I am a young academic – I accepted a permanent academic position at the start of this year. I wrote a very large number of grant applications, and got "my big break" with a large, multi-million-unit-of-currency competitively awarded fellowship that would enable me to hire my first proper postdoc, students, and do experiments – I was delighted. (I am an experimental medical physicist)
Unfortunately for me, I then basically immediately ended up in hospital as a patient rather than an employee, and had a minor spinal cord injury. I was catheterised (horrible), became incontinent (surprisingly, far less horrible), and have greatly reduced strength in one of my legs (annoying, but I am glad to be able to move it again) – it's been about six months later, and I've been operated on, poked, prodded and investigated, and am still not really better. For example, I'm walking with aids that aren't magnet safe, and my life requires access to high-field (3T, 7T, 9.4T, 12T) magnets.
The main conference deadlines in my field are coming up, and while I've tried to keep publishing, I worry that my funding body will look badly upon my complete lack of productivity. I'm also acutely aware that to train new students effectively really requires hands-on time with the instruments and I don't want to be a burden on my (new) colleagues – I mostly just "haven't arrived". The university will help with things like my physical requirements, but the thing I find really distressing is that I get exhausted, and can't concentrate well – at the moment I'm on sick leave.
I feel both tired, frustrated, and deeply nervous about not hitting the ground running. I worry that I'm going to get fired, or that my reputation in the field will decrease. Because some of my problems are unlikely to go away, I'm actually trying to become more interested in more mathematical or theoretical aspects of my work (which I can do – and have been doing – lying in bed, on opiates). But this all deeply, deeply worries me. Students, books, papers and grants all have timetables, and me getting sick doesn't stop the rest of the world from moving on. I feel like a burden on my loving partner – the last thing I want to do is feel like a burden on my colleagues and international collaborators either. Yet at the same time, I know that, deep down, I need help and am likely to continue to need physical help. I'm unsure about how to go about getting it, and how to communicate more broadly to my field that "it's not my fault" that they haven't seen the great things that I wanted to deliver.
How do I bounce back? I want to hit the ground running, but I'm aware that trying to do too much too soon is likely to be bad for my health, to put it mildly.