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Return to Work...Mistake?

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,899
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:23 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I have received clearance to return to my teaching job (HS Science) at the end of October. To try and get myself back into the groove and to build up my endurance, the last two days I have started back to school and have been co-teaching with my sub. We plan to do this for half days until the end of October, when I will start full time with just me, myself and I, plus 140 students. When I got home these past two days, I was exhausted, and I was only at school for three hours. Last night I slept for 12 hours. This leads me to wonder if I will be ready for full time in three weeks? My students really want me to return, and I know that three weeks still gives me time for improvement, but now I wonder if I will be ready. My day doesn't end at 4:00, because of grading and planning. Typically, I am up at 6:00, at school by 7:30, and home by 5:00, with an evening of papers ahead of me. My principal is a real stickler about if you are at school, you need to be 100%...no sitting down on the job.

I know that we are all individuals, and heal at different rates, but those of you with similar surgeries, do you think I should call the NS and say that I am just not ready for full time? I am stressing over this, and I know that stress does not help.

Thanks for any advice,


  • Hi,

    Teaching is a wonderful but exhausting job - you have to be "on" all the time - I totally understand your concerns about being ready. And it is such a temptation to get back to work - especially if it doing something we love and being with people we like. Some things you might ask yourself:

    How tired were you at the end of a full day of teaching, etc. before surgery? Will you be more tired now?

    Will you be able to give your students what they need AND give yourself the exercise and rest you need to recover?

    How many plan periods do you have and is resting even an option during your plan? Or are these taken up with meetings, etc?

    I am sure your students want you back - having a sub is just not the same no matter how good they are. But, you must think of yourself, too.

    It is a hard decision!
  • Thank you for the input. I will certainly think about the questions you have posed. I know that in the past, I have always poured 100% of myself into my classroom. That is what scares me! I know that I will push myself too hard, and heaven knows that I do not want to have complications. It is a hard decision, especially when...even with all my back problems, I still hung in there and never missed a day of school. But there comes a time, when I have to think about myself. Sick leave is not a problem. I could miss the entire first semester and have sick days left over. I still have another year after this one before I am fully vested in my state's teacher retirement fund. I have to be able to hang in there!

    Thanks for listening!
  • Ann,

    In 2006, I had surgery (read below)in early March. I was a high school principal. I returned part time May 1st and my plan was to build up to full time by the end of May. I met my goal but at a high price to pay. I was always exhausted, to the point of skipping and eventually quitting my physical therapy. Plus, I was in pain which made me agitated at the kids, teachers and then at home. I can say I went back to work too soon and should have stayed out through the school year.

    Emergency surgery in March of 2006 for spinal infection of L 2 and L 3. During surgery, discovered I had Cauda Equina Syndrome. Spine became unstable after surgery and had 360 fusion with 10 pedicle screws, plates and rods in April of 2007.
  • Hi Ann, I just noticed we had surgery on the same day. I am a nurse and my surgeon says I can go back to work as soon as I want. I am weaning my brace now since Tuesday and that definitely is making me realize how weak my back is. My FMLA is up on Oct 27, so that was my goal. But now I think maybe that is even unrealistic. At my job there is no option to return part time or with restrictions, it is all or nothing. I have to be able to push, pull, lift, bend, and keep going for 12 hour shifts. I am really stressing about how I am going to be able to do this. Technically if I don't go back at 12 weeks my job is not protected, but my manager told me not to worry about it. I am just so afraid of gettting hurt. Yet, I am getting so bored and depressed at home. I think if you have the option you should take more time off. Have you done any PT? So I take it you are wearing the brace to work? I have to be rid of mine to go back. I could wear something smaller, but the TLSO, don't think so. I know this is a difficult decision, but you have to do what is best for you and your healing. That is what I am telling myself as well. Good-luck with your decision, >:D< Sue
  • Hi, Dick!

    Sometimes I think that my doctors have no idea of what is involved in education! I think that they think we just sit behind a desk all day! I can't even open the storage units where my lab supplies are located, let alone bend down and haul out hot plates or microscopes! I know what I should do, it's just hard to stay away when you know that your program is suffering. And, it is not like I have summer vacation looming up in a couple of months where I could rest up again. I have the rest of the year ahead of me. I just really need to talk to my NS, bite the bullet, and tell the administration that returning in three weeks for full time is a dream.

