34 hours

I do love me an obscure heading but this one defines itself pretty quickly.

A recap: I started this job, as you know, in a casual position working in the dispensary at Epworth Richmond way back on August 30th 2017. Can you believe that it’s been 5 and a bit months that I’ve been here? It’s an absolutely essential role, yes, but one that I would be happy not to have to fill very much ever again for the remainder of my career. I don’t have anything against working in the dispensary, but I’ve been a clinical pharmacist on the wards since 2010, and being back in the dispensary had me feeling a bit boxed in! In fact I’ve been a clinical pharmacist in heart since my first hospital placement at the Austin hospital with the wonderful Grace in 2008, but that’s kind of beside the point, I guess. I loved working in the dispensary for the social side; there are some great people working dispensary. One of the things I never expected I’d miss when I left work was the social side of it, always having been a pretty independent worker. But you miss the chit chat when you’re home alone all day! I’m afraid its made me a bit of a chatter box now, and probably one of those annoying sharers of inane stories, but I’m just excited to be having a conversation with someone other than myself. This is ironic to myself because of one such annoying girl that I used to hardly be able to stand back in the day; full circle, around we come!

So I jumped, almost literally jumped, at the chance to switch lanes back to a clinical role in the emergency department when I heard about an opportunity. I interviewed for the spot on September 13th and started working with my new boss (love her!!) on the 25th. Going part time rather than purely casual was definitely a bonus, but I kept the casual position going since the part time gig is only 19 hours per week. I say only, at the beginning that was as much as I wanted, and putting on one other shift was all I could imagine. I’ve done several casual dispensary shifts in the months following at Richmond, and now also at Epworth Eastern (Box Hill) for some diversity, and because it takes 5 minutes walk to get there! It’s good money, being casual, especially if they’re shorter shifts that don’t take as much out of me physically, but I’ve learnt not to take on 2 days in a row standing up, or accept the dreaded 5 to 10pm dispensary shift at Richmond because all catastrophe breaks loose after 9pm! I don’t know what happens to hospital workers after dark, but it’s not good. Everyone gives you attitude, demands the impossible, gives you grief over everything, sends you ridiculous requests and it’s just generally chaotic. Plus the 5 to 10pm shift is usually paired with an 8am start next day and two of those combo shifts were enough! For most people its no big deal, but I can’t hack that turn around, I can’t handle my sleep being messed with; it’s just not worth it. Goodbye 10pm finishes, goodbye stand-all-day shifts day after day. That’s the beauty of being casual, you pick and choose whatever shifts work for you, so I keep being told. It’s taken me a good long while to get this through my head. I’m much more of the accepting-all-requests personality. But in the end, if it wears you down, if it affects your sleep, or your health then you have to make the tough call and say no, however much your personality yells, just this once, it’ll be okay, just say yes. I’m still bad at it, I’m always tempted to accept more than I know I should when that voice is asking me down the phone…but I have to remind myself to look after me first. The selfish choice, the reserve-your-super-powers-for-another-day choice. It’s hard to explain, its hard to do but you just have to.

Ever since I’ve been returning to work after that whole breakdown thing (Box Hill public hospital, Priceline Boronia and now at Epworth private), being on my feet has been the major rate-limiting step of each and every day. I keep hoping its going away, but its not. The old plantar fasciitis in my right heel just keeps on shooting up through my heel; the extra 40 kilograms I’m carrying is weighing down through my ankles contributing to the general ache I guess, I cannot seem to pick a good pair of work shoes to save myself it so heel blisters come and go and come and go, and getting a pair of sockettes that don’t fall down or bunch or cut in at the seams is another nightmare, and so we go on day to day, seeing if I can survive the amount of standing and walking that the day demands.  Sometimes I really barely can get those last steps to home, and I mean this literally. Stumbling up the drive in pain with blisters roaring, heel stabbing, desperate to get off my feet and get them legs horizontal! On standing-all-day days, my main strategy is shifting from foot to foot, walking whenever I can including extra “toilet” breaks, and more to the point, sitting at every single possible imaginable opportunity, sometimes ludicrously. All while trying to ensure no one realises what’s going on, because, like, you wouldn’t want to anyone to think you were weak, would you?!? Wretched pride. I’ll happily divulge my mental illness once I’ve known someone a short while, but pity help them finding out I can’t do the job physically! Sheesh, what a weirdo!! So I grit and grit and take every break I can squeeze and push on, but I do not relish those days when I know I’ll be standing all day, which are the days I spend on dispensary duty. At this point a saying comes to mind: “push through the barriers”. It’s been said to me, but if you only knew how much I push on through every work shift, how it drains me, how I die inside a bit…, believe me, I’m pushing on. Remember when I used to lay in bed all day? I daydream some days that I’m back there, mostly when I’ve been standing at the same bench for an hour. Ah, to be lying down with my legs up!

