The cold Hard Truth: return to work

Today was the first time I properly spoke to anyone about an official return to work. I am being visited by an occupational therapist weekly at the moment, talking about lifestyle and fatigue management but work is always on my mind, how it might look and whether it would even be possible, in the same format as prior to my amputation. Originally I was determined, and no one was going to change my mind. However, as time has gone on and as I realise how hard everything is in my new life as a disabled person, I have come to look at the return to work differently and I now have some grave concerns.

The process of assessing my suitability has been described to me. Here are the basics.

  1. First assessment: listing ALL my skills including any transferrable skills.
  2. Medical assessment

Stage 1

I expect my transferrable skills to be extensive, since I was a special needs teacher, have various coaching certificates and have been a swim teacher, personal trainer, carer, to name just a few.

Stage 2

This is the part I am worried about. Here is when we list all my job related tasks and a medical professional (usually independent GP) categorises all the skills according to whether I am likely to be able to return to that – Yes, maybe, or definitely not.

The example she gave me was a builder who was paralysed with a spinal cord injury would definitely NOT be able to return to being a builder.

The problems I currently face: personal training

Due to the limited mobility of my left knee in the socket, coupled with the fact that I do not have a left foot means there are a considerable amount of positions I simply cannot get into any more. This means that even with the mini free live sessions I have been posting online, I often have to explain that my right leg and my left leg simply cannot get into the same positions as each other over half of the time. The obvious problems with that are that I will struggle to demonstrate exercises to clients due to the physical limitations associated with having a prosthetic leg. In addition to that, getting up and down off the floor – such a simple thing – is actually a massive physical challenge for any amputee. I can do it, but to an able bodied client it looks borderline ridiculous. Standing tolerance is very challenging on a prosthetic leg (at the moment its only a few minutes) which means I run the risk of looking like a passive personal trainer who is sitting in the corner. All these challenges mean interacting with clients in a traditional sense is quite simply immensely challenging. This might be made possible with some physical work related aids etc, but my capacity is highly likely to be nothing like the full time hours I used to put in prior to my amputation.

The problems I currently face: massage

These issues I think are blatantly obvious. This was also always the biggest element of my work, time wise. To be a massage therapist I need to be able to hold a squat, lunge and two legged stance position for the entire length of a treatment, multiple times a day. In addition to that, I also need to use my arms and actually massage the client, which would also involve being able to move my weight around while in those stances and still remain balanced. This is clearly almost impossible for me right now. Whether this will ever be possible remains to be seen. I used to knock out 5-6 massages per day, 4-5 days per week (depending how much Personal Training I had in addition to that on any given day). The problems I immediately envisage are the squat stances, where my knees need to be bent. When you have a very short leg below the knee, this (in my experience so far) will only put pressure on socket where the end of the amputated bone pushes against the sides. Yes, its painful. It is the very issue I am having at the moment when cycling, for example. Will massage be possible with some physical equipment adaptations? Maybe. Will I be able to return to the same work load? I actually highly doubt it.

What does this mean for me?

Yes, there were tears. But this is not new news to me. I have been thinking about this a lot. I have tried both massage and PT a few times and have found it ten tons harder than I ever expected to.

Will Ryding2Health survive without me? Highly likely. Those amazing girls have been running it mostly without me for more than a year already. Will the future of Ryding2Health include me? That remains to be seen.

Next task: make a list of new things I love, in a bid to find new less physical ways to share my skills, whether that be as a pass-time, or as a revenue stream.

There will be more challenging times to come, for sure.

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Author: Melanie Magowan

I am a massage therapist and part time athlete

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