Working My Way Back
My journey started on September 8, 1995 at 5:30 p.m. I was 47. I got up from my chair and said I did not feel good and then collapsed onto the floor.
My journey started on September 8, 1995 at 5:30 p.m. I was 47. My family and I were out to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. I got up from my chair and said I did not feel good and then collapsed onto the floor.
Survivor Victor Orr
I was transported to Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Sacramento, California. Diagnosed with an intracerebral hemorrhage, I spent a week in ICU. Thereafter, I went to a nursing home for a week and then to inpatient rehab for five weeks. At the time, I could not walk or speak. The hemorrhage left me with right-side paralysis of the arm and leg and severe speech problems. I figured my working life was over so I inquired into disability retirement. I was the manager of workers’ compensation programs at the Sacramento office of the U.S. Postal Service.
After I received and analyzed my estimate of monthly benefits, I was motivated to go back to work. We could not live on disability benefits. I had 2,600 hours of sick leave saved, which would provide me with my full salary for about 18 months. With that timeframe in mind, the work began. First I had to learn how to walk and talk. I quickly found that walking was easier than talking. I worked hard in inpatient therapy, then home therapy and then outpatient therapy, and I learned to walk and talk.
In March 1996, I received a certified letter from the DMV suspending my driver’s license. This made me determined to start driving. In June 1996, I purchased a left foot gas pedal and a steering knob. The DMV refused to issue me a learner’s permit so I practiced in a school parking lot. Then I had a driver’s evaluation by an occupational therapist, who determined that I could drive.
On July 10, 1996, I went to the DMV office for both written and driving tests. After a long driving test, the examiner said I passed everything and my license was reinstated. I was proud of this accomplishment because I really needed my license to get back and forth to work.
That same month, I was given some work assignments to do at home. That only lasted about a week because I knew I had to get physically back to work.
During my time away from work, I practiced typing on the computer, worked on my speech, and walked as best as I could. I was paralyzed on my right side, but I was determined that the paralysis would not to deter me from working.
On August 5, 1996, I walked into the office and worked for four hours. Although I had modified my keyboard, I could not type fast enough. In desperation I called the state department that handles rehabilitation cases and told them my dilemma. They told me that they could not offer me vocational rehabilitation, but they gave me the name of a man that typed with one hand. I called him, and he told me about the BAT keyboard by Infogrip. I ordered this wonderful device and quickly learned how to use it. The BAT keyboard is made for both left and right hand use.
The BAT one-handed keyboard
Soon I was able to respond to emails, a big plus because my job entailed lots of typing, including correspondence, spreadsheets and lots of different lists. Soon I was able to type about 35 wpm, which is not great but I was able to get the job done.
After a month, I was released to work for eight hours a day. Soon after, I was called into my boss’s office and told that the lady doing my job was retiring. He asked if I was ready to resume the manager’s position. “Yes, I am,” I responded.
At that point, I still had a speech problem and had not been talking on the phone. Talking on the phone terrified me, but I knew sooner or later I would have to conquer the phone. One of my first calls was to a claims examiner at the Department of Labor. I identified myself and gave her the reason for my call. She thought I was an intoxicated injured worker because my speech sounded like I was drunk. I wrote a letter to her boss and explained that I had returned to work and my speech did, indeed, sound like I was drunk. A few days later, I called the claims examiner back and we had a good laugh over that conversation. From then on, if I felt my speech going south, I told the person that I had had a stroke and if they could not understand me, to just ask me to repeat myself.
Throughout the years, one of my main duties has been to educate the medical community on our return-to-work programs for injured employees. I met with many doctors and they were amazed that I returned to work. Being in charge of a workers’ compensation office that covered 11,000 employees was a difficult and frustrating position, however, being disabled gave me compassion for our injured workers.
One of the highlights of my return to work happened on November 2, 1997. I was selected to deliver the game coin for a San Francisco 49ers game. I was accompanied by my wife, Donna.
Victor with his wife and caregiver Donna
Throughout the years, I have had lots of ups and downs in my job, but overall I enjoyed my journey and it certainly paid off. I could not have accomplished this without the support of Donna and my sons, Victor and Richard. Also, without the support of my immediate manager and coworkers, this would have been an impossible journey. They looked out for me while offering assistance when needed and tons of encouragement and support. I was motivated and determined to make my return to work a success.
Victor delivering the game coin at a 49ers game in 1997
In January 2006, 11 years after my stroke, I retired from the Postal Service. At the time of my retirement, I had approximately 41 years of federal service and received credit for my unused sick leave.
Today, I am still paralyzed on my right side, however, I am still leading an active life. I attend three support group meetings every month. We have a 25-foot travel trailer, and we love to go camping in it. I have learned how to set it up and it is a breeze for me to tow. I could write a book on how to hook up and maintain a travel trailer with one hand and a not-so-steady leg.
In summary, I have learned that with motivation and determination most things are possible. Never give up!
Editor’s Note: For more information on getting back to work after a stroke, see Returning to Work in our award-winning Spring 2013 issue.
This information is provided as a resource to our readers. The tips, products or resources listed have not been reviewed or endorsed by the American Stroke Association.