Saturday 31 May 2008

From Injury back to Work Again Part II

From Injury back to Work Again Part II The first year

In the summer of 2005 I was working as a foreman for a landscaping company. One Monday morning my boss told me he had told the crew not to meet me at the current job site until he called them, and that we had a side job to do. We drove our trucks and trailers out from Kitchener to Ayr to pull some conduit for an electrician. When we arrived in Ayr, the electrician did not have any conduit. He wanted to run pipe under ground from the house to a shed/ga
rage at the back of the property to run wire through. Most of the PVC pipe we had on my truck was one inch diameter for residential irrigation. The Electrician wanted a wider pipe to run a few wires through. So we unrolled an old partial role of one and a half inch pipe that was in my trailer to see if it would reach from house to shed. It did but just barely. So we rolled the pipe back up and began to pull it under ground with a ditchwitch.

My injury occurred because of many factors. First we went to do a job without being prepared or knowing the details of what we were doing or what was expected. So
there I was standing in the center of a loose role of pipe that was now taller then I am, trying to keep it spinning so it would feed into the ground without kinking. The electrician saw me struggling and helped from time to time. But I was standing in a roll of pipe with both arms extended full above my head, one leg kicking the roll backwards as it fed, and I did something to my shoulder. I felt the pain right away, but worked through and got the pipe pulled. Then when I went to dig up the other end of the pipe, I could not drive my shovel into the ground from the pain. I drove back into Waterloo to meet my crew at the Open Text building on North Campus, to get to work for the day. By the time I met them I could not even lift my arm, and was having shooting pain down my whole arm.

I called my boss to tell him I was going to seek medical attention. He gave me a hard
time, saying I just wanted the day off, or I hurt it on the weekend, and was scamming him. Yet I insisted and had one of my crew drive me to a clinic. After being examined by the doctor I was told I probably had a strain or sprain in the shoulder and they prescribed an anti-inflammatory and 2 weeks of light duty. Those modified duties included no heavy lifting, and no repetitive movements at or above shoulder height. I called my boss and he went ballistic, yelling and screaming at me on the phone. He decided he would not pay me to just be the supervisor and in his words "Stand around doing nothing" so he ended up paying much more through WSIB for me to be off and at home. He said I had to get someone to pick me up and take me to the office to fill out the WSIB paperwork. I spent the next 2 weeks taking it easy and with my arm in a sling. On the Sunday evening before I was to return to work, I called to find out if I was to go to a job site or pick up the rig at the shop. He asked if I had medical clearance and I said no. He insisted I see a doctor before he would allow me to return to work. Fortunate for me he insisted so. Even though I felt much better, my shoulder was, in reality, not better. When I went back to the doctor she did a series of tests for range of motion, mobility and functionality of the shoulder. She was not happy with these results and referred me for physiotherapy and eight more weeks off work.

So two days later I found myself at Kinetex Rehab on Columbia. I had an extensive intake interview and series of tests with a specialist. Then I began a physiotherapy routine, for more than a year from the day I went to physiotherapy, five days a week most weeks. It was a mix of treatments, of ultrasound therapy, acupuncture, electrical stimulation as well as manual stimulation, combined with home exercises with elastics and a ball and light weights. A few days after I began treatment, I had an ultrasound scan of the shoulder done. That scan revealed a tear in the supraspinatus tendon, which I later learned is the most often-injured part of the rotator cuff muscles. During one of my first visits I was told that shoulders often take a year to heal, and I laughed out loud. I had cut off casts in the past and returned to work or sports from other injuries - what was so special about shoulders? One of the benefits of having treatment at Kinetex was seeing many Kynselogy students from UW doing placements, and talking with them as my process went on and on.

My life changed drastically. I went from being a very active and fit university student, to someone who read, worked on the computer and went for physiotherapy. I started to gain weight, and as the weeks dragged into months, it started having a psychological effect also. I even looked at returning to former jobs. I went and talked with previous managers at Starbucks and Chapters yet neither would hire me back with the restrictions. After four months off work, WSIB required that I visit with a surgeon and consider that option. So off I traveled to St. Joseph's Hospital in London, Ontario to the WSIB Upper body clinic. Fortunately this surgeon was not eager to cut. He extended treatment times from January 2006 again and again until August 2006 when the decision was made to go ahead with surgery, as the shoulder was not showing marked improvement or recovery. And I was then put on the waiting list for surgery. Over this period of a year I did almost 100 job applications hoping for work that would meet my limitations, yet never even received an interview.

That sums up the narrative part of the journey, but what about the WSIB and my boss and all the issues surrounding that? My first adjudicator with WSIB was excellent; he worked my case from the injuring in 2005 until January 2007. My boss was very difficult to deal with; every time I was assessed and treatment was extended he would get mad and flip out on the phone. In December when he laid off the rest of the crew, he got mad and screamed at my adjudicator on the phone because he could not grasp that because I was injured and could not find work that met my limitations he would have to pay me over the winter even though he closes the company during this period. My boss was not the wisest man; he said at the beginning that he did not want me on site with modified or light duties. WSIB would have charged him much less if he had tried to have me back to work but he was unwilling to do so. When we talked he would berate me and accuse me of faking again. I told my adjudicator that I had spent the whole evening before the injury with friends over playing cards and had witnesses that I was not injured on Sunday. When I ran into my boss around Christmas at Future Shop he called me fatso because of the weight I had started putting on and yelled across the store calling me a faker. I shared this information with my adjudicator and the boss was rebuked for inappropriate behavior.

In September of 2006 I got a call telling me my surgery date had been set. I would need an escort to take me to London for the surgery and would be in a sling for 8-12 weeks after. When I received this call, I had a four week old baby at home. Now I was going to be out of commission for helping with the baby and helping around the house. Therefore surgery was not really eagerly anticipated. Yet a whole new phase in the journey of recovery, the journey back to work, was about to begin.

Next time I will chronicle the process from the day of the surgery, through a Labour Market Reentry (LMR) Plan, to being employed again. In that piece I will examine: changes in my WSIB case management, outside contractors to WSIB who actually performed the LMR, to starting a new job in a different field.

(First Published in Imprint 2008-05-30.) 

Part IPart IIPart III.

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