In Employee, Employer, Return to Work

What I have learnt from trauma about work, and returning to work

Trauma affects us all differently and each of us has a different definition of trauma. What might seem traumatic to some may not seem traumatic to others, so for those of us in the helping profession it is important that we view all perceptions as real.

 

My trauma came in the form of a motor vehicle accident a little over 12 months ago.

 

I was driving down a desolate, dirt road on a cold, dark and very foggy night when I swerved to miss a kangaroo and subsequently ended up down a 12 foot embankment.

 

This happened at 11pm on a Thursday night, in quite an isolated part of the country. My mobile phone was flat as my children had been playing games on it earlier and the chance of a car going past and finding me was minimal at best.

 

This left me with two options, sit in my car and hope that someone would come along and find me, or walk the 6km home through scrub and farmland…. Even though I really didn’t know where I was, I chose the latter. I had a husband and four children at home waiting for me, I didn’t have the luxury of hedging my bets on a gamble with such high odds.

 

In the months prior to my accident, I had started running. I wasn’t running fast or far (I was up to running 3km in about 20minutes) but for me this was a good effort, and I was proud.

 

This small gain as it turned out could have possibly been what saved my life.

 

The process of running had taught me many things which my body was able to use when I went into survival mode.

 

You see during the 6km walk I took to get home, including climbing 4 barbed wire fences (I didn’t know it was 6km until my husband measured it and told me) I felt no pain, no shortness of breath and no fear. I was just focused on my end goal which was to get home.

 

As soon as I got home (at 3.30am) and saw the look on my husband’s face, I broke down. I cried, I collapsed, my whole body began to shake, and I was in a world of pain.

 

Until that point, I honestly had no idea how bad this was. Unbeknown to me my husband had sent out a small search party to look for me, but because I was in a very unused back road and had walked through scrub, they were not able find me.

 

When I finally arrived at the hospital at about 10am the next morning I struggled to get out of the car. During our 1 and a half hour drive to the hospital I kept telling my husband that this is a waste of resources, they will just give me some Panadol, perhaps some endone, tell me to take it easy for a few days and send me home.

 

Boy was I wrong.

 

I know hospital Emergency Departments get a lot of bad press, but in this instance, I cannot fault them. The staff were fantastic, they were efficient, very professional, and very compassionate, especially towards my husband which is absolutely what he needed at the time.

 

To me it felt like everything happened in an instant but in reality, I was held in emergency for most of the day until I was transferred to ICU where I stayed for two days before being transferred to the general ward. I remained in hospital for 6 days in total before I was discharged home. This was during COVID so having visitors was near impossible. Thank goodness for telephones and facetime.

 

Other than COVID, my hospital stay was hard for several reasons,

 

  1. I am a mother of four young children most of whom are still very reliant on me.
  2. I am the wife of a farmer, farmers don’t work office hours they work around the weather and the seasons, and they don’t have sick or carers leave up their sleeve.
  3. I have a business and was just two weeks off running my first group training session to a corporate company, I don’t have any staff I am a sole operator.
  4. And finally, my mother lives in another state, and who doesn’t want their mum when they are not well.

 

Despite all of this there were a few things that made my hospital stay and my recovery so much better than it would have been without them.

 

I had visitors.

 

Even during COVID I was allowed a very select number of visitors which certainly turned a bleak dismal day into a bright and happy day. Other than my husband a visitor was one of my beautiful friends, how she was able to get herself into the hospital during COVID and visit me with coffee, chocolate, lollies, and magazines I will never know. All I know it is the visit was short but very sweet and exactly what I needed at the time.

 

There was an amazing village back home that was taking care of my family and my home and not at any point did I feel violated, let down or a burden, everyone just came together to keep the wheels turning.

 

This support alone contributed to my recovery, and I am so grateful to have a mother-in-law who looks after me like I am her own and friends that pick up the phone and ring me every week to see how I am going even when they have their own families to think of.

 

At the time of sustaining my injury I had not been in business very long.

 

I knew my craft very well, but I was very green when it came to running a business. At the time I remember thinking I have two weeks to get myself good enough to present to a group of managers from a corporate company. It was my first ‘group’ booking and I desperately did not want to lose their business because I knew they could very easily go to someone else. I also knew that I was kidding myself with a two week recovery timeframe.

