Job Loss Due to Migraines
I have had migraines for over 40 years now. I worked in a steel foundry for over 35 years, a job that requires both physical strength and the ability to work around hazardous conditions, including molten steel and high heat levels in the melt shop.
I worked there for so long, not because I liked the work, or didn’t have the intellect to do something else, but because I supported a family for 11 years, and then through a divorce and remarriage, I supported both myself and my wife, 2 adopted children, and 3 biological children from my first marriage. So as time went on, and the pay became better, I financially could not leave that job, in search of an easier one.
Doing the hard work and paying the consequence
So I did what I could to survive and still do my job. As one of the old hands there, I knew pretty much every single job in the shop and most of them in the lab. So I often was called upon to fill in for missing workers. I could tell horror stories about the work, but I will leave that for another time. What I do need to say is that for me, I sought treatment for my migraines for the entire time I have been an adult, and the only thing that has ever worked has been some form of a narcotic and something to make me sleep. For years, I suffered, unless it got so bad I could not take it, and could not stop vomiting, and then I would end up in an ER, which was hit and miss, as everyone knows.
To be able to keep working, I often in the latter half of my employment, would use either Norco or Fiorinal w/ codeine, cautiously, to be able to get through the shift. We all know that is not a good thing, and I don’t say that it is either, but sometimes, you do what you have to do.
Having to self medicate to make it through the day
One day, going in to work, I had a bad migraine, but I had the company unhappy with me for missing work due to migraines. I was covered under the ADA, but the company I worked for really didn’t go out of their way to make things easy for anyone who dared to use it. So I went to work anyway, taking a Fiorinal w/ codeine before I left, and taking 2 more with me, in case I needed to take one later, as often my shift morphed from 8 hours into 12 hours, with no notice.
That day, I had to run a furnace, which is basically just a big hole in the floor, which you push metal into, and it uses electricity to melt the metal. From there, it is poured into a ladle, transferred to a vessel, processed, and then poured into a casting machine, forming a solid round bar, which was cut and packed.
Of course, the furnace job is a nasty, hot, and smoky one, even though there is a smoke hood over the hole to try and take the smoke away, it works marginally at best. So I was melting 20,000 pounds of steel at a time, every two hours, all day long. In a factory, you are supposed to get a break every so many hours. However, on certain jobs, like running a furnace, it simply was not allowed. You had to stay on the furnace, except for running a sample up to the lab once molten. We did look out for each other, and I would get a guy to spell me long enough to use the bathroom if needed, but really, you had to eat and drink anything you wanted to, on the job.
It was a super hot day, one of the hottest years in Michigan in years. On the floor, it was about 150 degrees. We did what we could to stay hydrated, and again, watched out for each other, to avoid dehydration and heatstroke. Of course, being so sick, the thought of eating anything was out of the question. I tried to drink as much water as I could, but I knew that I was dehydrated, my head was pounding, and all I could think of was getting out of work and heading home and maybe a nap in a dark room.
Late in the shift, a foreman came up and asked me if I would stay for another 4 hours, to run the furnace, so he could use the other man on a different job. I almost never said no, but this time, I said that I couldn’t, and I knew the foreman was mad. He tried to talk me into it, but I would not budge.
A little after noon, I took another Fiorinal, risking vomiting, to try and stop the headache. When I finally got out of work, at 2 pm, I was in a bad way. Driving home, I started to feel lightheaded and felt like I was going to blackout. I had a 20-minute drive, from on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan inland. I don’t remember driving home after I got past the first 5 minutes or so. Not like I was groggy or something like that, but like, I really did not remember driving home.
I got home, turned off my car, and sat in the driveway. My wife finally came outside, and came to the car, and asked me what I was doing. It was only at that moment that I remember anything.
Makign the decision to stop
I stopped using Fiorinal w/codeine completely after that. I did end up in the emergency room later that night, and got a compassionate doctor who knew that by the time a migraine patient ended up in the ER, they just needed relief, and gave me a shot of a narcotic and something for nausea, and sent me home.
It would be nice to say that I never again used a narcotic type of drugs to stay at work, but unfortunately, that is not the case. I was much more judicious with their use, and also never used them if I had to do any job involving molten steel. I also called in sick much more frequently, with my doctor giving me a work slip if I did.
Like all good stories, this has both a happy ending and a sad ending. As I said, my company was not the small family job shop that I hired into just out of high school. They eventually kept looking for ways to get rid of me. Finally, they said that I appeared ” out of it” and sent me to take a drug test. I had not taken any narcotic medications for quite some time, and so felt quite comfortable with their test. I knew that it was just a fishing expedition, trying to get rid of me.
The writing on the wall
They called me back to come in the next day to personnel, and they told me that they were firing me due to me having alcohol in my system, and them having a no-tolerance policy. I asked them to show me the results, and they would not, they said that I needed to send them a letter requesting a copy.
I had been at the shop for 7 hours that day, I don’t drink, and they would not even give the state of Michigan proof of my having alcohol in my system. I would have sued them, but by that time, my migraines had gotten so bad, that I knew that even if I won, the handwriting was on the wall.
That is the bad part of the story. I tried several different other foundry jobs in the area, my work history of being at the same job for so long seemed to carry some weight. But the fact is, I could no longer work full time. I finally got a part-time job in a mobile home park, as a maintenance man, and filed for social security disability. I eventually prevailed after 3 years. I burned through a good share of my IRA, in order to be able to work part-time, but I did get back pay from my disability claim, and that made up a good deal of it.
So that is part of the good. The other part that is both good and bad is that my wife got breast cancer a few years ago, but because I was now medically retired, I was able to be here to help her, after so many years of her taking care of me. There are times that I was not feeling very well, but I was still able to drive her to appointments, sit with her and interpret doctors sometimes hard to understand terms, and just lend her moral support. She is now cancer-free, and our marriage of almost 28 years is stronger than ever.
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