Just before midnight on 3 Jan 1979 I fell roughly 20 feet onto ice. Once I caught my breath (not knowing I was in “shock”), I continued to work for another half hour or so and then decided my “sprain” might be something more so I drove myself to a hospital. There is a long story of how I got into the Emergency Department but I eventually did and I had a great humorous time with a pretty technician on our way to X-ray.

She took the X-rays and then became very quiet. I was trying to figure out what off-colour thing I had said to her when she stopped pushing my wheelchair at the intersection of two hallways. She left me and went down a hall to talk to someone. A guy pushing a laundry cart came along and said to me, “Well fellow, it appears that you’re in bad shape and they’re saying you’re never going to walk again!” “Gee, thanks, buddy. I needed to know that little tidbit of information.”

Apparently true, they couldn’t deal with my injury in-house so, they packed me into an ambulance and shipped me off to another hospital for an operation which I actually didn’t have for several days. Two or three more trips to the operating room and then infection set in. That was the beginning of a very long 2-year haul where in time, I learned how to walk again …… somewhat. Ultimately, they made me special boots that allowed me to walk normally for about the next 35 years.

The medical profession has one huge drawback. They are all divided into specialities and there is nobody that looks at the whole picture. Each, knows their job very well. Surgeons cut, drill, saw, and screw. Nurses dress wounds, clean and make sure your vitals are stable. Technicians do their thing and they all send reams of paper back and forth. The family doctor really doesn’t get involved. Keep in mind, I’m talking 40 years ago. I have little recent experience.

There is, or was, one big huge neglected area and that’s the patient’s mental condition. In my case, I became very depressed (on the inside). To me, I became useless and totally dependent upon other people. I had no purpose, I had no goals of my own and I was satisfied to do whatever anybody told me to do. This carried on long after I was supposedly healed and working again.

During this period I became a real “a– -whole”. My marriage broke up, I lost my home and the kids scattered anywhere but near me. My employer, so called friends and religious connections all disappeared and I tried for a while but, eventually, just gave up.

The lady that eventually became my new wife turned me around. She saw through it and with encouragement from her and by gaining confidence in a new job, we (together) eventually went on to accomplish (what to me were) great things. That famous “attitude” I often speak of, finally changed for the better.

Looking back, I think the medical profession should have been Nick-2015looking for, recognized and treated my mental ailment. The compensation board had not yet learned the lessons of the future. The employer did not supply what today, is called “modified work”. Had they, the outcome might have been very different. The real big secret is to get the patient’s mind away from self-examination. That turns into self-pity and it is a major mental destroyer of human beings. I was very, very lucky. I never contemplated suicide but, we know that happens, too.

From a safety practitioner point of view, if you can’t prevent, watch your injured workers carefully. Find something with real purpose that the worker can still do and get them going on it quickly. If it’s a long term injury then, a long term project is needed. A city firefighter I once met designed maps for each truck showing the nooks, crannies, and hazards of neighbourhoods. One of our drivers “easy coded” customer locations across several cities still being used today. It can be done. There are projects that people can do. All you have to do is find them and keep them busy. Always remember, when the injured worker is on “modified” they are saving the company far more money in compensation costs than they ever could earn for the company working their normal hourly rated job.

The worker needs to know that for self-esteem, the fellow co-workers need to know that so they don’t minimize the value of the worker and the company “bean counter” needs to know that so that they can see the true bottom line. Of course, you have to convince the CEO of all this first.  It must come from the very top.

A broken body still has a brain. Do whatever you have to, to make “modified” succeed. Show the workforce the advantages that the injured worker creates, especially if it makes functions easier and better for them. The advantage of “modified work” must be communicated to the entire workforce and suddenly, your job becomes a whole lot easier.

If you don’t, you’ll find that you can now complete the quote from the very beginning of this article: “WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS A FAILURE TO ….. COMMUNICATE.”
Keep your people safe.

The beauty of life is in your hands.

The boots I still wear daily from that 1979 injury:

Nick's BootsI’m not accustomed to making “selfies”. I held the camera so that I could see it on the screen and therefore the boots appear to be on the wrong feet. The little pouch? My Nitro spray.

Boot manufacturer- these boots built Feb 2014: Ambulatory Footwear – http://www.afw.ca/
Possible source of light duty (“modified”) jobs:


About the Author

Nick Nicholson, is a retired safety practitioner who spent many years researching the human behaviour factors of driver and pedestrian actions. Specifically, he spent 25 of those years devoted to highway crash investigations, regulatory compliance, the design, implementation and presentation of safety programs. Nick enjoyed many hours presenting professional driver enhancement training to adult participants.

As a long time Fleet Safety Council Member (1988) and the Founding Chair (1992-1995) of Council’s Hamilton-Niagara Chapter, he presents his opinions in hopes of improving the safety knowledge of readers. Nick is a firm believer in human advancement through positive attitudes, solution thinking and the understanding that the beauty of life is always in your hands.

Old Uncle Nicky’s Opinions are his own and in no way reflect the opinions of Fleet Safety Council

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