I Love Drugs

Time for an update. Lots has been going on in my life. Let's start with 4 weeks ago...

At work I operate an electric forklift (called a "stacker") in very close proximity to airplane wings that are brought into the warehouse. The wings arrive on a transportation dolly, then are transferred by a crane crew to a secondary dolly to be sent down the manufacturing line where all moving parts and plumbing are installed (fuel and hydraulic lines, flaps, engine struts, etc.). Ever since I started in this location I've thought it was dangerous to be operating the stacker as close to the wing as I do, I've seen an accident here as inevitable, and have said as much to anyone who would listen to me. I am not very loud and powerful at work, so my warnings went unnoticed and the inevitable happened. I brushed up against the wing edge causing a very small amount of damage. I was sent immediately for a urinalyses (a pee test) to determine if I was high on drugs.

It may come as a surprise to some, but I smoke marijuana on a regular basis as part of my cancer treatment regimen. My treatment drug (Vemurafenib) reduces my appetite fairly dramatically, and the marijuana  helps with this. I have known that it is against company policy for me to be doing this, but over the past 6 years of dealing with this terrible illness, I've had to make some tough choices, smoking marijuana being one of them. When the urinalysis showed positive for marijuana my badge was taken and I was escorted to the gate. I wasn't even allowed to ride my motorcycle off the property because I tested positive, and was assumed to be under the influence (for the record, a person can test positive for marijuana for several days to several weeks after smoking, a positive test does not determine when the marijuana was actually ingested). The company doesn't terminate people on the spot for this offense anymore, instead they assume a drug addiction problem is to blame. No amount of doctor approved authorization is accepted as an excuse for the use of marijuana as a medication, they simply assume a drug problem is present and proceed as if that were the case. The company's relationship with the F.A.A. and their contracts with the Department of Defense means they must strictly adhere to federal laws when it comes to marijuana use, and since it is still federally illegal, all positive marijuana tests need to be addressed in this way.

I was assigned to a drug and alcohol social worker who asked some very personal questions about my family. Questions like "what were the drinking habits of your great grand parents?", or "Is your mom or sister heavy?". The counselor was looking for any reason to see me as a drug addict, looking for any addiction history or pattern of addictive behavior to justify sending me to drug and alcohol classes. I was being told that I might be subject to anything from a 30-day in-patient drug treatment facility, to a mandatory 6 month leave of absence so I could "clean out". It was humiliating.

I haven't been smoking any marijuana at all, and struggling with the lack of appetite. I was required to ask my oncologist to sign a form to literally rescind his authorization for my marijuana use. Instead I was prescribed a drug called Marinol which is basically synthesized THC in pill form. I was told I'd be allowed to take this medication even though it would show up positive for marijuana on future urinalyses. I will be subject to random tests for three years. They won't get back to me on whether or not a drug test can differentiate between smoked marijuana and Marinol even though they have said things like "we'll call you as soon as we know...", and I'm not going to put my job on the line over their ignorance. As though I'm not struggling to eat a fucking meal, as though this situation isn't urgent. No call backs. No word. Aparantly I'm the first case there where this has been the issue, and no one knows which end is up.

There is more to this story then I'm going to go into here. It gets deeper and more disrespectful then I have time to write about, like a hole that just goes farther and farther into the Earth. This process has been humiliating and embarrassing in ways that are hard to articulate. Having my work place dictate my health care has been so invasive and frustrating. I can't quite emphasize the amount of frustration Laura and I have experienced as a result of this, not to mention all the people who love me and want to see my continued triumph over the horrible beast I've been at war with the past 6 years. Not to mention the wages I've lost from being out of work almost a month now are about double the cost of the damage I caused with the little brush-up that started this whole ordeal.

To make a long story a little longer, I've started thinking about the possibility of going into long term disability and collecting social security. I looked into it, and it turns out there's a thing called "compassionate allowance" which gives a fast-track approval to people with certain diagnoses, and malignant melanoma with metastases is on the list. I was able to look up on the social security website to see what my monthly payments would be. It would be a fairly large cut in income, but with a few lifestyle changes, we can make it work, and I would be essentially retired. I'm in the process of selling the motorcycle, and Laura and I signed a lease on a smaller apartment in Wallingford that will be almost half the price of the place we're currently living.

The plan is this: I must have a clean urine test to return to work. Once that is settled, I will be found to be "in compliance". Then I will have my oncologist take me back out of work on a "medical leave". This won't be hard to do, considering my diagnosis. This medical leave can be extended 30 days at a time for up to two years. Medicare doesn't kick in for social security beneficiaries for two years, so being on medical leave assures I'll keep my current medical insurance for $50 a month. After the two years is up, I will break my ties with Boeing and collect medicare. I can take medical leave as soon as I'm ready to do so, I'm thinking I'll return to work, stay long enough to pad my savings account from this unexpected financial drain, maybe get a few things I might not be able to afford once I'm collecting social security, then I'll be throwing a retirement party. Right now, I'm considering myself to be "pretired".

This situation started out as perhaps the most stressful in recent memory. However, I have considered possibilities that I would not have had the guts to entertain under any other circumstances. My life is about to change very dramatically, but I'm going to have the time to persue things that are truly fulfilling to me, like art and music. I'm going to be able to stay up past 8:30 because I won't be waking up at 3am. I'm gong to have so much more time with Laura without this dreadful job getting in the way. She has been an excellent reminder that the things I will have to sacrifice in order to make this plan work are nothing when compared to the things I've had to sacrifice in order to continue working in this thankless business.

Sorry for this novel, I hope this has been clear enough to make sense.