By 2015, the pain in her back was so bad she could hardly walk, let alone work.
A year later, she was in a wheelchair.
For BRHS Surgical Nurse Joanne Woodward, life was unravelling.
Jo was suffering from bulging discs in her back, exerting pressure on her spinal cord and causing severe pain. It was an injury that, unfortunately, is common in the nursing profession, the result of long hours on your feet and regular pushing, pulling and exertion.
After many years of study and hard work toward the nursing career that was her passion, all of a sudden everything was in jeopardy.
There was a second and then a third disc herniation, numerous surgeries, hours of treatment, hours of rehab.
Unable to work, drive a car, or look after herself, Jo had to move back in with her mother.
“My son had to witness me totally collapsed,” she remembers. “I couldn’t be the mum I wanted to be.”
After the third prolapse in July 2016, Jo was totally incapacitated for almost a year.
During her time away from work she focused on rehabilitation, including undertaking physiotherapy and psychology sessions. She attended a pain management clinic, and started walking. She did water aerobics, and started a fitness plan through the gym.
And she filed a WorkCover claim, to help with the costs of treatment and of being out of work for an extended period of time.
But she never lost sight of one day returning to work, completing studies in stomal therapy and continence nursing during this time away from direct clinical care.
“I had to undertake my lectures online whilst lying flat on my back,” Jo remembers.
Then, doctors told her she would likely never return to the same job had done before the injury.
“This was a low point,” Jo says. “I had been focused on returning to a role as a nurse in the surgical ward. It was hard to come to the realisation that I may not have a career after all of the study I had undertaken.”
“Don’t You Worry. We’ll Have a Job For You.”
It was around this time that Jo received a phone call that she says was the key turning point in her recovery.
“Bernadette Hammond called me,” Jo remembers, referring to BRHS’ Director of Clinical Operations, and Chief Nurse and Midwife. “She said ‘don’t you worry. We’ll have a job for you when you’re ready to come back.’”
“That meant a lot.”
Jo said that BRHS’ Workplace Relations Coordinator Danielle McToldridge played a similar role, staying in touch with Jo during her recovery and providing much-needed practical and emotional support.
Local psychologist Victoria Shaw gave Jo a years’ worth of sessions, pro bono.
People were pulling for her.
And in May 2017, Jo Woodward returned to work.
“My Son – He Has Seen Me Recover.”
“The hardest thing about returning to work was starting in a new team, a new role and not functioning at the level that I had been prior to my injury,” Jo says. “Even though the people in the team, including the manager, Joy Manley, were welcoming, I felt like an imposter. I was totally out of my comfort zone and felt like a burden to the team.”
She kept at it, and built up her hours. Jo now works across community nursing, home based nursing and as an aged care educator.
“The opportunity to return to work in another area of nursing has opened up possibilities to me that I probably would never have considered if I hadn’t suffered my injury,” she says. “It’s made me a better and more empathetic nurse.”
It’s not only Jo’s colleagues that have appreciated her resiliency.
“My son – he has seen me recover and set an example that hard work and perseverance can pay off.”
“She Deserves Full Credit for Her Successful Recovery.”
Jo is an inspiring example of the obstacles a person can overcome to return to the career that is their passion.
Which is why Jo was named one of three finalists for a WorkSafe Return to Work Achievement Award. The winners will be announced at an awards dinner in Melbourne on Thursday.
Win, lose or draw, we reckon Jo is tops.
“What was really inspiring in Jo’s case, and a real credit to her, was that once she knew she could return to nursing in some capacity she did everything possible to achieve this,” Bernadette Hammond says. “She stayed in touch with us about her progress, and stayed open to retraining and working in other areas outside her comfort zone. She deserves full credit for her successful recovery and return to work.”
Good on you, Jo.
So many people here at BRHS are proud of you, and inspired by your determination and spirit.