Health and Safety

Coping with Painful Changes

January 16, 2012
By Dr. Howard M. Rombom

A diligent worker copes with her forced retirement.

After 15 years of hard work as a housekeeping employee, excruciating pain began to spread through Maria R.’s arms, hands and shoulders. The pain became intense that she was unable to continue her work at a large hotel in New York City — a job she had held for 15 years.

Doctors diagnosed Ms. R. with carpal tunnel syndrome and the treatment required surgery to both of her wrists. But even after the surgery, Ms. R. continued to feel pain, though its level had somewhat diminished. She was also unable to use her hands and arms as she had in the past. Doctors define her as “permanently partially disabled” and she was unable to return to work. As a result of this significant change in her life, she became depressed.

Ms. R. stopped going out to visit friends and family, she preferred to stay home, sitting in a dark, quiet room. When friends and family attempted to intercede, she refused their help and continued to withdraw into herself. Ms. R. was depressed that she was unable to provide support for her family and had to retire early from work despite her desire to work for many more years.

Finally, at one of her follow-up visits with her orthopedic surgeon, Ms. R. admitted to the physician that she was experiencing depression and may even have had some suicidal thoughts. Her orthopedist immediately referred her to Behavioral Medicine Associates in order to help her cope with her depressive thoughts and enable her to develop the psychological skills necessary to more effectively handle this significant change in her life. Over the course of months of treatment, Ms. R. began to develop the psychological strengths needed to cope with the future. Her suicidal thoughts were eliminated and Ms. R. began to develop a social network that she could rely upon. With the help of her psychologist, Ms. R. learned how to deal with her pain even when it exacerbated due to physical activity and weather conditions.

At the suggestion of her psychologist, Ms. R. also developed a series of hobbies and activities she could perform during the day, which did not rely upon strenuous use of her hands and arms.

Ms. R. continues to be seen by her Workers’ Compensation psychologist from Behavioral Medicine Associates on a regular basis, approximately one to two times a month in order to continue to reinforce her newfound skills, as well as to provide her with further suggestions to help her cope. Ms. R’s family and friends have been helpful as well in drawing her out and enabling her to use the new skills she has acquired through psychological treatment.

Injured workers’ in New York State often require psychological care in order to enable them to cope with their physical injuries. Not only is it necessary to treat the actual physical condition, but also the psychological consequences of these injuries. Ms. R. was suffering from a psychological injury, resulting in impairment to function and well-being. She demonstrated significant impairment to her ability to cope with physical, occupational and social demands; continuing disability is a psychological injury.

Ms. R. was fortunate that her orthopedic surgeon was able to refer her to Behavioral Medicine Associates for her psychological injury. With treatment, she was able to regain some level of emotional and psychological equilibrium.

Behavioral Medicine Associates — Behavioral Healthcare for Injured Workers

January 13, 2012

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