Sunday, September 12, 2010


Back in the spring of this year my sisters and I were contacted by the U.S. Department of Labor, regarding our father's employment with Harshaw Chemical back in the 1960s. The government is owning up to radiation exposure for employees of defense and energy contractor companies, including Harshaw, which provided uranium for the government from the 1940s through 1959. Dad worked there in the mid-60s, just after his career in the military, and before returning to graduate school to earn his PhD. He died three and a half years ago, six years after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood-borne cancer that attacks bone.

The Department of Labor program, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, tracks down employees of these companies, performs an audit of their employment, and if probability of cause of illness is found to be more than 50% likely to have been due to their work, compensation is paid in a lump sum.

We've long been curious as to how Dad might have gotten his cancer. It does not appear to have been genetic. Could it have been caused by his two years working at Harshaw? It would not be such a surprise: ten years ago, the site of the Harshaw company was designated a "superfund" cleanup site under the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program. So we filed our claim through the EEOICP.

Part of their requirements included providing medical evidence of Dad's diagnosis of cancer. After jumping through a bewildering number of hoops put up by the legal department of the Cleveland Clinic, I was able to obtain my father's medical records. Since I wasn't exactly sure what I would need, I asked for nearly all of the records kept on him for the period from his diagnosis through his death.

The box that arrived with these records contained over 1,300 pages: physician notes, lab reports, radiology reports, discharge summaries. I've dealt with a lot of this kind of paperwork surrounding my parents lives and deaths. I was the executor of their estate and am their trustee. I thought I'd become immune to the emotion behind legal and medical paperwork like this, but somehow, looking through these reports hit me pretty hard. There were all of the faces of the talented physicians, physicians assistants, nurses and technicians who helped Dad over those six years. And here was what they had said about him, or more succinctly, what they said about his illness and treatment. Most of it is strictly scientific, something my dad always appreciated. But peppered throughout the papers, particularly the physicians reports, are indications of who my dad was.

"Spent 45-60 minutes with patient, who had researched the treatment."
"Patient is a pleasant 65 year old former professor."
"Discussed treatment options with patient, his wife and son."

Some of the comments, particularly towards the end of his life, were more disheartening.

Our claim with the EEOICP is pending, and it's not clear how likely our case will be awarded compensation. But one of the things Dad was crazy about was following up on programs like this, so we'll continue to go through the steps. Dad would approve.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Must have cute baby picture. Maybe Sam perusing documents or somesuch.