Lessons Learned from the Past Year

By the Tennessee Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims

Who knew we’d be at this for more than a year in March 2020, when we were all sent home? No one. The pandemic has been the most unusual and solemn life event for us all.

Now that there’s an end in sight, with many of us getting vaccines, the rate of transmission slowing, and businesses gradually reopening or expanding their services, we thought we might reflect back on some of the lessons learned during the past year.

Here we go.

Losing loved ones is especially painful during this time. We’ve seen acquaintances pass, and we’ve been unable to attend their services. For some, there were graveside services with only the closest family members allowed. For others, no services were arranged. It’s always hard to grieve; it’s even harder during a pandemic.

Yet, we’re grateful. This past year has been beyond awful, watching the rates of sickness and death rise to such previously unimaginable heights. Thank God for our health care workers and essential workers. They are truly heroes.

We realize that so many people lost work or financial security. Our challenges with transitioning to a new way to work were a minor inconvenience by comparison.

We’ve also had more time to spend with immediate family, and we’ve deepened our bonds—and learned to better tolerate each other’s quirks.

About those quirks, we’ve realized that a pandemic can bring out the unexpected in people. “I’ve seen friends and family who are scared of shots get the shot, and the ones who go to the doctors all the time for even little things don’t get the shot.”—Judge Brian Addington.

“We still can’t do math.”–Judge Lisa Lowe.

We can do multiplication to calculate benefits (with a calculator), but beyond that, well, like most people who went to law school, not so much.

Trying to teach children who were/are learning remotely is difficult. They’ve changed the math since we learned it. Teachers who’ve adapted to virtual learning or have put their own health at risk with in-person learning are also heroic.

We miss you. “We appreciate more than ever the flexibility and helpfulness of the attorneys who appear before us.” – Judge Dale Tipps

And we look forward to returning to in-person settlement approval hearings, which will definitely happen. We just don’t know when.

We can safely hold in-person hearings. We can practice social distancing and avoid passing paper. We can still make credibility determinations when witnesses are wearing masks. Yes, the masks fogging up our glasses is annoying, but it’s a small concern.

We can work from home. “I learned I can work from home without falling victim to the temptation of distraction. I also like the flexibility of thinking about an issue for a while and sitting down at the computer to write an order during the early evening hours or over the weekend when my mind has cleared a bit.”—Judge Tom Wyatt.

“I’ve learned to always shout out or text ‘mommy is about to be on a work call’ before any scheduled hearings.”—Judge Audrey Headrick.

“Suitjamas” is a thing; google it.

“My oldest likes to open a canned soda during my hearings. It must always sound like I’m cracking open a cold brewski during my hearings. And I don’t even drink beer.”—Judge Pamela Johnson.

We don’t miss uncomfortable clothing. We’re exploring the possibility of dress pajamas underneath the robes once we’re all back to the office. (Kidding… sadly.)

We also don’t miss traffic. Not even a little.

We’re grateful for technology, and can actually learn new technologies. Thank goodness we already had electronic filing via TNComp in place.

Like many of you, we’ve become ZOOM and Microsoft Teams ninjas. We’ve held several hearings by videoconference, and the Appeals Board transitioned to oral arguments via Webex. Notably, the Bureau pulled off the remarkable feat of transforming its three-day educational conference to an all-virtual format. You really can teach old dogs new tricks.

Cooper Luttrell is soooo cute!

Speaking of dogs, they really are man’s best friend.

“I’m indifferent to your existence.” — Sabine Salem

Cats, however, tolerate our presence at home during the day, but only if we feed them kitty treats and baby-talk about how special and precious they are.

We can cook! While many of us have always enjoyed time in the kitchen, we’ve expanded our horizons even further.

If Judge Addington invites you over for dinner, say yes–especially if it’s Taco Tuesday.
Here are a couple of Toms strutting their stuff for the ladies.

Nothing beats working from the patio on a warm day. “One of the things about staying at home is I get to see all the wildlife wandering around. We have a flock of about seventeen turkeys that like to hang out in our neighborhood.” – Judge Robert Durham.

“I have discovered the beauty of doing work-related reading on my front-porch swing. The songs of chirping birds make a perfect backdrop for contemplative reading. I also enjoy doing settlement approvals on the porch.”—Judge Tom Wyatt

We miss live, in-person sporting events, movies, music and theater. One unnamed judge has even taken to singing –loudly – in the (empty) office. Meanwhile, another judge—an eternal optimist—has tickets to an in-person Rick Springfield concert later this year! Rock on!

In the meantime, the inability to enjoy these pleasures has led to a renewed appreciation of the abundant natural beauty in Tennessee.

February’s snow storm made some other winged creatures very happy. Photo by Judge Deana Seymour.

Even inveterate introverts have a limit and occasionally need to be with other people.

Yes, even this inveterate introvert.

Finally, we learned that joy and a sense of humor, while more difficult to summon at times, are not canceled. And have we mentioned that we’re grateful?

Please keep on being safe. We look forward to seeing you all very soon.

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