    After 32 year of teaching, I know the stress that principals are under. You are pulled in so many directions from parents, teachers, students, superintendents as well as your family. I know what you meant when you said that you can't run a school with a bad back!
  • We both have some tough decisions facing us about our return to work. After being so bored that I felt like I just couldn't stand it any more, heading back to work seemed great...until I tried it. I see the NS the day before I am to start back full time. We'll see how these next three weeks of half days work out. I am doing these half days voluntarily (I am still being assessed sick days for them) becuase I knew that I did not dare just show up on October 27th and start right in for full days. I may just call my NS Monday and discuss if returning back on the 27th could be half days.

  • I had my TLIF/instrumentation 6/28, and I couldn't imagine going back to a teaching position even at my 3-month mark! I imagine I am quite a bit older than you (64) and was not in great shape physially to begin with. I hope you seriously think about what is best for you in the long run, dear. Perhaps a more realistic goal would be to go back after Christmas break...that will give you time to get the PT in and build up your indurance. Perhaps during this time you could continue to teach part-time. Just my 2 cents worth, but do what is best for YOU.
  • Ann -

    You wrote "My kids are already on sub number three and are a month behind as far as where they should be." I almost wrote in my post above that I bet you were thinking that. (I am a retired principal, too. Took early retirement so my husband and I could travel/play when he retired (he's 10 years older than I am) - and when I get this back recovery done we will do so again!) At any rate, while we principals know that the best teachers always say things like "My kids are already behind" we also know that those are the very people we have to practically force to go home when they are deathly ill - or beg them to get to the hospital when the labor pains get too close together. But we don't want them endangering their own health 'cause they will be no good for the students in the long run if they do.

    Just be sure your stamina is good before you go back!

  • Hiya Ann >:D<
    I understand where you are coming from with this :? . My surgeon basically didnt care about me as his patient, once he did the surgery, as far as he was concerned that was it i was fit for work :( . I kept on saying i dont feel well enough to return :S , but he just ignored this, and signed me fit #:S . So i did what he wanted me to do, and i returned back to work :O . I payed for it in the end because one day my back gave on me :( , and my (GP) said i was not fit for work and should give up my job :( . I worked in mental health and loved my job so much. I had no choice but to give it up and i was gutted :''( . Long term because i was not well enough to return, i suffer now, i have been told i may never work again :''( . This is because i went back to soon , and i knew the time wasnt right for me to return :? . Ann at the end of the day if you have a surgeon thats understanding and emphasizes with you :) , then talk it over with him, tell him how you feel >:D< . Do you take any medication? :/

    Angie x
  • Yep...You are right about being one of those teachers who have to be forced to go home. Interestingly enough, 7 years ago, one the first day of the school year, I felt a strange sensation in my chest. It was just a weird nuisance. I knew that it was not like heart attack symptoms,but I mentioned it to the teacher next door before the school day started. She marched down to the principal's office and "tattled" on me. The principal came down to my room, and told me to call my doctor. I already had an appointment for after school for a check-up, and it was the FIRST day. I needed to be there to pass out books, guidelines, talk about what the upcoming year would be like. Well, to make a long story short, he forced me to call my doctor, who in turn told me come immediately to the emergency room. After tests, scans, etc. the ER doctor told me that he had good news and bad news...The "good news" was that I did not have heart problems. The "bad news" was that I had a pulmonary embolism. I now refer to that teacher as my guardian angel! However, I was bound and determined that I was going to teach that day!
  • Thanks for the reply, Angie!

    Occasionally I will take a muscle relaxer (Robaxin) if the tightness gets too bad. I was on Lortab upon my release from the hospital, but I quit taking it when my prescription ran out at the end of three weeks after surgery. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, and I am trying to keep my mind clear!

  • Ann i just had a thought :O , if you did need to work couldnt you do home tutoring :? , or somthing from home, just so you can work at your own pace :) . Just an idea. :H

    Angie x
  • As I have learned from this site, everyone is different and that makes it near impossible to tell someone how they are going to feel as they recover. I can comment with certaintity how I felt and dealt with it. Heres a quick timeline.

    Early March, 2006 - emergency surgery for spinal infection.

    May 1 - returned to work part time as a high school principal.

    June 1 - began working full time, leave house at 6 a.m., return home between 5 and 6 p.m.. In pain all the time, very tired, spent most of my time in or around my office.Quit PT even though I had 12 more visits covered.

    From Mid June to end of August - worked on an off getting ready for next school year.

    End of August ( 2 days before school starts) - was told by doctors my spine was dangerously unstable, was fit for a new turtle shell brace, and given 6 month supply of pain pills and muscle relaxers.

    March 7 of 2007 - last day I could work. During the months I did work, I was on pain pills and relaxers, often times at work in order to get through day. My back caused me to compromise my job as a principal by not being visible enough and not being able to do the job (night meetings, attending workshops, attending sport's events, and on and on).

