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Truck driver finds relief from pain in the Return to Work Program

By Molly Cartwright

Jay Bessey, an over-the-road truck driver, is used to driving 45 weeks out of the year. When injuries in 2009 and 2010 prevented him from working, Jay grew restless. He wouldn’t accept that he would never be able to do his job again.

In 2009, Jay was at a truck stop when he fell and hit his head. He was unconscious for 5 minutes before another truck driver came to help. Despite the accident, Jay tried to keep driving. As he saw it, the injury was just another thing he had to deal with.

“You’re doing all the right things (at work) and you still get hurt,” he said.

The injury, however, was more serious than Jay first thought. He sustained a concussion from the fall and could no longer function on the job. According to Jay, he became confused while driving and forgot things.

In June 2010, just a few months later, Jay had another accident while he was on the job, tearing the rotator cuff in his right shoulder.

“The pain was off the charts,” Jay said.

At that point, the injuries were affecting his life as well as his ability to function at work.

Before he came to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, Jay did physical therapy elsewhere and tried pain medications. He experienced nausea from the pain meds, however, and the therapy only aggravated his injuries.

Doctors were unsure if Jay would ever get back to his job, but he didn’t want to sit around. He initially came to Mary Free Bed in April 2011 for occupational therapy and continues to come 3 times a week. He does therapy in Mary Free Bed’s Return to Work Program, which offers specialized outpatient therapy to people with a wide range of diagnoses, including orthopedic injury, joint pain and fatigue. The goal of the program is for patients to be able to handle the physical demands of their job.

“I made up my mind – I’m going back to work,” Jay said.

When he first came to Mary Free Bed, Jay was dealing with around-the-clock pain.

“It hurt all the time, no matter what I did,” he said, noting that over-the-road truck driving is a hard job to do with only one functioning arm.

Jay’s therapist at Mary Free Bed, Dawn Kropf, OTR/L, helped him do what he wanted – get back to work.

“They pushed and encouraged at the same time,” he said. “The pushing and encouraging just made me want to prove that I could get back to shape.”

Dawn said that even when Jay met with challenging obstacles, he was positive and made daily gains toward his return to work goal.

“I congratulate him on his success in rehab and obtaining new employment,” Dawn said.

Jay did several different exercises that were intended to strengthen his arm and help him manage and overcome his pain. At Mary Free Bed, he did climbing exercises. Dawn also taught him to do exercises in his truck so he can continue his therapy on the job. For example, Dawn showed Jay how to tie a strap to the door of his truck and stretch out his arm to help alleviate pain. Jay also continued to work independently with a home exercise program and at a local fitness center.

Jay isn’t sure if he’ll need surgery in the future for his torn rotator cuff. But he is positive that the therapy he did as a part of the Return to Work Program helped him get back to his job.

“I didn’t think I was every going back to driving because it hurt so much,” Jay said.

Now Jay’s arm is nearly at his pre-injury level of functioning, and he no longer needs medication. Jay says he was eager to get back to work and was glad his therapists pushed him so he could do it.

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