How to recover mentally from a major workplace accident?
December 27, 2014 4:26 PM   Subscribe

Recently I was in a major workplace accident. Even though I am healing physically, I don't know if or when I will be ready mentally to return to work?

A few weeks ago I was taking a load to a customer (I work as a truck driver) in the city, when as I was on turning off the highway, the truck and trailer slid sideways on ice before flipping and rolling off the road. When the truck stopped rolling, I couldn't see much because there was glass in my eyes, but what I did see was blood everywhere.

I was found wedged between the passenger and driver seat in such a position that the paramedics thought that I could have either broken my back or my neck. The paramedics put me in a neck-brace to stabilize my spine and they cut off what clothes I had.

At the Healths Science Centre I was injected with morphine and I underwent several tests – x-rays, CT scans, internal bleeding, etc. The doctors froze my eyes to remove the shards of glass and put stitches in my face.

I was kept in the trauma and acute sickness ward for 24 hour observation as the results of my tests came in. Ultimately, I was cleared two days later with only a bruised lung, glass wounds, relatively minor eye injuries, and some severe external bruising.

What makes me really nervous is returning to work again. How much time is appropriate to recover from this? How do I feel less anxious returning to driving trucks again?
posted by 8LeggedFriend to Work & Money (16 answers total)
My god, I'm so sorry. What a traumatic experience. I wouldn't be surprised if you have some PTSD from this incident. I would see if your insurance will cover some sessions with a therapist who can help you with this - as when you return to the road you have additional anxiety or issues that could negatively impact your ability to work. Best to try to work on it now, while it's fresh and you are working on healing in other (physical) ways.
posted by Toddles at 4:30 PM on December 27, 2014 [13 favorites]

I suspect that you may be in need of some counseling to help you feel comfortable returning to work. Given the circumstances, this is likely to be covered under workers comp.
posted by amro at 4:31 PM on December 27, 2014 [6 favorites]

(If you are in the US.)
posted by amro at 4:31 PM on December 27, 2014

I'm so sorry this happened to you. Does your employer have an Employee Assistance Program? If so, they can provide resources and guidance. I'd be surprised if there wasn't some sort of 'fitness for duty' protocol after a situation like this.
posted by Twicketface at 4:32 PM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

You should have a conversation with whoever handles worker's compensation claims, as well as your disability insurance company (if you have disability insurance), and your own primary care physician. You might also want to consult with your own lawyer about this.

The post traumatic stress factor means you should also consult with a therapist that specializes in PTS.
posted by HuronBob at 4:32 PM on December 27, 2014

Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry this happened but I'm glad you're here to tell us the tale. Does your workplace have an employee assistance program that could set you up with counselling/therapy? It seems likely that you may be affected by PTSD to some degree. I think that if there is any way you could receive counselling through your workplace or otherwise, that may help you in processing this incident and moving beyond it. Please be kind to and take care of yourself.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 4:34 PM on December 27, 2014

Do you have a union?
posted by DarlingBri at 4:43 PM on December 27, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm so, so sorry this happened to you. There's lots of good advice here, and I just came to say -- be an advocate for yourself in this matter, and please be gentle with yourself in this. Don't worry so much about what's "appropriate" recovery time. You recover when you recover, full stop. Find a councilor, workman's comp rep, or a lawyer who can do this if you can't, or don't know what to do. Which is totally normal! Please don't hold back from asking for support in this matter, and I hope you get the help you need.
posted by ananci at 4:51 PM on December 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

A close friend of my family had a terrible accident as an over the road truck driver and never returned to that job. He became a construction contractor. I'm not sure if he attempted to address the trauma and was unsuccessful, or if he just made a unilateral decision of Nope, but it was a very understandable choice.
posted by lilnublet at 5:38 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

From your phrasing, I can't tell if you're in the US, UK, Canada, or maybe somewhere else. The factors that control when you go back to work/are fit to go back to work and who decides that are drastically different between the three (guess which one's the shittiest!).

No matter where you are, early intervention for post-traumatic stress is far more effective than later treatment. There are treatments you can be pursuing right now to keep things like driving from becoming a potential phobia. If you're in the US, you need to pursue all this through Worker's Compensation.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:43 PM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm very sorry. From first hand experience after a few workplace accidents I know they can be quite traumatic and how hard it can be to return to work. So first thing is to be easy on yourself: don't push it too hard, realize there's no shame or anything worthy of needing forgiveness for the time you take or a decision not to return to truck driving again, etc. Underline the statement above that you recover when you recover.

Secondly, I strongly agree with the above advice for you to see a mental health professional, but I realize the reasons why might not be obvious or recognizable. So just to slide out on the table for you to consider: you've been through several different kinds of traumas and shocks, some all in one moment, others prolonged. And you might have recovered, be recovering, and still need to recover from any or all of them.

You've been through the physical trauma of an accident which involved injury and associated pain. You've experienced the mental trauma of an accident which involved injury, and in your case involved observing yourself obviously hurt and potentially very badly hurt. If you've never been hurt/sick enough to warrant a hospital stay, that in itself can be traumatic. And there's the trauma of not knowing how bad the injury was.

There's the trauma of the accident itself, which may involve you: having a moment of recognition that it was happening and there was nothing you could do about it; playing if only over and over (if only I had just X at Y moment kind of thoughts); playing what if over and over that involves worse injury to yourself and others; feeling negativity towards yourself; and replaying the accident and aftermath over and over in your head.