    I know what a high school science teacher must do to be effective. You could show up, have a student pass out worksheets, and sit at your desk. Or, you could go in and be the teacher you know and want to be. The question is, "will your back allow you to be as effective as you were or should you take more time to recover". Only you know the answer.

    Emergency surgery in March of 2006 for spinal infection of L 2 and L 3. During surgery, discovered I had Cauda Equina Syndrome. Spine became unstable after surgery and had 360 fusion with 10 pedicle screws, plates and rods in April of 2007.
  • There's been some great advice in this thread. Remarkable how many people here are in or have been in your profession. I am an overachiever and understand where you are coming from on that front.

    Going back and doing the part time is a fantastic idea. What I have found by doing that (I would go back half days first and then full time when I felt comfortable), is that the first week I would be exhausted and then my strength would start coming back very quickly. It's like going to the gym after not being able to for a long time. At first my body is weak and I can't lift a lot of weight or do much before I'm wiped out. Within a week I'm doing more and by week three, I have to watch myself to make sure I don't overdo things.

    By getting out of the house it helps the healing process for me. Distraction, especially by something I love to do, is the best medicine for me!

    Only you will know if you are to a point that you can manage going back to work or not.

  • It will be intersting to see if this next week is better. I would love it if I could feel a difference in the exhaustion level!

  • Just this week I have returned to work half days. My commute is about 1 hour 15 minutes each way so the car itself it quite a shock on the body. I too have been exhausted all week. Actually slept most of today catching up. I can't imagine going back to work at the 2 month mark. I wish you the best of luck and a good week coming!!!

  • I am also a teacher and going through the same thing as you..I am a special ed teacher with very, very physical kids. Trying to get the doctor to understand is next to impossible. I have spoken with my union rep and attorney who both recommended I take as much time as I can; even though I LOVE my job, I ended up this way because of my job and I don't want to pay the price in the long run! I totally understand how you feel.
  • Like Donna, I am a special education teacher as well, with VERY physical kids (I work in with the severe and profound caseload at my school).
    After my recent pain pump surgery, I was like you and really was feeling like I needed to get back to work. My job requires a TON of daily lifting, twisting, and bending, but I wanted to be back so bad that I only took about one week off (HA!) I went back the first day, and got about 12 comments in the first hour alone from both parents and fellow teachers about how bad I looked. I really felt like I needed to push on because my students needed me. Well, long story short, I ended up making an emergency drive home after about 1.5 hours at work, made it home just in time to run inside and vomit profusely, and shortly there after had to be taken to Urgent Care, where I was then deemed to be needed to be taken to the hospital. Obviously, I wasn't back at school for a good long while after that, because I had overdone it way too much too early.
    I think anyone who has worked in our profession of teaching know there's no way to come in and 'take it easy' for a while. Teaching requires 100% all day every day (which is why we come home exhausted even when we're NOT post-op!) Like others on this thread have described, the personality it takes to be a teacher is NOT the personality that is good at 'taking it easy', and when you're at work it just isn't conducive for a true recovery (and trust me, as teachers we always push it more than we should! The teacher in the classroom next to me ended up having her water break at school last year because she just 'wanted to finish this one lesson' before she'd go to the hospital! Sheesh!)
    So my advice would be, take the time you need to recover! As hard as it is to stay home when you know your students are at school, you will end up needed a WHOLE LOT more time off if you overdo it now, than if you just recover the right way at this point. Sitting at home recovering, I just kept reminding myself that if I overdid it and messed this thing up, not only would I be FURIOUS at myself, but I would also be missing even more school than I was at that point. Whenever my para-professionals that work with me in my classroom need a day off and feel bad about taking it, I always tell them that no one will remember them missing one Thursday, or even a week of Thursdays or more. But what they and their bodies/minds will remember is the rest and recovery that provided them to do a good job later. And that's what students remember as well.
    It's hard to take that advice myself sometimes, but I know that a day to day half-healthy teacher is absolutely NEVER as effective as a teacher with 100% energy who may have missed a month or two (that in the long run no one will remember.) Make sure your students remember you as the GREAT teacher, not the 'sick and tired' teacher - take the time you need to heal!!! :)))
  • Janiel, you explained my feelings and job
    exactly! Though it is hard to follow, I know staying home to recover is the best thing all around. I feel for my aides and the sub (who gets paid peanuts), but this is the way it has to be for now.
  • Hi!

