave you any exercises to prevent carpal tunnel. About five minutes later they wanted me to come in the office and “talk to this girl. She needs your okay to send some papers.” I went in the office, irritated because I was interrupted again.
I spoke to a nice lady on the phone. Her name started with a T, I think. She said that my boss was trying to get my medical records. She said while J___ went to get me, she had spoken with her supervisor and the lady wanted me to know what my boss was doing. They could not give them that unless I wanted them to have it, but I had to sign a HIPAA. She asked if I wanted my boss to have my medical records.
“No!” I said vehemently. The lady said to tell my boss that they didn’t give out that information and the work release is all she needs. She also told me twice,
“Your boss is crazy! Find another job!” I hung up the phone, thanking the lady.
“They can’t do it. The work release is all you need.” I told my boss, walking out of the office.
“Is this going to be an everyday thing?” J_____ asked. Again, I looked at them. Where had this question come from? What did they mean by this. They misinterpreted my silence. “Is this going to be an everyday thing? Are you going to be in and out? I don’t want you to hurt yourself worse by working. I need to know if you are going to be here every day.”
“J______, we’re just going to have to see how it goes.” I left and headed for the shop and those dratted screws that had so hurt my left hand.
Work was hard. I managed to get a 100 cycles in eight hours, which is pretty good for someone working with their off-hand. Even though my left hand was not being used a lot, I still had to use it some. It was sore and stiff. I couldn’t forget my boss’s attitude and how they had tried to get my medical records. I remembered their words, trying to translate them into sense and store them in some order in my mind.
I thought about not going back the next day. I thought about it until one pm. And I called. Thankfully, J_____ was not there. M_____ answered the phone.
“Hey M_____, it’s Amanda. I don’t think I can do this anymore. My hand really hurts. I’m going to look for another job.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Let us know if we can do anything for you.” M______ replied. They are a different, more affable person when their partner is not around.
I was exultant but also really scared. I had never quit my job before without having another lined up. I wasn’t even used to quitting. My job history only has three jobs: two in retail, because I transferred stores, and the machine shop. I have fingernails again. When I am stressed, I pick at my fingernails incessantly. It is a very scary thing to have bills and no job. But I am earnestly seeking a job, any job, two jobs, three jobs, if I must. Hopefully, a good job outside of machine shops.
I will not fall into debt, I will not lose my new car, I will not let my cats and dogs starve, I will not lose hope. I am in the air, reaching for a new limb.