Belonging at Swan: Sally's Story
Our vision is for Swan to be a truly inclusive workplace that enables individuals to be the best possible versions of themselves and feel at home at Swan. People perform better when they can be themselves and nobody should have to hide who they are. To help us achieve this vision we have a number of employee network groups – SwanTogether, SwanNation, SwanProud and Inspiring Swans. With assistance from these groups, we will be sharing stories from across the organisation to learn more about our fantastically diverse Swan people.
Last week, we spoke with Income Officer, Sally, who shared her story about the traumatic brain injury she suffered due to a road traffic accident back in December 2017. Sally chats to us about how Swan was able to support her in her transition back to work and continues to do so on a daily basis, as well as the physical and psychological impact of her traumatic brain injury.
Would you mind telling us about your traumatic brain injury and what happened back in 2017?
When people say, oh, you might get hit by a bus tomorrow, well that did actually happen to me. It was five years ago, in December 2017, when I had a road traffic accident. I wasn't in a car; I was on foot, on the way to meet my friends and I walked out in front of a bus. I got taken to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford. Due to my injuries I was relocated to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge and I actually ‘died’ a couple of times in the ambulance on the way there. When my family arrived, I was already in surgery because they needed to relieve a blood clot in my head. They did this by removing part of my skull and I now have a titanium plate. After this, I had amnesia for about seven weeks and in my eyes, I didn’t wake up until the end of January. I was lucky to have my plate fitted at the end of January and after this I went into Blackheath Hospital in London and started my rehabilitation there.
What injuries or difficulties do you suffer from because of the accident?
When I was in hospital, my parents were being told that I might not be able to walk, talk or remember them at all, seeing as I had been in a coma for 24 hours. However, my injuries were not this extreme and I am quite high functioning. I remember my whole life, other than the accident and then the seven weeks afterwards. I think I'm very lucky that I don't have PTSD because when I came back to work, I had to get the bus because I wasn't allowed to drive! The main thing I struggle with is fatigue, both physical and mental. Even when I think I am alright, other people notice that I’m not; my friends and family can see if I'm getting tired.
How did Swan respond and support you after the accident?
Swan were so good with me; I really couldn't fault them. That's the thing that helped me a lot; I have great family and friends to support me, but I think it was how supportive Swan were that really helped. I wish I could start to express how thankful I am. I was in a rush to come back to work, but they made sure that I had everything I needed before I did, and I had a very long phased return. I was itching to get back to work in the January, but I didn’t come back until the end of June; some people think that’s too soon, but for me it felt like the right time in the end. Even when I came back to work, I was still not doing everything for myself and I started job sharing. At the time I felt a bit frustrated by this, but I think I understand now that it was quite helpful and it was them looking after me, looking back on it.
How do you feel in yourself five years on?
It wasn't until 2020 that I was doing my full job by myself again and then of course we went into lockdown, so it's only been in the more recent months that I have felt like I’m fully back. My friend had two strokes the year before last and her work only gave her a months phased return to work - it makes me realise how lucky I am, having had so long to build my confidence back up and the space to continue to do so even now. When I look back, I can see how much I've really changed over the time of being back at work. For me, coming back to Swan was really positive in my recovery and has helped me to get my confidence back. Also, now my role sits within the Income team, it helps having people around me that understand what I do and can give me support; I feel like I’m getting back to where I was before my accident.
How does Swan continue to support you now?
Even now they're still really helping me in any way they can. It’s mostly the fatigue that I struggle with now, both physically and mentally. It helps that I'm working from home a lot now and people are so accessible by Teams - It’s so easy to just message somebody and ask for help when you need it. I used to stop myself from asking too much because I didn’t want to be annoying but now, I'm getting over that. Sometimes I do think, have I just forgotten something, or is it because of my traumatic brain injury? But at Swan you know nobody will ever make you feel stupid for asking questions and I feel comfortable to speak up when I need to, whether it is because of my traumatic brain injury or not.
Do you consider yourself to be disabled now?
I don't always openly state that I am disabled, as I try to avoid talking about my traumatic brain injury too much now. I used to always bring it up to my friends and reference the accident, whereas now I don't unless it comes up. I don’t want people to think of me just as that person who had an accident, however, yes, I would probably say I'm disabled. I’m also dyslexic and you expect people to assume it just sets you back and stops you from doing things, however I may be dyslexic and have a traumatic brain injury, but I can still do things. Even if you apply the label to yourself, you don't necessarily always want to share it because you might be seen as somehow less able; it’s more about how society disables you rather than the person being less able. I think when you have lived a portion of your life without the disability, you have to go through a process of thinking, well what does that mean for me in terms of my identity? It’s an ongoing conversation.