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The Double Whammy (September, 1999 - 2000)

Chapter Body

The rumors had been rumbling for several months.

First, some of us heard that there would be "significant cutbacks" in the Consumer Services unit of AT&T by the first quarter of 2000. By the fall of 1999, word was floating around that one-third of the directors would be gone by January 1.

By early November, the District Manager told my group that people might be shifted into different projects and suggested that we consider forwarding our resumes in order to help facilitate the process. Not being a programmer or an analyst, I saw the writing on the wall: it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to find me a "new home" in this scenario. Although I had been revising my resume and glancing at internal job postings since I returned to work from the January surgery, now I had to work a little harder on this stuff...

About a week or two later, the "suggestion" to submit resumes became an "order." I finalized my resume and e-mailed it right before I left for the Thanksgiving holiday.

A few days later, my manager informed me that I'd have a "new job." It was job-hunting. "I'm sorry, but I can't keep you," he explained. I later learned that several others in my group had received similar news.

All of us were told that February 1 would be The Big Day: Some of us would be "retained" - either in present positions or new ones within the Directorate. Others - like me - would be placed "At Risk." That meant we'd have 60 days to find another position within the company or be "separated" from AT&T.

Now I had to figure out how to turn my AT&T-based resume into a document suitable for prospective employers "in the outside world." I managed to finalize this new version by the end of 1999, and then posted it to I also e-mailed it to a recruiter who had "cold called" me only a few weeks earlier. Fortnuately, it didn't take long for the calls to come.

In the meantime, it was time for another set of MRIs of the head at Mt. Sinai...

On January 20, as I was preparing to leave the house for my first non-AT&T interview in 12 years, Dr. Costantino's office called. Both he and Dr. Sen wanted to see me on the 27th. "Something's lighting up the film and we don't know what it is," was all the physician's assistant could tell me. Was there a problem with the machine - and would I have to repeat the scans? Or was it something else? I fought back tears as I rode the train to Jersey City and my interview. Although I didn't get that job, the recruiter told me the client was impressed with me - how I managed to "suck it up" in spite of that phone call was beyond me!

That fateful day of January 27th arrived, and we were finally called into the examining room. The scans were already posted on the light board. Ken took one look - and promptly sat down on the nearest chair, emotion already overtaking him. "The bad news is that there's been a recurrence," Dr. Sen explained. "The good news is that it's perfectly operable." For some reason, this tumor showed up in practically the same area as the one that was removed only a year earlier. However. I was warned that this surgery could have more risks than my earlier ones - the tumor was close to an area that could affect the motor skills on the left side. ("Well, at least you're right-handed," the doctors told me. Small comfort.)

Numbed as usual by this news, I asked the doctors, "How soon do we need to take care of this?" They told me a month to six weeks. Then, seeing Ken crying, the doctors offered to excuse themselves as we struggled to deal with this piece of news. Brain surgery - again - AND job-hunting??? What a Double Whammy!

Ken insisted that we "have some fun before we have to go through all this again," so we agreed to ask whether we could have the surgery the week following a square dance weekend in New England we've enjoyed in the past. And so, the surgery was set for Monday, March 6 (later changed to the 13th after someone discovered he had a schedule conflict) - and off we went to inform everyone and try to figure out how I was going to look for a new job NOW. I was also scheduled for another MRI in two weeks to determine whether this new tumor was growing quickly - a bad sign with ACC.

I had the next MRI on February 15th; and after more prolonged agony while awaiting results, we learned that the tumor had not grown at all - good news. However, it had become more defined - and now appeared to be bordering on an area that affects one's vision field. I was assured that I would be able to see - only I wouldn't be able to see quite as much as I'd been used to. Suddenly, looking for a new job in New York or anywhere that would require using mass transit seemed to be a good idea.

I was ordered to get a vision field test, so I called my local eye doctor for one. After I explained my situation to the techincian, she said that her daughter had once been in a car accirdent and her vision field wasaffected - yet, thanks to some specialized rehabilitation, she was now able to drive a car. Perhaps I could too...

There were a few more weeks before the surgery, so job-hunting continued. When I was asked for an available start date, I explained that I was scheduled for surgery on March 13th, and I'd be out of commission for 4-6 weeks. I did not explain the nature of the surgery; except for three headhunters who tried to arrange interviews during the week I was expecting to undergo pre-admission testing - Mt. Sinai didn't confirm a date/time until it was too late. Although it would've been sweet to have had a new job waiting for me once I recovered from surgery, some things just aren't possible...

