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  • Writer's pictureClaire

3. Getting Back to Work

Updated: Nov 25, 2023

Getting back to work.

Going back to work was a gradual process. Initially I worked from home doing office type work, and whilst this was greatly appreciated as it was work, it really wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. I wanted to be back out on the streets doing what I loved, however unrealistic and impractical that was but, everyone loves a dreamer don’t they!

Before returning fully I was assessed by Access to work following discussions with HR regarding what ‘special measures’ I required in the workplace.

The website is a UK government site and gives you all the information you’ll need. It is simply laid out and allows you to check if you are eligible almost instantly. It can offer grants and if you obtain one you will be told how much and how long you have it for.

Finally, I was allowed back to work. Well, what I call work, as in, leaving the house! Hurrah!

Initially I was on a phased return. For those of you who are unaware of back to work practices, it is an assessment by Occupational Health and Human Resources to determine what hours you should work and when. How long the phased return is for depends very much on the individual and the circumstances. I started off on 4 hours a day two days a week over a period of weeks. My final goal being to get back up to full time hours and shifts again. Writing this now I realise how unrealistic my expectations were. I was in total denial with regards to my health and abilities. I still thought of myself as the girl who juggled all the plates and could do anything she put her mind to. I believe its also called being as stubborn as a mule…

The stubborn side of this Flairey raised her ugly head, and decided I was ready to return full time a lot sooner than Occupational Health and my amazing HR manager did. In fact they were absolutely right. I was nowhere near ready for full time shifts. To be honest, I found it very difficult, but there was no way in hell I’d ever admit that to anyone. I could barely move and was struggling to function. I see now, the stress and sheer physical effort it took to just get ready for work, massively impacted on my health. The blackouts increased and were happening, at my worst, 8+ times a day. As my ability to function deteriorated I lost days at a time. I am eternally grateful to all the work colleagues who looked out for me, picked me up and dusted me down (literally) during those times.

I refused to give in because I am absolutely no quitter I’ll have you know! I just wanted to be back with my work family and try to make a difference in the world. I didn’t think was too much to ask. Which it wasn’t, for a person without the issues I had.

I had been working for a few weeks in the Force Control Room, getting taxis and lifts to work. I followed modified shift patterns and yep, they nearly killed me. My memories of the short time there are very hazy. All I remember was feeling I was going to mess up in some way and someone would get hurt because of me. The control room is where the calls to police are received, graded and allocated to officers on the ground. When you are sending Officers into unknown situations its vital to be on the ball. A mistake could cost them their lives. This bothered me, I was forgetting which officers I had sent where. I was in fact, a liability. My memory was abysmal, I couldn’t get my words out properly, my concentration abilities were zero and the blackouts were occurring at an alarming rate. My stubbornness and denial were making me worse and within a very short space of time I was back in hospital, and back on the sick. I was devastated. For two reasons. Firstly, I’d managed to totally convince myself I was still a useful asset to the Force doing a valid job. Secondly, the British and Irish lions were touring in Australia and I missed the final match. Absolutely savage!!

I cannot emphasise enough the high level of care of support I received from the organisation during this time. There were weekly visits from my line manager, daily phone calls and text messages from my shift who visited on rest days and kept an eye on me. Regular appointments with Occupational Health and meetings with Human Resources kept them informed on what was going on. They monitored where I was at physically and mentally. I was terrified they’d think I was kidding them. All I wanted to do was be in work.

I began to struggle mentally again and slipped back into depression. I went to my GP, who by the way, is amazing and still calls me Ironside when I roll in in my wheelchair to see her. Something I find hilarious. I begged and pleaded with her to be signed back to work. Initially she was very reluctant as she could see my mental health was in a bad way, however she’s a wise individual and could see that being back in work would be beneficial. Even if it was just to get out of the house and see people. Despite her reluctance she signed me back as fit for work, but I refused point blank to take antidepressants as I believed they were for people who couldn’t cope with life. I now know better, but at the time I was still trying to be the individual I had always been. I was just fine thank you very much! I was just in pain, and had a few memory and mobility issues, nothing major. … which is what I kept telling people. Besides, everyone knows if you keep telling yourself something enough it becomes true… Or is that just me?

