That title may be a little misleading. It gives the impression that to work is a voluntary choice. As that may be the case for many adults, is not the case in mine.
I am a physical therapist. I have been a clinical/staff therapist for 18 years. I have never worked in management or administration. I have always been a “boots on the ground,” one on one contact with the patients kind of therapist. I worked most of my career in an acute care hospital setting. I clocked in and out, working 10 hour days until my third child was born. When we found out I was pregnant with #3 the decision to leave my job was made. I decided now that my oldest child was entering kindergarten I would like and need a more flexible work environment to be able to do things like put my kids on and off the bus and attend school functions.
So I left the hospital to move to home care setting. I’ve worked the past 4.5 years in home care and continued to be the diligently working staff therapist.
That is, until my head injury.
The day after I hit my head I was driving to work and almost immediately started to feel nauseous and dizzy. Well, I had 5 patients to see and the thought never occurred to me to not push through and finish my day. That afternoon I was able to see my primary care doctor and was told I had a concussion and to take it easy. I should feel better in a few days. I thought I would have no problem going to see patients on the following Monday. When my symptoms continued on, I had to call my boss and tell him I would (hopefully) be back to work the following week. Another week, another return trip to the doctor and all I got was “wait until you are 24 hour symptom free before you return to work.”
So I waited, and waited, and waited, until 5 weeks later I returned to work although it was obvious I shouldn’t have. The driving to each patients’ home was painful, I was having a difficult time with my handwriting, I couldn’t even look at the computer screen, and my typing was slow and plodding. The conversations I had with my patients were pure torture. Trying to listen, problem-solve, and express my thoughts brought on excruciating head pain and pressure. But yet I worked because no one told me not to. The doctor said I should have been fine so I tried to be fine. And I did get satisfaction from seeing my patients. I love the person to person connection. I love helping people. That is why I am a therapist. So I worked, and some things got better; like my handwriting and ability to type, and some things didn’t.
As time went by and I continued to work, I didn’t really realize how much other stuff I was cutting out of my life. My fatigue and headaches after being out with friends, going to concerts or to the movies would drive me to stop going out, stop doing things. After two years had passed I was still working but was falling apart on all fronts. My husband started to educate himself by finding anything he could read on concussion. My method of just push through and ignore symptoms was starting to falter. My workload was at its highest and my home life was coming apart. My temper was at an all time high. I snapped at my kids and had no patience. I was either going to bed by 7pm and sleeping for 12 hours or I was awake all night. My life was ping-ponging. By October 2016 I was barely making it through each day. I had constant head pressure, feeling nauseous, difficulty concentrating, and had no patience for life. I had to decide if events in the evenings or on the weekends were worth it to attend to risk an increase in symptoms, a sleepless night, or a missed day of work. My husband and I discussed taking a leave of absence from work. Financially we figured I could be out of work for around 2 months. It seemed like a good place to start. I started out 2017 home from work. Slightly adrift, without a plan.
In January I was lucky enough to finally find a neurologist who specialized in concussion. She validated every symptom I had as being part of my concussion and now was labeled as Post Concussion Syndrome. She was amazed that I was working at all nevermind as much as I was and keeping a household running as well.
I officially had a doctor’s note stating I was unable to work. That moment was both relieving and unsettling. I was relieved that I didn’t have the stress on me of trying to make it through the work day. The stress of deciding if I felt bad enough to cancel my patients that day or if I could push through. But it was also unsettling that I had always prided myself on being the helper, the doer and now I was being told that I was unable to do those things.
By the beginning of March I was itching to get back to work. My neurologist was hoping to keep me out of work until the summer but we couldn’t afford to do that. So at the end of March I started back oh so slowly at the rate of 2 patient visits per week. I was expecting to be able to increase my work load by 2 visits every 2 weeks. I started back into the game of driving, computer work, communication with patients, nurses and doctors. Even just being in the actual visit and having to listen, understand, problem-solve, and communicate back to the patient was draining.
At least by this time I knew that I had to take my healing seriously and that you can’t push through a brain injury. It’s like breaking your ankle and expecting to be able to heal while you are still walking on it. I was able to work up to 6 patient visits per week by September. It took 5 long months to get to that point. I knew I wanted to not just get back to working but also re-evaluating what “work/life balance” meant to me now. I wanted to be able to do events on the weekends with my family and not put having to work on Monday above all other things.
Then life throws you another curveball. My latest concussion occurred on November 25, 2017. I haven’t been to work since 11/30. To return to my previous job seems insurmountable at this time. My recent visit with the neurologist ended with, “I guess this concussion has impacted you more than we originally realized,” and “I’m not comfortable with giving you a return to work date yet.”
This feels like it should be another hurdle to attack. But instead, I feel much more comfortable to just sit. Let another door open. I’m okay with not being a physical therapist who hands in time sheets and makes appointments right now.
I’m okay to be right here.
Peace and Love