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Nearly two years on, Joy Richards recalls every detail – the weather, what she was wearing, the feeling of her feet slipping, the sound and feel of her head hitting the sidewalk.
"I'll never forget it because it changed my life in many ways," Joy says of her fall while leaving the executive offices of the R. Fraser Elliott Building at Toronto General Hospital after a late meeting.
To mark Caring Safely Month and raise awareness of UHN's Slips, Trips and Falls Campaign, Joy, who is UHN's VP Patient Experience & Chief Health Professions, sat down with UHN News to discuss her fall, which occurred on Nov. 19, 2014, during the season's first snowfall.
Slips, trips and falls are among the five most serious occupational hazards that result in injuries to healthcare workers. At UHN in fiscal 2015-16, they accounted for about seven per cent of worker harm.
Aim to reduce incidents by 20 per cent over three years
As part of Caring Safely, slips, trips and falls have been identified as one of the three high impact injuries affecting UHN workers. Workplace violence and musculoskeletal disorders are the other two.
The goal is to reduce the number of each of these incidents by 20 per cent over the next three years.
Slips, trips and falls are an important area of focused prevention because most are preventable. Some of the simple solutions include ensuring wet surfaces are cleaned, cords in pathways are removed, frayed or torn carpeting is repaired, floor mats are placed where appropriate, and staff wear proper footwear for the task and pay attention to their surroundings, especially when walking up and down the stairs.
Over the next few months, the Slips, Trips and Falls Campaign will feature awareness posters and videos around UHN as well as blitz audits of work areas to identify and implement measures to deal with trip, slip and fall hazards.
'I should have been paying more attention'
In her fall, Joy was wearing snow boots and a winter coat. But she was talking with someone who was leaving the building at the same time. They were walking down the path to the parking garage.
"I should have been paying more attention to walking," Joy says.
"All of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, my feet went out from under me and I landed on the back of my head. And, when I hit the ground, I knew I'd hurt myself because of the impact."
Joy says she was stunned but didn't lose consciousness. While the other person went to get help, she sat up and got dizzy and felt that she was going to be sick to her stomach – clear signs of a head injury.
Joy was eventually taken by wheelchair to TGH Emergency, where it was a particularly busy night. She had a CT scan, which showed no bleeding on the brain, was given some Tylenol 3 and sent on her way.
'I know I'm still not 100 per cent'
But over the next few days "I started noticing I was doing bizarre things" such as half-making the bed and only partially unloading the dishwasher. She couldn't focus on more than a couple of e-mails at a stretch, found herself getting angry at meetings over her inability to concentrate and cried often.
After about a week of struggling, someone suggested Joy go to Toronto Rehab's Hull-Ellis Concussion and Research Clinic, which was just getting ready to open to the public. She was put through a physical assessment, saw a psychologist and was given strategies that focused on resting her brain.
While the concussion symptoms eventually eased, Joy says it was upwards of a year and she was still struggling with her memory. Even today, she says, when stressed or over-tired she will have trouble remembering the right word for something or struggle with the name of someone she knows.
"I know I'm still not 100 per cent," she says.
Joy says that in telling her story, she hopes people will take away three things – the importance of situational awareness, taking action when they see a safety risk and paying attention to their environment and what may put them, their patients or their colleagues at risk.
"The impact of a fall lasts a lot longer than 24 or 48 hours," Joy says. "It happens so quickly and it can have long-ranging implications so you have to make sure you are paying attention to risk factors."