Unexpected Impact of a Small Problem

JiStock_000009703092XSmallim Mongelli looked down to see the crimson stain of blood coming from his arm. It wasn’t shaping up to be a very good day for the heavy equipment worker from upstate New York.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal being a small cut,” said Jim. “I went to clean the snowplate off on my truck and I didn’t grab my gloves.

But it was a busy day and there was fresh January snow to be cleared from the streets. So he bandaged up the cut, hopped back on the truck and finished his shift, as well as the rest of the workweek finally making to to Friday’s quitting time.

Then Saturday dawned bringing Jim a year of nightmares and near-death experiences inside his local hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

iStock_000015602916XSmallThat little cut, combined with Jim’s existing battle with diabetes, gave him a severe case of necrotizing fasciitis, also known by its more menacing name “Flesh Eating Disease.”

“Unfortunately because I didn’t think it was a big deal being a small cut I didn’t file an accident report because I was afraid of not having my job back when I was done with my recovery,” Jim said.

Jim wasn’t going back to work. The flu-like symptoms got worse over the weekend and, after extensive testing, the doctors determined that Jim’s seemingly small on-the-job cut was the original source of the infection. But by that time, the red and painful sores had spread deep into his bone causing incredible, searing pain.

Jim lived with this pain for more than a year, ruining him financially and planting the seeds of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in his mind.

“My former employer didn’t want to hear that the only thing that happened to me that could have resulted in this necrotizing fasciitis was a cut, so I had to survive on having my fiance help me financially by moving in with her and being on short term disability,” Jim said. “Hindsight is always 20/20 and I should have known better to err on the side of being safe rather than sorry. Looking back I should have filed for workers comp as the after-effects of the surgery and recovery were brutal.”

Necrotizing Fasciitis is a severe and rare infection that, depending on its depth, can be unnoticeable at first. It starts with a cut and progresses to severe vomiting and diarrhea.  Most people don’t have to worry about the infection becoming too intense because our immune systems are more than capable of killing it early on. However immunocompromised individuals, especially those with diabetes, don’t have the tools to fight off the painful infection. Eventually the skin turns a bright violet color, blisters may form and eventually the subcutaneous tissues will face necrosis (death).

Mortality rates have been noted as high as 73 percent if left untreated. Without surgery or antibiotics the infection progresses quickly.

Unfortunately, that small cut and it’s monumental aftermath illustrate a predicament that millions of workers will face this year. The tidal wave forces of wanting to perform well on the job, that look in your boss’ eye, co-workers wanting to get on with their work, the fear of stigma, all combine to make injury reporting a terrifying task. But Workers Compensation laws land clearly on the side of stopping the workday for a minute and filing an incident report.

JiStock_000011119461XSmallim’s plea is that despite those monumental forces that keep us quiet while hurting, we consider the consequences.

“File a report when something like this happens to you,” he said. “You have got to be very careful what you do these days. As soon as something happens, you have to report it. It was just a little cut on my hand …”

The number of those who did file workers compensation claims eclipsed 4 million in 2012, according to National Council on Compensation Insurance data. But studies have shown that for every three people who do speak up, there are five more who are silently hurting.

After two years and a seemingly endless road to recovery Jim is rebuilding his life, working for another employer as a Class A truck driver. He is still getting back on his feet, both literally and financially, with the help of his fiance Anna at their Lake Mahopac New York home.

But every now again again Anna says she will see him after a long day at work, battling his nightmares, sitting anxiously at the table nursing a glass of milk and hyperventilating over the day he didn’t report a small cut.