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Chris's Story - Disability History Month 2021

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I've always wanted to be a Paramedic since I was about 13, there i am once again in the back of the bumpy bouncy and noisy ambulance puffing through the Entonox and more time off school again. So much pain but that’s all you got back then. It’s my Hip this time ive fractured break number 33, Roller skating never was a sport for me. Maybe I can be one of these people seen in green, making me laugh and always so kind. 

I’m 36 now and a Paramedic in EEAST. Currently seconded to ECAT while I await an operation on my knee. I was only washing the car. That was broken bone number 38 at a guess. I have a condition called Brittle Bone disease (Osteogenesis Imperfecta, OI).

Not to be confused with Osteoporosis, although I have this too. My condition was inherited from my father, and I passed it onto one of my four children.

OI is a defect where collagen (the protein that is responsible for bone structure) is missing, reduced or of low quality, so is not enough to support the minerals in the bone. This makes the bone weak, which in turn makes the bones easy to fracture.

For some with OI it’s very apparent they have a disability. Deformed limbs and confined to a wheelchair. For me I work frontline on DSA and RRV and unless I tell you then most wouldn’t know I have a disability unless you watch me walk with a tiny limp, that’s one leg longer than the other due to fractures. I learnt very quickly what I could and couldn’t do at work when it came to manual handling and other aspects, I just adapted and ensured I use every tool available to me. Including not carrying people downstairs for the sake of carrying them downstairs. Everyday I suffer from Joint paint, random pains, and other associated symptoms such as hearing loss, dental problems, hyperextension, and fatigue. But understanding your own body and limits help you manage this. I take mild to moderate Pain relief when needed.  I have Zolendronic Acid every year by IV infusion. No amount of milk drinking, or supplements will help. As we get older our bones get weaker so this will cause issues.

When I applied as a student paramedic back in 2014, I declared my disability, but I dreaded that call to be rejected, I had interviewed for jobs before without declaring it but I knew I would have to as this was a career for life. Thankfully EEAST gave me the opportunity to see someone from Occupational health when I had my interviews and a few additional checks, and I was recruited into the first cohort of Student Paramedics. I didn’t require many adjustments. I wear safety trainers rather than the boots issued. This has upset a few random people I have come across, but I won’t justify myself to strangers as I don’t believe we should need to. I do have a blue badge for me and my daughter and the number of arguments I’ve had with strangers about this is unbelievable but sadly inevitable, this is because we walk unaided, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have it. She has a wheelchair when we need it, and mine is there when I need it.  I don’t claim any of the benefits as I work and I’m happy to do this.

I do worry about my future in the trust. I enjoy being on the frontline so much but how long can I do it for before my body can’t take it anymore? What other adaptions can be made? Luckily, we have such a vast variety of job roles that would still make me patient facing but less manual handling and I have recently been exploring these while I await surgery, that was 6 months ago and still no news. This is a number of factors such as COVID backlog, a Hospital roof that closed some wards, and the huge backlog of patients.

Hidden disability’s come in So many forms. It would be a wonderful world if prejudice and stigma didn’t exist. Things will improve but it will always exist. This is just a very small snippet of my life. But I wouldn’t want to change it for the world. It would be better if I hadn’t passed this onto my daughter as she faces challenges at the age of 6. However, I can guide her through her journey with my experiences.

Remember to never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes (with specially built build ups)

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