I went back to work at my local station, which was fantastic for me as it was 5 minutes from my house. Although that was 5 minutes pre accident!

Having Mildred now seemed to be not such a bad idea. The first day I was due back on shift at 0700hrs, which for someone needing assistance to get out of bed, showered, dressed and fed was something of a challenge. I was finally out of the door by 0600 after being up since 0430 getting ready.

I was already a tad fatigued just from getting ready but decided I was going to take a sizeable ‘Man up’ pill, ignore it and just get on with it

Getting out of the front door was a sight to behold. I lived on a little street where the front door opened inwards with a lip on it which I had to get Mildred over to get out. My papa bear made me a ramp as the council refused to put a dropped curb in initially and there was a substantial drop to the pavement from the doorway.

The ramp was kept in the hallway and to get out I loaded it into my lap, unlocked the front door reversed myself in Mildred using the door itself to help, and rolled to the lip of the door. I dropped the ramp down on its handy piece of rope and tugged it level. I threaded the rope behind the drainpipe adjacent to the door and over the drainpipe bracket so I could reach it easily after. I then reversed back again to take a run at the lip. I needed to build up speed to get the front wheels over the lip. Once I’d managed that, getting the back wheels the on ramp required me to propel myself over the lip without tipping the wheelchair backwards. That was easier said than done! I then had to quickly grab the brakes to prevent myself rolling down the ramp and into the cars parked opposite. That achieved, then came the challenge of pulling the ramp up and locking the door. I wish I’d had a video to record it. Man-handling Mildred back across the road, retrieving the rope from the drainpipe, I tugged the ramp to next door’s driveway after they’d kindly agreed to let me leave it there during the day. Nearly done just the small matter of getting the door locked. I grabbed hold of the letter box with my fingertips and slammed the door shut. Being something of a genius I had already put the key in the outside of the door when I unlocked it. Yes, aren’t I a smart ass!

Finally, being out of the house and independent I headed off to the station. However, in Mildred, my street looked like the North face of the Igor. Well, maybe not quite that steep but it sure looked like it from my position. It also has a very nice camber which proved rather problematic to my newfound independence. In my keenness to get back to work I hadn’t considered my poorly hands. More serious denial. Again! In all my other outings in Mildred I’d been pushed along by someone and all I’d had to do was work on perfecting the Queenie wave. Which, I might add, I have absolutely nailed. It’s taken years of practice, but there we are - we have it perfected. I use it a lot, especially in situations where I feel uncomfortable. Always play the clown, it works for me and hides a multitude of things. Especially my discomfort and dislike of being in Mildred.

Apologies, I digressed! It happens a lot. Back to work. With the front door finally locked and shut I began to make my way to work. Having so much pain and no strength in my hands made it somewhat difficult. The street was much steeper when I was trying to wheel myself up it than it was when I was able to walk up it! How did that happen? My house was the lower half of a semi, and I was finally at the topside of next door. It had taken a good 20 minutes just to get that far as Mildred kept rolling into the pavement due to the camber.

Oh no!! The council refuse lorry trundled around the corner. I had the ingenious idea to very cheekily ask one of them to give me a push up to the top of the street, which he thankfully did. (Cue a large bottle of wine and big tin of sweets for the Bin-men for Christmas) I had convinced myself that once I was on the flat all would be fine. My trusty Bin-man pushed me onto the pavement and thanking him profusely, and I was off. Work bound. That was until I realised something else I hadn’t noticed pre-Mildred, the bloody pavement. Although the street was flat, the pavement was on a significant enough slope to cause me to veer to the left all the time. Which was towards the road. What on earth was the council thinking when they did that? For goodness-sake guys, put some thought into footways in future please!

I should probably add that at this time, the solo use of Mildred prior to this outing was strictly in the safety of the house, and that was an all flat area with no camber or hill in sight. Therefore, I really didn’t know how to control her properly and I was a goddamn liability..

