Not Down Or Out

It could be worse. I might not be laughing.

Month: August, 2012

Passing Over

Yesterday I attended the funeral of Maggie, someone I have known for more than 50 years. She was in her 80’s and had been living alone for many years. Her husband died a little less than twenty years ago. He drove her to her job at Marshall Field’s one winter morning. She kissed him good-bye and patted the head of their little poodle, who liked to go for a ride. Then she got out of the car, entered the building, and began a day like many others. Her husband died of a heart attack. Someone realized that he and his little dog had been sitting there by the store entrance with the engine running for some time. The police came and then the paramedics came. Dick was gone.

Dick had been Maggie’s “Prince.” He was a village trustee for many years. He played golf and was the life of a party. They were a handsome couple with a world filled with family, work, and public service. Maggie was the first president of the auxiliary board of the local hospital. She knew “everyone” in town. Without Dick, Maggie spent more time at home.

Maggie and Dick had one child, Meg. Meg was my friend when we lived in the same block of Victoria Lane. Our parents were friends. My sister Kathy and I spent lots of time with Meg. She was a little younger than we were and spoiled, but who makes judgments at five or six years of age? All of us were different in our own ways. And we were looking then for ways to be the same. We made up names for ourselves. We wanted our bond to be familial as we so often played house or school or grocery store–an imaginary world in which we were members of the same institution. People these days do that for their children, don’t they? They give them names that cement the familial bonds they already share–an example, perhaps, of children teaching their parents.

We took our real names and made them all begin with D. Have you ever met a family in which all the kids have names beginning with the same letter? I’m not sure if it happened by design or accident, but my sister’s family has names that begin with sequentially ordered letters: Jeff, Kathy, Lisa, and Maureen. I was the oldest kid in the neighborhood. I became Darryl. Kathy was Dadathlent, Kristine was Dristeen, Lori was Dori, Meg was Demegan, and we called Dristeen’s younger sister Cindy “Dinner.” She always played the dog when we played house, and everyone knows that you call the dog for dinner. We called our dog Dinner instead.

Meg and I remained friends for a long time. Our parents remained good friends. Her dad wrote one of the letters of recommendation that got me into college. I ended up leaving town and Meg and I eventually drifted apart. She married and had three kids and a house filled with pets. But she developed lung cancer and it proved so virulent that Meg died several years after her dad died.

Maggie fell and fractured her hip right before Meg’s funeral. I went to the funeral. My mom stayed with Maggie, who could not have walked the snowy steps into the church or up the low rise from the road to her daughter and husband’s final resting place.

In the years after Meg’s death, Maggie lived alone in her home, often with a pet. She suffered from COPD. She eventually had to carry oxygen to breathe comfortably. Maggie, a fashionista before such a word existed, was always dressed to attract attention. Her clothes were exquisite creations. He hair was styled to perfection. She wore magnificent jewelry, many pieces beautiful turquoise creations. Her makeup was expertly applied. Once she started to use oxygen, things started to change. She chose not to leave her home. She bought leisure/track suits bedazzled with rhinestones and studs. She wore them until they needed cleaning and then threw them out. She stopped getting her hair done, stopped coloring it, and stopped cutting it. By the time she died, it hung all the way to her waist.

She would not let many people into her home. Her grandchildren and son-in-law were welcome. Two grandchildren have started families since their mom’s death. One gave Maggie a great-granddaughter. Another grandchild has a baby on the way. Her niece Debbie came by. My mom and some good friends, Don and Erma, were welcome. After Maggie stopped leaving her home, this small group of family and friends helped her maintain her life. My mom was a big part of the Maggie network. She did Maggie’s banking. She bought her groceries. They spoke often, sometimes every day. My mom was Maggie’s liaison to the official world. She got Maggie’s taxes done at the local senior center. She took Maggie’s information to someone who helped determine the best Medicare drug care program for her each year. She helped get her a cell phone. When Maggie refused to attend her own surprise birthday party, my mom talked her into going. My mom always prepared a plate of whatever holiday foods we had on hand to take to Maggie if Maggie planned to be alone.

I last saw Maggie the day before Thanksgiving. After I finished my chemotherapy and radiation treatments, I went to Boston Market to pick up a turkey dinner Maggie could reheat on the holiday. My mom did not think Maggie would let me in, but she did. We talked about my health situation and hers. While my mom was out of town in January and my sister Kathy was taking care of me, Maggie called us several times to see how we were doing.

