Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Class Action

Class Action
By Scott Wilson
Word Count: 3,480

“Good morning, Jessica,” the temporary placement officer said in a chirpy voice. “How are you?”

“Fantastic thanks, Patricia.”

“I have an assignment that I think you are perfect for. It's a data entry role with the Department of Health.”

“That sounds great. I worked there a few years back and really loved the place.”

“Cool. Can you start tomorrow?”


“Okay then. Go to level seven, one hundred Queen Street and ask for Jason McIntyre. The assignment is for two months and you’ll use Oracle for the data entry. I see that you have extensive use of this software already.”

“Yes, I actually learned it there last time I worked with them.”

“Okay, good luck. I’ll ring you at the end of the day to see how you went.”


Jess rang the hairdresser and made an appointment for later that day. She liked making a good first impression and felt confident when she had a fresh, crisp haircut.

* * * *

“Good morning, I’m Jessica Norbitt,” Jess said to the receptionist. “I am here work for Mr. McIntyre.”

After waiting a few minutes, a tall and slender businessman with red hair in a ponytail, dressed in khaki trousers and a checkered Country Road shirt walked into the foyer talking on his mobile phone. The receptionist pointed to Jess and he waved at her to follow back through the door he came through. She followed him through the door, to the lift lobby and up to the seventh floor. The workplace looked worse for wear since Jess last worked there. The paint looked faded, carpet worn and even the atmosphere seemed somehow, stale. Jess did not see any familiar faces working in the cubicles, nor recognize any names on the directory.

Jason flipped his phone shut, turned to face Jess and finally addressed her.

“My name is Jason, I run this section. The agency said you worked here a few years ago.”

“Hi, Jason,” Jess said, taken back by how cold this guy appeared to be. “Yes, I worked her when David was the manager...”

“Yes, well things have changes a lot since then,” Jason, said abruptly. “We’ve weeded out the dead wood and I run a tight ship.”

Jess did not reply, too shocked by this middle-aged wannabe’s attitude.

“You’ll start at nine, half hour for lunch at twelve and finish at five. No mobile phones in the office, if it’s a business call, and then it’ll come through the switchboard,” Jason said.

He slowly stood up and walked towards the office door, motioning for Jess to follow. “Right, let’s get you set up at your workstation.”

Jess followed him though the door, down the hall and into an overcrowded, open plan office, filled with plain light blue cubicles. There was no sign of any personal effects, like photos or kids drawings, everything looked cold and sterile, like a hospital ward.

“Maria,” Jason said to a large, overweight Italian woman in her late forties. “This is the temp; she’ll be helping you catch up with the data-entry.”

Jason turned and walked back to his office.

Jess could not believe that the guy did not even introduce her to Maria by name, just, The Temp.

“You’ll be sitting over there,” Maria said, pointing to the cubicle directly across from her own. The desk had piles of paperwork stacked on each side of the desk, with little room for working. She handed Jess a Post-It note with a user name and password scrawled on it in smudged blue handwriting.

“Okay,” Jess said softly, walking to her home for the next two months.

Maria wheeled across on her chair and said, “This pile is the invoices, and that one is the client sheets. You need to match them up and enter the details in the system. When you’ve done that, they get filled in the archive boxes in that storeroom.”
Maria rolled back and went back to her own job. Jess stared at her desk blankly for a few seconds, drinking in the reality that this place was nowhere near the happy go lucky place she previously worked.

Only two months, she eventually thought to herself, and then began working through the piles of paper. Despite being happy-go-lucky and cheerful, Jess was unable to have a decent conversation with anyone in the workplace. She completed the entire backlog by the end of the day, headed home feeling flat, and exhausted both physically and mentally. Her back was aching from lifting archive boxes of full of files that no one would give her a hand moving.

Early the following morning, Jess woke up with a shooting pain running up and down her left arm and back. It felt like someone had shoved a hot poker inside her body and left there overnight. She was in excruciating pain and had great difficulty in getting ready for work, every movement hurt. Putting her button up shirt felt worse than if she were stretched on a torturers’ rack.

“How am I going to get through today?” she said to herself.

Jess could not find a seat on the train, so she stood in agony for the twenty-minute trip to work. The ten-minute walk was even worse.