Thankfully at that time of the morning there weren’t many people around to witness my humiliation. Believe me when I say it was a humiliation I was not exaggerating. I finally managed to beat the pavement into submission and was foolishly happy to see a drop kerb to allow the homeowner access to their garage. My happiness and smugness (Oh I was feeling sooooo smug!) was short lived. Mildred rolled down the slope, (excellent) front wheels in all directions like a shopping trolley. We rolled straight into the road with a significant bump. I was grateful for the seatbelt, without which I would have face-planted the road. Probably broken my nose, blacked my eyes and had some very unattractive gravel rash.. Clunk click every trip guys! This is where my sense of achievement, happiness and smugness came to a crushing end. I wasn’t too bothered initially by being in the road. Once I had got over the jolt I’d received and breathed through the pain, I set about getting back onto the pavement. I wheeled myself towards it, expecting to just roll up it. I came to a rather abrupt stop. The stupid pavement had a lip that was higher than it appeared when I rolled down it and I couldn’t get myself back over it. I tried unsuccessfully for several minutes to get onto the pavement, breaking a fingernail in the process. That was the final straw, I was hurting, exhausted and to top it all off now had a broken nail. I burst into tears, just as the refuse lorry came back around the corner. My saviour was charging to the rescue again. Bless them, they got me parked onto the pavement, asked me if I was ok, to which I growled, those two little words ‘I’m fine’. I did add a thank you as they had helped me out twice in one morning. They asked if they could help further, and those same two words came out (with a thank you) and they went about their day.

The adventure so far had left me shattered. I just wanted to crawl back into bed, hide under the duvet and not come out again for a month, or maybe even longer. To do that though would have required me free wheeling back down my street. As an option I was unkeen, not entirely sure if I’d manage to stop outside my house or end up in the living room of the house at the very bottom of the street. I suspected the latter would be the more likely. I decided I’d carry on with my expedition to work. However, by the time I was ready to carry on my whole body was in spasm and I couldn’t actually move. This produced more tears. So much frustration, how difficult could it be to get to work! I decided to call my shift mates for some assistance but checking the time they were already well in the middle of morning briefing. This meant they wouldn’t be answering their phones or any text messages. It also meant I was very late for work. I decided to try carry on wheeling myself, a decision I regretted instantly. No sooner I start moving, Mildred rolled away with me again and I was back in the bloody road. I cried the last time I was in that exact same spot, I cried again. I didn’t have the strength to move myself out of the road. I was now a major liability, the road is relatively busy, and I was now a sitting duck, something I could have done without. My only remaining option was to dial 101. The non- emergency Police number. I explained who I was and the situation I’d found myself in. I was required, in Police speak - to ‘standby’, while assistance was despatched. To my utter mortification, a patrol car arrived to assist me out of the road, and onto work. Unfortunately, the car was single crew and full of equipment. There was no room for poor Mildred and me. Even more embarrassing was the fact they then replaced this car with a double crew so an officer could wheel me the remaining 200-metres of my 400-metre marathon to the station. Complete utter humiliation. I wanted the ground to swallow me whole. I did as I always do, laughed at myself, made stupid jokes about myself, a coping strategy. I just died quietly inside. Yes, It had taken me almost 2 hours to get 400 metres, with a rescue, to work. So much for bloody independence hey?

The shift in fairness were amazing, seeing through the jokes and made me a brew. They gave me some space, left me alone to do what I had to do. Oh how good it was to be back….. Typically, as soon as I had five, I suffered another blackout. Crashed out of Mildred ending up on the floor. They took me home. Journey took 3 minutes. The long way around!!!!!

Eventually we agreed that someone would pick me up on their way in to work every morning. A safer option all around, and I muddled along for a little while. To be perfectly honest I was amazed they kept me employed, I couldn’t do a thing, and was about much use to anyone as an ashtray on a motorbike. Motorbike - now that’s a story to come!!

As part of the ‘special measures’ if a suitable job comes up within the force I would be able to apply and have an interview. My now Mr was due to retire therefore his role in the Emergency Planning Department would become vacant. It was Monday to Friday job, 9 to 5 and I had convinced myself I could most definitely do the job. Dear lord, when does this denial end???

The next installment takes you through that rather amusing experience. Thank you if you’ve managed to get to the end of this monster, the next one should be significantly shorter. Much love, Flairey. X

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