Chris was preparing for the dinner service one afternoon when he fell over in the kitchen. He suffered an abrasion to his left elbow. Although it was very sore, he dressed the wound and was able to continue his shift.
In the days that followed, Chris developed a fever, vomiting and became quite unwell. He continued to deteriorate and presented to hospital where he was diagnosed with the ‘flesh eating’ bacterial infection, necrotising fasciitis. Chris remained in intensive care for several weeks and made a slow, but miraculous recovery, beating the infection without needing amputation. He did however require extensive debridement of his wounds and multiple surgeries on his dominant left arm.
Back on Track’s Occupational Health Consultant and Physiotherapist, Leanne Loch, met with Chris and his manager on site at the restaurant to conduct a functional capacity evaluation and worksite assessment. After months away from work, Chris was keen to return and he could see the benefits of coming back to work and re-establishing a routine. He had a wonderfully supportive employer who was prepared to offer all support possible. Even still, there were significant barriers to Chris’s return to work. He had open wounds on his arm that needed to be dressed and protected; he wore a pressure garment that needed to remain on at all times; he had significant muscle loss, reduced range of movement and sensory dysfunction in his dominant left arm and hand; and he was very deconditioned following this serious illness and lengthy recovery. Adding to the challenge, Chris’s job required precision, dexterity, hand strength and endurance.
Through negotiation with Chris, his employer, his hand therapist, surgeons and insurer, Leanne was able to establish a suitable duties program. This involved considerable research and discussion with specialists to develop and customise a variety of assistive devices and gloves to protect Chris as well as maintain food hygiene standards. He returned to work eight months after his injury on reduced hours and modified duties, then gradually resumed normal hours over a 10-week period. Thanks to a supportive employer, funding from the insurer and Chris’s positivity and determination, he resumed his normal work within one year of his injury.
Back on Track was engaged at the right time. Without our return to work services, Chris may have remained off work, thereby delaying his recovery and adding unnecessarily to the cost of his care. His employer would have continued to rely on less-experienced staff. This story is mostly a testament to Chris’s internal strength and resilience in the face of a major life trauma. However, it also highlights the benefits of return to work services and the application of creativity, experience and skill from Back on Track’s consultants.