Returning to Work

By the Sunday evening, the reality of going back to work the next day was beginning to sink in. I can’t drive, so I’m dependent upon others to drive me to College. That Sunday evening, I organised for a co-worker to pick me up at 8:00am the next morning. I really was going back to work. And I wish I could say here that I was looking forward to the next day, to returning to work. But I wasn’t. I actually didn’t feel like I was returning. To return implies having left. Physically this was true, but my mind had never left.

Waking up that Monday morning at 5:30am was hard work. I was out of practice getting up and out of bed before 6:30am. I had underestimated how much time I would need to get ready. By the time I had finished getting dressed, I was already exhausted. Getting ready to this point, not having eaten breakfast yet, had already taken a couple of hours. It was already 7:30am. I managed to eat my breakfast and get out of the door, but I was late. I knew that I needed to do better. I got into the car exhausted unsure how I was going to function for the rest of the day. Thankfully though I was only at work for half days that week.

Driving up the dirt driveway and pulling up beside the College, I wish I could say that I was excited to be back. But I really wasn’t. I was just focused on what needed to get done. We have a couple of steps leading up to our red front door. I walked to the railing and like I had been taught to do, I started with my stronger leg and I stepped up, one step at a time. And I walked through the doors. I knew that my office was going to be a bit chaotic. New furniture had arrived and old furniture still needed to be moved out. I needed to sort out piles of paper before this could happen. That was Wednesday’s task. But my new trial desk had arrived. I could sit for no longer than 30 minutes at a time, so my old desk, my big, wooden, faithful, desk would no longer serve me well. The new desk was a small sit-stand desk that could be moved up and down using an air pressure system. My occupational therapist thought a smaller desk would be better so that I couldn’t pile books and paper on the desktop. I now have to walk to another part of my office to file papers or to get a new book. My workflow patterns have also now changed.

I started on my list of tasks for that morning. I soon realised though that I didn’t have the mental or physical capacity. Thinking was slow. Engaging with emails was hard. I could concentrate for a couple of minutes, but then my mind would drift into a cloud of nothingness until I drew myself back out of the haze. I couldn’t think with any kind of clarity. I was painfully aware that I walked slowly. What I didn’t understand until that first half day back at work was that my mind was also moving slowly.

All the staff began to emerge from their offices at morning tea. I was met with a number of smiles and greetings like ‘We’re glad to see you back’. I know it’s hard when you haven’t seen someone for over a month because they have been in hospital. It’s hard to know what to expect. I think most of the staff were genuinely happy that I was relatively mobile. With a cup of tea in hand though I slowly drifted back to my office. Ready to tackle a few more tasks before I headed home for that day.

That first week back at work did move slowly. I enjoyed my meetings, seeing people and talking about real matters that affect how we raise up and equip men and women for church leadership. With a lot of help, we rearranged my office, filed away papers, and moved unwanted furniture out of my office. My office was now nearly set. The next step is to move everything I need to waist height and above. But I knew by Thursday evening that my capacity was not what it used to be. And I ended that week worried. Worried and anxious about how I has going to cope with full days of work. After half days that first week, I spent most of my afternoons lying down, if I didn’t have outpatient rehab, that is. I didn’t know how I would cope with only sitting and standing for a whole day. And added to this, I didn’t know how I would manage the nine hours of lectures that would begin the next week. While that week was slow, and that week allowed me to be slow, I knew the next week was going to be different; that coming week could be unforgiving and unrelenting. I just didn’t know.