Getting back to work following a workplace injury is an important step for recovery. Returning to meaningful work when your doctor believes you are ready can mean you recover more quickly than workers who remain off work until they are completely recovered. View the success stories from Queensland injured workers' to inspire your return to work.
Kelly Ponting - The future looks bright
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The Future Looks Bright
by Kelly Ponting
My injury was very basic. I had a slip off a forklift step. I landed with quite a fairly straight leg. I felt a lot of discomfort in my lower back. To cut a long story short by the end of the day I was in a lot of pain.
Two weeks after the injury I went to see the specialist. I've – in my lower back I've got a protruding disc which impacts on the nerves that send terrible pain right down through my right leg.
When you first get an injury for the first month or two you just feel like everyone's staring at you. You don't feel like you're contributing and you feel like people will think that you're a bludger or that you're not going to – that you're just for want of a better word 'milking it'. I didn't actually have any time off work. I showed up every day. I think the main reason that I continued to go to work was that I knew I had something seriously wrong but laying down on the couch at home wasn't going to do anything for it. A lot of people saw how much pain I was in because I could hardly walk for six weeks. I had people asking me what I was doing at work, why am I there.
As I got better and better it showed people that there's light at the end of the tunnel and you can slot straight back in there.
Strong motivation for getting back to work for me was just to be able to do the little things with my kids. I know I won't be able to teach them how to throw a shot put or anything like that but just to – just to be able to do some of the basics with my little girls and my boys. I got my Health and Safety Officer to come into the meeting with the surgeon and the surgeon pretty well told us that I was not going to be able to continue in basically a labouring position and that we needed to move forward, retrain and take things from there.
The most challenging part for me is the fact that I was not in touch with technology compared to my four year old daughter to be honest. I'd never really touched computers and then suddenly I was sitting at a desk with two computer screens in front of me and not knowing how to drive it.
I've come a long way from when I first started and my company has been great with helping me through this process as well. I feel blessed every day when I look at my little girls and when I can give them a cuddle. I can walk around. I walk pretty normally. For me the future looks very bright considering where I was. Instead of feeling sorry for myself I feel blessed.
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Winner - Injured worker achievement awards (return to work)
A simple slip at work caused a disc to dislodge in Kelly's spine, leading to an inability to walk, sit or bend. As a forklift driver and labourer, this meant Kelly couldn't work for a time. Kelly's injury will never lead to a full recovery without surgery, which Kelly elected not to undergo. The injury impacted on Kelly's ability to work and function at home with a young family, and caused financial stress. As a way of dealing with his inability to function in a physically demanding role, Kelly approached his employer about finding a different position where he could contribute entirely to the company. Kelly tells a story of overcoming pain, fear, and the challenges of learning a new role.
Chris Wighton - Work plays a critical part in recovery
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I was working with some clients on a mountain biking program up at Smithfield and I just took a wrong turn and crashed my bike. I can remember landing on my back and thinking to myself "This is serious", because I instantly went numb from the waist down.
Well my current prognosis is that I have a crushed spinal cord. My back has been stabilised but I won't – I don't think I'll regain any feeling from the waist down. So I don't dwell on that but that's what I think. Who knows.
I had a fairly deep depression for – I can't remember for how long but I was – I confess suicidal. I didn't want to live. Weirdly it looks like a dream now but I went to the bottom and I didn't want to be around anymore until I discovered, until I started to think about my friends and my family and my daughter, all the people that I felt happily obligated to kick on and kick out of that situation. But it was nice to surface I can tell you and I surfaced with the help of a lot of people.
A big part of my recovery was my partner's unerring positivity. So you're fairly helpless to start with. You can't even get out of bed on your own. Your dignity goes out the window. You have to get used to all that sort of stuff to start with. But the rehabilitation process is a gradual thing until you get used to the people around you and used to the environment, used to all the new ways of doing stuff. I think you've just got to take it step by step and when I was in Brisbane my first aim was to get out of bed without being hoisted out like a leg of lamb, like a piece of meat. So that was the first task was to get out of bed and do it on my own. And then it progressing to bathing, showering on your own without injuring yourself and all the toileting stuff that you have to do and get used to. The physicality of back in the gym and working out balance, maintaining strength.
I guess the things that helped me mostly was my sense of humour, my music, the great friends I have carried me all the way through, family. So it was a combination of things. I knew I had to go back to work quickly for my sanity because that's just what I do and I was keen to get back to see how I would go. So it was a really gradual thing but I got to the point where I kind of was enjoying it – you know – and I wanted to increase the hours. And so now I'm up to 20 hours a week which is nice.
The main part of my job is engaging young kids who are having problems. So I can still do that pretty well. I've developed a different framework of working which includes more engagement of families and their kids which is good. That's always what – I wanted to do that anyway. And so I've moved into an area of work that I've lost some things but I've gained some things too. So it's been good.
I think work plays a critical part in recovery. To reconnect with the people that you work with and to reassume that identity is really good for your mental health. The last thing you want to do is become isolated and bitter. "You've just got to do what you can to get back to normal". So back to work is a big part of it.
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Chris crashed his mountain bike while working on an Adventure Based Learning activity as a Youth Worker for the Education Department. As a result of the accident Chris sustained injuries that left him a paraplegic with a level T10 injury. In an instant his life changed forever in ways he could never have imagined.
