What a week it was?

By David Langham

There are a great many topics that are worthy of attention and discussion. I rarely struggle to blog, because the topics are everywhere. One of the blogging greats and I had a conversation about that at the Comp Laude Gala program yesterday. As we merrily chatted about blogging, we immersed in our world and those around us dimmed. Blogging is a topic that can engross us because it has become part of what we do. I have struggled with it. My posts are longer than many. And, admittedly, are just not as entertaining or funny as some. 

I wish my blogs were more humorous and entertaining, but that is not me. I envy the way that other bloggers like Bob Wilson weave their humanity and lives into their writing. That ability was one of the traits I admired most about David DePaolo. His life was on display in his writing, from his involvement with charity to the struggles of his aging parents. My writing is not about me, in that way. From my perspective, there is simply no less interesting subject than me (trust me, who knows me better than me). 

I am at Comp Laude in San Diego. What a week. To reach the west coast, I flew most of Monday night. Tuesday morning I spoke on a panel. It was incredible in terms of both breadth and depth of experience. There were eleven of us having “Real Conversations” about workers’ compensation. Moderated by Judge David Pollack (who eagerly undertook the role of herding 11 of us), the panel touched on some of the most troubling and frankly vexing issue that confront this world of workers’ compensation. 

After, there were emails to answer, and other work to do. Being out of the office does not slow the incoming work. Wednesday would bring a judge’s panel. I would join workers’ compensation icon William Zachry (Sedgwick) and Judges Jennifer Hopens (TX) and Colleen Casey (CA). With our geographic separation, we all first met Tuesday afternoon at a “brief” meeting to prepare. We ended up talking until 5:00. The distinctions among workers’ compensation in America’s three biggest states, California, Texas, and Florida were intriguing, and frankly exhausting. It is rare you get the opportunity to learn from people like those three. 

I left the Manchester Grand Hyatt feeling the weight of a ten hour day built on the faulty foundation of four hours sleep, and a transcontinental commute. I took a cab across town to my more humble accommodations, and settled in to get some rest ahead of Wednesday. I did not even feel like venturing out for a quick burger. But it was not to be. The Comp Laude is an educational program. But, it is interwoven with a classic DePaolo theme of recognizing this industry and the people in it. In the end, it is the people that are important, whether they are injured or struggling to help those who are. 

The real centerpiece of the Comp Laude is the Laude part. An incredible team of people work throughout the year to vet nominations for the awards. There are forms and interviews and questions. Their goal is this Comp Laude Gala and presenting to this industry some examples of service. I wrote about that in October on my blog (those musings get reprinted on other platforms, but sometimes I am honored to write like this post, specifically for WCC’s Work Comp World, a tribute to the now silent DaPaolo’s Work Comp World). I was so proud last month to announce the finalists for the Comp Laude awards. But, I am nothing if not shy, and that published list did not include me. Of everything we might talk about, “me” is my least favorite subject. 

I had just settled in Tuesday evening (remember, my body was two hours ahead when the Comp Laude Gala convened for celebration at 5:00). At 6:21 Pacific my phone chimed, I was reluctant to pick it up. The text from Bob Wilson read “you just won Magna Comp Laude, Congratulations.” Clearly I was being teased? I had been nominated for a Comp Laude recognition. But having seen the list of finalists, I knew that I would not be among those further recognized. I was honored to have been nominated, to have been named a finalist, and frankly to have simply been in that number. But I simply did not suspect any chance of being among the winners. When that text arrived, I was pretty confident that Bob was teasing. 

Another text followed. He said “they” wanted to interview me. If anything, my “doubt” meter was only edging upwards; then came another text, from Yvonne Guibert, one of the primary organizers of the Comp Laude.  Her question was simple “where are you?” I responded that Bob Wilson had texted me, and she reiterated, come back to the Laude Gala. Frankly, I struggled to wrap my mind around those several minutes. I changed back into my suit and caught a cab. It was frankly dreamlike. 