At work, Jess rang her placement officer as soon as she sat down at her desk, “Hi Patricia.”

“How’s it going, Jess?”

“Not so good, Patricia. I hurt my back lifting some archive boxes yesterday and I’m in absolute agony.”

“Why were you lifting boxes for?”

“The files I finished had to be stacked in the boxes ready for collection. Nobody helped me and I’ve really hurt myself. I haven’t been in this much pain before.”

“Okay, see how you go the rest of the day and let me know.”

“I’ll try, bye Patricia.”

Maria almost pounced on Jess as soon as she hung up.

“Who was that!” she demanded.

“Just my placement officer, Patricia. I had to let her know about hurting my back yesterday lifting those boxes.”

Maria gave Jess the evils and huffed.

“What are you talking about? You never mentioned anything to me about hurting yourself.”

“Well, one of those boxes slipped when I put in on the top shelf, it jarred my back when I caught it. It didn’t hurt that much when I did it so I didn’t mention it at the time.”

“Oh, they’re not that heavy. You probably did it at home or something.”

Maria went back to her desk and made a brief phone call. She kept looking at Jess whilst talking, making Jess feel uncomfortable and very self-conscious.

Jess could only work for just over an hour before she had to leave work. She stopped at her family doctor on the way home and was lucky enough to get in to see her. Having seen Jess for over ten years, Dr Landy knew there was something wrong just from looking at her.

“What have you done to yourself, Jess?”

“I think I’ve really hurt my back lifting archive boxes at work. The pain is unbearable.”

Dr Landy did a few tests, got Jess to move in specific directions, and then nodded.

“I think we’d better get an X-Ray on your back today.”

“Is it bad?”

“I just want to make sure there’s nothing serious. Better to be safe than sorry, is my motto.”

* * * *

After a week of trying unsuccessfully to work, Jess went back to her GP again.

“I think we’d better send you to see a neurosurgeon, Jess,” Dr Landy said.

“The Panadeine Forte doesn’t seem to be helping much, Doctor. I think I’ve done something really bad.”

“Once you see the neurosurgeon, we’ll be able to determine exactly what is wrong. I’d like to get an MRI done, but only a specialist can request them. From the X-Ray, I cannot be one hundred percent sure what the problem is. There looks to be a lump near the C6/C7 Cervical joints, but I can’t tell from an X-Ray if it is nerve of disc damage.”

“Thank you Doctor. The temping agency hasn’t even bothered checking up on me to see how I’m going. After ten years of working for them I, thought there’d be some loyalty, but nope. I’m just a temp, a disposable piece of equipment.”

“Don’t worry, Jess. This is definitely a workplace injury. The symptoms and signs are consistent with the accident you have described. You are still covered by Work Cover as a temp, and that includes your medical costs and wages.”

“Thank you Doctor Landy, I don’t know what I’d do without your support.”

“That’s what I’m here for. Look it will take at least two weeks to get in to see a neurosurgeon. I will write out a Work Cover certificate for you so you don’t aggravate that injury anymore.”

Jess caught a taxi home and rang Patricia to update her with what was happening.

“Look, Jess,” Patricia said. “We’ll have to get our Workplace Health and Safety Advisor in to investigate this. Just send your Doctor’s Certificate to me via email.”
“Thanks, Patricia,” Jess said. “I have booked in to see a specialist next week, so I’ll let you know what he finds.”

At the end of the call, Jess had a feeling that the agency would not be helping her find work after this whole incident blew over. Patricia did not sound happy with having to investigate anything in one of her client’s workplace and it even felt like she blamed Jess for having the accident.

* * * *

Jess walked into the neurosurgeon’s reception ten minutes before her appointment, just as they asked. She completed the six pages of personal details and waited for her appointment with Doctor Reece. The chairs in the waiting room were cheap and uncomfortable. Jess did not understand how a surgery that specialized in back injuries could have such a lack of regard for their patient’s comfort.

“Jessica Norbitt,” the young doctor said, walking briskly into the waiting room. Jess thought he looked like he was even younger that she was.

