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Return to work one step at a time

A Queensland Health home care worker was able to stay focused on her recovery during rounds of medical and counselling appointments by only thinking about “the next two weeks”.

Marianne Andersen was eager to return to work in the job she loves, helping older people with their heavier housework.

She was at work when she lifted a half-full bucket of water and twisted her right elbow. She felt pain and discomfort, which progressively got worse.

Marianne visited her GP, who ordered various investigations to try to pinpoint what was happening with her elbow. Some scans revealed severe epicondylitis ('tennis elbow') and so she was referred to an upper limb specialist. After an MRI scan, Marianne underwent arthroscope surgery, which became an open procedure to address lateral epicondylitis.

She was initially unable to work to her full capacity post-surgery, and struggled to upgrade her hours and duties. Her pain did not settle and swelling increased so she underwent further surgery for a nuerectomy of the posterior cutaneous nerve in her forearm.

Her pain still continued, and after another review of her case and new scans, she underwent a third and final surgery to release a trapped nerve. She had developed some anxiety around her injury and her ability to return to work and so she attended adjustment to injury counselling sessions.

Marianne was now able to return to work on a graduated return to work plan, attempting her normal duties where it was safe to do so.

She had practised her usual work duties at home, modifying her method of doing things to ensure she was not aggravating her injury.

WorkCover Queensland Customer Advisor Sybille Coleman said, “Throughout her rehabilitation, Marianne remained very focused on her recovery. Her compliance with her home exercises has been exemplary.

“Breaking her rehabilitation down into two weeks at a time was a winning strategy for Marianne. It enabled her to remain undaunted by how long she was away from work. Over the last 16 months, she spent blocks of 20 weeks, 15 weeks and then 14 weeks incapacitated for work, and yet she has defied the statistics to return to work and indeed her normal duties.

“Marianne has had to permanently modify her duties to avoid further injury, but she has done this so that she can return to looking after her clients in their own homes, a job she loves.

“She is an inspiration to those people she works with in home care and also to her own clients by simply focusing on what she can do instead of what she can't.”

Find out more about the return to work process.