When Maggie’s electricity went out or her oxygen machine did not work or her phone stopped working or anything else failed to work, my mom went over to take care of the matter. Don and Erma also were there to help, sometimes doing the shopping, taking out Maggie’s trash for her, or making repairs that she would not let anyone else make. Maggie’s grandchildren, all young adults, sometimes not living in the area, did their part, too. When Maggie refused to leave her home for necessary medical care, Debbie found a doctor and nurse who would come to the house. It took a village to keep Maggie’s progressively tinier life going.

A couple of weeks ago Maggie told my mom that she had fallen several times. My mom, who had promised not to let anyone know just how frail Maggie was because Maggie did not want to live in a retirement home, picked up a phone, called Debbie, and said, it’s time for someone to step in.

Maggie landed in the hospital and the doctors determined there was a “spot” on her lungs. We all knew what that meant. When she returned home, her grandchildren had cleaned, painted, and recarpeted. They brought in a real hospital bed and got rid of many broken household items. They brought in hospice nurses and took turns staying there, too.

Within about a week Maggie had stopped eating. The family called a priest to say the rite of the sick. The grandchildren asked my mom, Don, and Erma to come by one last time. When Maggie saw my mom, she said very softly, “Carol,” and raised her hand. Then she closed her eyes and went back to sleep. It was thanks and farewell in a moment that will be remembered for the rest of my mom’s lifetime. Maggie died in her own home early in the morning. It was a couple of days after what would have been Meg’s birthday. Some of her family was there with her.

At the funeral mass, the local priest, who did not know Maggie well, spoke of what he observed when he looked at the photos displayed at her wake. He said that she started with a big life that included family, work, public service, social events, and travel. But life had slowed down to become town, neighborhood, street, house, chair, and finally bed. That is how it happens, isn’t it? For many of us, life narrows slowly until it winks out of sight.

After mass we gathered at the cemetery. The sky was blue. A few white clouds passed overhead. The temperature was comfortable. A wind blew our hair. When we looked over our shoulders, we could see the golf course that Maggie wanted Dick’s grave to face because he loved walking the links. Family took out their smart phones and took pictures of the casket and of each other. A cousin scolded his mom for taking a photo of him in front of the grave when his eyes were closed. It seemed odd to me that people took pictures at a funeral, but they take pictures of us when we are in our caskets now, too. I never would have dreamed someone would do that. These days people seem to experience every major life’s event in three and two dimensions. They record everything in their memories and the memories of their mobile tools.

Had Maggie been alive to comment, I’m sure she would have appreciated that her grandchildren had her dressed in a stunning suit, the jacket covered with bugle beads in irridescent colors. Her hair was cut, colored, and styled in a way that did not look like Maggie’s style, but reminded me of Meg’s. The dark wood casket was highly polished. The pink and white roses were lovely. The final prayers were sufficient to send her off from this world to the next.

At the end of the ceremony, the family invited us to lunch. I joined my mom, Don, and Erma at a table. We reminisced about Maggie, Dick, my dad, and the days when my mom and her friends used to have progressive dinners together (appetizers at one house, entrees at another, and dessert at a third home). Maggie’s granchildren spoke briefly of their memories of Maggie. People hugged and went off to begin lives without someone they had long loved.

I have thought so much about life and death in this year when I have faced my mortality. I don’t think Maggie’s passing was particularly remarkable, except that her death will leave a space in some people’s lives for a very long time. I think I needed to remember that. Since having been treated for cancer I have had the rites for the sick twice. I have reiterated my request that no extreme methods be used to prolong my life. I have prepared myself as much as I can for death while fighting hard for life. I have gone to bed at night asking that God take me if I should die before I wake. I have watched a stranger slip from this world to the next while her family member struggled to hold onto her. I have stood by someone else’s grave and prayed for her. Yesterday I stepped around the grave of a woman born in the same year as I was and already gone nearly a decade. We can pass over at any time, which makes now the time to build memories to comfort others for their lifetimes.

My friend Barb lost her mom in the fall of last year. My friend Steve lost his mom at the start of the summer. My friend Paul lost his dad last week. My friend Roberta is about to close the estate of her sister, which means that her sister died only a little over a year ago. Death is as much a part of my life now as the birth of children seemed to be twenty-odd years ago when everyone I knew but me seemed to be having children. We usually use the term “the facts of life” when we talk about conception, but the term encompasses this phase, too. Eventually, all of us pass.

