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Hiding My Condition From My Employer

I had hidden my chronic illness from my employer for 4 years because I had seen so many teachers not rehired after they had exposed if they had a chronic illness. As a media specialist, I was required to move all around the building and repair machines that were malfunctioning or get people’s computers up and running. Little did I know that upon a couple of occasions I would be walking into a dangerous situation for my asthma

Having an asthma attack at work

As I walked down the hallway towards the art room, I could smell the roofing work that was going on above me and I thought to myself, “if I quickly do this and get back to the library I will be fine”. That was not to be. After I repaired the art teacher’s projector, my cough was triggered, and by the time I reached the door, it had become serious. My throat had seized my lungs and I could not get a breath in. I thought to myself “if instead of going to the library I go outside and away from the building, I could perhaps catch my breath”.

I tried to take my inhaler and that did not seem to be working. I hit the door in a flash, stepped out into the fresh air, and I realized I was losing control completely. My body violently racked with spasms and I collapsed in the doorway. Apparently a little of my rescue inhaler had reached the edge of my lungs and I was able to get enough of my breath in time to stand up using the wall. I saw that my car was just 50 yards away so I stumbled to it and just about fell into my car seat.

I closed the doors without turning on the car to try another puff of my inhaler and it seemed a little more got into my lungs, deep enough for me to gain control. I drove home trying to think of what to do. I thought to myself, “if I reveal my illness at the office I will be replaced,” like I had seen happen to the teachers around. If I don’t, I have to come up with a good excuse for leaving the building. I decided on a compromise. The fumes had caused me to have a headache, so I thought I would reveal that portion of my difficulty and not my asthma.

Hiding my condition from my workplace

While I was chided for not telling the office immediately that I had to leave because of a headache, I still avoided exposing the extent of what the reroofing had done to trigger an asthma attack at work. I figured I had a win-win.

I know we are told that we should reveal our chronic illnesses to our employers early on. Much later in my employment I eventually did, but I had seen too many people lose their jobs after doing so. Once having done so I found out that I was a target as well. Fortunately, people are never fired for having asthma I found out or for having diabetes. Some other situations had always come up under heightened scrutiny and people had lost their jobs, I did not want to fall into the same category.

Later on I saw the video of my collapse. I could see that I nearly had or completely lost consciousness in the doorway. I asked the secretary why she didn’t send help and she said that she was waiting to see if I would get up. I thought to myself, “I was lucky I made it out of there alive and I should have gone to the emergency room.” But then again those are the tensions that you face on the spur of a moment during an asthma attack.

Taking care of my family

In one way I perhaps despise myself for not having stood up under the rules of the ADA but on the other hand, I had seen how often people are quietly replaced the next year after they endured a medical issue. I had a family to feed and it seemed to me that higher obligation overrode the greater fear of having an asthma attack at work in the future.

I guess you would have to say having food on the table and a good retirement had more power in my life than the ADA and the negotiated contract that was overlooked when people who had severe illnesses were removed. I am lucky I survived that day.

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Comments

  • jenTMarinewife
    4 months ago

    After reading your story I totally get what your saying ! However FMLA and other resources are there to protect you ! You must remember your family needs you alive and well ! And you may want to look into another fiend of work if your asthma is being triggered by this around you that your can’t not control . Just a thought — and as a nurse please please never drive during an asthmatic episode you were very lucky this time ! And most importantly never be afraid to seek help when a severe asthmatic episode comes . I’ve seen it to many times and lots of lives are lost that could of been prevented!
    Best of luck to you Jenny

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    4 months ago

    Hi Tom77, and thanks so much for sharing your story with the community. We appreciate your candor here. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

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