Rheumatoid arthritis and claiming ‘invalidity’ and disablement

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The keyboard (#18/365)About a year ago I decided to claim on my Total and Permanent Disability Insurance, attached to one of my superannuation accounts.  That process has been long and difficult and is ongoing.

Three months ago I decided to apply for early release of my superannuation.  If approved, it would mean I would receive a small pension for the rest of my life.  Essentially I would be getting the money I would have received at retirement age (60) about 16 years early.

It’s not a lot of money, but it would certainly make a big difference. I currently survive on a Disability Support Pension, and as a single mum of two kids, with a disability, life is basic.  But we are happy.

Accessing my super money early would allow for a few luxuries however.

It would allow me to save for the surgery I need.   It would mean I could take the kids on a little holiday every year.

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These are the things that really matter to me at this time in my life.   Making memories with my kids while they are still younger and living with me and patching my body up as best as possible to give me the best quality of life possible.  So I can be the best mum possible.

In Australia, superannuation is enforced savings that is locked away until we reach retirement age.  For me, that would be 60 years old.  In the case where you are no longer able to work because of disability or ‘invalidity’ – such a great word – you can apply to access these funds early.

I believe I only have the option of taking a fortnightly pension that will be indexed for life.  Some people have the option of taking a lump sum.

The process if simple,  but not easy.  You apply to your super fund for early release, and they each have different rules.  Some are quite simple – a report from your doctor and your specialist and that’s about it. They make a decision based on those.  Or rather, the trustees make a determination.

My superannuation fund requires an assessment by an Occupational Doctor.  And a psychiatrist.

Today I saw the Occupational Doctor.

It was a half hour appointment.  He started by taking some vitals.  Height, weight.  He was watching me closely and I felt like a bug under a microscope.  I believe he was taking in what I was wearing, my footwear, my posture.  He noticed that I slung my bag across my body because my shoulder is too painful to hang a hand bag on.  He noticed that it was difficult for me to lift it over my head. He picked it up, in an effort to be courteous.  I believe he was also testing the weight of the bag.

My bag is very light. Pre RA I was one of those people who carried everything including the kitchen sink around in a huge big bag.  Especially when the kids were smaller.  Since RA, I travel light.  Only essentials.  The way he was ‘examining’ me and the situation gave me hope.  He was polite and respectful and knowledgeable.  He was looking at practical indicators of whether I was in pain.  Because pain is NOT invisible. Our behaviours DO demonstrate our pain.

I have a friend who claims severe RA.  She says her shoulder is unbearably sore.  BUT she carries a huge leather handbag on that shoulder and it weighs several kilos. I have always noticed this, and the contradiction.  I know that it means that my ‘friend’ is not in that much pain.  Simply because no one with an excruciatingly painful shoulder puts a few kilos of weight on it constantly.  SHE doesn’t know this, because she is NOT in excruciating pain.

So to see my doctor noticing these things gave me both an internal giggle, and confidence in that he knew what he was looking at, and looking for.

He then took a medical history.  When my symptoms started. How they started.  How they have progressed over the years.  He was calm and matter of fact.  His manner was kind and even sympathetic.  He encouraged me to talk and didn’t put words in my mouth.

Next he took a work history.  At what point did I stop working?  Which symptom was it because of?  How has my disease progressed since then?  He got a complete work history, where I have worked, how long for.  Why I left each position.  My two attempts at returning to work.  And my freelancing ‘career’, such as it was.

He examined my hands.  He commented on the swelling.  He said it was obvious to him and that he could feel the swelling when he palpated the joints.  He said it was clear that I have severe rheumatoid arthritis, regardless of the fact that my bloodwork is clean.  He said bloodwork doesn’t matter at all in these cases.  The synovitis is so obvious.

I loved him at that moment.  Why don’t all doctors know this?  And I was terribly worried that he would know nothing about RA.  I was worried that he would be trying to prove I am a fraudster, or just have mild RA. Which is not a disability.

He was not like that at all.  He was careful and considered, and very honest.  He wrote up some notes and then he told me straight.  He said:

“I am going to get this report in today, and I am recommending that the trustees release your super funds to you as soon as possible.”

I was so happy I cried.  I thanked him for being so honest with me – he didn’t have to tell me his decision.  He could have left me hanging on the official letter, which I presume is still some months away.  It was pure kindness on his behalf.

He shook my hand gently and told me it saddened him to see that ‘young’ people like me are still being struck down by inflammatory arthritis. He told me to keep my chin up and that medical advances are being made all the time.  He wished me all the best and said he hoped that life would be a little easier for me, and that the superannuation money would ease my financial problems to some extent.

He was truly a kind caring man.  I don’t come across kindness like that often.  I generally come up against coldness and indifference.

As I left I felt utterly euphoric.  I realised  I am half way there.   One of the two people that is deciding my fate has decided I am a worthy and an honest case.

Tomorrow I see the psychiatrist. If she comes to the same decision my life will improve.  I will have a few extra dollars every week.  A few luxuries.  A few more choices.  Life will just be a little easier.

Ofcourse she may see things completely differently.  So I cannot get over confident.  And I am still nervous and anxious about the appointment.  But after today I have a little more faith.  And  whole lot more hope for the future.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. His response to you made me tear up. It’s good to know that there are kind, caring health professionals out there. It’s amazing how one small dose of empathy can replenish the soul.

  2. So good to read this post and hear that you had such an understanding and positive experience with a doctor, for a change! Being heard is SO important, and in that appointment, clearly you were heard. Fingers crossed now for the psychiatrist.

    • It does make a nice change!!! Unexpected. I’m just about to post about the psychiatrist, but that went well also! Things are looking up 🙂

  3. I can truly relate with you. I was diagnosed with RA when I was 22. I continued to work, into excruciating pain, until my boss told me I wasn’t giving her 100%. I immediately consulted with my rhuematoligist, while I was crying and distraught, he told me at 41 yrs. of age that I was done working. The process of going through the State for disability is nerve wrecking , but the limitations in my limbs, blood work, and documentation, was my saving grace. I was able to get Disability Retirement from my employer and Social Security Disability. Going through the process from the State, is enough to make your RA flare-up. Thank God for those doctors with compassion that know our invisible disease. I’m glad to know that I’m not alone anymore!

    • I’m so sorry that you are disabled so young. Its a huge loss, and so hard to admit to yourself that its time. I wish it wasn’t such a stressful process, but I’m so glad you were successful. And that there ARE good doctors out there, who know their stuff and know how to treat patients with respect. I hope life has improved for you since leaving work, and you are most certainly not alone! 🙂

  4. I’m so glad that you saw such a kind and caring man. It’s always frightening when we see a new doctor who can influence the important stages of our lives. I had to retire at 40 from a job I adored, and although my husband works full time, money is tight, and only likely to get tighter. I hope that the other apt went just as well and that you can get things moving on the money front. Oh and thanks for explaining how it all works as I had no idea being in the UK.

    • Thanks Gillian. He was an amazing man. In the job for the right reasons. The psychiatrist went well also – I will put up a post today. A positive outcome is almost assured…now to wait for the paperwork to go through! I feel for you, and all of us, in having to give up jobs and careers that we love, it is a great loss. And not just financially.

      Applying for any form of disability is a confronting process, I hope other people that are going through it will be reassured, and take heart that not everyone is out to prove that you are not genuine.

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