Returning to Work After a Prolonged Medical Absence

In my last column, I wrote about finally being discharged after a lengthy hospitalization. Once I got home, I rested for about a week and then decided to return to work.

Maintaining a successful, full-time career while having a disability like sickle cell disease requires good decision-making abilities — knowing when to work and when to step away from work.

Returning to work after a period of sickness can be difficult to navigate. On one hand, you may want to dive straight in so that you can get back into your usual routine as soon as possible. This can work, especially if you weren’t out sick for very long. But in instances where you’re out sick for a prolonged period, as was the case with my latest admission, I have found that returning to work in phases proves more advantageous and reduces the likelihood of readmission within a short time frame.

Sickle cell crises can leave me depleted, and it can take a while for me to get back to feeling 100%. If you’re like me, you may wish to consider returning to work on a part-time basis.

I was discharged on heavy pain relief and am now on a weaning program for eight to 10 weeks. This was even more of a reason for me to return to work in phases. If you are discharged on medication, I strongly advise considering what impact, if any, the side effects could have on your ability to deliver at work during your expected hours.

Once you’re back at your job, I encourage you to make intelligent decisions about how you spend your time. When I returned to work, I had thousands of unread emails. Trying to sort through all of them did not seem like a good use of my time. So I selected key stakeholders from my team and the teams I work with closely to give me verbal updates and let me know what was urgent. This alleviated the burden of catching up on my emails.

I returned to work two weeks ago and only got through all of my emails today. It took far less time to meet with someone for 30 minutes for an update than it did to sift through thousands of emails to see what I missed and what remains outstanding.

It’s also important to be honest and realistic with yourself about what’s required of you. Initially, I was supposed to increase my number of hours every week. After one week back at work, it was evident that this would not be possible for me. I was feeling extremely lethargic, so I decided to increase my hours fortnightly instead of weekly. This helped me significantly.

I am now on track to return to full-time work by the end of May. This means I will have had a two-month phasing-in period, which should reduce the likelihood of me doing too much too soon and being readmitted to the hospital.