It’s getting easier now, in one sense, and harder in another. It’s getting easier to knock back the dispensary shifts because I am now getting offered clinical shifts on the wards!! Yeah baby!! The ED thing is a dream come true, and this is pretty close behind! So now that I’ve done some training I can formally back fill and cover the medical ward and kids ward for any pharmacist’s annual leave or sick leave. And at the moment, I’m doing some filling in for my boss who is acting director of pharmacy. Yippee! More clinical work, fuller calendar, less dispensary availability…that is apart from the shifts that I agreed to before this came up, but its all good; I’ll manage them as they come and then let them be bygones.

Which brings us to 34 hours. For THE first time since I walked out on my excellent fulfilling cutting edge full time job at the Alfred in mental health crisis in March 2014, I worked almost a full pharmacy week, which is 40 hours in public hospital; it’s actually less in private hospital but this has always been the goal in my mind. I worked 34 hours the week starting Monday 15th January and I’m thrilled! In my mind it brings me full circle to where I left off, and I have to admit two things: 1) that this has been a major goal in my mind, and 2) that I really did think it would never happen again in my lifetime; that I’d never be well enough ever again. You can sense the satisfaction, surely! I did it! I got back there! I came full circle and ticked a box that I felt doomed never to achieve, and it feels really good. Of course it’s not just the hours worked. It’s the work itself: feeling like I’m back to being useful, back to being the standard of pharmacist I was then (which I’m not fully, but the point is I’m on my way), that I’m back to being a functioning member of the workforce. I don’t know why being a useful home keeper never felt enough in my mind. I think its all about feeling torn from a place and occupation I loved, and the idealisation of that place and occupation as the ultimate indicator of success in bringing this mental illness beast under control and in subjection. Of course its folly to think its ever totally in control and subjection, but I dream! My GP so wisely pointed out that I am not to be doing it to make the point; that’s not a healthy perspective, and I think I’d realised that shortly before he said it. I did it, I ticked something in my mind, but that’s it now; there’s nothing more to prove. I proved it to myself, that’s all I ever needed, so now settle back and enjoy the work and the hours for their own sake, without any pressure to meet a target that in the end is pretty meaningless really.

Do you know what I think the most powerful balm is in all of this? Every shift I work on the wards or in ED beyond my part time hours, is filling in for someone either on leave or pulled somewhere else. I’m filling a role that were I not there, would not be filled. Excuse the false terminology but its the hero complex; the idea that were I not there, things would be worse, so I’m being so very useful. That can’t help but stroke the ego and I’m as vain as the next person, I suppose. Because I got out of bed and went to work instead of the opposite, I can do some good for a patient; it’s a powerful motivator on the reluctant mornings.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

  • Week starting 15th Jan: 34 hours being my usual 19 hours plus 2 full day shifts, one shadowing the pharmacist rostered to the medical and paediatric wards, and one working side by side
  • Week starting 22nd Jan: 22.5 hours being my usual Monday only (1 public holiday Friday and 1 annual leave Saturday), and 2 full day extra shifts working the medical/paediatric wards
  • Week starting 29th Jan: 29 hours being my usual 19 hours plus 2 half day extra shifts in ED
  • Week starting 5th Feb: 31.5 hours being my usual 19 hours plus 1 extra full shift in ED and medical/paediatric combined, and 1 extra half shift in medical/paediatric
  • Week starting 12th Feb: 32.5 hours being my usual 19 hours plus 1 full day and 1 part day in the Epworth Eastern dispensary

 

I can hardly believe the numbers myself but they don’t lie. As for how it went, it’s taken me too many words and too much time getting this far, so the how can wait for the next edition. See you then!

