I survived a stroke in October 2001 while on a business trip in Hartford, Connecticut. I was 45 years old. The day before I’d seen a public service announcement about the warning signs, and I got to the hospital in Hartford in time.
I was scared and unsure of what to expect. My speech was slurred and my left hand, arm and leg were numb and without feeling or proper motor control. I spent 10 days in the hospital until I was well enough to travel back to my home in Phoenix, Arizona, in early November 2001.
I was devastated over the loss of the use of my left hand, but I returned to work in December. My employer assured me that my job was safe and that their main concern was my recovery. I accepted that at face value and was stunned the next May when I was terminated, losing my medical and insurance benefits.
The stroke was difficult but by far the toughest part has been the perception of those around me. Friends, family and coworkers shunned me. I was shocked at their ignorance about stroke.
After the termination I looked for another job in the field of insurance. When asked about the gaps in my resume, I explained the stroke to prospective employers.
That was a mistake that I urge others not to make. The public’s understanding of stroke and its implications for the survivors are misunderstood and discrimination is rampant.
I have been asked at every interview if I felt that I could do the job applied for. Of course I assure them all that I can because I can. I am now driving and my speech has returned to normal. I type with my right hand with occasional assistance from my left. My cognitive abilities have fully returned.
With the loss of my benefits, I was unable to complete occupational therapy. Of course, the medical bills and lack of income from the termination caused my credit to be destroyed, further complicating my employment search.
I am in quite a dilemma: if I mention the stroke to explain my spotty work history, I risk suffering discrimination due to the stroke. If I get over that hurdle, my poor credit rating is used to deny my employment because the potential employer thinks that I am unreliable.
I am now in danger of losing my home and possibly being forced to declare bankruptcy. The after-effects of a stroke on a survivor’s credit and employment search are the most difficult hurdle to a full recovery.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act does allow employers to use credit as a criterion for hiring. Unfortunately, gaps in work history due to recovery time do not seem to be protected under any law. How is a stroke survivor expected to return to a normal life with these prejudices harbored by society? I survived the stroke, but I may not survive its after-effects.
Christopher C. Happ, Survivor