Returning to work after Guillain-Barre syndrome

Developing Guillain-Barre syndrome means everything grinds to a halt for a while. Andy Ingham tells us about returning to work as he started to get his life back.

It’s a funny old world. One day I’m living my life as usual, juggling home and work life, having seemingly endless energy levels and thinking nothing of it. Then the next day I get pins and needles in my hands and feet and a couple of days later I’m in hospital paralysed from the neck down. Following a barrage of tests, I’m diagnosed with this strange thing called GBS (AMAN variety). This was in January 2019 and in the run up I had been suffering from food poisoning.

The purpose of this short account is to focus on my return to the ‘normality’ of work, so I won’t dwell on the two and a half months I spent in hospitals and the treatments involved… I am a volunteer with GAIN so if you or a member of your family are affected by GBS and want to talk about your experience then please ask GAIN to put you in touch. It’s always good to share!

Whilst I was in recovery mode I stayed in contact with my employer and we were able to agree a return to work plan. This included a couple of measures to help with my fatigue and other residuals; a phased return starting with a few hours a week and then building up to a few hours a week and then building up to a full week over a period of time. Being able to work from home was a big help as travelling on public transport was very tiring. During this period, I was able to work on specific tasks and this helped me settle back into work life. My employer also provided access to a wellbeing counsellor and I found it helpful to talk to someone about my experiences.

So how were the first couple of months? Difficult! I took part in lots of conference calls and I found that my levels of concentration drifted and my memory skills were somewhat lacking; the quality of my handwriting was poor (not that it was ever neat!) and using the keyboard was an effort as my hands weren’t that flexible. I had to have lots of breaks so that my legs didn’t seize up.

That said, it was great to talk to colleagues and catch up on what they’d been up to over the last year and it gave me the opportunity to push GBS off centre stage for a while each day and let me focus on other things. Overall, I appreciate the support that I’ve received from my wife and family during this period and that of my employer and line manager in helping me settle back into ‘normal’ life.

But then came along COVID-19 and a whole new set of challenges…

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