Today, I returned briefly to my workplace after several months of hospitalisation and recovery at home. Tomorrow is my first official day back (part time), but I went in today for a “test run”. “Does my security pass still work?” is the thing that goes through your mind after several months away.
While there, I found myself seated in a comfortable chair in my new office and took a moment to close my eyes briefly. During my time away, I had the “luxury” of being able to nap or take breaks whenever needed, given my circumstances. Walking on my prosthetic leg for extended periods often leaves me feeling tired, but a five-minute “micro nap” typically does the trick in helping me regain some energy, although occasionally it might take a bit longer.
Over a cup of coffee, I had a great conversation with a couple of long-time ABC employees, and together we reminisced about a former manager who’s no longer with us. Towards the end of his career, he became known for taking workplace naps. He was a wonderful man who made significant contributions to the ABC over many years. Unfortunately, in his later years, he became known for those moments of nodding off. Since then, anyone who’s come close to dozing off in the afternoon or during a tedious meeting has received an “unofficial award” named after him. It’s likely that younger staff members are unaware of this tradition, and I’m just hoping that the next generation won’t come up with a modern equivalent in my name.
Thankfully, my return-to-work plan acknowledges that I might need occasional breaks, and my colleagues are understanding of what I’ve been through this year. They’ve told me, they are more than willing to accommodate moments of “solitude”.
Out in the street, people are unaware of my background of what’s occured, and I’ve noticed a change in their behavior over the past couple of weeks as I’ve become more physically active. I haven’t used my wheelchair in about three weeks and have been getting around in public using my prosthetic leg and crutches. Being at a similar eye-level to others, I’ve noticed that they are less likely to recognize and accommodate my disability. In the past, people would look down, see me, and make room for me on the sidewalk or public transport, but now they’re less inclined to do so.
Just the other day, I had someone walking towards me on the street who almost ran into me, and was likely on the verge of asking me to move out of their way. It wasn’t until they glanced down at my leg that they realized I have mobility issues. Of course, they were preoccupied with their mobile phone. On a bus recently, an older person had to ask a younger passenger (also engrossed in their mobile phone) to offer me a seat, as they had failed to notice my need.
In recent months, I’ve become more consciously aware of other individuals with wheelchairs or walking sticks, and they’ve noticed me as well. As we approach each other, it’s almost as if we engage in a subtle game of “disability chicken.” We assess each other’s degree of disability to determine who might have the “greater need.”
Fortunately, my workplace, being a government building, is fairly well-equipped for physical accessibility. However, I did encounter a couple of heavy doors today that I found difficult to open and close. Radio studio doors, in particular, tend to be weighty for soundproofing reasons, and often require the effort of opening and closing two closeby doors. It will be interesting to discover what other “daily adjustments” I might need as I continue my return to work.
Another consideration has been my choice of clothing. Given my senior management role, I’ve typically dressed in suits for the office. However, tomorrow, I won’t be wearing a suit. I’ve settled for a nice, freshly ironed shirt, and will be going as “smart casual” for the day, although I’ll still be sporting shorts for comfort and practicality.