One year ago today, was one of the worst days of my adult life. Nobody died that day. But I nearly lost my career. I want to tell my story so that I can finally lay it to rest.
A number of factors led up to that day. I had been working long hours, double shifts, we even had a big incident where I was mandatoried until 2 in the morning. I wore myself out. I was on a new medication, that I later discovered that I was allergic to. This incident was a combination of those things, exhaustion, and a bad medication.
A little history here, for those that don’t really know me. I am a Corrections Officer at the Washington State Penitentiary. I take an awesome amount of pride in my job. I enjoy it, and I’m told that I’m good at it. I work every shift as though I’m being watched. OK, we are, there’s cameras everywhere. I gained an immense amount of self esteem and pride when I got that badge pinned to my uniform. I learned how to use 3 different firearms, and even beat all the guys at the range. (Yes! I still have that bragging right!) I was in love with my job. I found safety, friends, and I can hold my head up high.
The morning of April 24, 2013 I woke up to my phone call for overtime. I gladly accepted, took my medication, and went to work at 5:30 in the morning, knowing that I’d be working until 10 that night.
Ahh, wait the medication. I am an epileptic. I am very fortunate to have a very mild case of it. It is unknown what caused my epilepsy because I did not inherit it. As best that I can tell, my high fevers as a child may have contributed, and as I’ve learned over time, I don’t respond well to lack of sleep and high stress. I have not needed medication until last year, but my life stresses reached a point where it was necessary and this medication (Keppra) was my first try. Little did I know, I would have a bad reaction.
So I went to work, it was business as usual. Tired, but usual. I went to my second post, which was in the Penitentiary hospital. It was my day to run the control booth. As the day wore on, I grew increasingly tired. By 8:00, I started to feel nauseous and dizzy, and excessively tired. I called my partners out on the floor (outside of the booth) and because it was so close to the end of our shift, nobody made much deal out of me wanting to get out of there.
By 8:40(ish) I knew what was coming on. I called 2 more times and said I needed out of my position because I wasn’t well. I did not say that I was going to have a seizure, but I did say that I wanted out. The officers did not want to let me out because we were almost all going home anyway. I believe, to this day, that I should have been let out. BUT, there was no way for them to know what would happen next.
I fell out, and had the worst seizure of my lifetime. I am told that I fell face first onto the floor, and was face down in a pool of my own blood. I was in the control booth though, and I was the only one who could let anyone in there because it’s a prison. I was the one who could let an ambulance in, I was the one who had control and I was face down in a pool of blood. My coworkers watched in horror from the glass that was only feet away. Luckily, we don’t lock doors like that without having emergency keys elsewhere.
One of the guys responding to the radio call for help ran 1/4 mile to the keys and 1/4 mile back to my location to get me out. The guys rushed in, let the ambulance in, lifted me out and sent me by code ambulance out of there.
This was not the worst part.
I woke up looking at two fine officers holding my hands and I cried. I didn’t know what had happened, or that I was gushing blood from my forehead. I cried. I am crying now just thinking about that moment. My rescuers stayed with me to see me through until someone in my family could be with me. Thank you guys. Thank you.
The next face I saw was the Superintendent of the Penitentiary. He looked horrified. I later looked in a mirror and I knew why. I was a bloodied mess. I had a 4 inch gash across my forehead, floor burns on my lip and nose, and my entire face, hair, and uniform were soaked in blood. Why God? I started crying and begging for him not to take my job away. I begged and cried. He said I’d never lose my job and just to get better. If only I knew the half truth that was being told.
My good friends at the Penitentiary knew my boyfriend and called him up. He is also an officer. He and our Pastor rushed to my side. I thought, in that moment, that he wouldn’t want me any more. Why God? He was such a good man. Why let him see me like this?
Keith, my wonderful man, took me home and hasn’t left my side since. He’s taken care of me, loved me, helped me, and last October, married me. I love you Keith. Thank you for standing by me in my weakest moment of vulnerability. Thank you God, thank you.
After that day, the struggle to keep my job began. I had to fight for my right to come to work. My doctor gave me full clearance back to work as soon as my head wound healed up. He started me on a new medication and I was ready to go. I then found out that it wasn’t going to be that easy for me. I was what they call a non-permanent employee. Which meant I was disposable to them. I fought, begged, and tried everything I knew, including our lousy union, to get back to work. Finally, they let me come back as an Office Assistant. That’s better than the unemployment that I was getting for 5 months, so I took it, even with the pay cut from my Officer wages.
If any of you are officers, you may be able to imagine how hard it would be to have them ask for your badge back. It’s painful and again, I cried. I didn’t do anything wrong, but I was being punished. Everyday I was at work, and every day since then I have been asked why I don’t have my uniform on. It’s not because I don’t want it, or can’t do the job. I can. I will. There’s no stopping me from being what I want to be.
For those of you with epilepsy, or any kind of disability, you have probably experienced the pain of losing your job, or the opportunity to have the job you want. But guess what? It doesn’t have to be that way. People don’t know much more than the stigma around a disability. They think that means we CAN’T. But we CAN. I CAN hold a job in law enforcement. You know why? Because I am no more threat to anyone than the guy next to me. I am stable, I am worth while, I am capable, and I am GOOD at my job. We can do this, you just keep going and don’t let up.
That day was one of the worst days and the best days. I thought it was the worst because now everyone knew my confidential business. I had disclosed it before getting the job, and it had never actually stopped me from performing my job like the awesome woman I am. But that day, I got slapped with a toe tag that said “DISABLED, DO NOT TOUCH”. Now, why was it a good day? Because all, and I mean ALL of my fellow officers have backed me up. They want me back. Sure, they all have questions, but they are hearing me. I can’t really speak for the few that may not want me there. But every time I see an officer, they’re cheering me on.
Fast forward to today. I am an Office Assistant. I’m actually enjoying it too. But guess what? Next month, they are giving my badge back! I will strut my stuff from the East Complex to the West Complex and maybe even down South. I’m going to press my uniform and do my hair! I’m going to proudly proclaim that I am an overcomer! I have overcome the adversity that came against me! I am what God says I am, which is awesome in his sight. I want to say thank you to God, to my wonderful husband Keith, and to my fellow officers. They all rescued me that day, they all stood by me that day, and they all deserve a great big THANK YOU for every day that they supported me since.