Health and Safety

The Psychological Cost of Workplace Injuries – A Firefighter After 9/11

July 15, 2011
Dr. Howard M. Rombom, Ph.D.

John Smith is no longer the energetic dad he used to be. He also no longer works as a fireman. Before his disability, Smith used to have the energy to run alongside his two-year-old son and do everything it takes to be dad. Once he developed severe respiratory problems, Smith no longer had the stamina for this. This was the beginning of a serious and disabling depression.

Smith had worked as a firefighter during 9-11. He worked on the recovery effort, clearing the rubble at the World Trade Center site. These were the months when the air was most toxic. As a result, a year later he was diagnosed with a series of serious respiratory problems. 

His condition required that he file a claim for Workers’ Compensation to get the medical treatment he needed. However, though Smith was seeing a doctor for his physical disability, his depression was going unaddressed. As a result he was becoming more and more detached from his family and friends.

Eventually his doctor noticed. Smith seemed to have less and less to say each visit, and to take a humorless approach to his life. That’s when his physician referred him to a psychologist at Behavioral Medicine Associates.

At BMA Smith was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In addition to his depression over his life-changing disability, there were also the haunting memories of working at the site. The sights, smells and sounds of working at the World Trade Center had stayed with Smith long after the tragic incident had taken place.

During the course of psychological treatment, Smith was provided with a series of useful skills, understandings and insights to help him appreciate his life and his family. He began to understand how he could still make a contribution to the world despite his limited physical abilities.

Although Smith may never regain his full physical functioning, he is now able to take a renewed interest in his family and friends and become a productive member of his social network. Smith is also currently undergoing training to enable him to return to the workforce in a non-physical activity. Smith is hoping to return to work someday, earn a living and become a productive member of society once again.

Behavioral Medicine Associates is proud that we were able to help Smith redevelop his enthusiasm for life, value his family, and regain satisfaction from being with his wife and child. He has learned ways to spend time with his family that allow him to work within his limitations and succeed on his own terms. As a result his social activities have expanded dramatically. He has even been able to perform some limited volunteer work at a local hospital, entertaining children in the surgical wards.

Behavioral Medicine Associates is devoted and dedicated to workers like Smith. Our mission is to enable injured workers to develop the psychological skills necessary so that in spite of their physical injuries, they can continue to derive pleasure from life, enjoy their family and friends and continue to be productive members of society.

July 15, 2011

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