Earlier this week I was crushed between a huge ice truck and a brick wall. The entire left side of my body is one big ball of soft tissue damage. My ribs hurt so bad that I can't breathe well and I'm walking with quite a limp. I'm covered in large black bruises. This happened while I was out on a smoke break and I simply shook it off and went back to work.
This is not a story about how 'tough' I am, although, I am tough. This is a story about why someone would do something like not immediately go to a hospital, not call the police and not take time off work. Perhaps this is a class thing, but there are people in my life who are quite upset that I stayed at work and didn't go to the hospital. I have people in my life who are angry that I didn't call the police. This is my explanation for why I personally have done what I have done and perhaps it will give a bit of insight into the lives of those of us who live the kind of life I do: the working poor.
I work as chef de partie at a high end restaurant. I go into work around 3 and prep and cook everything I need to get my line in perfect order before service starts at 5pm. I had finished prep and was outside having a cigarette break before service started and I got stuck on the line for the rest of the night. We have these breaks in the alley behind the restaurant. So I was out there sitting on a milk crate against the wall. The alley is very wide and rarely does a truck come through that can't fit easily. That day, one such truck did come through. I got up to leave the alley to allow it passage but I guess the guy didn't see me. I was aiming for the end of the alley but I realized I wasn't going to make it as the truck just kept coming. I tried to get instead to the door to the restaurant but again, I didn't make it since by then the truck was right up on me. My only option was to plaster myself up against the wall as tight as I could and hope to hell that I would not die. So I did. The truck kept coming. As it started to pass, my apron got caught on something and was torn off my body. My arm got wedged too which crushed and turned by body sideways causing all the damage. I'm not gonna lie, you guys, I was terrified. I seriously thought I was done for. I imagine it might feel like getting run over by a train and making it. I've heard stories of people who laid flat against the tracks and had trains run over them and lived to tell the tale.
Anyway, it was at this point that the truck stopped. I scampered out by the back of the truck and immediately started pacing in circles and shaking my leg trying to 'walk it off'. My coworker who had left the alley on the other side safely watched it and was trying to calm me down while at the same time screaming 'Fucking psycho! How did he not see you! Wtf!??". The truck pulled out of the alley and the driver ran back to see if I was okay. He was a young guy and his eyes were bugging so far out of his head. I just told him not to worry that I was going to be okay and let him go. He said he thought he had killed someone. I said I had thought so too.
Why I Didn't Go To The Hospital
To be honest, at first I though I would be okay. Nothing was broken, I just hurt a lot. Enough pain medication and I would be fine, I thought. When you live paycheck to paycheck, you can't just 'take time off' randomly. Every shift matters to my survival. I mean, that's $100-$120 bucks wasted. I broke my cell phone a few months ago and the $400 it cost me to have it sorted out reverberated through my finances for months afterwards. I'm only just now getting back ahead of it. All of my bills are paid and I can afford to go to a movie once in a while, but one little blip can ruin 25% or more of my year. That is not small potatoes. If I have to take more time off work then a day or two, it will literally ruin me. I cannot afford to take even a week off unpaid.
I have no benefits. No vacation time to use. There is nothing my employer gives me that will at all help in this kind of emergency situation. I once knew a chef who broke her spine at work and that was it. She ended up retiring early so she could access her pension. I'm not shitting you. There is nothing to save or protect the working poor in the event of an emergency. In Canada there are temporary disability checks that can be accessed in certain circumstances, but the hoops one must jump through to get on that are enormous. It takes months to get on disability here (if you even get accepted. Many people don't. It's said that they automatically turn down everyone on their first application as a way to weed out those that are taking advantage.) so you will be put on welfare in the meantime. Welfare here is a check of approximately $500/per month. My rent is $650/month. Having been on welfare before, the very first thing they will do is tell me to move to a cheaper place - which does not exist in any major city outside of extremely sketchy rooming houses. Do I need to explain the indignity and ridiculousness of this? I hope not. This kind of life upheaval while having no money can and does cause homelessness and once you lose your address, good luck getting even welfare. Remember this is all just for temporary relief. The hypothetical person going through this has worked full time up until this point and fully intends to get back to work as soon as possible and this is all happening because the person does not have/cannot afford to have appreciable savings.
