Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Judgment Day

The dreaded but essential day had finally arrived. It was my third, last, best chance at Social Security Disability: the hearing with a judge. At stake was whether I'd be granted a small allowance on which to subsist or if I'd continue to rely almost entirely on miracles.

The courtroom was not packed. In attendance was my ex-boyfriend, he being the chief miracle responsible for my survival over the past two years. He had worn a tie for the occasion, along with a pair of brown polyester trousers that make me cringe and a zip-up fleece vest sprinkled with cat hair. He removed the vest at my graceless request, and, for some reason, proceeded to behave as nervously as if the pants had had to go. My stylish, goateed attorney decided not to use him as a witness. The calculated effect of my own impeccably conservative attire was destroyed, of course, by the obligatory respirator.

I had anticipated that I would be the lone female among gray-haired white men. However, we were welcomed--as if to kindergarten--by a small, plump black woman in a suit of yellow seersucker. She hugged my attorney as a greeting. I guess she was the court's clerk, but to me she was like a fairy godmother, winking and twinkling blessings at me from her domain behind a desk in the corner.

The judge was jowly and as dignified as the shabby, windowless chamber would allow. At the start he defused any adversarial assumptions by disassociating himself from the wretches who had denied my claim to date, and by assuring me that the vocational counselor he had summoned was not there to testify against me. As we continued he seemed a little lost in the sea of paper that my problems had generated. How could he resist clinging to the neuropsychological assessments carefully crafted to put ground under his feet? He alluded again and again to their handsomely-paid author, mispronouncing her name in a variety of ways and reassigning her gender.

By contrast, the judge hadn't even located the records from my primary doctor at Kaiser. I had long antagonized her with pointless monthly visits under advice to accumulate evidence. My attorney named an exhibit number, gave a wildly favorable summary of her notes, and corrected the judge so that he wound up mispronouncing her name as well. I wasn't even tempted to open my mouth. This was because for days prior I had been visualizing a strip of duct tape as an additional silencing layer beneath my mask.

The judge questioned how I had come by these unusually thorough and well-documented assessments from the neuropsychologist (who was sounding increasingly as if she was a Frenchman). Was a Workers Compensation case in process? My attorney might have been Barry Bonds receiving an underhand pitch. The Kaiser docs, he suggested, had exhausted their resources and had yet been bound and determined to get to the bottom of my case. They referred me--bless their selfless souls--to a real expert. My legal representative almost had me wanting to meet these intrepid medical detectives, despite my knowledge that they were oblivious to the neuropsychologist's existence.

If you are confused, dear reader, let me try to explain. The goal is never to portray the disabled claimant as actually having jumped with awareness through the necessary hoops to get approval. He or she only ever passively followed a naively-chosen doctor's health advice and inadvertently gathered thousands of dollars worth of otherwise useless documentation. Just so a sheep gathers burrs.

The judge, unfooled I'm sure, dropped the point but later took another stab at divining the truth when something didn't fit. How was it that I was now doing responsible, skilled work, albeit for only a few hours per week? Didn't I have organic brain dysfunction and the interpersonal skills of an enraged chimp? Was the foreign-sounding fellow who so conveniently subdued unmanageable records aware of my recent employment? My attorney assured him it was so and cited chapter and verse. The text whispered, "Come to the arms of your savior, Monsieur, and struggle no longer."

I would have loved to have leapt to my feet and shouted my righteous truths: "They don't know how to measure it! It's not static! You just have to believe me! I'm telling the truth!" But I was good when questioned, saying simply that I went to great lengths to ensure I was symptom-free while working some scattered hours from home. Well, not entirely good. I managed during testimony to let slip a comment about the lobby security guard's cologne, which seemed to be mace-based.

Anyway, good or bad, I won. I won. I won. The judge said the words "Multiple Chemical Sensitivity" in his decision as if all the world agreed to their meaning. I'm sorry to have done my small part in obscuring their real significance. However, it seemed I had two guides silently urging me to stick with the surest route to the money--a jittery guardian angel in stretch slacks and a sunnily-clad fairy godmother. One shouldn't tempt fate and expect miracles, just acknowledge them when they appear. Let's hope they come for all those who are homeless, hopeless and otherwise suffering due to the lack of recognition of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities.