Worker’s Comp

I was injured at work last month – a nail gun mishap - my first serious accident in five years of doing construction work since leaving prison. This job is like life; sooner or later you get hurt, usually from some stupid mistake.

The case manager for the Worker’s Compensation claim recorded my statement over the telephone.

“Do you understand that you are being recorded?” she asked.


“Are all your answers truthful, to the best of your knowledge?”


She asked details of my job responsibilities, the accident, the treatment I received, then moved on to questions about myself. Was I married? How many dependents did I have? What was the highest level of education I had completed?

I paused.

What should I say? If I say four years of medical school, she will probably laugh in disbelief, then she’ll start asking painful questions. My face flushed just to think of explaining to a stranger the last thirteen years of my life.

“I have some college,” I said softly.

It was true, though I’m sure a polygraph would have registered deception.

The day I graduated from medical school was the proudest day of my life. Now I avoid the topic with all but my closest friends.

The wound got infected. I was admitted to a large teaching hospital.

“So, do you still live at the same address in Barrington?” the receptionist asked. It was a disturbing reminder that I had been admitted here fourteen years ago, in my former life.

“No, we live in Vermont now.”

“So, are you in private practice in Vermont?”

“No,” I mumbled, “I work for a local builder.”

She looked puzzled, but finished checking me in.

When the nurse breezed in to take my vital signs, she announced, “So, you’re a physician.”

“I…” I hesitated, “I’m retired.”

“Must be nice!” she chirped.


Another lie – two lies, to be exact.  I wasn’t exactly retired and it certainly wasn’t “nice”.

After taking my history, the admitting internist commented, “You seem pretty familiar with the terminology. Do you have a medical background?”

“Yes,” I said, then quickly added, “but it’s a long story.”

He didn’t ask any more questions. I guess he heard the reluctance in my voice.

Teaching hospital admissions are a succession of medical students, residents, attendings and consultants. I wanted to avoid going into the sordid details of my life multiple times. I didn’t want the white-coats whispering outside my room on rounds, shaking their heads in amazement or pity at a fallen colleague. I had been there.

Of course my primary care physician knows the truth. The first time we met, I spilled the story in a tearful, fifteen-minute confessionary monologue. She listened respectfully.

“We don’t have to put any of that down on paper,” she said.

Our relationship has been collegial ever since.

I’m getting I.V. antibiotics daily at the local hospital. The nurse is cheerful and chatty.  She carefully explains everything to me in layman’s terms. I smile and nod. It’s not nearly as painful as it used to be. Perhaps the wound will be completely healed someday.