Monday, 11 April 2016

Concussion and Returning to Work

I had some very good advice from my Concussion Clinic Clinical Psychologist about returning to work.  'Don't expect them to understand. They won't understand and so there's no point trying to make them understand.'

This advice was helpful but in the end, the lack of understanding has caused me problems some of which have needed resolving.

When my Concussion Clinic Occupational Therapist was suggesting it was time to start a phased return to work I had one big worry. People would see me looking like 'me' and their expectations would be based on what they had known of me in the past. This proved to be the case and even now, when I am probably 95% recovered and nearly a year on from my first day back in the workplace this is still the most difficult issue I face.
Most of my colleagues have been great and those that got it wrong in the beginning have seen me improve slowly over time and this has made it clear to them that the initial problems I had were real and very challenging.
The view at sunset from my work staffroom.
I had to be quite strong when I first went back to work. I am a midwife working in a very busy hospital environment with lots of conflicting demands coming at me all the time. All my colleagues are under stress, trying to get through their work and anything that might take the stress off them appears to be fortuitous. Some of them wanted to make use of me as I appeared to be sitting doing nothing. I was actually reeling from the brain sensory overload but many of my colleagues could not understand this even when I explained it. See the blog page about 'Flooding' for more on this

 In the early days I was struggling just to be in the work environment - the bright lights, the noise, all the different people coming and going all the time, trying to look at computer screens although it gave me a headache and nausea, having my breaks in a room full of people all talking at once, laughing, raising voices, gesticulating, and in the middle of this exhausting, brain-energy-draining place I would be asked constantly by people to do things. These would seem like nothing to them but a huge ask for me. Like checking drugs which involves reading a prescription chart, remembering what the chart said long enough to check it against a tablet bottle and a log book. An impossible task for me with my short term memory problems and something I had to be very firm about - I would not do it! It took all my energy to maintain this firm stance.

Me at work during my return to work
I had enough self awareness and experience in the job to know exactly what I was safe to do and what I was unsafe to do but it was very wearing to have to continually justify myself to people who couldn't see why I had a problem with what appeared to be very basic tasks like answering the phone, listening to a handover (lots of information to take in), answering patient's call bells and seeing what they wanted - ('thinking on my feet'). In the midst of this I had 2 very gentle, caring colleagues who buddied up with me to support me. One of these women in particular was the key to my survival. She sometimes put herself physically between  me and the person putting pressure on me. She was always telling me how well I was doing and making sure I took lots of breaks. She was a Godsend and I will be grateful to her forever for acting as a buffer between me and the stress and pressure of work. She facilitated my successful return to work.

Many moons ago during my nursing
training in Bristol
However, even at this stage when I am fully back at work, taking full responsibility for all my actions, 'in the thick of it' so to speak, I still have to deal with some people who do not get it. I still suffer from the fatigue that is so prostrating that I have my pyjamas on all through my days off wondering how I will ever work another day. It takes a degree of courage to face another day but when I am at work I feel loved and cared about. Most of my colleagues are encouraging and supportive and I enjoy seeing them. Unfortunately, though, the people who don't get it make life difficult even though they are in the minority.

I'm sure that anyone else who has suffered a head injury and been through a return to work will identify with these problems. I would be interested to know how you have dealt with them. It has been suggested that I move to a job that is less stressful and fast paced. Apart from a very small minority I find my colleagues caring and supportive so I enjoy seeing them. Has anyone been through this experience and had a successful change of job? I would be interested to know your stories of return to work.

On the whole I feel very lucky to have reach a stage in my recovery which meant I was able to return to such a stressful environment and function normally again. I am learning a lot through all the ups and downs so none of it is wasted time or experience..... and eventually I will have enough energy on my days off to have some new adventures. Just at the moment though all my energy is focussed on getting established back in my former job......


  1. This is wonderful julianne... You are very strong to share all of this... Be safe
    P.s i loved ur photo when u r younger pretty now and then .

  2. Thank you so much, Anita. The photo was taken when I was on my 2nd placement of my nurse training in 1977! xx

  3. What a blessing Julia. You have beautifully shared your workplace experience and I am drawing encouragement from it. I believe I will have to find a new job altogether because I work in a corporate, insurance-driven environment where my slower pace doesn't cut it. Deadlines and multitasking runs the day. When I worked full throttle I was still pressured to do more. I hope and pray the Lord will grant me and others who are struggling with job issues favor. We've already been through enough. Bless you.

  4. Yes, Ella, I too hope God reveals the next step to you. The unknown future can feel scary but knowing he has plans for you is real security.

  5. I feel anxious just reading about your work environment! I was an elementary school teacher and feel that I have to find dosing else. I'm not working at all other than volunteering but I predict I will need to go back to work in the next 6 months. It's hard to get to the place where I can be excited about the opportunities that might wait for me it all just seems very nerve-racking. It's getting better but I'm still sensitive to fluoresc ent lights, noise and just too much commotion around me or having to multitask. What kind of hours did you work when you're easing back into it?

  6. Thank you Shari for taking the time to read and comment on my blog post. My first week back at work I just sat in the staff room for an hour during morning tea. I felt wiped out after that. I had taxi transport to and from work but just one hour was difficult to tolerate. In the following year I have very gradually increased my hours and responsibility. When it has been too much too soon we have back-pedalled a bit until my tolerance has caught up. For most of the year that I spent getting back into the workplace I had severe doubts that I would ever be able to manage the multi-tasking, noisy, brightly lit, constantly demanding environment that is my job. It has taken a long time but I am nearly there. My confidence ebbs and flows according to how tired I am but generally I feel I am a worthwhile member of staff again. The process is so slow though and I have learned it cannot be hurried, not in my case anyway. I think it is particularly difficult for people in our professions, midwifery/nursing and teaching but it's always worth trying gradually to get back. I have been very lucky - my concussion clinic occupational therapist has been amazing, as an advocate when others haven't understood my needs, and as an encourager when the only thing holding me back was fear. I wish you well Shari. I hope you have some good people on your team too.


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