Nurses with Disabilities
Based on the fact that nurses are part of the general population, one could assume that one in every 8.4 nurses might have an employment disability. If that is true, 291,548 nurses are affected.
When I was asked to write an article about nurses with disabilities, I sent an email to my email list and told them I was doing research for an article on nurses with disabilities and I wanted to include some real-life experiences. This is a reprint of that article.
Sue R. suffers stroke at work
Sue R., age 49, was working in the ICU when she realized she was not able to think or speak clearly. She feared she was having a stroke. She was, in fact, having a hemorrhagic stroke from a dural arteriovenous malformation and subsequently underwent a bi-frontal craniotomy. After the surgery, she was left with auditory processing problems and expressive aphasia. With the help of her hospital colleagues and rehabilitation, she was able to return to the ICU. Sue had been an ICU nurse for over 12 years. She felt fortunate to be able to return to the ICU where she was buddied with another nurse. However, she soon discovered that working in the ICU was too tiring for her.
A job as a documentation specialist became available at the hospital. Sue applied for it and got the job. She now has a portable office, visits the floors, and reviews the documentation before discharge.
Although she had good support at the hospital, she credits her speech therapist Leslie for directing her to treatment that was the most helpful. When asked what message she would like to send to other nurses, she says, “You have to keep trying.”
Sarah G involved in head-on collision
Sarah G, age 35, was in a head-on collision. She remembers seeing the driver (a physician) waving his arms as he talked on the phone while driving.
As a result of the accident, she suffered a head injury, wrist fractures (found 4 months later), and pulmonary contusions. She says because everything else hurt so much she didn’t notice her back injury that later required surgery.
Her life suddenly changed dramatically. Prior to the accident, she was in a temporary position in the emergency department (ED) while finishing her BSN. Because of multiple injuries, she was unable to continue as an emergency nurse, much less complete with her educational goals.
She returned to work two months after the accident and went back to school to finish her BSN. She only had two classes to finish; but, as she relates, she was in a world of hurt. She was unable to sleep, was very anxious, and was unable to remember small things, such as if she washed her hair or not. While at home, suddenly, she was unable to walk and remembers crawling after her daughter in the yard while a neighbor watched and did not help. Subsequently she underwent a laminectomy and partial discectomy.
Because of financial hardship, she almost lost her home. She had no disability insurance and was worried her husband might lose his job. Her physician diagnosed her with depression when actually she was suffering from a brain injury. No one can see the internal everyday struggles of a brain-injured person, and the going was rough. She states that she would get stuck on one subject and had no spontaneous thoughts or ideas.
With the support of her husband, parents, and prayers from good friends, she was finally able to recover with neurological rehabilitation. She did not work for over 2 years.
When her life finally improved, she started a CPR business (CPR Connection of North America) offering CPR training, automated external defibrillator (AED) sales, and post sales services. She was amazed that people who purchased AEDs were afraid to use them and did not maintain them properly. She developed a program to support the customer post sale and became a national speaker on AED programs and maintenance.
She was successful with her new business. In the second year gross sales were nearly ¾ of a million dollars. However, the money is not the most important thing to her she finds gratification that her efforts and the AEDs save lives. One life saved was a minister who was exercising in a fitness center. Because of the AED and quick action, he was able to enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family that year. She says, “This is why I do what I do.”
In her words, “I would not change a thing. It was a blessing that helped change our life. The hardships that our family endured helped us to be stronger, improved our marriage, and allowed us to concentrate on what makes us happy. I am a wiser and stronger person.”
Eloise S suffers hearing loss
Eloise S, age 56, gradually realized she was having difficulty hearing on the telephone and her job depended on her hearing. Eloise was a case manager who working through telecommunication..
She was suffering from progressive loss of hearing caused by three-closed-head injuries and ototoxic drugs in her youth. The hearing loss was bilateral with a central auditory processing disorder and bilateral multi-tonal tinnitus.
She became unemployed soon after the onset of the hearing loss. Acceptance by her peers in the nursing professional was all but gone. She lost her profession, her friends, and life goals. Financially she lost her pension, retirement funds, and savings.
She volunteered and sought networks and resources at her local, state, and national levels. She still holds board positions on the Governor’s Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Hearing Loss Association of America, and Wauwatosa Citizens with Disabilities. She works with both the Senate and House of Representatives as an advocate and is employed in quality improvement with an insurance company that insures the disabled.
She considers her successes are integrating new high-tech tools of the trade (hard of hearing assistive listening devices) into her personal life and work life. Another success is that she was able to complete her masters and receive the 2003 MBA Student of the Year Award.
She lists her struggles as trying to understand the life-altering diagnoses and what she needed to do to accept them. She also struggled with grieving for 5 years about something that will never improve and will only become worse with time and aging.
Overall, she moves slower, is less impulsive, and measures her words. She cannot hear everything with her hearing aids and devices. She is currently working towards educating others about how to work with the deaf and hard of hearing (30 million people nationwide).
In her words, “Deaf and hard of hearing people don’t look disabled. I have a silent disability. I can speak. I can reason. It just takes me a little bit longer to understand and react to the words. The people who are most helpful to me are those who share my disability. I trust them because I am one of them.”
Victoria P develops latex allergy
Victoria P, age 42, was in nursing school when she developed a latex allergy during her first year. She purchased and paid for her own vinyl gloves. She carried them from patient to patient. She also took her gloves with her when she was a patient. Very little was known about the allergy at the time. She knew she had to make a career path away from the bedside, but did not think it was possible.
Her allergist offered her articles and she read them all. Still, it seemed her nursing career would surely end. She continued in nursing areas that did not require gloves and latex products, such as a neurology clinic. Her first step into case management and legal nurse consulting work made her realize that there was a career path that did not involve direct contact with patients and the latex products used in nursing.
She is the founder and current president of VP Medical Consulting. She has been providing nursing education and consulting services for 14 years. She holds specialty certifications in case management, legal nurse consulting, and life care planning and ergonomic assessments. She is a national educator and speaker.
In her words: “This latex allergy was a blessing in disguise. What I did to work around it lead me to my current career path that I love.”
Patti A develops advanced degenerative osteoarthritis
Patti A, age 53, was gradually unable to perform the physical tasks at her job in PICU because of advanced degenerative osteoarthritis of the spine with spinal collapse.
Because her mother died of heart disease, Patti was interested in coaching and teaching patients how to prevent, stop, and reverse the effects of heart disease.
She spent four years working in different areas before finding her niche. She taught pediatrics in a nursing school for awhile. However, she soon found that she thrived on the adrenalin rush of a good emergency and moved to cardiac rehabilitation. Her cardiac patients are in a transitional period, requiring close monitoring and rapid intervention should they need it. She finds that not being responsible for their daily care is a relief.
She is currently the director of a sub-acute rehab facility where she designed the program from clinical pathway through to discharge. Her schedule is Monday through Friday, no weekends or holidays for which her family is very grateful.
In her words, “My patients are no longer intubated and sedated. My supporters have been the American Heart Association (ANA), Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA), American Association of Heart Failure Nurses (AAHFN), in short, other nurses.”
In conclusion, nurses are adaptable and resilient. They were able to adapt to their health challenges and disabilities by modifying their nursing career to one that fits their needs. Nurses are tough.