    Almost two weeks ago I was apprehensive about my return to work full time as a high school science teacher. This would put me at the 12 week stage after surgery. During this time I have faithfully walked to school and tried to put in at least a half a day to build up my stamina. On many of those days I would last maybe two class periods. Well, things have just started to get better! I actually taught three classes today, stayed for my planning period and a thirty minute reading class. Plus, I got into my car and went to my family doctor for a regularly scheduled check-up (cholesterol). My GP said that he would clear me for half days until I felt like I could stay a full day, regardless of what my NS might decide. That was a load off of my mind. And then I have a saint for a superintendent! I called him up after my appointment, explained the situation to him and asked how we wanted to handle my "half days", because my difficult classes (physics, chemistry and anatomy) are right in the middle of the day. These are the classes where the students need me the most. Well, as you principals know, you can't just schedule a substitute for the first three periods of the day, and then the last period. So...my "super" superintendent said that we would continue with the sub full time until Thanksgiving!!! While I was in the classroom, she could go wherever needed, grade papers, etc. He realizes that there may be days when I don't feel up to teaching a class, and the sub would be there. He truly is a saint, and I know that four more weeks will make a big difference! So, I have the best of both worlds...I have more time to recuperate yet I will be in the classes where my kids need me...and my stress level has been reduced considerably.

    I really appreciated all of the input I received, especially from the principals and other teachers. You gave me food for thought. Right now I am very happy about how things are going. I know that there will be the occassional bump in this long road, but I feel a lot better about the situation now!

  • I am so glad that you were able to work it out to go back part-time! And you are right, your supt. must be a saint. On the other hand, he clearly highly values you as a teacher to make such perfect arrangements for your return!
  • That is wonderfull that your admin will do that for you. You are very lucky. That must take a big load off your mind.

    I unfortunetely dont have the option of half days or light duty. The day I come back I must be prepared to roll on the floor, support non ambulatory kids, be jumped on, kicked, hit and lift anywhere from 40-100 pound students where they need to go, occasionally by myself. So in the meantime my kids have no sub. because they cant find therapists to see them. I feel so bad for the kids. I will then be expected to do make up time for all of the therapy missed while I was gone(yes, the kids should absolutely get it I just have no clue how I will manage it). My DH has asked me not to go back, darn thing about not working, is that if you dont work you dont get paid,lol.

    Anyway, have fun back at school, but remember to still take it easy.

  • I wish that your situation was different. Please be very careful when you do go back. It does take a load off my mind that my administration has been so supportive and that I can go back half days in the middle of the day.

    Take care of yourself,
  • Why are we all so hard on ourselves?

    I went back to work 12 weeks on a so called part time but was full time in a week or so.

    12 weeks later was out again...did my next level, 10 years early.

    Listen to your bodies and don't get bullied. I hate the working society we live in. Employers world with little regard for genuine ppl like us. X(
    Check up on disability laws, employemnt rights etc. You may be surprised.

  • I am so relieved to read your update. I returned to work the second week after my microdisectomy because I felt guilty for missing so much work up until then (I missed 4 weeks prior to the surgery, then the one week after). I was also extremely motivated because I wanted/needed my "normal" life back. I only went back part-time, and started with just a few hours, but now looking back at it, I wish I hadn't tried to work until more time had passed. I have a love-seat in my office, and I tried to lie down on it when I could. I remember several times thinking, "What the heck am I DOING?" Not only was there pain involved, but also anxiety and stress. No job is worth compromising your health! If you hadn't already decided on more time working just part-time, I was going to urge you strongly to do so.

    I wish you all the best with your recovery, and please keep us updated!

  • Ann that's awesome!

  • I am writing this post just to say still be very careful, as you do not need a set back at this stage :? . If you feel extreme pain stop :S . Ann , im only saying this because in the past i thought i could go back. and i tried, but for me it was much much to soon and it cost me :''( . I have thought about you alot. If you feel comfortable doing what you are doing then all the best to you :) . I used to have the attitude , "NO PAIN, NO GAIN", like going to the gym to get strong :? , for me it didnt work, i was listening to people around me :S , pushing me all the time :S i thought i had something to prove, but i realise now i didnt, but its to late once the damage has been done :''( . Ok im waffling, but you know where im coming from :) , ALL THE BEST >:D<

    Angie x :H
  • Ann,
    I am excited for you and your recovery! I am a 4th grade teacher getting ready to go through TLIF L4-L5 on Nov. 18th. I am also wondering how returning to work will be especially since my admin. is well known for not working with their teachers. I will definitely keep up with you and also will make posts before and after my surgery to fill you in on my progress. Goodluck to you!
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