WGBH News reached out to healthcare workers in Massachusetts about their experiences working in the state, and many of them shared stories of back and other injuries they got on the job — you can read a few of them below.
Are you a health care worker who's been injured on the job? Share your story in the comments at the bottom of the page.
I work as a physical therapist in the inpatient setting at a small community hospital outside of Boston. My job requires mobilizing people who have had surgery or have simply been ill and are deconditioned.
I have had two musculo-skeletal injuries in my 15 years at this hospital. One time involved trying to help an elderly, demented woman stand after a serious femur fracture. She was not able to assist herself at all and was understandably frightened when three of us attempted to get her to her feet. I strained my lower back in the process and frankly we had done nothing to help this woman. This is an example of an injury occurring because of an error in judgment on the part of the physician’s assistant taking care of this patient who insisted we try to get this woman up.
My second injury was a torn pectoral muscle, which I pulled while attempting to help sit a large, deconditoned patient on the edge of the bed. I was responsible for the judgment error in this case as the patient’s nurse had offered to help me but I refused, seeing that the nurses were all very busy.
In both cases I didn’t miss work but I did have to go to corporate health for a physical exam and assumed unofficial light duty for several weeks, which meant my colleagues had to assume more of the burden of moving these patients.
These are examples of injuries that could have been prevented if better judgment on the part of the caretakers had been used. I should have halted the intervention in the first case when I saw that this woman could not help herself at all, and in the second case I should have accepted the nurse’s help. In my experience injuries also often happen because staff are in a hurry, exhausted or there is simply not enough help available.
After 33 years in critical care nursing, I can honestly say I do not know a nurse who doesn't have back strain. Patients are much sicker and heavier than we've ever seen. Although some facilities have overhead lifts to assist in moving patients, it takes time to put a lift pad under the patient who often cannot turn side to side. More often than not, we get four of us to help lift or turn patients to change position to prevent skin breakdown, to clean patients up, to bathe them or change their Johnny.
Regarding prevention, nurses are selfless people who always do what is best for their patients without consideration for themselves. When you are in the moment, caring for critically ill patients, we just do what needs to be done. As a result, many of us take lots of hot baths to relax, use massage therapy and take lots of Aleve or Motrin to deal with the back issues.
I am an RN on a busy medical/surgical unit. We can have up to 6 patients each on my floor. Most of our patients are surgical patients, which means they are dependent on the staff for everything from moving in bed to walking to and from the bathroom. I have had patients as heavy as 457 pounds! RNs, as well as nursing assistants, use their backs and shoulders to reposition, toilet patients, get patients in and out of bed or onto stretchers. We are constantly using our backs and shoulders.
We also drag around computers on wheels to pass medications out, drag heavy equipment around. I know several RNs at my facility have had these types of injuries from lifting and pulling.
To try to prevent this type of injury to myself I always try to have several people help lift patients with me. Same with equipment. The problem is that if you are short staffed then there is not enough people to have assist you which is always a problem in the hospital.
Using good technique when lifting is what we should do, but when a patients falls your first concern is that patient and you are not always thinking of you own back or shoulder.
I have been a practicing physical therapist for over 30 years, working in various settings and a variety of states. And I have treated many health care workers with a variety of work-related injuries.
The biggest culprit is back injuries — from strains and strains to full-blown herniated discs. And there is much research in this area that focuses on nurses as they are the most numerous of healthcare workers. Of course some injuries can be preventable: We can pay more attention to what we are doing, we can ensure the workspace is clear. But the majority of back injuries I have seen are simply because we are moving and assisting patients to move. Individuals that are ill, having surgery, or are immediately post op are unpredictable. People faint and we have to be able to let them down easily. Someone’s legs may give out and fall without notice. People panic when they are scared, injured, etc. and this is the case with many patients and they may fight to keep their balance (that is incorrect and is actually going to throw them off balance). Or they may just have difficulty following directions.
Another culprit is when a patient requires two people to move him or her. When working as a team we need to be aware of the other person as well. If one is ready and the other is not, one of the team will sustain an injury.
As a physical therapist I spend much time on the floor and on my knees as I treat young children. After so many years of the constant up and down, kneeling on so many hard surfaces, my knees and back are always sore. I am almost constantly flexed at the back (upper and lower) when working with a toddler to engage in an activity or to help teach him to walk. These are repetitive stress injuries and they are very difficult to heal as we keep on injuring them while we work.
Many health care workers leave the field as a result of injuries — either an acute injury or a chronic/repetitive type injury. Sad that so many have to move on to different careers as a result of their original career choice.