 

During this thought a notification came through on my phone from a professional group I am a part of, it was like a light bulb moment for me. I responded to this message and then proceeded to tell the group about my situation and ask for advice. After sending me their condolences, their advice came through hard and fast and being a professional group, I completely trusted their advice and it paid off for me. I was able to postpone the group training for two months, and I have since had repeat and continuous business from them. So, my advice to anyone reading this, don’t be afraid to use a professional network and don’t hide the truth.

 

Being discharged home from hospital after injury and a traumatic event is another challenge in itself.

 

What it didn’t take me long to realise was that our home, although not too bad is not equipped to deal with anything bigger that what I was recovering from. Lucky for me we have private health cover and enough surplus income to hire the equipment I needed to hire and purchase the things I needed to purchase, without question.

 

One thing that did hit me hard after my accident which I wasn’t expecting, was how it affected me mentally.

 

Although I have all the tools in my toolbox to allow me to work with clients and help them recover and return to work following injury and trauma, I wasn’t prepared for the psychological impact this would have.

 

Although it is easy for me to sit here and reflect on this now at the time, I saw no way out.

 

I thought I had ruined everything, my family, my marriage, my business and that life was going to be like this forever, slow and painful.

 

I had developed a fear of developing chronic pain and created a false picture in my mind of what life would look like for me in the future and I can tell you now it was a place I most certainly did not want to be in.

 

Then one day out of nowhere I had this memory of one of the ICU Doctors asking me if I have ever had counselling? My reply was no, I am the counsellor to which he replied I think this is something you should consider, would you like a referral? My response was no thank you I am well resourced. But the truth was, I wasn’t.

 

I had never considered counselling for myself, and my contacts were all colleagues whom I was not prepared to see on a personal level. But on this particular day I put my pride aside and reached out to a counsellor who I felt would be a good fit for me.

 

As it turned out Dr ICU was right, I did need counselling and it became the difference between me making my full and sustainable recovery or me continuing on the path my mind was taking me on and developing chronic pain syndrome.

 

So, what have I learnt from trauma that will help you as a RTW professional?

 

  1. Being fit saved my life. I will now always respect my body and remain in a state of ‘prehab’.
    • Promote the benefits of always being in a state of good health or ‘Prehab’. Be that leader that teaches through example and show your staff that you are serious about keeping healthy. Encourage and congratulate your staff that have a physical activity schedule into their day. I see a lot of employer representatives begrudging their workers who play sport on the weekends for fear that they will injure themselves. To them I say that it is usually this cohort of people that recover faster after injury.

 

  1. The support I received from my husband and my village saved my life.
    • Get to know your staff and their support network. Get a feel for those that have support around them and those that don’t. Then work out a way to provide those that don’t with some support. That way if they are ever faced with trauma they will have a much smoother, timelier and sustainable recovery.

 

  1. I have some truly amazing, selfless people in my life. To know that my family and friends rallied together to keep the wheels turning is so reassuring, I will never again take them for granted. I am also aware (thanks to counselling) that we attract likeminded people, so I know that this care was genuine.
    • When an employee suffers trauma whether work related or not, reach out to them. Pick up the phone, make the visit, provide the support and encourage co-workers to do the same. Even if the worker does not respond with many words, the genuine support they are receiving will be remembered and they will use that support to propel them forward in their recovery.

 

  1. If you have the opportunity to do so, be part of a professional network, even if you have to pay for it (sometimes it is better to pay for it).
    • Be part of a professional network and encourage staff to do the same because not only will it benefit your career, chances are someone in the group will have gone through something similar.

 

  1. It pays to have some surplus money put aside in case of emergency. Having to question required purchases during an emergency is an unnecessary stress that shouldn’t happen.
    • Promote the benefits of having savings to your staff so they can be empowered to be in control of their own recovery. For those that may be struggling financially after trauma consider how you can support them. Can you hire equipment for them, can you find out if they have entitlements (whether via compensation or Centrelink)?

 

  1. Finally, and perhaps the most important, the psychological recovery following trauma and injury is just as important (and as hard) as the physical recovery following injury and trauma.
    • Know that psychological recovery is real. As well as promoting physical health and fitness, consider how you can promote and encourage psychological health and fitness. And when someone does suffer trauma, be compassionate because to them their trauma is real!

 

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Posted on September 26, 2020

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