And it was certainly a confusing time at AT&T. How many of my colleagues would be gone when I finally returned to work? And, while my last official day was SUPPOSED to be March 31st; because I'd be on disability by then, my "off-payroll date" would be set after I returned to work. The question, though, became: which date? Generally, one is not considered to be on disability until the 8th day of an absence. According to my termination package, my off-payroll date would be calculated by the number of days I was away in March. As I prepared to leave for surgery, my manager told me that the Directorate was going to try and get my disabilitry date pushed back to the first day of my absence. One more mystery...

After all the "fun" we had the previous year, we were a little smarter about accommodations this time around. Last time, we learned much too late that the. hospital has a facility called the Mount Sinai Guest Residence; a mere block or so from the hospital. This building once served as a residence hall for doctors and nurses and now boasts 26 rooms for patients and their families. Ken booked a suite that included a kitchen for himself and my mother for the night prior to surgery and the evening of the surgery. I got to stay there for the evening before the surgery. One could order groceries, lunch or dinner from nearby facilities - or even bring provisions in yourself. It was refreshing not to have to worry about cabs!

Surgery took place bright and early on Monday, March 13th. Ken and I said good-bye at about 7:40am. We were told that the total time would be 8 to 10 hours. Dr. Sen came out at 12:40pm and said that his piece had gone very well.

Dr. Constatino came out at about 3:30pm to say he was done with the reconstruction. Ken came in to see me in at 6:30pm. I wound up staying in the ICU untl Friday afternoon, when I was moved into a "step down" area for the weekend. (But not before getting a "new" pair of glasses. When Ken took them out of the pouch where he had been storing them, he discovered that they had cracked right down the nosepiece. Fortunately, there was an optometrist near the hospital = who was able to find a frame for my lenses. Even gave Ken a slight break on the cost.) I finally landed in a "real" room on Sunday.

Although I made reasonable progress, all things considered, there were a few concerns. The first "issue" surfaced when I tried to eat - and the right side of my mouth didn't cooperate very well. I suddenly had memories of 1981 - and how did I cope back then??? Even though I kept asking the doctors whether anything had happened to my facial nerve, no one would confirm anything for me. (Dr. Sen finally admitted at my first post-op checkup that the nerve may have been "jostled" during the operation. Whew - at least I wasn't imagining things!)

I was discharged on March 22. I came home with some interesting "additions" this time around - notably some heavy-duty staples. There was a row of them that extended down my middle front - beginning about 2 inches below my breasts and extending to just above the groin area. This was the result of the rectus flap; in which muscle and fat was taken from my abdomen - in place of the titanium that caused all the trouble last time around.

The head scar began with an oval near the top of my head, then extended in a row of stitches down the right side of the head, extending to about halfway across the neck. And yes - this time they got smart and shaved all the hair off.

To complete the not-so-pretty picture, there was a large mesh on my left thigh where a skin graft was taken. Although it stung a bit at least this one didn't get infected like its mate was in 1993.

All in all, though, recuperation progressed fairly well. Ken didn't have to return to the hair-washing business for nearly as long as he had feared.

I resumed job-hunting from home in late April, as some of the headhunters I spoke with in March actually called to find out how I was feeling. Also, I actually had an in-person interview a few days before I returned to work on May 1. Since the interview was in Piscataway, this served as an appropriate "test" of how well I could drive by myself.

Admittedly, job-hunting in this condition felt a bit awkward. First of all, I had to wear a turban for interviews - and for a time, the scars on my head and neck were quite unattractive. Because of the effects of the operation on the facial nerve, not only did I have a more pronounced "droop" than before, but my speech was sometimes affected as well. When possible, I tried to schedule my interviews for mornings, when I tended to feel better. Still, there was more than one occasion when I'd leave an interview wondering my speech had deteriorated - or how much my "unusual" appearance may have affected someone.

My last day at AT&T was May 19. Those last few weeks were filled with phone calls and interviews - but no offers. Once I was officially unemployed, though, things became even more hectic: several calls a day, either from headhunters or prospective employers for phone interviews. E-mail buzzed with requests for resumes and arrangements for interviews. As it turned out, I had no time to either visit AT&T's Resource Center - or file for unemployment.

On June 2, I accepted an offer from SPL WorldGroup to be a Technical Writer in its Utilities Practice in Morristown, NJ. SPL (for Systems Programming Limited) develops customer information software for the utility industry; and has several major customers around the world. I started work on June 12. I was pleased and relieved that - not to mention amazed - that the job hunt was completed so quickly!

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