Monday, December 14, 2009

Bunny Versus Human Resources

Remember "Bunny"?  It's the homemade heat wrap I created from a soft pair of socks, some dry, white rice, and a little bit of sewing.  I pop it into the microwave for a minute and use it to soothe my neck, shoulder, back, hip, or whatever hurts most.  A few months ago, I brought Bunny to work so I would always have it ready at the office.  I have been using it all day long lately and it has been very useful in keeping me just this side of sane while trying to get my work done while dealing with the usual plethora of symptoms from Fibromyalgia, Chronic Myofascial Pain, Sacroiliitis, and whatever other typical things might be going on with me that minute (headaches/migraines, nausea, fatigue, IBS, etc.).

Last Friday, without any warning, I received the following e-mail message from the Human Resources Manager at my work:
"Hi there;

As you know, with cold and flu season upon us, people are generally germaphobic (with good reason).  I've been asked to respectfully ask you to not warm up your neck warmer in the microwave anymore.

My apologies for the inconvenience."
I just read it over and over, stunned.  My inner frustrations raged within me.  There was no discussion or hint of any sort of a problem - just the e-mail.

Okay, I thought, so maybe it's not apparent that I'm using this thing out of medical necessity, rather than for some sort of luxury or convenience comfort item.  I have mentioned my Fibromyalgia to the HR manager in the past, but it's a complicated condition and without having to deal with it herself, perhaps she'd forgotten.  After all, I "don't look sick".  Taking the high road, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and explain to her, in person, that I do need this heat wrap.

I walked into her office with Bunny in my hand and asked her "are you grossed out by this?" before she had any time to think about it.  She assured me that she is not.  She said that she had seen me walking around with it on my neck and never gave it a second thought, but she'd heard some offhand remarks from one or two people about it.  Then she got this "complaint" from the still-anonymous person.  I made it abundantly clear to her that Bunny is what allows me to work - I need to be able to continue using it, otherwise I would need to use a heating pad or something (however a heating pad is not as versatile as Bunny is for my ever-changing pain locations).  Bunny is the best option for my shoulder and neck pain, as well as my Sacroiliitis hip pain, since heating pads can't really get around those corners as well.

I wanted to be reasonable, because I know it's not easy to be the HR person involved in a dispute like this.  (Our company actually sells liability insurance, so it's even more apparent that disputes between coworkers can turn very ugly and expensive.)  She came up with the idea to use a Ziploc bag or some other sort of containment for the rice-sock for microwave heating, but needed to discuss the idea with another manager first.  Fine, fine - whatever it takes to keep Bunny available to me.  I even agreed not to use the microwave until I heard back from her.

Hours went by and apparently she'd forgotten to have that discussion until she saw me in the Ladies' room.  She announced to me that she forgot and was reminded by my presence.  I'm sure my expression was pathetic enough, but I also uttered a genuinely disbelieving "what?!" and my pleading "please help me" to make it clear to her that I was making a real sacrifice during all this nonsense.  I also replied to the e-mail she sent me, so she would remember that I was waiting for her:
"Please let me know ASAP on what conclusion you reach on this.  I'm always in pain and not having my warmed rice-sock available to me is not helping. :(

Thanks for your help.  Let me know if you need anything else from me, or want to discuss this further."

Well, when I finally heard back from her, it was, again, in the form of e-mail... 
"Lets do this...first of all, you still have access to the 4th floor, so go ahead and use the microwave down there - chance of being seen is far less.  Secondly, just for perception sake, could you put it/wrap it in something (like a plastic bag or other) when microwaving it?


She had mentioned, in an earlier discussion, that another microwave is available in another, very small office of ours.  It's on a different floor but I really think that's not fair to me at all.  The way I've been doing the Bunny warm-ups in the past is by putting it around my neck, grabbing my empty cup, and stopping at the kitchen on the way to the nearby washroom.  I'd pop Bunny into one of the two microwaves in the kitchen, set down my cup, take my washroom break, then return to fill my cup and take Bunny back to my desk.  I usually lean against Bunny in the chair for my back, or put it wherever the heat is most needed.

Her proposed change would entail my taking my key card with me (which I keep in my purse, so I never forget it), some sort of plastic bag or whatever, the cup, and Bunny when I need to take a washroom break.  I'd have to take the elevator down to the fourth floor (we're on the eighth floor), swipe my key card to enter the office of three people I hardly know, put Bunny in a bag, use their microwave (while they probably wonder what I'm doing there at all), then use the bathroom on either floor, return to the kitchen on the eighth floor, fill my cup, and return to my desk.

