Until last year, I worked for a New Haven-based healthcare agency as a CAN/LPN. I have worked in the healthcare field now for 28 years and I still make just ten dollars an hour. In February, I underwent gallbladder surgery. I took a few days off to recuperate, unpaid.

My doctor told me that I should rest for a few weeks, but I got right back to work because I live paycheck-to paycheck and missing one paycheck means I cannot pay my bills. When I returned to work, my weekly hours were slashed from 54 per week to 14. I complained about this. It wasn’t my choice to need surgery – why should I be punished for it? They raised my hours to about 30 per week.

Approximately one month after I went back, I was feeling so lightheaded at work that I needed to sit down. The next thing I knew was that I was being rushed to the hospital for complications from my surgery. I was in the hospital – and missed work – for three more days. The surgeon told me: “Dina, you need to rest!” So I asked him: “Are you going to pay my bills?”

When I returned to work, I was given a disciplinary warning – with “friendly reminder” written at the top – that I had missed eight days of work in 2015 for my surgery and the return to the hospital. Because of this experience, I began speaking out in favor of workplace protections. I was then fired to speaking out. I received no pay for any of the days I missed and I lost my job. All because I had necessary surgery.

If I had been able to take paid time off when I had my surgery, enough time to heal properly, I would not have needed to go to the hospital again, and I would not have lost my job. Not having paid family and medical leave actually ended up making me even sicker. We need a Paid Family and Medical Leave program so hard workers like me don’t lose their income just because we are human and get sick!

Dina Lara, West Haven