Saturday 14 June 2008

From Injury Back to Work Again Part III - The Light at the end of the tunnel.

From Injury Back to Work Again Part III
Retraining and all.

In this article we will examine the process and timeline from surgery back to work again. We will chronicle the days, weeks and months from surgery to a return to work if not a return to 100% health.

This part
of the journey began at St. Jospeh's Health Care Centre in London, Ontario. After many trips to the hospital over the last nine months, the time had finally come for surgery. After coming out from under the general anesthetic I would not be allowed to drive so I needed an escort to take me to London. My friend John Helmers accompanied me to the hospital. Before I was admitted to pre-op, a nurse went over the expectations for the day and what would happen, and John's role in looking after me after the surgery and on the return trip from London to Waterloo. After that we parted ways, and they began to prepare me for surgery.
As I do not recall the surgery I cannot comment on that part of the day's events. But they went in through my neck and did a nerve block, freezing the nerve for my arm in the neck rather than local on the shoulder. This was combined with the general anesthetic. After my surgery, they discovered that the nerve block must have hit the diaphragm also, because every time they tried to take me off oxygen my blood oxygen level would drop too low and I would have to be put back under the mask. I was expected to be discharged from the hospital around 1pm and it was after 5 before we were finally able to leave. What they did during the surgery was to go in and cut out the scar tissue from around the tear in the supraspinatus tendon. The surgeon also shaved bone from both the Acrommion and the Humerus to give more room for the tendon to swell when it gets inflamed.

After the surgery there were a few follow-up meetings with the surgeon. After the first 10 weeks, physiotherapy began again. This time it was only three days a week. For the first 12 weeks I did not even have doctor approval for driving so had to make arrangements for rides to and from appointments and treatment. So I was back and forth to Kinetex Rebab frequently. Then a determination was made between the surgeon and physiotherapist that the shoulder was as good as it was going to get; treatment would continue but with my employer being unable or unwilling to take me back with modified duties it was time to look at other long-term options. Permanent restrictions were put on my working. No repetitive or sustained work at shoulder height or above, no lifting above shoulder height of 10lbs or at shoulder height of 15 lbs. These were now permanent restrictions - something I will have to abide by the rest of my working life. If I choose to work and ignore these restrictions then WSIB will not cover any future problems. If I have abided by these rules and down the road the injury reoccurs, WSIB purchased a home TENS unit for me. A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a non invasive, drug-free, pain management modality, used for short-term acute pain or long-term chronic pain management. I can use it daily at home to help manage the discomfort and pain on an as-needed basis.

Since returning to my previous job was not possible and I now had permanent work restrictions, WSIB sent me to a subcontractor for a Labour Market Re-entry Assessment or Plan (LMR). The first time I met with my assessor I was more than a little disappointed. I went with copies of my high school and university transcripts, copies and samples of different resumes and cover letters that I had used. My worker's response was: "I don't know what to do with you; most of my clients have never finished high school, and I have to send them for aptitude testing before even looking at creating a plan and what type of schooling a client can do." At that time I was 4 credits short of graduating at the University of Waterloo. But because I was injured working construction, my worker would not even submit a plan to have me finish my university degree. So she created two plans and submitted them to my WSIB adjudicator for approval.

Unfortunately the plan that was decided upon was not well-planned or well-researched. It was created to get me in and out of school in the quickest way possible - to get me back in the work force. I began at triOS College to work on Microsoft Office Certification. I trained on two of the applications in the office suite and then moved to Laurel College, for the other three. Unfortunately triOS does not offer the certification exams for the courses done there and Laurel taught and offers exams on a different version of Office. Fortunately Laurel College allowed me to work at my own pace and I did the coursework, practice exam and certifications in Word, Excel, Access, Powerpoint and Outlook in 21 days - what is normally 12 to 15 weeks of private instruction. Then I had a week off and after that went back to trios. It had now been over 2 years since my original injury. Again my worker who planned the LMR did not realize that she had me in a part of a course that did not include the exam certificates allowing me to write the certification exams for all of the courses done in class. We had to go back to WSIB with a modification of the LMR to request the exam vouchers for the courses being worked on, and add courses to complete certain certification requirements.

There had been both good and bad along the road to recovery. For the first 17 Months I had the same adjudicator from WSIB. We developed a rapport and relationship. Then over the next 12 months I had at least 8 adjudicators, some of whom never returned or called before I was informed that I had a new one. The two years off work had been a mix of good and bad. Some of the instructors and staff at both triOS and Laurel College were great to work with. I was also able to be home the first year of my daughter's life, an opportunity many fathers do not get to have. On a down side, my wife had to return to work shortly after the birth because we could not afford for both of us to be on reduced income. I was also able to focus on developing my writing and spend more time at Imprint volunteering. It was a struggle being on reduced income and there were emotional trials of being off work for such a long period, and it caused some stress in the family. During my entire time off work I looked for a job that would not contradict my restrictions. I applied for many jobs and never heard a thing. Just as I was returning to triOS for my second stint there, a headhunter from Spherion Staffing contacted me because they had found my resume on Workopolis and thought I would be perfect for one of their clients. I did a couple of interviews but did not get the job. Then late in November they called again to see if I might be interested in interviewing for a different client. It was a hard decision; my schooling had been extended into February. Should I take a contract job and leave school and continue studying on my own?

I took the risk and accepted a contract position, through the headhunters, at Crawford. I had been hired to do IT support, which was what I was training for at triOS. I negotiated with the company managing my LMR and was able to transfer my unused tuition from leaving school early to extra book and exam vouchers to write more certification exams on my own. After my contract expired at Crawford I was hired on full time. My first day back to work as a fulltime employee was Monday March 10th 2008, almost 30 months to the day from the injury. I was now employed full time again.

My advice, since having gone through the system and meeting many at triOS who were doing the same, is to learn what you are entitled to, and fight for it. Find out about all your options and don't sign anything you do not agree with. Seek the advice of others who are going through the process and from professionals (Lawyers, Medical Staff etc.) and organizations or associations set up to help injured employees. Yet first and foremost protect yourself at work. Do not do something just because you are told to, if you think it is unsafe. If you have questions or doubts check it out before proceeding and hopefully you will never have to go through this kind of experience yourself.

(First published in Imprint 2008-06-13 as The Road to Recovery Part 3: The final installment of McEvoy's journey from injury to recovery. He undergoes surgery, explores his career options, and finally finds an employer who understands.)

(You can read Part1 and Part 2 by following the links. You can also follow my progress by checking here.)


Jen Davies, MA, CDP said...

What a great series of articles! Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am going through a similar situation, however the injury is quite different. I sustained a traumatic head injury at the end of March. Thank you for your advice, I will definately seek legal assistance.