In January, my work held a training session, showing first aiders how to carry out an intra-muscular emergency injection procedure. First aiders from my building were asked to volunteer. I also had three colleagues from my office who offered to be trained. I was very touched by the fact that 12 people, in total, volunteered.
The training was provided by a local private GP practice, who offer specialised first aid training for the workplace. The woman who carried it out was a paramedic with, it seemed, a good understanding of Addison’s (big relief!) She gave very practical advice and put the staff at ease in dealing with a pretty scary-looking needle.
Most of the people there were first aiders and had been trained in using an Epi-pen. Our needles are a little trickier and a lot bigger and scarier, if the truth be told. A colleague told me her heart sank a bit when she saw the needle, but that the trainer put her at complete ease: she now felt confident enough to stab me, should the need ever arise.
The training began with everyone becoming accustomed to the drug vials and injection equipment. Our paramedic showed everyone how to attach the needle to the syringe, break the vials open, how to inject and how to dispose of the needle carefully. She even showed me a few tricks I didn’t know, about opening the vial properly. (Wrap it in a tissue and use the blue dot as a hinge point). Importantly, I felt, she made it clear to the volunteers that they really could not harm me. Someone asked if they spill some would it be okay to give me two vials.
'Tell them they can’t kill you, Siobhan, this is what they need to hear', the paramedic replied.
'You would need to inject about a litre of hydrocortisone before you did any damage', she informed our first aiders.
'What if the needle goes right through to the bone?' someone else asked.
'I promise you, the bone is extremely well protected, you will never do that', she reassured them.
All in all, it was an excellent session. Those taking part all said they felt confident and clear about what they would need to do in an emergency.
I was so appreciative of the many people volunteering, I went around thanking everyone. However, while I was doing this, someone came up and thanked me! It turns out this man’s wife had a condition where she had no functioning adrenal glands. Like Addison’s, her steroid-dependence required daily hydrocortisone tablets, as well as injections in the event of illness, accident or shock. He explained that he had given her an injection on many occasions. However, his wife’s doctor had refused to give her emergency medication (they had got it through another doctor) and no one had ever given him or his wife training in how to use the injection. He felt that he now knew exactly what he was doing and was going to home to show his wife. It was a wonderful end to the training, for me, because it also became about helping another individual and her family get the support they needed.
Getting this training agreed by my employer was a long struggle and a series of, at times, tense negotiations that took over a year. I pushed and pushed to get this done. Someone else – without my professional background in the area of disability law – might have given up rather than risk straining their relationships at work. I was motivated partly by an experience not long after my diagnosis when I collapsed while out with my mum. It took 45 minutes for an ambulance to reach us, even in the middle of town. Having first-hand experience of a delay in emergency response made me determined to be proactive about getting first aid preparations in place at my workplace.
I am very grateful to my employer for their willingness to consider the facts and medical submissions I presented to them, and eventually agreeing to this, despite their initial reluctance. It makes a positive difference to my safety and, perhaps just as importantly, to my sense of wellbeing at work.
If anyone is interested in approaching their own employer for similar first aid training, I am happy to share details of my experience with you, and how to present a persuasive, factual case. Please contact me through the forum, in the topic area on Disability allowances and employment issues. You can post a question, or send me a personal message through the forum.
This article was first published in the March 2014 edition of the ADSHG newsletter.