How focusing on the physical demands of his job helped one man with his recovery

February 12, 2019

Brian is a certified welder/ boilermaker and works for a railroad company rebuilding and maintaining steam locomotives. When he describes his responsibilities at work, it is not a light load. They range from engine restorer, steam mechanic, fireman, to one day soon becoming an engineer. This is a job that the 6 foot, 200 pound, 33-year old does with master skills. However, a little over a year ago, his abilities to perform his job were almost taken away from him.

Young and strong…stroke never crossed his mind

Brian got up and went to work on September 25, 2017. When he arrived, his colleagues noticed that something wasn’t right. His speech was slurred and he couldn’t really talk. But Brian dismissed their concerns and chalked up the symptoms as sleep deprivation due to his newborn at home. After all, he was young and healthy, what else could it be?

Brian was young and strong. He didn’t think he could have a stroke.

His wife also noticed his speech problem when he called home and urged him to go to the hospital. He went, and the doctor wanted to give him an MRI. Brian refused at first because he didn’t think things were that serious. But when he noticed that his face started to droop later that night, he got scared and went in to have the MRI the next day. It turns out that Brian suffered a stroke caused by a blood clot in the basal ganglia, a part of the brain in charge of many functions ranging from motor functions, thinking processes, to mood.

Brian had to stay in the hospital for about 5 days and received rehab while there. When he returned home, he tried to get back to work right away. He realized the physical demands of the job were an enormous challenge for him. He looked fine, but even just walking left him exhausted, let alone the physical aspects of his job.

Getting back to work helped

Brian’s story at this point is anything but typical. He needed to go back to work and support his family. There was no way for him to only focus on his rehabilitation in a clinical setting. But he knew that his job offered him plenty of opportunities to challenge himself. He convinced himself that if he could just keep up with the demands at work, he could get better. So, he measured himself against his colleagues and pushed himself to be able to do what they were doing. Sometimes a train can be a mile long. The thought of this was daunting to him, but he pushed himself to keep up with the others until walking this distance became easier. And it did.

Walking was one thing, but there were other tasks that required someone with a lot of strength. Tasks that people relied on Brian for. For example, all the rail cars have manual brakes that require a very strong person to secure the car safely so that it doesn’t roll away. Brian was the guy for this and needed to be again. In the beginning, it was tough, but working with his team, he managed again and again until his strength returned. Let’s be clear here, a mistake in his job is dangerous, and he and his team were fully aware of this. They always supported each other to make sure things were running smoothly and that safety was never compromised.

By January, Brian felt he was physically ok. And once he felt fully capable again at work, he challenged himself with home improvement projects like repainting his house, staining his deck, and even building a dog house. Tasks that not only required his physical capabilities but also his cognitive ones.

Recovery is a work in progress requiring a good team

Brian still struggles with other aspects of recovering from stroke, but has an amazing support team. His wife and two children really keep him going. He also has the support from his health care providers who make sure he sees the doctors he needs to see and receives the proper treatment. He is also lucky enough to have a team at work who checks that he is doing well and able to perform. And most of all, Brian never stops for a moment thinking that he can’t do something. He just finds ways to overcome his hurdles and keep doing what he needs to do.

Doing the things he needed to get done helped Brian recover. Because he was physically strong before the stroke, he was able to regain his strength pretty quickly. He was also really motivated to do so since his livelihood depended on it.

So although Brian’s recovery doesn’t represent the typical rehab scenario, it speaks to the benefits of activating our muscles and pushing ourselves. By doing so, our bodies are able to regain function more quickly. We can even improve our emotional and cognitive states.

There are many programs available in clinical settings that will push you to your full potential. It’s important to work with your therapist to find something appropriate for you.

Editorial note:

Learn how training on the job helped one patient get his strength back.

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