Thursday, December 31, 2009

Changing My Working Environment

RA completely threw for a loop, which meant that my career was a big question mark. At the end of maternity leave, I was still unable to dress myself or hold chalk. Teaching for the Spring term seemed unrealistic, but I found ways to adapt.

I approached my chair and my dean separately to deliver the news and to seek help. They were very understanding, and connected me with our office of disability. My case was documented, along with doctors' notes, so that my reduced capacity would not be held against me for tenure and promotion. The office explained the family and medical leave act to me. Since I was documented in the university system as having RA, I could miss more work than usual and still be protected by law. I was already missing quite a bit of work because I was constantly sick and felt awful. As my medications began to work, I missed school less.

Teaching was another obstacle. I couldn't use a chalkboard, so I wrote my lectures on overhead transparencies the night before. Lecturing was pretty dry, but I survived. I told my class that I had problems with my hands and couldn't use the chalkboard. This year, I'm feeling much better and will use chalk!

Between teaching, proposal writing, resting, and taking care of Sparky, I had no time for myself. I was going to bed at 8 pm just to survive. It was very hard on us as a family. Again, as the medications started to work, it got a whole lot better.

I am steady state now, and I list here the adaptations I have used at work to "survive":

1. Ergonomic everything.
2. No labwork - hire an awesome postdoc.
3. Less conferences. This makes me sad because I think I'm missing out, but traveling kills.
4. Less proposal writing. This could be detrimental to my funding situation, so I carefully select which solicitations to answer. Why waste time on something that has a 1% funding rate?
5. Plan ahead. I don't know how I will feel day to day, so I must complete everything far ahead of time in case I have a bad week.
6. Stop when it hurts. If I feel increased pain at the end of the day, I must stop working. If I push on, then my body will not cooperate the next day.
7. Ask for help. Ask ask ask. If you can't open a door, open a soda, or lift a bag, then ask for help. There is no shame in protecting your body.
8. Ditch the laptop - its just going to hurt if you insist on using it.

My university is above and beyond understanding. Not all places are so pleasant. I'm lucky to be where I am, to work at my own pace, and to be successful on my own terms.


Comrade PhysioProf said...

My university is above and beyond understanding. Not all places are so pleasant. I'm lucky to be where I am, to work at my own pace, and to be successful on my own terms.

That's awesome that you have such good support from your chair and dean!

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

If the problem is holding the chalk, is a pen any better? If so, there are several good systems to let you write on a screen... another thing I do is to use the projector that shows what I've written on the paper.

Karina said...

I'm glad that your university has been so helpful. I seem to recall you also mentioning earlier that you changed you diet significantly. I'd be interested in reading a post about what you did and how it has helped you. Thanks for sharing all of this.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

I'm so glad that you have such wonderful support. #5 is great advice that ALL of us should follow. I have a close friend with RA, so this list is really useful to pass along to him.

EliRabett said...

You might think about a document camera (search the term on google), often called an Elmo. It is a video camera that projects an image of any paper document through an LCD projector or onto video. There should be some at your University that you could try.