Thanks for dropping by today! I’m Emily, an AVM survivor, Type 1 Diabetic, and lover of life! On this blog, I share my health journey and steps I’ve taken to live a healthy, fulfilled life. My first major health issue was the discovery of an arteriovenus malformation (AVM) in the right frontal lobe of my brain. Today I’m going to finish my story on the discovery, removal, and healing of an AVM. Let’s chat about my return to work and driving!
If you are new to this story, click here to read from the beginning. The posts are all linked together so you can easily go from one to the next.
In the last part of my story, I explained finishing up physical and occupational outpatient therapy. Today’s story overlaps that time period. Once I was mentally able to handle my work (I was an actuary analyst, so the full use of my brain was necessary!), I returned to my job, but I was still in outpatient therapy at this time.
My employer was extremely gracious and worked with my therapists to get me back to work as quickly, yet successfully, as possible. Here are some of the strategies we used to make my return to work as smooth as possible.
Graduated Work Schedule
Once my doctors, therapists, and I agreed I was ready to return to work, they highly recommended I ease my way back into full time work. Even though I worked a desk job, my mind and body were not used to being at attention and working a full 8 hour work day.
I was raring to go, but I took their advice and worked out a graduated return to work schedule.
At this point, it’s been too many years for me to remember exactly how it worked out, but it was something like this:
- 2 hour days for one week
- 4 hour days for one week
- 6 hour days for one week
- Then return to full 8 hour days on week 4
Those shortened days were PLENTY for me to handle. I couldn’t believe how exhausted I was after only working 2 or 4 hours. Also, I usually left work and went straight to outpatient therapy. So my days were longer than the above hours anyway.
My boss was extremely attentive and wanted to make sure I had any accommodations I needed to make my return to work successful. Not just my immediate boss, but upper management and all of my co-workers were wonderfully supportive to me. They even got together and bought me a Wii because I had been using one in therapy. They wanted me to have one at home to work/play with. It’s that the sweetest?!
Anyway, my main concern was tiredness, so I was assigned a handicap space close to the door. By the time I was driving myself to work, I was up to working full 8 hour days, so my stamina was pretty good. I ended up using this space only once or twice.
The other accommodation was lowering my desk. This is something I had been meaning to ask for before all this AVM business happened. It really had nothing to do with the surgery. I’m just short, and a lower desk is more comfortable for computer work. While they were asking what they could do to help my return to work, I threw this one in too.
Beyond a close parking space, lower desk, and graduated work schedule, there were no other accommodations.
First Day Back in the Office
My first day back was exhilarating! I received an incredible welcome from my co-workers, and the joy that filled me just to be able to return to work was elating.
What didn’t really cross my mind prior to surgery, was how risky the surgery really was. Opening up the skull is a tricky thing. Not everyone wakes up from a surgery of that delicacy with the same physical or mental capabilities (sometimes even the personality is altered!). God blessed me by allowing my same mental capacity so I could return to a logic and reasoning heavy job.
One scene I distinctly remember on my first full, 8 hour day of work (so the beginning of my fourth week of work) was running on the treadmill in the gym during lunch. Running during my lunch break was my routine pre-surgery, and I was anxious to get back to that routine. I was ecstatic to run that day!
However, I’m not sure my co-workers were sure I was ready. I remember feeling like a lot of them were watching me, and one even came up to my treadmill to caution me not to overdo it! Ha! My co-workers were the best!
One aspect of this ordeal was not being allowed to drive. I probably haven’t mentioned it before, but since I had a localized seizure in the hospital and was taking heavy anti-seizure meds, I was strongly encouraged not to drive.
My license was not officially revoked, but it was just common sense for me not to drive and put myself or others in danger. So I didn’t drive until the end of February or early March. No driving for 3-4 months!
I remember the first time Dan gave me the wheel. We had been counting down the days until I was allowed to drive again, but I still wasn’t prepared for how inadequate I would feel.
It was like I was a 15 year old new driver again! While I knew all the rules of the road still, it felt new and scary. It took more than one drive to feel comfortable behind the wheel again.
So that night, Dan stopped in a parking lot about halfway home to our house on the lakeshore. This was the last busy road as you drive out of the city. The traffic really fades away after that intersection, which I’m sure is why he chose that spot to let me drive home!
He stopped and said, “Ok, you drive home.” Ah! Right now? I wasn’t sure I had the courage to do it. I’m not sure how he did!
I got in the driver seat and made all the mirror and seat adjustments nervously. Then cautiously began driving. It went just fine, even though I felt like a total newbie. The drive was an easy entrance to the highway then light traffic on the highway for 20 minutes or so then another 20 minutes on country roads to our house. It was a good stretch of road for a first drive.
By early/mid March 2010, I was back to full-time work, driving myself, discharged from therapy, and living on my own (with Dan, obviously, but no additional family staying with us). It’s crazy as I think back on how short the time actually was in the grand scheme of things. It felt like a long ordeal at the time with many ups and downs. In total it only took four months from discovery of the AVM and open skull brain surgery to being able to drive myself to work to return fully to normal life. Four months is really nothing.
For months I continued to challenge myself to learn to do more and strengthen the left side of my body. The changes were dramatic at first, especially in the strength department, but then the ability to improve slows. It didn’t stop though! As long as I kept trying, I kept learning new things.
My typing continued to improve with daily typing as a part of my work and blogging. When my kids were born, I was tremendously challenged by the diapering and clothing process of a newborn. I simply had to use both hands, and the necessity of the challenge made my efforts that much greater. And guess what? I learned new things, even 3 years post surgery.
The doctors told me I had a 2 year window to re-learn all I could, but I respectfully disagree with their opinion. I believe my dexterity in my left hand continues to get better, and I am almost 10 years out from the surgery (2019 is the 10th anniversary!).
So I push on. I don’t know what I will learn next, but I don’t let my physical deficiencies hold me back. I’ve had times when I was embarrassed by my left hand (baby shower games in particular!), but I participated anyway. The dexterity won’t get better if I let embarrassment prevent me from trying. So I press on.
I hope you have found encouragement through my story. God put me through this trial for a reason, and my prayer is that you see His hand through my situation. Even if the outcome had not been so favorable, God is so good. If you have any questions about my story, the surgery, or anything, feel free to contact me!