Former Nurse Loses Career, Identity while Battling Sleep Disorder
* This is a true story as told to Allsup.
Carolyn Green found herself on the wrong side of the road more than once during her long commute.
While She Was Sleeping
By Julie Allsup
Dunlap, Tennessee-Carolyn Green's drive home from work in May 2010 seemed no different from any other. Her 30-year career as a registered nurse consultant had demanded long hours and a long commute from her home in rural Dunlap to Chattanooga. It was a reasonable sacrifice for a career she so deeply cherished.
Although she had navigated the route countless times before, the untarnished beauty of the Appalachian landscape still somehow seemed brand new. As the road wrapped around the mountain, she followed its curves. Around the corner, a large truck appeared ahead. Normally, she would have slowed down.
Instead, with brakes untouched, she maintained speed, continuing straight toward the truck. As the distance between them narrowed, she didn't blink an eye.
By then, she was sound asleep.
When she opened her eyes, she was stunned.
"My car had almost slipped beneath the 18-wheeler truck," Mrs. Green, now 63, recalled. "Talk about adrenaline!"
This wasn't the first time that a sleep attack had caught her behind the wheel.
Diagnosed with narcolepsy, Mrs. Green had initially mistaken the fatigue as a stress response following her mother's death. After seeking the help of a sleep specialist, however, she was prescribed medication, which allowed her to continue working for three years before the sleep attacks returned.
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that impairs the ability to control sleep. While its cause is unknown, experts believe there is a genetic link. Symptoms include excessive sleepiness during the day and unpredictable episodes of falling asleep, called sleep attacks. The attacks are sudden and may occur at any given time without warning.
As the condition worsened, Mrs. Green found herself on the wrong side of the road on more than one occasion. She had also run red lights and stop signs, all while sleeping.
Driving was no longer safe. Although her husband often drove her places, his work schedule had its own demands and allowed no time for the lengthy commute into the city.
Her working days were over.
"It was hard to walk away," she said. "I was at the height of my career, and I loved what I did. I knew I just couldn't do it anymore. If something happened to me, I could manage, but I couldn't live with myself if I had hurt someone else."
In July 2010, a relative referred her to Allsup.
"My cousin asked why I hadn't applied for Tennessee Social Security Disability Insurance," Mrs. Green said. "Then I figured that I had worked 30 years and paid into the system, so I might as well apply."
Founded in 1984, Allsup has helped more than 190,000 people receive the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits they paid for while working. With more than 800 employees, the company provides specialized services to support people with disabilities and seniors so that they may lead healthier, more financially secure lives.
After making the call, Allsup went to work on Mrs. Green's behalf. They prepared her for a lengthy process, and that the likelihood of denial in the beginning was high. In fact, two-thirds of all cases are initially denied.
As expected, Mrs. Green's claim was denied. Allsup reassured her and tried again, but when she was denied again, she became anxious. Allsup continued advocating for her case.
"Everyone at Allsup was so helpful," she said. "They took care of all the paperwork and gathered my medical records from my doctors. I was so thankful for that because, with my illness, I just wouldn't have been able to do all of that."
One year and two denials later, Mrs. Green learned that her case would appear before a judge.
In September 2011, she received the decision by mail.
"My Allsup representative presented my case, and it was awarded without me even having to appear," Mrs. Green said. "I was thrilled."
Like so many others who struggle with a disability, Mrs. Green wanted to continue working; she simply no longer could. She had lost not only her career, but also a piece of her identity.
"This experience validated me in a way," she said. "I had always taken pride in my career and in being able to help provide for my family. When I couldn't work anymore, I suddenly felt like I was less than others. This experience helped me realize that my reasons for not working were valid."
Since the award, Mrs. Green said her life has been less stressful. She encourages others who are currently struggling with filing for disability to persevere.
"There were times I just wanted to give up," she said. "Now I'm so glad I never did."