Your Health vs. Your Career

This week we hear from Samantha Michaud, a CHD warrior, who speaks about how CHD has affected her career opportunities in life. And how your health ultimately has to come before your career. 

I was born a healthy (or so they thought) baby. I spent the first 2 months of my life slowly dying and no one knew what was wrong. It wasn’t until my 2 month check up that my family doctor heard something wrong with my heart. I was immediately sent to the hospital where they did an echocardiogram on my heart & saw something wasn’t right. I was then sent to Toronto Sick Kids via air ambulance. More tests were run. After a few days they decided to do a heart catheterization to confirm their suspicion. I was born with a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy Of Fallot. A few days after that I had full blown open heart surgery.

Overall, I had a rather normal childhood I was able to play hockey, volleyball and even flag football. I didn’t start having issues again until I was an adult. Later on in my adult years I kept complaining of fluttering in my chest. It was shoved off as anxiety. Then I got pregnant at 20 years old. My previous years tests results showed I was able to carry a pregnancy. Yay! When I was 24 weeks pregnant I had a halter monitor done due to the fact I blacked out one day at work and had to leave. It turns out that my blacking out episode was an episode of an arrhythmia called Ventricular Tachycardia. I was happy I finally had answers as to why I didn’t feel well sometimes and why I felt fluttering in my chest. But after one episode where I nearly fainted giving someone a shower, I knew my time had come. I knew I had to leave my job behind. You see, as someone with CHD being around heat makes me feel unwell. But having Ventricular Tachycardia secondary to my Tetralogy of Fallot just made that day all the more worse. My heart rate began to speed up, my heart began beating funny and I started to feel weak and faint. I got out of my clients house for fresh air, and called the office to go home. A week later I quit my job due to my health reasons.    

 

I was devastated that the stress from my job could cause so many issues that I would have to quit. My job requires me to deal with stress. Taking care of the sick, disabled & elderly was my calling in life, but due to the stress it caused me to deal with on the daily, I left my job. It was really hard to deal with as I loved my job and I loved what I did. But for my health I had too.

Leaving my job as a personal support worker has left me feeling helpless. It was a job I thoroughly enjoyed. I felt like I was giving back to healthcare, for what they have done for me. I helped people of all ages and created great therapeutic relationships with everyone I saw & their families. Leaving a job I really enjoyed was not the easiest decision to make. But I do see a bright future ahead of me. I have a beautiful, heart healthy, baby girl, and the opportunities are endless for the both of us.

Hello, my name is Samantha Michaud. I am 22 years old and have a 10 month old daughter. I am a personal support worker. I see a cardiologist once a year for my Tetralogy Of Fallot. I see an electrophysiologist every 3-4 months for my Ventricular Tachycardia.

Hidden Scars

At the start of the new year we often reflect on the year that has just passed, and for most of us, work and/or school is a large part of that reflection. We are kicking off the year with a series on how CHD affects patients, and families at school and work.  This post is written by an individual who wishes to remain anonymous, as they reflect back on their career and the role that CHD has played in their work. 

 

I remind myself that this time I will handle things differently.  I remind my myself that I am a grown 51 year old woman that has raised 2 kids and managed to maintain a marriage for 25 years.  This time, with this job, I will not just walk away when I can’t handle the outside stress in my life usually, brought on from my health.  This time I will communicate with my supervisor and explain to he or she what is going on in my life and have them help me find a solution, after all that is what a grown up does.

 

Call me lucky, but four fulfilling careers later, I am still working a great job that holds my interest, and I am surrounded by wonderful co-workers.  I know that there will be another health emergency in the future, that is just the way life is for a person with CHD.  I tell myself, when the next health incident happens, I will not give 5 days notice to an employer, like I did with the last job.  I will not just close down the doors on a business I worked so hard to build, like I did two careers ago. And I definitely will not walk away from an amazing career as an FBI analyst (a dream I had since I was young) like I did after I landed my first job out of college.

 

My parents taught me from a young age to find a job with health benefits.  They thought I should be a teacher, after all, as a teacher you will have summers off and “the rest during the summer will be good for you.” I understood the message, they really meant “be good for your heart.” Maybe that is why I leaned towards a job with government, the need for health benefits has been ingrained since I was young.

 

When I was growing up the environment was different, you hid your scars, you hid your health issues.  I remember applying for my first job it was with the FBI.  I filled out the 30 page background check form and stopped when I got to the medical section.  How do I spin this?  Do I put down congenital heart disease?  Do I write down Tetralogy of Fallot?  What if I write, “Hole in the heart – corrected 1972.”  That is not a lie I thought to myself, so I went with that explanation, they could ask for more information if they needed it.  Of course my education helped me land that first job, but I am still convinced that things would be different if I had fully disclosed my medical history.

 

No one ever taught me how to communicate my health issues with my employer.  I have been taught how to write a resume and how to interview. I have an excellent work ethic.  However, I am 51 and still don’t know how, or when, to talk to an employer about my health.  I know my future holds a pacemaker battery replacements, pulmonary valve replacements, and much time in the cath lab.  When should you discuss your health with your employer? Should you be upfront from the beginning or should you wait until an emergency and try to explain why you won’t be in for a week or two?  I know the best option lies in the middle.  However, I am at a loss as to where that balance is.  I guess you need to factor in the employer, job, personalities, and work environment.  I wish there was some magical formula one could use to decide at what point disclosure is best.

 

I look back with my career history with regret on how I choose not to be upfront regarding my health history.  I tell myself, this time I will handle things differently, but I know I will probably continue on my current path of non-disclosure.