Giving a heads-up call can make a difference all around

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

August 16th, 2010 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

A recent series of events has inspired me to write a series of blog posts about the importance of communication in the prevention of injury, illness, and loss of productivity. In this post, I focus on the last of three incidents that happened at my apartment building over the past few months.

At the end of July, I went out of town for a week, to celebrate my birthday. I let the apartment manager know and requested that he arrange for the pipes on my balcony to be painted during that time. I reminded him that I’d had an allergic reaction to the paint job a few months earlier and emphasized that my week out of town would be perfect timing for a paint job, if it was doable.

The manager was happy to oblige, but as it turned out, the pipes couldn’t be painted, because they would get super hot and bubble — which would make them look terrible. The manager not only emailed me about that but also said, “We noticed the paint on the fascia boards around your roof line was fading. So I told the painters to re do all that. The green paint outside your patio is being totally re done.”  

Maybe it was the way the email was written, maybe it was the way I read it. Regardless, I was left with the impression that the trim had been done while I was gone. I thanked the manager for taking care of business while I was away. Then a day or two after my return, I woke up to find the painter outside, working on the trim.

I panicked, because I had gotten no advance notice that he would be working on the area outside my space that day; I therefore was totally unprepared; and I did not want to end up in another three-day period of sickness from paint fumes.

The manager was away from the office, but the head carpenter took the painter off the job, which I greatly appreciated. The carpenter also explained to me that the paint they use on the trim is different than the paint they had used on the stairwell – ie, it’s water-based instead of oil-based, it’s is not nearly as noxious, and it airs out significantly faster.

Regardless, we agreed that I would let the manager know a date within the next week or two when I’d be out of my apartment and they could paint. So I emailed the manager the next day and told him to pick any day in the coming week. I asked him to just give me a heads-up, so that I could make myself scarce that day.

I was informed that the painter would be painting trim all over the apartment building the entire coming week: “He will be there for about 5 days. Only 1 day will he be working…near your windows, so the office will let you know what day that will be.”  

I appreciated the heads-up and made a mental note that I might need to move my office HQ to a local café during the interim. Given that the paint was not supposed to be as toxic and irritating as the one previously used, however, and given that the painting around my space was just going to be one day, I had a low-key attitude about it: I figured I’d keep my windows closed on the apartment building side and see if I in fact needed to leave as a result of fumes.

In other words, given the information I had, I didn’t see any urgency in leaving on a given day or in preparing a trip out of town for a few days. As it turned out, however, painting was not the only thing going on that week. The carpenters were in fact remodeling the apartment below mine, which included first demolishing it. I found out the hard way:

On Wednesday morning, I was surprised by an explosive bang that sent a shock of intense pain through my ears and head and that effectively messed up my hearing for several days. It’s now over 72 hours later, and I’m still in the process of recovering. After the incident, I felt as if there were a brick in both ears; sounds like that of cracking eggs were suddenly painful; the sound of my breath was disturbingly amplified in my right ear; I was too sensitive to hold the phone to my ear; and it hurt to talk.

In addition, the jolt to the nerves in my head triggered intense jaw pain and eye pain, the latter of which made it difficult to use the computer. All told, I ended up a complete mess; I was unable to function; and I effectively lost three days of work. What I really needed was to go into setback mode – get in bed, close my eyes, and give myself healing energy until my system calmed down. But I didn’t have anywhere to rest, because the bangs of construction could be heard everywhere in my apartment.

So just when I needed down time the most, I had to be out and about, trying to work at a café — where the very sound of people talking was physically painful.

On Thursday, I called the management company to ask when the painter was scheduled to work around my apartment. I found out that he was scheduled to do it the next morning. Apparently, they had been waiting for me to give them a day, though our email exchange had indicated they would call me with a day.

Regardless, the timing could not have been worse. I asked the manager if he could postpone the paint job, but he said no. I spent the evening super anxious.

I finally decided that I would just have to bite the bullet and check into a hotel if need be, despite the fact that finances are tight right now. I have learned from experience that I absolutely must do whatever it takes to give myself the rest I need to heal (such as paying twice as much for a hotel where I know the beds are good for my back).

In the morning, I decided to give postponement another try. I called and left a message for the manager, explaining how much of a difference it would make if he could remove just one of the factors driving me out of my apartment – namely, the paint job. “I’m just trying to hang on till the weekend,” I said, “when I can lay low and rest for a few days, undisturbed.”

It felt uncomfortable for me to make that call, but as I have said before, my journey through chronic pain and disability has been nothing if not a lesson in self-advocacy.

After leaving that message at 7:30 am, I closed the windows, put on the A/C, and went back to sleep. (Fortunately, by Friday I was able to wear earplugs, which I wasn’t able to do before, as a result of the heightened sensitivity.) As it turned out, the head carpenter got my message and pulled the painter off the job again.

I was deeply grateful. Not only that, but I ended up sleeping like a baby until 2:00 pm, which was tremendously helpful in calming down my jangled system. Today I received cranio-sacral therapy, which was even more helpful, and I finally feel on my way to recovery.

It’s costing me, though. Not only did I lose work, but I’m also shelling out several hundred dollars in body work; I’ll probably go ahead and stay at a hotel on the day of the painting, just because my system is still so fragile right now; and if my hearing and the sensations in my ear don’t go back to normal in the next few days, I’ll need to make a trip to an ENT specialist and possibly get a hearing test.

Meanwhile, the management company’s painting schedule was interfered with once again, which perhaps cost them money. And the carpenter expressed his sense of frustration that they were accommodating my needs but that I was not doing the same.

But here’s the thing: I can’t accommodate if I don’t know what’s coming down the pike. In each of these three scenarios, which has ended up being a pain in the ass for everyone involved, the common theme is that I did not receive advance notice of what was about to happen.

Which brings me back to my original point: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Or more specifically, communication is key. A phone call 24 hours or more ahead of time, notifying me about the details of something that’s going to significantly affect my space, will enable me to prepare accordingly.

Not only will I then be the most accommodating Annie there is, but my health will be spared, everyone’s productivity will be optimized, and expenses all around will be kept to a minimum.

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