She followed the young doctor into his surgery. No expense was spared in furnishing this room, solid teak bookcases lining each two walls, thousands of dollars of textbooks sat neatly stacked on the bookshelves. In the centre of the room sat a large well-polished antique desk with solid brass fittings. Expensive gadgets, like a HTC Touch screen mobile phone, pager and PDA sat on the desk charging.

Jess noticed his Degree hanging on the wall in a gold frame on the wall to the left of the desk. It was dated two years ago, confirming Jess’ gut instinct that he was not very experienced.

“I see you did this injury at work,” he said.

“Yes, I was putting archive boxes on shelves, ready for...”

“Where exactly is the pain,” the Doctor said, interrupting Jess before she had finished answering the last question.

“It is in my back, between my shoulders. The pain runs down my left arm and into my fingers. At first I thought I’d broken my elbow, it hurt so much.”

“Okay, stand up against the wall over there.”

Jess could not believe how rude the doctor seemed. First the workplace and now this doctor, she was shocked.

She stood by the wall and complied with the tests and examinations without a word of complaint.

“Okay, sit back down.”

The doctor scribbled something on a pad and thrust it at Jess.

“I need you to have an MRI as soon as possible. You can go to the Mater Private for this.”

Jess looked at him, wondering what was happening. The doctor was cold, abrupt and rude. She had no idea what the outcome of this consultation was.

“See the receptionist to book an appointment later this week when you should have the MRI.”

Jess slowly stood up and said, “Er, thanks.”

She made the follow up appointment and caught a taxi to the Mater, hopping that she could get the MRI done straight away, which she was able to do. Jess went home and spent the rest of the week in excruciating agony and emotional turmoil. She was not used to people being so rude and cold hearted.

* * * *

The appointment later in the week seemed like months away by the time she got to see the neurosurgeon again.

Doctor Reece looked at the MRI, and then read the brief report.

“You have a ruptured C6 and C7 disc causing pressure on the spinal nerve. We can operate to relieve the pressure of wait and see if it heals over the next nine months.”

Jess sat with her mouth open. While the pain was excruciating, she was not prepared for the announcement that she had to have spinal surgery from lifting a box at work.
“Can I think about it, please?” she eventually said.

She left the surgery in a state of disbelief, thinking about the operation, the appalling communication skills of the doctor, money and how she would cope. Jess decided to wait and see if the injury would heal naturally, not wanting to go through the pain of major spinal surgery. This meant that she would take a series of CT Nerve Root Block injections, painkillers and physiotherapy while trying to rest and recover.

Jess made the first physiotherapy appointment for the following day and had a restless night’s sleep. In the morning, her back was even stiffer, from tossing and turning in her sleep. She did perk up once she arrived at the physiotherapist and saw the hunk of a man that was going to help her rehabilitate over the next nine months, Cameron Stone.

The saying about tall, dark and handsome could have been coined for him. At a little over six feet in height, Cameron was tall enough to stand out in a crowd and that was before you added in all the rest. With his black hair and cobalt-blue eyes, he drew admiring glances wherever he went. His features were both attractive and very masculine—a strong chin, chiseled lips, a straight nose.

Cameron smiled at Jess, a broad grin lighting his face and radiating across the room.

“Good morning, Jessica Norbitt?” he said in a deep and powerful voice that made her quiver. His smile broadened, he definitely liked her scent. It wasn't the heavy, sickly sweet scent of expensive perfume he smelled so often on some of the rich elderly ladies that always asked for his services.

“Jess, please,” she replied. “Just Jess.”

She tried ignoring the warmth of sensations that seeped through her veins. Jess had never met a man who radiated so much sensuality. Part Australian and part French, at thirty-four he was the epitome of every woman’s fantasy and a major player in numerous women’s nightly dreams. The sexiness was there in his looks, his body, when he walked, talked or just plain stared at you. He was definitely the most gorgeous man she’d ever encountered.

He motioned for Jess to follow him into the rehabilitation centre behind the reception area. She momentarily forgot the aching pain in her back and concentrated on watching his sexy, muscular buttocks in his tight training shorts as she followed behind him. Jess almost walked right into Cameron when he stopped and turned around slowly, almost like a model pivoting on the catwalk.

Cameron checked with watch as he turned, so missed Jess’ glance anyway.

