MOVIN' ON FEATURE STORY:
Back to Work Series
Taking the Right Steps to Reach Goals
Claire Simon was riding her bike to work in downtown Denver late one evening in September 2014. Like many patients who sustain a brain injury, she doesn’t remember the accident, only what bystanders told her. People who witnessed the accident told her that a taxi minivan hit her on the left side.
At the time of the accident she was on her way to Denver Health’s ER to work as a medical scribe, but instead she was brought by ambulance as a patient.
“The doctor I was scheduled to work with that night became my emergency doctor without recognizing who I was,” Claire says.
Claire came to Craig Hospital a few weeks after the accident, where she began working on her balance, strength, and memory.
“To help my brain get up to speed, I learned different note techniques, watched online educational videos, and even got to create a presentation on the medicinal uses of honey—which as a beekeeper, I was thrilled about,” she says.
Her main goal during rehab was to be able to finish applying to medical school. She also wanted to go back to work to gain more experience in the medical field before going back to school. She realized she would need a different job.
“As a medical scribe I occasionally worked overnight shifts, which would not have been good for my healing brain,” Claire says.
She found a day job as a medical assistant. She often wondered how much her brain injury was affecting her.
“While training for this job, I was hyperaware of my performance and analyzed my efficiency and abilities. If I forgot to do something, it was hard not to wonder if it was because of my brain injury,” she says.
She says she put a lot of pressure on herself to not make mistakes, which was exhausting. She says she learned to stop wondering if her brain was different.
“If I was slower, not as good at remembering instructions, and more easily fatigued than before my accident, that was okay. I was excelling at my job, making friends, making progress on medical school applications, and getting positive feedback while healing.”
Claire says a positive attitude has been important in her healing.
“No matter what your outcome is, be proud of where you are, what your body has done for you, and how it has healed itself.”
She plans to apply for medical school in the fall of 2016.
Q&A with Claire Simon on Going Back to Work after a Brain Injury
Q: What was the hardest thing about going back to work?
Claire: The unknown. I was aware of risks for fatigue, slower cognitive functions, and my weakened and limited left arm. I did not know if or how these potential problems would arise at work.
The fatigue was also challenging. If there was something new and interesting at work, I felt engaged and the fatigue would disappear. However, it would resurface once I got home and finally sat down, where it would all wash over me and I would feel brain-dead and heavy. I felt fatigued at work if it was slow or felt repetitive.
Q: What type of strategies did you use at home and work to help you with these challenges?
Claire: I found that feeling uncomfortable was inevitable, and it took time and practice to be able to speak about my accident with confidence. Having a good attitude and sense of humor about my accident and challenges instantly put people at ease and established an open tone. I wanted them to feel comfortable asking questions about what happened; I liked talking about it.
I took initiative to be straightforward about any accommodations I needed at work. For example, I asked to work Tuesdays through Saturdays so I had a Monday to take care of follow-up medical appointments. That made it easier to accommodate any residual medical needs and therapies without missing work. I also made resting a large priority in my free time, especially in the beginning.
Q: What was the most rewarding thing about going back to work?
Claire: I love gaining experience as a health care provider and am excited to continue working toward my goal to go to medical school. It is rewarding to give back to patients by providing education and care. I have also made new friends and regained my independence.
Q: What other advice would you give a patient or family?
Claire: Going through a serious medical trauma is a lifelong experience. I am still gaining new perspective, understanding, and acceptance of the accident after a year. I expect this story to continue evolving. No matter what your outcome is, be proud of where you are, what your body has done for you, and how it has healed itself. Also, friends and family are just as important for healing, for they give support, love, and comfort. Be brave enough to accept help, and keep an underlying positive attitude, because improvement is always possible.