That's the truth, but there are some in my life who targeted my specific career saying things like "Why do you chefs have to act all macho all the time?". While it's true that chefs have a culture of toughness, that culture is really only a small part of the decision making process here. It isn't really a choice I made based on looking cool in front of my peers. When I cut my finger or get a bad burn and I work thought it rather than get stitches, yeah, that's mostly peer driven. Realistically, at that point, I'm choosing a bad scar over sitting in a hospital waiting room for hours and leaving my station empty. This larger problem isn't though. It's a choice stemming from being working poor.
The part where my career comes into play is in how I get treated after a major injury. That may be workplace specific. Basically, I can either work, or I can't. That's it in my bosses/coworkers eyes. If I can't work, I can't. The end. My job will be filled but it may not be there when/if I get back. That's just the way it is. Restaurants are understaffed and someone will need to be hired. There may not be hours for me when I recover even if my bosses are fairly cool about it, which mine are. I talked to my boss last night about maybe taking one or two days just to heal up a bit since last night's service was particularly hard on me and nearly put me in tears. Getting just a few days off means the schedule needs to be shifted around and I have to be as amenable as possible. Tonight for instance, I was trying to get the night off, but no one can cover. So I'll have to go in and take tomorrow off instead. That's just the way it is if I want to keep my job. It sucks and seems wholly unfair, but so does most of life, let's be real.
Although the upside is that being amenable has won me major points at work. The respect being afforded me while I'm there is much larger than I perceived last week! Part of this is definitely the 'macho culture' at work. I took a licking and I'm still ticking and that means a lot in my career. For whatever that's worth. Maybe not much to someone else who doesn't work in the industry I do, but for my situation, it's positive.
Why Didn't I Call The Cops?
Okay, this is going to be much shorter than the previous answer. Why didn't I call the cops? Have you ever met the Toronto cops? Look, I don't trust them. I have never ever seen a situation where someone called the Toronto cops and someone else didn't get physically beaten. There are groups of people in this world for whom this is a foregone conclusion and calling the cops is like the last thing they would ever do to resolve a situation. I am that person, my coworkers are those people. Nothing was broken, I will live, I do not need to be 'that guy' - the person who ruined another's life over an error. The dude was supremely upset and apologetic. I mean really. I couldn't be mad at him, even. He wasn't some kind of violent criminal, this wasn't a robbery or an attack. Why release the hounds? So no, I didn't get his plate, I didn't call the cops and I let him go on his way having learned a lesson. It honestly didn't even cross my mind until later when I was being asked why I didn't call them. I was like, "Oh yeah. Cops are a thing you can call.". To me, the cops are similar to guard dogs. They are violent and stupid*. You point them in the direction of trouble and hope they attack the right target. You do this when you're life is in danger or you are trying to sick dogs on someone for some reason. Not for something like this.
Basically, those are the reasons someone like me might make the decisions I made. Maybe you know someone in your life who lives like I do and you didn't realize the kind of fear of temporary disability that we have. Maybe you didn't realize the holes in the system. Even a halfway decent system like Canada's. Free healthcare only goes so far. Remember this when you're thinking of welfare recipients. Many of them are given welfare while they wait for other systems to kick in. Many people receiving welfare are working poor. People who put their blood, sweat and tears into the system only to have it fail them at the worst possible time.
*Why I hate the Toronto police could be an entire article in itself. Comments focusing on these statements while brushing off the entire rest of the article will be dismissed with prejudice. I'm not in the mood - having recently been hit by a fucking truck.
P.S. Fuck the police.