A Legal Story
[The following chapters are part of a series that explains what happens before, during, and after a Social Security hearing from an experienced Social Security benefits attorney. Client names and particular fact patterns were changed to protect confidentiality.]
Monday, June 3, 2013. Johnson’s House. Mid-afternoon.
Sitting alone at her kitchen table, Denise was worried. A rhythm of raindrops caressed the window screen. Fall colors filtered through the window, casting stained glass shapes onto the tile floor.
What would her Social Security hearing be like? What could she say to a judge? She’d been out of work so long. “Five years?” she muttered to herself. And now, for two years, she’d worried about her Social Security hearing. It was next week.
Her soft brown eyes reddened. It was about all she could bear. What if she lost? Will we lose the house?
With her unsteady left hand, she took a small sip of coffee. She choked as it went down the wrong way.
It was a rainy Monday morning. Green was giving way to orange and yellow on the leaves of the trees. Denise did not mind her part-time accounts receivable job in the billing department of the county hospital. Although it was repetitive, it brought home money to pay the expanding bills while the girls were in school.
She rubbed and squinted her eyes. The columns of numbers on her computer monitor were blurry. She never wore glasses, she thought. Are my eyes going? She felt dizzy. The flu? She felt her head. No temperature. She looked around. Her friends were at work, their glazed eyes fixed to computer monitors. Each were bored but busy in their pale gray fabric work cubicles.
She was tired. Dead tired. She looked up at the hallway clock. Just past 10 a.m. Only 10? She heard the red second hand ticking.
And she was weak, more on her right side than her left. She lifted up her right arm and turned her palm up toward her. Maybe she had overdone it yesterday. She mentally went through a checklist of her activities the day before. X’s on her pinned-up calendar announced days already past. Yes, yesterday was Sunday. It’s only Monday? Why does it feel like later in the week? Her weakness was different, as if it came from the inside.
Had I eaten breakfast? She felt a little nauseous. The coffee in her yellow smiling face mug was cold and half-empty. She looked at it. Today, its smile mocked her.
I’ve been clumsy these days, too. She looked under her desk at her right foot. She had taken off her right shoe once she got to work. In the shower, she noticed her right little toe was black and swollen from jamming it into a kitchen chair the day before.
Man, that throbs. I hope I didn’t break it, she thought. Maybe I could get an x-ray during lunch from Joe in radiology. She winced, held her breath, and carefully wiggled her toe.
A half hour later, she felt a strong wave of nausea and odd crawling sensations in her right arm.
She questioned herself again. Did I get enough sleep? Her boss had been pressing her department to work faster. She looked at her right hand. Carpal tunnel? Her friend Sandy had that last year. She bent her right wrist inward. I don’t want to have release surgery like she had.
A peculiar tingling sensation went through her body, like a hot, itchy electric wire was turned on and was fed down into her right arm. Her body, in some way, wasn’t hers. What the hell did I do?
The second hand ticked more.
The next morning, Denise made coffee for her and her husband. Clumsy movements. Jamming fingers. Nausea. Sore right toe. Electric jolts shot into her right arm. She spilled coffee grinds on the counter past the coffee filter. “Damn,” she muttered under her breath.
When the brew cycle completed, she poured a cup of black coffee for her husband. With her right hand, she extended it to him. His ceramic mug paused in the air between them. He looked at her funny, catching her glance before they both looked at her right hand.
Something was different. Time slowed down.
Sensing her right arm was weak, she tried to strengthen her grip. No response. Their bridge of arms collapsed between them. In slow motion, she watched her right hand loosen. The mug came out. She couldn’t react, just watch. With a loud crash, pieces of ceramic and black coffee splattered across the tile floor. Circles of steam rose up and encircled their feet.
That morning, her right arm was not hers. And she was tired, so tired. Denise needed to find out what was wrong. Soon, she would.