Working in the Head Office of the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, Michelle Halliwell may not be on the front line of fighting fires, but that does not mean she is not passionate about the role she plays in supporting the men and women who are.
The Facilities and Customer Services Officer is responsible for ensuring everything the fire stations need to do their jobs is in order. So when surgery to treat a long-term ankle condition saw her looking at long-term recovery, she turned to The Fire Fighters Charity.
“To be honest, I thought I didn’t deserve their help,” she says. “I’d always got involved with fundraisers and events here in the office, and we hear stories of the amazing things the Charity does. But because I’m non-uniform, it didn’t occur to me I could be eligible for support. I got in touch and they said not only was I eligible, but they would do everything they could to get me back to work as soon as possible.”
Michelle attended a programme of rehabilitation at Marine Court, our centre in Littlehampton, where she quickly realised it was her own responsibility to put in the work: “The whole programme was brilliant, especially how much encouragement you have. The time and effort they put into everyone, and the patience they have is amazing. We were constantly on the go with a good mix of activities, and even the food was balanced to ensure your stay gave you the best possible outcome.”
“I got in touch and they said not only was I eligible, but they would do everything they could to get me back to work as soon as possible.”
It was during one discussion session where Michelle had what she says was her light bulb moment: “We were talking about pain thresholds,” she explains. “Sometimes we imagine the pain is going to be worse than it is, because of how much it hurt before or after surgery, when in reality it won’t be as bad. For me, that was the moment. I realised how much fear I had of the pain, but I wanted to give it a go, and just thought, I can do this.”
Having arrived at the centre on crutches and wearing an air boot, Michelle was encouraged to put her crutches down and try to walk unaccompanied, something she could never have imagined doing so soon. But do so she did, and her efforts received a round of applause from her fellow beneficiaries.
“That’s the other thing about staying at the centres, it felt like being part of a fire service family,” she said. “Everyone collaborated and supported each other. I thought I had such a long road ahead of me, but my time there gave me my confidence back and I believed in myself in a way I never had before.”
After a week, Michelle walked away from the centre needing neither crutches nor air boot to get around.
“People couldn’t believe it when I came back to work,” she says. “I took the skills and treatment plan home with me, and everyone could see the difference in me and how hard I’d worked.”
Michelle is waiting for a second surgery on her other foot next year, but she no longer feels as anxious about her recovery as she used to: “The first time around it was this big scary unknown, not knowing how I might recover. But now I know what help is available to me. I might have been able to have physio at home, but it would have been so much more of a slow process.
“I’m just so thankful for everything the Charity does,” she adds. “I feel so grateful to have this opportunity. My goal for recovery next time is to incorporate everything I learned last time, so I can get back to work as quickly as possible and support those people within my fire and rescue service who depend on me.”Share your story