We've been known to care for the most unbearable pain every patient can experience. Yet, we as nurses tend to forget how to learn how to manage our own pain.
I arrived for work on the evening shift. It promised to be a hectic evening. A staff nurse asked me to help her transfer her new admit to the bedside commode.
As we stood the patient to pivot, the patient became non-weight bearing, so we did the pivot very quickly. I had to prevent the patient from falling. In the process, I twisted awkwardly.
I felt immediate pain, burning and heard popping noises. I remember saying, “Well, there went my back.” By the time I had completed giving bedtime medications, I could not comfortably sit or stand. I notified the nursing supervisor, who sent me home.
I had to report to the employee health office the next day.
I was in tears. The employee health nurse arranged an appointment with a physician. I saw the physician’s assistant, who ordered physical therapy.
Therapy consisted of ice, heat, ultrasound, a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation unit and “body traction” for six weeks. An “employee physical” followed.
I failed the physical and was told that I would not be allowed to return to work.
Months passed, I had completed weeks of therapy, been CAT and MRI scanned, and massaged to death.
I inquired about pain management for nurses.
I was one of the fortunate “receptive” individuals. My pain was gone. I would be able to return to work. But, I could not lift more than 10 pounds, I could not bend repetitively, nor twist, squat or kneel.
At my final hearing, I was considered to be at “Maximum Medical Improvement.” The physician rated me 50% permanently disabled, subtracting 5% for preexisting obesity. The workers’ compensation judge decided that all I deserved was 20%.
Part of the process is also filing for SSI or SSDI. They decided that I could talk and my thumb worked, so I could dispatch cabs for a living. The programs created to assist injured workers were doing everything; it seemed, to not help.
My next position was visiting high-risk pregnant women. After three years of multiple flights of stairs, carrying a baby scale and supplies, I started having problems.
My manager recruited me to her new employer. I took a position as an obstetrical case manager. I loved my job— no stairs, but I was sitting the better part of the day— hard on my back. My caseload was up to 600.
Then management changed. The new manager made it clear that I was not going to represent the company. In her words, I “did not clean up too good.”
One day, I had to get to a meeting. The chairs in the room would be too small for my girth, so I walked over, rolling my chair. My manager saw me — “You will walk when you are here or else you will be leaving,” she demanded in front of everyone.
When the company announced that it was electing not to renew the contract, the manager said she would write letters of recommendations for staff — except for me.
My goal was to locate employment. I did not care with whom or doing what for what hours.
I went on an interview for a position related to workers’ compensation, not knowing a thing about workers’ compensation besides my personal experience.
I was called with an offer— and never felt so welcomed.
My supervisors are wonderful. I use my chair for transportation.
I have flex hours and my co-workers are considerate of my limitations.
Ironically, I now manage cases of injured workers.
My story is not earth shattering — it is not dramatic — but it is mine. I have fought long and hard to remain employed and to be productive.
It is my dream for every disabled or injured healthcare worker to have the chance to return to the workforce. I hope that through my fight, I have paved the way for others to understand the importance of pain management for nurses.
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Excerpt from a chapter by, Cynthia A. Weschke, RN, BSN, BC, CCM, in “Leave No Nurse Behind: Nurses working with disAbilities” by Donna Maheady, EdD, ARNP available at http://leavenonursebehind.com/. Proceeds from sales of the book help to maintain www.ExceptionalNurse.com.