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    Disabled and injured nurses discover new career paths

    A disability may keep you from working as a staff nurse, but it doesn't have to end your career.


    According to the US Census Bureau, one in every 8.4 Americans has an employment disability (21.3 million, out of the total workforce of 178.7 million). Based on the fact that nurses are part of the general population, one might assume that one in every 8.4 nurses might have an employment disability. If that is true, 291,548 nurses would be affected.

    I myself am a nurse who chose not to be deterred by a disability. Instead, I used it as an opportunity to redirect my career path. When I was asked to write an article about nurses with disabilities, I sent an e-mail to my mailing list, about 800 nurses. I told them I was doing research for an article on nurses with disabilities and I wanted to include some real-life experiences.

    I received many replies. The stories I have included in this article show the fortitude and flexibility of these nurses.

    MY STORY For many years, I had an idea for an emergency nursing book that was complaint-based and included each step (task) taken by the nurse while providing emergency care. But I couldn't find the time to write it. In 1999, my husband and I were financially able to take a month off from work and take our dream car tour around the US. During this vacation, I developed the initial design for the book, including the headings, subheadings, and chapter topics.

    My husband (a nonmedical photographer), who was driving, was kind enough to offer suggestions. I wrote my ideas down at every opportunity.

    While visiting Duluth, MN, I fell and broke my shoulder. During my recovery, I was unable to move my shoulder and wore a sling. Needless to say, I was unable to work in the ED and carry out my usual tasks. I applied for disability, and my income was assured during that period. As soon as I was able to use my fingers, I started to write the content of the book. I couldn't work in the ED, but I could type.

    I researched and typed from dawn to dusk, and many hours after dark. As the book took shape, I almost felt possessed. To make a long story short, the National Nurses in Business Association (NNBA) and Dan Poynter (self-publishing expert) provided me the information I needed to publish the book and make it successful. The injury and resultant temporary disability allowed me to write the book that is the cornerstone of my education business today.

    NURSE 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 was having a hemorrhagic stroke from a dural arteriovenous malformation, and subsequently underwent a bifrontal 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, where she had worked for more than 12 years. She felt fortunate to be able to return to the ICU, where she was paired with another nurse. However, she soon discovered that working in the ICU was too tiring.

    A job as a documentation specialist became available at the hospital. Sue applied 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 said, "You have to keep trying."

    NURSE 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 four months later), and pulmonary contusions. She says because everything else hurt so much, she didn't notice her back injury, which later required surgery. Her life changed suddenly and dramatically. Prior to the accident, she was in a temporary position in the ED while finishing her BSN. Because of her multiple injuries, she was not able to continue as an emergency nurse, much less complete her educational goals.