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A sudden handicap is not the kind of story you can tell from time to time as an amusing anecdote or an interesting tale. So you might be wondering why I like to tell it anyway. I tell my story because it shows that even in a global company such as Daimler it’s possible to find something like a second family. That’s because what my colleagues did for me after I had a serious accident was incredible.
In August 1993 I started my training as an industrial electronics technician at the training workshop in Untertürkheim. Before the “getting to know you” event I already had met a man named Marten at a bus stop in Bad Cannstatt. He went on to play a special role in my story. We both did well in our training program, so after a condensed training period we switched in July 1996 to the maintenance unit of what was then the gray iron foundry so that we could work in the profession we had trained for.
A world broke down
I experienced my personal Armageddon in the late summer of 2016. I had a swimming accident in which I literally broke my neck, and since then I’ve been paralyzed from the shoulders on down. After two or three weeks in the intensive care ward — it was the beginning of October — I more or less regained consciousness. I felt as though my world had come to an end. I couldn’t move anything except my shoulders and my head, and I couldn’t feel anything below my shoulders.
All kinds of thoughts surged through my mind: You’re no good for anything any more! You’re only a burden to others! What will happen to my wife and our four children? On top of that, one of the doctors on the ward gave my wife a sober forecast:
Look for a place in a nursing home for your husband — four children and a nursing case of this kind… You won’t be able to manage!
In the beginning, I didn’t want to see anyone except for my family and a very good friend who was a non-medical practitioner. I was very preoccupied with my own thoughts. Back then, of course I had no idea of what people were already doing on my behalf at the company. My colleagues at my unit took the initiative and started thinking about how they could help us.
That’s why my wife told me I should at least “invite” Marten and Janni to come over, because they had some things to tell me. The three of us had formed a special bond. We’ve been colleagues for over two decades, all three of us were born in the spring of 1977 within a period of six weeks, and together we have a total of ten children. That last fact is probably the reason why they felt a special empathy for me.
I took my wife’s advice and asked them to come over. When the two of them came to visit me at the beginning of November 2016, it was naturally a very moving occasion. None of us could quite hide our tears. But it wasn’t only their visit that did me good. I think that what they told me about my colleagues’ tremendous sympathy and their readiness to help really helped me to recover.
First movements and emotions
After two and a half months, my bone marrow “decided” it wanted to heal after all, so at the beginning of December 2016 my body began to regain some initial movements and perceptions. Was it only a coincidence that this process began practically at the same time that the website http://www.help-much.de/ was launched by my colleagues?
After that, I received an incredible amount of support. Some of my friends and colleagues got together and gave me a laptop with voice recognition that once again opened up the door to the outside world for me. That way I could at least keep up my contacts by writing, because at that point making a phone call independently was absolutely not an option.
There was an overwhelming response to the initiative “Help Much.” Embedded in the website was a feature that enabled me to look at the words of greeting, “get well soon” cards, and photographs people had sent. I also received many imaginative and encouraging presents, as well as donations to a specially set up a bank account.
Another highlight was the Christmas party my friends threw for me. Almost all of them came for a Christmas dinner with me in the clinic. Nonetheless, this was followed by some dark days for me. Although I continued to receive many visitors, it was very bitter for me not to be able to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve with my family.
I figured that the beginning of the year 2017 could only get better. At the beginning of January, I was moved to Bad Wildbad for follow-up treatment. Although I was now even further from home, the stream of visitors didn’t diminish. My colleagues had decided to send a delegation to visit me at least once a week.
Motivation boost thanks to working group
In the meantime, a working group had formed to manage my reintegration into my workplace. I was informed about this on time for my 40th birthday in February, in a video call from my department head, Daniel Ulrich, and my team leader Hans-Peter Püttmer. Of course this was a tremendous relief, and it gave my motivation an additional boost!
In May 2017 my odyssey through the clinics finally ended, and I went home. Since then, I’ve been highly motivated and I complete my daily training program regularly. I also continue to receive many visitors, some of whom come from other departments of our company. Of course there have been some changes in our family life and in my family’s daily routine. But after a short settling-in phase, we became a well-coordinated team, and that’s how many months went by.
Return to working life
Toward the end of 2017, I could make specific plans about my return to the workplace, and at the beginning of December I participated in meeting about my reintegration for the first time. I attended the meeting via videoconference. We’ve had four more videoconferences since then, and the next one is being planned. As a result, I’ve stay in touch with my supervisor, the plant physician, and representatives from HR, the Works Council, and Employees with Disabilities in a familiar atmosphere.
Last Christmas, which I fortunately was able to spend at home with my family, the company gave me a huge present: It set up my home office! It wasn’t yet time for me to go back to my job, but it was a further milestone. The year 2018 started with a warm reunion with my colleagues. Our annual dinner was held at a pizzeria in my neighborhood, so that I could participate without any major problems. It was great to see all of them once again as a group!
After my rehabilitation session in Heidelberg in February 2018, things really started to happen fast. A week after I came back home, my reintegration into the workplace began. Through the excellent cooperation between Daimler, the occupational therapists at the rehabilitation clinic, and the pension fund, we developed a customized work concept for me. I started my reintegration process by working at home for two hours a day. In the following months, once a month my working time was increased by one additional hour per day.
Family-operated company with home office
At the moment I’m working five hours a day at my home office. I do many different kinds of work, and I’m able to support my colleagues’ preventive maintenance activities. I organize replacement parts, maintenance contracts, preparations for maintenance work, and lots of other things. And we’re constantly thinking of new areas for which I can take on responsibility.
Nowadays it’s easy for us to stay in touch with one another. I communicate with my colleagues via e-mail, videoconferences, and phone calls — in addition to the constant visits, of course. We’re currently starting to consider how I could return to my workplace at the plant. So things are still very exciting!
I’ve always enjoyed working at Daimler, and I’m proud to be part of this big family — for 25 years now. And this year we’re celebrating yet another anniversary. As I’ve already mentioned, Marten Wahl and I have been working together without interruption ever since our training program started in 1993. He’s one of the people who got my reintegration at Daimler off the ground.
When I applied for the training program in 1992, I couldn’t imagine that I had entered into a lifelong relationship with a “family-operated” company! Without this tremendous support, which gave me one less problem to think about, I couldn’t have focused on my physical recovery. And that is very largely due to my friends and colleagues, as well as Daimler AG! My sincere thanks go to everyone involved!