Crap happens in life but it’s how you’re treated when the crap happens that makes a difference and helps you manage as best you can.

I’m not talking about chronic pain in this post but rather my treatment by the worker’s compensation system (system) as an injured worker. That’s the major, most frustrating, tragic event to have happened in my life.

I’m sick of the injured worker stigma dished out from the very system itself. It’s true that the fish stinks from the head and in the case of worker’s compensation, that saying is 100% applicable.

I had two appointments to get through on Tuesday at the Accident Compensation Conciliation Service (ACCS) in order for the Insurer’s questions to be answered about my work capacity (I realise how absurd it sounds to have physical and psychiatric assessments to work out capacity but I have no choice in the matter). I know the answers to the questions but that makes no difference to anyone in this dreaded system.

I didn’t need to be assessed, I have a great pain management team, my husband understands my health issue, my family and friends understand and I even have a magical employer who understands and has pulled out all stops to make up a position and whole business for me to be a part of!

None of that matters. None of that counts. The system knows better… apparently. Or at least the system thinks it does.

Who are the system?

It’s this kind of scenario, can you imagine a monstrous haunted house? Now imagine that inside it reside: WorkSafe, their Insurers, the ACCS, WorkCover Assist, many medical ‘professionals’, various other related ‘professionals’ and let’s not forget the lawyers, barristers etc.

As an injured worker, it feels like I’m in the dungeon of this house.

On Tuesday, Theo and I attended two appointments planned for me at the ACCS. Three physicians and two psychiatrists were assigned to assess me. In order for them to assess me, it is a requirement that these medical practitioners have not seen me and vice versa. I hadn’t. I checked. I checked thoroughly.

A few minutes before my physical assessment, the receptionist had news for me. One of the psychiatrists had ‘seen me’ before. I was mortified at the thought that I had made such a mistake. Injured workers can’t make mistakes – it’s unforgivable. I was mortified also at the thought of the consequences – the insurer might have to make me pay for it! The ACCS, their professionals and the insurer would be furious for the time I wasted.

But worse than this was the treatment that followed. I tried really hard not to take a photo when I was in the waiting area at the ACCS talking myself out of feeling like I was a criminal as I faced the toughened double glazed office enclosure the staff were sitting in. There’s a walk way too that’s behind glass that leads the professionals to the assessment rooms (yes, their path is different – an escape with a view) – I struggled to find a reason for this and didn’t succeed. I felt offended.

Theo was furious – rightly so and we both felt I deserved more information such as ‘where had I seen this psychiatrist and when?’ and what my options were for ‘rescheduling’. I felt I also deserved a chance to explain myself. But what I heard was an injured worker’s victim’s response from the receptionist ‘I can’t do anything about it’ and ‘it’s not my fault’ etc.

Clearly the receptionist thought she was a personal friend. I wasn’t interested in her opinion, I was after the information I needed to deal with this situation but she kept interrupting.

I reminded Theo that the system wasn’t about him or me, it was about the system. He didn’t have many choices, he certainly didn’t have a right to express how upset he was. We were told we didn’t have the right to ask where and when we’d seen the psychiatrist. No one was listening, hands were up, we were being interrupted, it was going to get ugly and it would have been our fault so I encouraged Theo we should sit down.

Theo got up to speak to another receptionist – she was much more friendly and had an approachable manner. She faced Theo, she listened, she waited for him to finish his sentences and she nodded and said she would at least seek the information for us.

Is that so hard? Manners… simple manners. Respect, empathy, understanding, dealing with the situation.

As it turned out, the psychiatrist was one of 200+ pain interested professionals sitting in the audience when I presented my story on stage at AIM Pain 2014. I hadn’t seen him.

I had no option to discuss the matter. I will never see the two psychiatrists. I envied the protection offered to them. I’m sure they will be paid.

During my physical examination I was told ‘I’ might have some dispute if I was being assessed by this psychiatrist. Truth is, I wouldn’t care less and preferred the psychiatrist just did his job and everyone in this horror house just dropped the drama and stopped trying to make me look like a trouble maker.

I don’t travel to Melbourne more than once per 2-3 weeks as it’s too far and I can’t sit in the car that long without impacting my days. I have to go back next week for the revised appointment.

I had choices… the receptionist gave me other days to choose from but Theo has one final day off for this year as our gallery is about to open 7 days a week for Summer. Any later appointments, including even the revised one, impact the date of the decision and so hold up my payments.

No apologies were made.


Every night it isn’t just Theo and I in bed. I also sleep with every person I ever saw at the Medical Panels, the made up faces of multiple case managers, the investigators that drove around with cameras in their cars filming me, the ‘Independent’ Medical Practitioners I had to see at endless appointments and now the lovely receptionist in her blue fluffy top and the ‘welcoming’ male staff member facing me when the doors of the lift opened at the ACCS who for whatever reason had to escort me around the reception area.

As well as my mind running at nights in bed, my stomach churns too for being so unfairly and disrespectfully treated – my key stomach burners being:

  • The degrading initial ACCS appointment letter including instructions not to bring any items that could be used as weapons to ‘ensure the safety of all Medical Panels staff and members of the public’
  • Having to speak to the receptionist through a bank like glass facade
  • Expected to be left without explanation about the cancellation of an appointment at the very last minute which has great consequences for me
  • Expected not to have the right to ask for further information (to not even be given the chance to check whether I had made the mistake)
  • A notification letter of my revised appointment by the ACCS without written apology for the incredible inconvenience to me and my husband, nor explanation of the mistake that was made
  • Instructions included, again, not to bring any items that could be used as weapons to ‘ensure the safety of all Medical Panels staff and members of the public’

And above all, it’s the frustration of fully understanding the impact of my work injury, fully understanding and being responsible for my chronic health issue, knowing 100% what my work capacity is and also having the answers the Insurer seeks of the Panels, and regardless, having to take my clothes off and be assessed, having to express the personal details of my life for the 4th time. All this – not because I hurt myself at work – but because the system is completely incapable of listening to me and my pain team.

Obviously no point in filing a formal complaint. I can just imagine it being pushed around between the tenants of the haunted house while the author remains locked in the dungeon.

This disrespect has to stop. If you need to sit behind toughened glass (and you’re not a bank) perhaps it’s time for reassessment.