Whether or not you believe in an afterlife, death will happen. My Grandma Babe used to say that if you lived long enough you’d see everything. Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing left to see, but that’s not true, is it? When my dad was alive, he used to work hard to keep all of our extended family in the faith. He prayed for his cousin Mary to return to the practice of the Roman Catholic faith. She eventually did so. On the day she died, she was in her doctor’s office, sitting on the examination table. She suddenly looked up at the ceiling, raised her hand, and called out, “Take me Lord.” She died in the next moment. Some day I hope to see what she saw. Until then, I’ll just go on making as many happy memories as I can with the help of family, friends, faith, and hope. That way, when I am gone, I, too, will still have left something behind.

Pants on Fire

When I was a child we used to sing a nasty little ditty about people who tell lies. It alleged that liars could be observed. Their pants were on fire and their noses were longer than telephone wires. It’s not true, of course. You cannot tell a liar from such signals. Of course, some people claim that liars reveal their deceit with telltale signals such as blinks, averted eyes, or inconsistent verbal and nonverbal messages. See http://www.blifaloo.com/info/lies.php/. We have devices known as lie-detectors, but they can be unreliable. Antipolygraph.org. Credibility is often established after all the facts are in and impartial persons evaluate them. Can you tell if someone has deceived you? Does it bother you if you are taken in by someone’s false statements? Does it matter to you that the false statements were made from ignorance, social benevolence, or calculated effort?

In the last week I have pondered non-stop the motivations of people with whom I work. I have sought to give people the benefit of the doubt. I have tried to take people at their word. I have opened my mind to the possibility that my own instincts are faulty. In the end, I have been disappointed by people I want to trust. Something smells funny here. Is something burning? What do you think?

In October of 2011 I learned that I had uterine cancer. I had started to hemorrhage. I lost so much blood that I had to receive eight bags of blood by transfusion before I could undergo a hysterectomy. I called the schools where I was teaching to say that I could not teach that week but would teach the following week. My surgeon told me that I would be released two days after my operation and be able to work the following week. I understand he is one of the best surgeons in this field in the city. All of my supervisors seemed understanding and supportive at the time.

I did return to teaching three days after surgery, but not at the DePaul College of Law. I taught for two paralegal programs and a law school back then. The law school told my students that I was not returning before it told me. Even when I called to say I was ready to return, the law school did not tell me that I could not return. My direct supervisor said that having a hysterectomy was like having a baby. People don’t come back to work that fast. I should plan to rest another week. My class would be covered for me. I did not find out until another day later that my students were reassigned to other classes. I learned the law school’s decision by email from the head of the LARC Department. It was clear from her words that people with cancer could not be relied upon to meet their work obligations. She said:

I need to let you know, though, that after fully consulting with the Dean of Faculty, I felt compelled to make the decision to reassign your students to other LARC III sections. I sincerely hope that you recover from the surgery immediately, but it has been my experience that people in this situation always have slower come-backs than they anticipate. I had no way to hedge against the risk that you might return to teaching this week and then right away, or a few weeks later, find yourself simply unable to continue. My first responsibility is to the students’ learning and the smooth functioning of the LARC department, so I made the decision that increases the chances of maximizing both. I am sorry if my decision disappoints you, and I hope that you are able to understand the situation from my perspective.

That hurt. It’s just plain wrong. Don’t you agree? I wrote to the law school’s Dean to ask if the law school would at least pay the remainder of my contract for the semester. The Dean did not answer me. He had the same person who terminated me for having cancer send me another email to say that I would be paid. I did not get to meet with either of them. I did not observe their behavior. I had only their words to evaluate.

The words were not good enough to explain job action taken on the basis of my diagnosis with cancer. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), people with cancer (and other disabilities) are afforded protection from ignorance and bias. You can read about its protections in an earlier posting on this blog (see the links below). Many former students and friends wrote on my behalf to the law school’s Dean and the university’s President. To my knowledge, the President never answered anyone. The Dean of the law school finally spoke with me by telephone in November of 2011. He said that the head of the LARC Department had gotten some “bad advice” before she acted. She stated in her email that she consulted with the Dean of Faculty, a man who operates a legal clinic for the disabled. My direct supervisor also is an attorney. She represented employers in disability discrimination matters before joining academia. Is this ironic? I think so. I guess some possible explanations of this are that they advised her poorly, were not consulted, or their advice was not heeded. The Dean also informed me that I was not “terminated.” My class was reassigned. I was being paid. I was welcome to return in the next semester. I gathered from this that both of us agreed a termination would be a problem under the ADA. The implication was that the wrong done to me was “benign.” I was intended to be benefited by this paternalism. No one apologized for the rush to a poor decision. I never asked for involuntary leave–paid or not. I wanted to work.

The ADA doesn’t permit discriminatory “job assignments” either. I guess that the Dean has not read the ADA recently.