“Okay, Jess,” he said softly. “I’ll start with a few movement tests to see exactly how much pain you are in and the extent of your mobility. Don’t want to cause you any more pain than you’re already in.”

Jess was dressed in a pair of casual khaki, knee-length shorts and a tight white t-shirt. She was glad she wore a good quality sports bra, it hide the tell tale signs of her excitement that would otherwise be quite noticeable.

At the end of the hour, Jess looked utterly exhausted, with dark circles under her eyes and a haggard hollowness in her cheeks. Jess was usually very precise about her appearance, but there was no hiding the pain that the extensive session took on her. Even through the pain, Jess was worried how she looked to Cameron though.

“Right, Jess,” Cameron said. “I think that we may make some progress over a period of time. I can really feel how knotted your muscles are in your neck and shoulders.”

“How many sessions do you think I need?” Jess said, hoping that it would be numerous.

“I think we should try two sessions a week for the next four weeks and see how you are at the end. If you are making progress, then we should be able to reduce it down to once a week.”

“Do you think I’ll get better over time?” she said hopefully. “Or will I need to have an operation?”

“Off the record, Jess,” Cameron said, leaning close to her as though he was going to kiss her. “Doctor Reece is not that experienced. He is a young gun who thinks his hands will cure all spinal injuries through expensive operations. If I were you, I’d get a second opinion.”

“Really?” Jess said. “Will that stop my Work Cover payments if I get another opinion?”

“No, you are entitled to a second opinion, but make sure you get a good specialist the next time. One poor lady that saw Doctor Reece made the mistake of seeing the other specialist in the same surgery, just so she didn’t have to get another referral and wait longer. The other guy, Doctor Franklin, is a young gun to. I think they met at University and decided to open their own practice once they could. They don’t have enough experience between them to make a competent decision.”

“That’s horrible.”

“I know, and after six months of pain and suffering, she went to get a third opinion because Doctor Franklin was flip flopping, changing his mind about whether to operate or not. It almost drove her crazy, the poor thing. When she did told Work Cover, they offered her a pitiful lump sum payout, that wouldn’t have covered the medical expenses and recovery time and closed her case. I am still working with her now, but she had to get a loan from her parents for forty-thousand dollars to cover the operation and living expenses.”

“What did she do about the doctors?” Jess said.

“She wanted to take them for malpractice but the medical profession looks after itself so she couldn’t do anything. No one was interested. Luckily, she found a good lawyer and is taking them to court.”

“There’s no way I’d be able to survive without being paid, and my health insurance wouldn’t cover this yet as I only joined ten months ago. She’s lucky she had parents that could help her out.”

“I only wish I’d known about these two doctors before, so I could have helped her. It’s going to take years in the courts to get her money back.”

Jess realized she was holding his arm tightly and let go. Cameron smiled at her.
“I’m just glad I was able to warn you,” he said.

“Thank you so much, Cameron,” Jess said. “I’ll make an appointment with my GP to get a referral as soon as possible.”

Jess kissed him on the cheek and walked out to catch a taxi home. She stopped at her family doctor on the way home and explained what Cameron had said to her. Her GP wrote out a referral to a highly regarded neurosurgeon, with twenty years experience.

* * * *

“I’ve got great news, Cameron,” Jess said. “I saw another specialist, this lovely man, Doctor Noble. He looked at my X-Rays and MRIs and said I won’t need an operation.”

“That’s great news, Jess,” Cameron said, giving Jess a heartfelt hug.

Jess kissed Cameron passionately while they continued embracing each other like lovers.

“I am so glad I met you, Cameron,” Jess said. “I can’t imagine the pain and suffering I would have had to go through having an operation when I didn’t need one.”

“I am glad I met you too, Jess,” Cameron said. “You are such a beautiful and intelligent young lady.”

Jess dated Cameron while she was completing her physiotherapy program over the following months, gradually strengthening her back and their relationship until they decided to become engaged after a year.

Cameron supported Jess through her rehabilitation and the legal battle against Doctor Reece for malpractice. Jess was instrumental in forming a class action against Doctor Reece for his constant misdiagnosis and eagerness to operate on anyone coming to him with suspected spinal injuries.


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