I sit here on Wednesday morning, writing this way before the sun will rise. And, frankly, I am not convinced that it wasn’t a dream.  There are the Comp Laude Awards, recognizing leadership, and then there are two “additional awards” recognizing “career contributions” to the industry. These are the Magna Comp Laude and the Summa Comp Laude. Dream like. I arrived at a nearly vacant Gala venue, and was interviewed. Pictures were taken, and several people described the scene as the award announcement was made without me there. My absence had disrupted a process. I was embarrassed. It was surreal.

I spoke with Mark Pew (@RxProfessor), who was the 2016 Magna Comp Laude honoree, and he described the speech and introduction he had provided. Another attendee said that for several of those seconds following Mark’s announcement it was perceived as a “pregnant pause,” a precursor to some grand entrance. But I was simply not there. When I did arrive, Kristen Chavez so graciously accepted my apologies for being absent. She is one of the pillars of both Comp Laude and WorkCompCentral. 

Ms. Chavez asked me to blog about this experience (each of my WCC’s Work Comp World contributions are submitted to her). I said I would, and then proceeded to explain the publication scheduled for my own blog. In my mind, she was asking about my blog. Clearly, my brain had shut down. Only in retrospect did her questioning expression make sense. Her’s was a simple request, and my response was incoherent. 

A large group wandered from there to the Gala masquerade ball. That merely supported my brain’s conviction that I was in a dream. I have vague recollection of Bob Wilson riding a dinosaur, and attorney Bill Pipkin (in the guise of an owl) asking me about tootsie pops. I am still not certain that any of that was real. My incredulity is enhanced by a recollection of a contest for best costume, and neither the candy-toting owl or the guy on the dinosaur winning. If it was all a dream, it was a bizarre dream. 

And now I reflect on it all. I am chagrinned to have missed the presentation. I caused disruption and disappointment for the organizers that worked so hard. I missed an introduction to rival the Academy Awards; Mr. Pew gave me his notes (frankly, those notes in my jacket pocket are all that convinces me it really happened). The adjectives that he chose are humbling and frankly embarrassing. I struggle to put them down: “leader, thinker, innovator, motivator, administrator, adjudicator, speaker, teacher, blogger, newsletter editor, devoted husband and father.” I am flattered and emotional as I type them. In a most apropos comment, Mark said “never seeks the limelight and prefers being a soldier rather than a general.” There is perhaps irony in my absence when the Gala limelight shone. 

When Ms. Chavez suggested this blog, another of my misguided reactions was to reach for my phone to make notes, and I asked for the names of all the honorees. She demurred and said something to the effect of “not a blog about who won the awards, but about how you feel about the awards.” But, that would have to be about me, and as much as I admire David DePaolo and his ability to share himself, I struggle to share myself in that way. But if it is feelings you want, here goes.

First, I struggle with Comp Laude without David. I miss his drive, effervescence, and charm. I find the concept of recognizing leaders in this industry so endearing. I have met some incredible people in this life and so many of them are in workers’ compensation. They are around us, teaching us without hubris. They are around us, supporting charity and service. They are around us building and innovating. And to know that my peers concluded that somehow I merited nomination is humbling. To find my name on a list of Comp Laude finalists is humbling. To get a text message request to return to the venue to be presented an award was simply humbling. How do I feel? I feel  honored, embarrassed at my absence, and chagrinned to have caused disruption for those who worked so hard to produce this program

I was asked by the interviewer – would you like to thank anyone. I frankly do not recall my response. But as I reflect this morning, I think I mostly want to thank the people that are out there in workers’ compensation making us a community, making systems better, refocusing us on the human beings that we are here to serve. You workers, employers, adjusters, attorneys, nurses, doctors, risk managers, and more that are dedicated to workers’ compensation being all that it can be, I am proud of you. I thank you. 

 It is you that should be receive recognition. There are so many of you that will do the right thing today, do your best today, without award or recognition. It is that multitude of great people that makes workers’ compensation what it is. And it is you who deserve to know that people do notice what you do. I am inspired by you, proud of you, and thankful that you are part of workers’ compensation, part of us.


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