Layered above those traumas, you may have and still be experiencing the trauma, stress, and anxiety of it being an accident that happened at work. You may be experiencing a very wide spectrum of negative emotions about your responsibility regardless of fault in reality (i.e. letting your employer down); anger at your employer for their role (i.e. why did they have me out in those conditions); fear or anxiety about repercussions; and, as you mentioned, anxiety about doing that job again or being pushed to do it when you're not ready (and perhaps related anxieties about "proving" something or other related things). If you don't want to return/aren't ready you may be feeling internal and external pressures about doing so. And naturally you may be experiencing a loss in confidence and other associated emotions.

So you see, that's a lot of trauma to deal with, and each kind might have to be dealt with differently. Some might dissipate easily and naturally over time; others might be more long-term and require the help of a mental health professional,and may, as others have mentioned, involve PTSD. It is NOT the kind of thing you can put a timeline on, however. And being "over it" is the kind of thing you may not be in a position to evaluate.

Not sure what it will take for you to find a mental health professional, but until you do, here's the advice a psychiatrist gave me after a very traumatic work accident, and which I find/found very helpful: talk about it as much as you can. Talk, talk, talk. Write down everything if that helps; write a letter to the icy road or to the truck detailing your anxieties or an unmailed letter to your employer; or, hell, you're even welcome to memail me. It's helpful for 2 reasons: 1) it helps crystallize emotions; and 2) little things that might be bothering me go away just by acknowledging them, leaving what really needs to be dealt with.

Take care of yourself. (And again, feel free to MeMail me to talk.)
posted by barchan at 7:18 PM on December 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

In addition to the wise advice above, I would encourage you not to canonize this event.

After a life-threatening trauma 10 years ago, I was sure it would be the defining moment of my life. It remained raw and shocking for months, and for months I needed to tell the story over and over. That is all par for the course, but it fades. I still think often of the event, but within 2 years the recollections had lost almost all of their emotional impact.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:46 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Read Barchan's comment a couple more times after your initial read-through of these answers. There's so much good advice there that I wish I had a year ago. You gotta talk about it, write about it, express your feelings about it as much as you can. I suffered a lot by not doing that...

Trauma like this is so difficult to deal with. And recovery doesn't tend to cooperate with timelines and pressing matters like getting back to work. You may not even be ready to start seeing a counselor yet. Please be kind and gentle and forgiving to yourself. If you can, allow yourself to fully realize, when you are ready, how scary it all was. I just went through something similar and wish I hadn't been so damn tough about it all.

A horse stepped on my neck 18 months ago and by the grace of god or whomever, like yourself, I was "fine;" just some fractured cartilage around my trachea, a busted open chin, and two shattered ribs. I was a mess for sure, but within a week, I looked completely normal. And this was deceiving for people in my life in an extremely frustrating way. If you look ok, people tend to think you are ok, even if you are a total mess. And lord knows no one wants to hear about "the accident" anymore, or at least I thought they didn't. So I totally stuffed all that trauma right back down. Don't ask, don't tell.

But these types of events definitely change you in unexpected ways. I will admit that a year plus later I understand now that I have PTSD and it manifests itself through a subtle, but constant, irrational anxiety about my safety and that of my wife. And, sadly, I have lost the passion that drove me to ride horses - a passion that outwardly defined who I was as a person for my entire life. I would imagine that losing your mental ability to drive without fear is something you may face - and that's your livelihood, not just your life's hobby.

It's really is important to speak to a counselor about it if you can, whenever you are ready to. It took me a few months before I could talk about my accident beyond "it happened, I was fucking lucky, and now I'm ok." Facing and connecting with the fact that you came close to death is really fucking deep for some of us and extremely difficult to identify and articulate.

Are there other people at your job who have been through similar experiences and were able to drive for a living again?

Lots of love to you.
posted by anthropoid at 10:55 PM on December 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

I AM SO HAPPY FOR YOU! You are so lucky to have come out of that not only alive, but with no permanent injuries. You sound like superman. Or the Bruce Willis Character in Unbreakable.

If you don't feel ready to go back to work, don't. You wouldn't want anxiety to make you swerve at every little glint you see in the rear-view. Seeing a therapist should help and they might prescribe you a temporary medication to help with your nerves if you feel that will help.

And I know this is much easier said than done, but please try to revel in the awesomeness of the fact that you went through this and came out a-ok rather than in the fear of what 'might' have happened, but didn't.
posted by rancher at 8:01 PM on December 28, 2014

I don't want to go tit for tat here, but it was really, really hard for me personally when people directed me to be happy I was alive. Yes, of course, I was happy to be alive. But then there's all this other stuff that comes with a brush with death that is really hard to talk to people about, especially when they just want you to be happy to be alive. It's important to feel what you feel regardless of what people in your life want to hear. I'll leave it alone now. Sorry for hijacking.
posted by anthropoid at 9:45 PM on December 28, 2014

Ditto what anthropoid said. "I'm just happy to be alive" is not typically the dominant thought or emotion of people who have survived life-threatening situations, even though everyone says "Gosh, you're so lucky to be alive!" all the time.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:04 PM on December 30, 2014

« Older Let's style that momma booty!   |   A bunch of leftover pizza in Philadelphia Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.