It’s been said that meaningful work is the best form of therapy.
Indeed a swift return to work following an illness or injury is crucial on so many levels. Stuck at home, people are far more likely to become sedentary, the lack of activity and boredom often leading to overeating and excess kilos. Feelings of negativity ensue which causes dopamine and serotonin to crash which in turn leads to feelings of ineptitude. And the longer an employee stays off work, the more the anxiety and dread tend to build.
Once they’re back in the saddle however, a sense of purpose returns to life and there’s a corresponding boost in self-esteem. And as they get the body moving, they notice the aches and pains begin to recede into the distance.
Today’s entry talks about bestselling author Stephen King, his brush with oblivion, and how his lifework rescued him from the brink.
Stephen King’s Return-to-Work
I recently finished Stephen King’s The Stand, my first foray into King’s vast corpus. I now understand why his books have sold somewhere between 300 and 350 million copies over the years. His writing leaps off the page while his characters come alive in three dimensions. And above all, like all the greats, King somehow weaves profound insights into plain language.
His novel really struck a chord, so I was glad to stumble on another of his books, this one entitled, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. On Writing, as you probably inferred, is a kind of manual for aspiring writers, but also doubles as an auto-biography. The book chronicles the author’s improbable journey from complete obscurity to worldwide fame, shining a light on King’s very humble beginnings. To give you an idea, it may be surprising to learn that bestseller Carrie was penned in a rented doublewide while King earned a buck an hour at Dunkin’ Donuts.
Another aspect of King’s life revealed in his book was a near-fatal experience in the late 90’s. In June of 1999, he sustained truly horrific injuries after a van clipped him during a Sunday morning walk. King was flung fourteen feet into a roadside ditch, crumpled and broken. Barely surviving the ambulance ride to a local hospital, he was immediately air-lifted to a major medical center in Maine. There the medical team performed a near miracle to stabilize him. Days later, once King was out of the woods, his orthopedic surgeon delivered the news; the good—he’ll live. The bad—his lower leg was reduced to “marbles in a sock”, busted in at least nine places. If he was lucky they wouldn’t have to amputate, but time would tell. His right knee itself was “split almost directly down the middle” and the right hip was severely fractured. In addition, the spine “was chipped in eight places, four ribs were broken, the flesh above his collarbone stripped raw, and the laceration (on) the scalp would (take) twenty or thirty stitches”.
The leg was put back together in five “marathon surgical procedures”. Eight steel pegs and five smaller metallic rods were “run through the fixator and into the bones above and below (the) knee. Afterwards, three times a day, nurses would unwrap the smaller pins and the much larger Schanz pins and swab the holes out with hydrogen peroxide. I’ve never had my leg dipped in kerosene and then lit on fire, but if that ever happens,” King goes on, “I’m sure it will feel quite like daily pin-care”. When he was admitted to the hospital in June he weighed two hundred and sixteen pounds. On the day he was released he weighed a hundred and sixty-five.
Long road to recovery
After months of bed rest and misery, King was in no mood to return to writing. In his words:
“I didn’t want to go back to work. I was in a lot of pain, unable to bend my right knee, and restricted to a walker. I couldn’t imagine sitting behind a desk for long, even in my wheelchair. Because of my cataclysmically smashed hip, sitting was torture after forty minutes or so, impossible after an hour….how was I supposed to write about dialogue and character when the most pressing thing in my world was the next dose of Percocet?” But there was a voice in the back of my mind, telling me (the) time has come.”
With some help from his supportive wife, a writing table was rigged up “complete with my Mac, a little printer, and a fan.” He then goes on to describe his first writing session:
“(It) lasted about an hour and forty minutes, by far the longest period I’d spent sitting upright since being struck by the van. When it was over, I was dripping with sweat and almost too exhausted to sit up straight in my wheelchair. The pain in my hip was just short of apocalyptic. And the first five hundred words were uniquely terrifying—it was if I’d never written anything before them in my life. All my old tricks seem to have deserted me. I stepped from one word to the next like a very old man finding his way across a stream on a zig-zag line of wet stones. There was no inspiration that first afternoon, only a kind of stubborn determination and the hope that things would get better if I kept at it.
There was no miraculous breakthrough that afternoon. All I know is that the words started coming a little faster after awhile, then a little faster still. My hip still hurt, my back still hurt, my leg, too, but those hurts began to seem a little farther away. I started to get on top of them. There was no sense of exhilaration that day, but there was a sense of accomplishment that was almost as good. I’d gotten going, so there was that much. After that, things only got better.”
Stephen King’s novels are loaded with wisdom, but none are more inspiring than his actual life story—rising from near-poverty, working two jobs to put himself through school and provide for his family, reaching the peak of fame only to be cut down by a drunk driver, and then rebuilds all over again. Like anyone else, he naturally felt the tug of bitterness and considered giving up on life. But instead, he obeyed his inner voice, and with loving encouragement from friends and family, put one foot in front of the other.
Key tenets of a good disability program
A successful disability program always begins with a clear philosophy. Deeply ingrained in Blue Collar is the belief that self-esteem is inextricably linked to work. Without work, whatever the reason, a person’s self-esteem—their identity—begins to erode. So along the lines of Stephen King’s recovery, the sooner an injured worker can get safely back to work the better. In short, a good program strives to empower the worker, focusing on ‘ability’ management rather than dwelling on limitations.
Rehab fundamentals from the Stanford School of Medicine
In terms of treatment modalities for sprains and strains, the key approaches reinforce that:
- Pain does not necessarily equate to damage
- Staying “active as tolerated’ promotes recovery
- Movement and sensible activity will not cause harm
- Staying at work is beneficial. It:
- Reduces the risk of job loss
- Encourages self-confidence
- Promotes a gradual recovery
- Eases the adjustment to full-time work
- Results in less disruption to the employee, work group, and family