Leaving the ADF to Start a Family
I enrolled in the Army Reserves in Adelaide in 1980 whilst still in high school. After completing my recruit training in 1981 I joined the transport squadron here in Adelaide. I served until 1989, just short of ten years’ service. The majority of my service was full time, which was a huge commitment. When I discharged it was for family reasons as I wanted to start a family.
Re-connecting with DVA after 20 Years
I had dealt with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs previously but that was over twenty years ago, and there had been no contact until my more recent injury. Due to my knee injury during my service, falling over was part of my life, the last few years especially, damages were limited to skinned knees and ruined clothing (so I thought), but more importantly it battered my confidence and ego. Doctors told me originally that the knee would eventually require repairing/replacing. In an attempt to keep my knee strong, I had become an avid cyclist and walker. Working in the city as a finance administrator and living only 5 kilometres from the city centre I was able to walk to work in an effort to keep fit.
Injured on my way to Work
One day whilst walking to work my knee went out from under me and I fell, injuring myself again, this time damaging my shoulder. I continued in to work and did my job despite what had happened, I had a payroll to run that day, there was no one else available, so I made a doctor’s appointment for later in the day, the adrenaline was still pumping and it didn’t really dawn on me how bad my injury was.
I couldn’t attend work for two days as I was required to attend a series of doctors’ appointments whilst my injuries were assessed. I had torn ligaments off my shoulder, and, my arm was now in a sling. I kept my employer up to date at all times about my injuries, they accepted the news, but they didn’t like it and even though I had been with them for three years at this stage, they made it very clear that they didn’t want to know about the injury as it had happened outside of the workplace. They offered no support and adopted a zero tolerance to any time off that I required, and all my leave entitlements were soon exhausted.
It wasn’t until a few weeks after, whilst attending a physio appointment, that the physiotherapist made a connection between the fall and the previous injury to my leg. I had been falling frequently leading up to the incident and didn’t think too much about it, my family and I just thought that I was just clumsy. Under investigation it was determined that I had no ligament in my left knee, which was a surprise as this was the knee that was injured and repaired when I served in the Army, so I went to DVA for advice.
35 Years since my Injury
When doctors did their assessment they made the connection to the original leg injury I suffered in service 35 years earlier, therefore, DVA were able to accept liability for both my leg and shoulder injury. They were able to make the decision then to reconstruct both joints and rehabilitate both injuries. I am just tapering out of rehabilitation now.
When I contacted DVA I was working in a place that offered no support. Only my husband and I were at home now as our kids had all moved out, I had no idea what was going to happen or what I was going to do. It was a lightbulb moment when I went to DVA and they assured me that they could help, and they reassured me everything would be OK.
From day one DVA wanted to help. I guess at first I was surprised because it was a Government agency, and it was accessible! They wanted to help me! It was great to have someone on the other end of the phone say “its ok, we can help you with this”. It was such a relief, the load was lifted from me straight away which I really appreciated.
Holistic Approach to my Recovery
I cannot stress enough how much the support I received impacted my life. When you have been “broken” for so long it is incredible how you slowly deteriorate both physically and mentally. Sometimes these things only become apparent when someone separate from your support network of family and friends becomes involved. I feel that, through DVA, I have been able to better address my issues.
DVA has helped me reclaim some dignity, almost the biggest thing that they could have offered me. Through my rehab counsellor DVA was also able to recognise where I was mentally, not just physically. At the time I was in such bad shape that I hadn’t realised how low I had sunk. I was almost in worse shape mentally than I was physically. They didn’t just treat my knee and shoulder injuries, they embraced a “complete person” approach that helped fix me and get me back on track.
I was encouraged by my rehabilitation service provider to go and see a psychiatrist. I thought, I don’t need to go see a psychiatrist, - I wouldn’t even make an appointment! – I wasn’t crazy. It was explained to me that I needed to consider a holistic approach to my recovery, so I reluctantly agreed and attended a series of appointments. It was an enormous help and made me realise that I could get better and more importantly I could do better. It helped give me the courage to look for a new job and improve my circumstances. I had no sooner got off crutches that I had secured an interview and subsequently was offered the job and that was a huge boost for me. I wouldn’t have got the confidence if I hadn’t received the support from DVA and my rehabilitation service provider.
Turning a Corner
My trade in the Army had been as a Heavy Vehicle Testing Officer. When my disability was first treated many years ago, part of my retraining was to attend TAFE where I attained a Diploma in Accounting and this was a turning point for me. It allowed me to develop a new focus and challenge that I could do regardless of my physical level.
I am currently employed as a Finance Manager for a school uniform supplier. I have been there just on twelve months and look after their finances, and I also manage their Human Resources. Coincidently a member of staff injured themselves offsite during working hours, in very similar circumstances to mine, so I have been able to help guide her through her recovery. It’s satisfying to know that I have learnt from my past experiences and I am able to help.
Small Steps to Move Forward
In a nutshell four things led to my recovery, keeping positive, coping with failure, gaining acceptance and time management which were the key challenges I faced during my rehabilitation. Trying to stay positive when suffering setbacks is very difficult to cope with. It is seeing the small steps as a way forward, and that you weren’t failing, but that it was more about maybe not attacking from the right angle. Not getting acceptance from my workplace was a huge challenge due to its negative environment and it takes a lot to move forward in those circumstances. Time management was also another big challenge. It’s a complete change, you have to manage your time very differently, for example if you only have one arm to work with, then even getting dressed, not being able to drive and everyday household chores become an issue, but if you are organised and accept these obstacles as only that, then you only improve as time goes on.
Keeping Air in the Tyre
I’ve had my knee injury for 35 years and I know it’s not going anywhere, it is part of me, I’ve accepted that. Sometimes I get tired of it and frustrated by it. My physio who knows I like to cycle, likens it to having a slow leak in a tyre. If I don’t maintain and put air in that tyre, I’m going to want to use it one day and it will be flat. It’s the same with my knee and now my shoulder, but as long as I keep on top of it, it’s not going to get any better than it is, I’ve just got to make sure it doesn’t get any worse. I’m doing all the right things and it’s just a matter of trying to maintain it.
My advice to others in my position is to accept the injury and make it your own, don’t allow it to own you. There are long term injuries and short term injuries, I’ve had both. With my long term injury, I took a bit too long to realise how much I slipped and needed help to see where I was. Support from my family and friends is great and I owe them a lot, however, letting someone in and allowing a relationship to develop where I was able to achieve a strong sense of trust was hard, but with them, my DVA rehabilitation coordinator and my rehabilitation service provider, I have been able to achieve so much more, and look forward to a happier life with my loved ones.