Does this seem reasonable to you?  

This is all for the sake of appeasing some anonymous coworker who apparently does not understand the germ-killing powers of the microwave oven.  This also puts me in the awkward position of having to kind of sneak the whole heating thing from someone who has not been identified to me, even though that person will very likely still see me using Bunny around the office, especially if it is a coworker who works near me or on the way to the kitchen and washroom.

Well, since I still wanted to remain reasonable and willing to cooperate, I decided to visit the fourth floor and give it a try.  Firstly, I had no container or acceptable bag.  What's acceptable anyway?  I'm dealing with erroneous assumptions of someone who won't tell me what exactly is wrong with putting my rice-sock in the microwave in the first place.  I asked the HR manager for a bag or something acceptable, since she's my only connection to the complainer.  She, also, had nothing handy for me to use.  She made and executive decision to allow me to use the fourth floor microwave that afternoon without any sort of bag or cover.

Well, I went to the fourth floor office and guess what - it was locked.  I couldn't even use my key card to get in.  So much for that plan...  (You can probably imagine my frustration at this point.)  I was sick of going to HR all day long and decided to skip it and just to bring in my own container on Monday morning.  I would still refrain from using the microwave without any container around Bunny, in case mysterious idiot were to see me and report to HR that I was not compliant.

So I just did without - for the idiot's and HR's sake.  Looking back, I should have just used our  microwave one last time (for my sake), but I'm such a nice person that I didn't risk causing any further trouble that day.  I was already very stressed and distracted already, and I didn't want to add any more crap to the pile.  (I was actually hoping that the stress could trigger a palpitation episode, so I could finally make use of this heart monitor of mine, but no luck there.)

This is all so very stupid.  I announced this to the HR manager during my most recent discussion with her about all this.  I even sent her a link to an article about microwaving the germs out of kitchen sponges, since I had mentioned this to her earlier and she said she'd never heard of anyone doing that.  I do this at home all the time and I thought most people did as well, but apparently that's not the case.  (She did not reply to that last e-mail.)

Well, today I brought in a large, oblong Glad container that is now dedicated for use with Bunny in the public microwave.  It seems to be just the right size to accommodate the whole thing and even allow me to close the lid on it.  I tested it at home a few times with success.  I have already used it several times today on my floor, here, at the office.  I have had no comments, strange looks (that I noticed anyway) or interactions with HR personnel (so far), so I'm hoping this is the end of this very stupid problem.

It still bugs me that the person who complained was given so much power over me.  Apparently, being misinformed about things allows one the right to remain anonymous, while greatly inconveniencing anyone they want.  That kinda sucks, doesn't it?  What if I had complained to HR that someone's checkered shirt gave me migraine auras, or that someone's perfume gave me headaches and made me nauseous, or that the conversations that people have around me distract me further from my work?  These are examples of real problems for me, yet I have decided that it would unreasonable for me to go to HR and formally complain about these things.  I've kept them personal or just dealt with them on my own.  I don't want to be seen as an unreasonably high-maintenance employee.  Nobody appreciates this, I'm sure, but this is how it goes.  We all know that life is unfair.

Someday, I may have to deal with the very real possibility that I am physically unable to do full-time work.  I am barely able to maintain my job now, but press on, for multiple reasons, including:
  • health insurance benefits (very important),
  • self-esteem and feelings of self-worth,
  • distraction from my symptoms,
  • keeping me in driving practice, and
  • keeping my brain as fit as possible.  
It's complaints like this whole Bunny thing that remind me how fortunate I am to be able to work at all, and that I may have to cut back drastically on expenses to live without the insurance benefits and income that I enjoy today.  I know many of my fibromite friends are not so lucky, and are struggling with their symptoms and financial burdens.

I'm not looking forward to the day when I have to decide to stop working full-time, nonetheless, I know it is a decision I will likely have to face someday.  Until then, I am going to do what I can to help keep myself in at least the minimally acceptable condition that allows me to continue to feel somewhat human in this world.  If Human Resources, some ignorant coworker, or anyone else stands in my way, they better be ready for a fight because I will not be defeated easily.