Kru Gregory - Don't let a speed bump become a road block
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I suffered a high speed motorcycle collision on the M1 on the way to work one day. I was put into a coma for six weeks, a barbiturate coma that I'm the first of three to survive. I still have diffuse axonal injury of my brain. I also suffered a perforated bowel and they had to remove six inches, a fractured fifth metatarsal on my right hand, a bruised kidney and a bruised lung at the time. I also was septic and a few other problems and epileptic during my seizures which still affects my quality of life today.
After the month and a bit in a coma I slowly came out of that. It was like being born again really. I came out with sort of the brain capacity of a pre-schooler. My speech was very impaired. I worked my way up from there. I ended up going to the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit at Princes Alexandra Hospital. I stayed there for about a month and a half, nearly two months. It was very boring, sort of just laying in a bed staring at the roof but it kind of made me think about my life and where I was heading and all I did was write things down and stare at the roof and just think about my life. And it really sort of woke me up to myself and what I was doing. So in a way it's one of the best things that's ever really happened to me. I used it to motivate myself instead of hold me back.
When I first got out hospital I was – I weighed 45 kilos. I was very skinny. I had to gain weight. I was sleeping 18 hours a day so I had to cut that back. I was so determined to get back to work I wanted to go back full time. I wanted to prove to everyone that I was fine. I started out with two hour shifts and just gradually worked my way up to full time again over a period of about three to six months.
Don't let a speed bump become a road block. Any obstacle can be overcome. I had a lot of challenges. Now I do still face a lot of obstacles but I keep just pushing myself to overcome them and my mindset was always "What do you want?", "When do you want it?", "What are you willing to do for it?" and that's got me where I am today.
I did have a lady come in at Christmas time and she was looking for a brain training game and I asked her "Okay, how old is the person it's for?" and she said "Well he's 40 but he's had a car accident." I said "I just got out of hospital six months ago for the exact same injury." We ended up speaking for about 10 minutes just about what had happened to me and how it gets better and how far I had come in such a short space of time. And she said "Thank you, you've just made my Christmas", and that – that moment just there to me made – made everything worthwhile. Just the look on her face was just probably the greatest moment of my life that I had made that much of a difference to someone.
I always try to turn negative things into a positive however I kind of see the crash as sort of the best thing that's ever happened to me. It woke me up and it made me the person I am today. I face a couple of challenges but life is great. I'm back at work full time. I've got all my friends back now. I've got a girlfriend. Everything is sort of coming up Kru now.
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Kru was 20 years old and working in a retail store when he was injured in a motor vehicle accident on the way to work. He suffered a head injury, which has resulted in permanent damage to his short term memory, and accident induced epilepsy, as well as a ruptured bowel. He was in a coma for over a month, and stayed in hospital undergoing rehabilitation for a further two months.
Joanne Durant - I can do this
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My name's Joanne Durant and I work for Community Solutions and I'm a Trainer and Project Officer. My injury happened when I was doing night fill in a supermarket from repetitive lifting. I have a permanent injury which limits greatly what I can do. A year after the injury it got to the stage where there was nothing more anybody could do for me and unfortunately I was unable to return to any of the work that I'd ever done previously. I had to make a decision on what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
So I had to make some changes and I did that by doing a Certificate II in Business and I did my work experience here with Community Solutions. And I mentioned that I was interested in training and I ended up with a job out of it. I completely changed my life, completely changed a career and actually now I feel I have a life.
I had to overcome quite a number of barriers due to the injury. It had a huge impact on my life both – well professionally and privately. I was unable to do a lot of the duties and roles that I ever did as a mum which affected me greatly mentally as well. I felt I didn't have a lot of worth. I had people tell me they wouldn't hire me because of my back and I actually had doctors say "There's nothing you can ever do. Don't know what you're going to be able to do." I had two children I had to support so I had no option but to try and do something. It was a mental thing for me. It was "Okay, you've got the pain. You have to deal with it".
Community Solutions were fantastic. They put me in here for work experience and the confidence I got from doing that and I thought "Well I can do this." I do have barriers now. I still have pain. Psychologically it still does affect me a little bit but I turn around and look back from where I've come.
Returning to work was difficult particularly since it was a complete change of career and Community Solutions were very, very, very good with me and they understood. They limited my hours. If it hadn't have been for support from my family I probably may have gone "I can't do this." A lot of the times I never realise what I've achieved. I just think I did it because I had to.
The positive effects of returning to work are just so many. My confidence has gone through the roof. My self esteem, my feeling of self worth and also the effect I can have on other people as well. I actually share my story with my students every class I get. So for me the hardest part was actually getting myself back into that headspace, that routine that I can achieve it. Everything's a highlight now. Every little achievement I learn to celebrate.
If I had to pick one thing it would be how proud my kids are of me now and how proud I am of myself. I think getting an injured worker back to work is vitally important so that they can actually feel worthwhile. Everything I've gone through, all the hardship, all the pain, all the angst is worth it.
[End of Transcript]
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Joanne was working in night fill in a supermarket, when she hurt her back at work as a result of repetitive heavy lifting. Joanne suffered an L5/S1 injury which caused a permanent disability of 10 per cent. With ongoing pain and unable to continue working in a physical role, Joanne left her role, and retrained to become an accredited trainer in business skills. Joanne's story outlines how her life was affected in every way by her injury; physically, emotionally and financially, and how she changed her life through her commitment to return to work.
- Last updated
- 09 November 2016
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