I tried to talk with the Dean about how we might address the unresolved injury done when the law school took me out of the classroom. He did not like my suggestion that the school offer me full-time employment. I thought it would address the injury done to my reputation by a mid-semester termination. He repeated his semantical objection to my use of the word “termination.” He said he would be hiring no full-time professors to teach legal writing in the next year. I offered to divide my time between teaching and career advising.

Our profession has suffered during the recession. It has been tough for graduates to find employment. I have many ideas for finding jobs. He said he could not consider such a position in the next year. This past week I learned that the Dean has hired a new career services person who also will teach legal writing–a full-time position with responsibilities to two “departments.” That’s amusing. We were to speak again thereafter, but the Dean did not respond to my call.

The next week I began chemotherapy and radiation, which were grueling. I kept on working my other jobs, including at the DePaul Paralegal Certificate Program. My fall paralegal classes ended and spring classes began in February 2012. Once I returned to work after surgery at my other teaching jobs I did not miss any classes despite going through five weeks of radiation and six infusions of chemotherapy. When I had to be hospitalized for infections associated with cancer treatment I was on holiday break.

In October, after the so-called “reassignment” of my students, the law school paid me one last time. It stood out because the payment was the only one I received that pay period. There was no payment from the paralegal program that week. After that, my paychecks kept coming in uneven amounts. I could not tell from my pay stubs which DePaul program or school paid me, but I trusted the assurances of the Dean of the law school and the head of the LARC Department when they told me I was being paid. In January of 2012 I returned to work at the law school.

This is not to say that the remainder of the academic year passed without incident. I have been told I can continue teaching but cannot miss any more classes–even though last semester I covered a colleague’s class for her when she was out for another reason. That’s inconsistent, isn’t it? I heard that the LARC Department head had been discussing disparagingly my conversation with the Dean with people not involved in the matter. I tried to speak about this matter with the Dean and another person at the university, but my calls to the Dean and the other person were not returned. Instead, the person I tried to speak with sent me two solicitations of charitable contributions to support a civil rights clinic at the law school. I find this unfortunate. Do you?

I finished my academic year at DePaul at the end of June. I tallied all my contracts for the law school and the paralegal program and discovered that I was short $2500. It was the amount of one of the seven contracts I had with DePaul during the academic year–a paralegal program contract. After several calls and emails I learned that the paralegal program had paid me what it owed me. However, the law school had terminated my pay in October of 2011, meaning that it still owed me $2,500. Now that was funny. I cannot tell you how many times I said to people that it had to be that the paralegal program had made a mistake. There was no way that the law school would refuse to pay me after I complained about how I was treated, the law school had put it in writing that I would be paid, and we had done so little else to try to “normalize” our relationship.

What do you call a decision to reassign a teacher’s students to other teachers and the termination of payment of salary? I call it termination. It was done because I had cancer, which made me unreliable. It was done by someone who did not speak with me. It was done by someone without a medical degree. It was done and denied. But the denials were false. I believe that the law school terminated me for having cancer.

After numerous calls last week, many of which were unanswered, I was told I would be paid the $2500 by direct deposit on August 3. Again, no apology for the nine months of delay. But I checked my bank balance that day and over the weekend and the money did not hit my account then. That made me so disappointed that I felt sick all over again.

On August 6th I asked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate the matter. I did not have the time to continue pursuing this matter on my own. It was time to file charges or let the injury pass. Last week I had been prepared to let the deadline for filing in this matter pass. I was thinking that I had made my point. Cancer patients are like everyone else. They are not innately unreliable. They need to be treated with respect, not biased preconceptions. No one should be able to tell someone in my position that she will suffer setbacks that will make her unreliable.

On August 6th I felt that, even if I ended up getting paid, I had to object to the manner in which my case has been handled. I am tired. It has been a very long year. I still suffer the side-effects of having had cancer. I did not have health insurance when I became ill. I still have medical bills. I would like to move forward with my life. But, as several people have reminded me, if a law school will treat a law professor this way, then it may do the same to people without the ability to call them out for doing it. It’s time to put it on the record and demand that the law school explain what happened and make this right.

No more pretending that people at DePaul College of Law meant well. Someone at the law school told the payroll department to stop paying me. I think it’s time the explanations came out so that we can all decide if there was ignorance, social benevolence, or calculated effort.

To read the emails from the head of the LARC Department, my letter to the Dean, and other details about how the law school handled this matter, start with the following blog entries: https://notdownorout.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/bad-day-at-the-office/; https://notdownorout.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/excuse-me-for-living/; https://notdownorout.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/owning-my-cancer/; and https://notdownorout.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/woody-the-woodpecker/.

What do you think?

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