Big hearts contribute time for ailing colleague

City workers give their leave days to help stroke victim

June 23, 2000|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

The line item hid the full story: Monica Green, who for 26 years had inspected the city's housing stock and patrolled its alleys in an endless war against rats, lay paralyzed in a Columbia nursing home.

She had suffered a massive stroke, was off the city payroll, out of vacation time and had no sick leave left. Her husband, LeRoy, was barely keeping the house going with his disability check and cash borrowed from relatives.

The agenda item before the Board of Estimates merely read: "Ms. Green has been out of work since Dec. 1999. She no longer has sufficient sick leave to keep her in pay status."

In what her husband says is a testament to the city's charity, 53 of her colleagues in the Department of Housing and Community Development had come to her aid, cobbling together 130 days - the most the city allows to be transferred at one time.

Some knew her. Some just knew of her.

"She wasn't interested in power or being known," said Michael Savino, superintendent of housing inspectors for HCD's Northern District. "She was just a behind-the-scenes person who did her job and enjoyed doing it."

Savino had brought Green into the office after her asthma made it hard for her to stay in the field. She answered phones, fielded complaints and never cut a citizen off with a curt: "Call the city operator."

News of Green's condition moved swiftly through Savino's office last winter. There were e-mails and conversations. A collection brought in $400. Her colleagues were doing what she would have done. She was the kind of person who would put $20 into the pot when others were content to give a dollar or two.

She was stricken on Christmas Day, just after returning home from dinner with a friend. She spent two months in a coma. Though conscious now, she cannot speak. Feeding tubes and catheters help keep her alive. Her doctors are cautious. Her husband leans on faith.

"Basically, we're Christian," said LeRoy Green, 58, a quiet man whose demeanor must have been the perfect balance to his wife's warmhearted nature. "We believe in God, that he is the same yesterday, today and forevermore and that if he can heal in olden days, he can heal today, if it's his will."

Sherie Williams, an office assistant in the northern district, visited Green at the Lorien Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Williams could hardly bear to see such a generous spirit locked in silence.

They had grown close in three years working together. Green encouraged Williams in her floral-arrangement business. For her, Green was "sunshine."

"She's the only one I ever came across who never had a bad word for anybody," said Williams. "She taught me patience."

Through their contacts with Green's family throughout the winter and into spring, Savino and Williams learned Green had used up her leave and was not receiving health benefits for herself or her husband. LeRoy Green was on disability because of a back injury that happened years ago. His $600 monthly check covered rent, utilities and food, but not the lease payments on his wife's Toyota Camry, the car insurance or the $6,000 in medical bills.

At HCD, Savino and Williams put out the call for donations of sick time. The Board of Estimates approved the transfer late last month. The first check arrived June 9.

"It is a show of compassion," said Anu Gadhia, a personnel administrator in HCD. "We're not cheating the city out of anything or taking anything from the taxpayers."

Green, 58, is one of five city employees whose colleagues have gone to the Board of Estimates to donate sick leave this year. The transfers, rarely used, are reserved for people who have had catastrophic illnesses or accidents and have no other leave options.

City employees get one sick day a month as part of their benefits package. They can donate as many days as they want to another city worker. All told, 94 employees donated 219 days for Green. They can submit another application for the remaining time after the 130 days has been used up.

"I said, "Thank God," said LeRoy Green. "It just so happened her car payment was due, her insurance was due."

He doesn't know what would have happened without the checks from his wife's $29,773-a-year salary. He certainly wouldn't be driving back and forth to Columbia, sometimes twice a day, bringing nieces, their grandchildren and her mother to his wife's bedside. The money helps take care of essentials and small things such as talcum powder and baby wipes, a compact disc player and gospel recordings.

He smiles when he talks about the adapter he bought. It lets him plug two headphones into one outlet so that he and Monica, his wife of 32 years, can listen to CeCe Winans - her favorite - and Kirk Franklin. He knows she understands the songs, even if she can't tell him. He knows she is aware of what is happening around her. That's why there are handwritten excerpts from Scriptures on the bulletin board next to her bed. That's why he reads her the 23rd Psalm." `He restoreth my soul.' OK, remember that. He's watching over us. It's going to be all right," he said one day last week, leaning close to her, his chair pulled next to her bed.

There is a gentleness in his touch as he smoothes the covers, a calming reassurance in his voice when she struggles against the tracheotomy and other tubes connecting her to life.

"It's OK, Monica," he says. "The Lord is with you. He hasn't forgotten you, and we haven't forgotten you."

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