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Job update

Hello? Is anybody out there? Is anyone still listening?

Apologies for the radio silence over the last few months. It wasn’t for lack of ideas and thoughts to share, but more for lack of motivation and follow through. It’s been a long, cold winter for me! How about you?

The run-down of this winter is coming in instalments, because a lot has happened despite the long cold. First off, and the main event, an update on work.

I quit my old job in August, yep the same one that I started in April, and moved on to another job. I’ve never “given up” so soon! But it was a good move, probably the best career move I’ve ever made despite quitting being seen generally as a negative thing. Four months in community pharmacy, and I’m done! It wasn’t the community, it was the pharmacy, more specifically the management of the pharmacy, and more especially the owner/manager/slacker/ingrate/greedy pig/jerk. I’ve done that fight in a job once, and it changed the course of my mental health for life! This time, I knew enough not to stay, and I’m proud of that! It shows that I learnt something that first time around, and that’s a victory. As soon as I realised that the situation wasn’t going to change (another thing I’m proud of recognising this time around) and that my initiative was unappreciated, I started planning my departure.

And karma smiled. Well I don’t believe in karma, or the universe, or fate. But everything fell into place like it would if you did believe in one or the other of those things. I monitored the regular SEEK pharmacist job alerts that I’d signed up to receive before this job, as well as the Society of Hospital Pharmacists job register. I was still searching for my escape route (you know, never leave a job until you’ve got another job), when I got a call from Slade Pharmacy at Epworth Private Hospital in Richmond asking if I would like to interview for a casual position! Ah yes! I would definitely like to interview for a job with flexible hours in a hospital, albeit the dispensary! Especially since you called me; is this a dream come true? So why did they call me? Turns out that when I interviewed for them last year and didn’t get the job, they said “can we keep your resume on file?” and meant it! How about that? I thought it was just a line that everyone says when you don’t get a job as a consolation that maybe in the future there’ll be something there for you. But this time there’s an actual consolation prize in form of a job! Amazing.

So, interview, check. Job offer, check. Give notice that I’m leaving, check. Get obnoxious response from boss, check. Leave job feeling even better about my decision to leave, check. His response when I said I was leaving? “That’s a relief. Return the keys. Retail is not for you”! Sorry. You’re wrong. Retail pharmacy is for me, in fact during uni days I worked in retail pharmacy for 3 years and had a great time. But you’re right, the way you mis-manage it, it’s not for me. Ciao!

Usually when someone is looking for work, changing jobs, planning a career or whatnot, they consult their own needs and maybe that of a partner or family member. It comes down to what you want from a job, where you want to work, what you want to do in your job and that’s it. That’s true for me too, but in my case, there are a few other factors that contribute as well.

Number one: how will this job affect my health? That’s always the first consideration nowadays. Do you ever even think about this when considering a job? I certainly never did before I got sick. Could I work fulltime, could I manage the stress, how would I manage my workload? I never even thought about these as issues, I never thought about it period. I just knew inside myself that I would manage whatever came to me. I never doubted being able to do whatever job I got. I didn’t understand there being any option but doing the job well and going home to rest before going back the next day. Until the last year of my first job led to my physical health falling apart, and my mental health beginning to deteriorate. My second job was endlessly fulfilling but my mental health was already on the way out and too far gone for me to hold my head together, so I had to bow out. Ever since then I’ve been returning to work and thinking about what I can physically and mentally manage in a job.

Number two: what do my doctors think? Their opinion isn’t the end of the matter, but it has a lot of weight and sometimes it does decide the issue. My psychiatrist for instance has an old-school understanding of what hospital pharmacists do, but a very up-to-date understanding of how my previous jobs have affected my mental health. His current stipulation has been no hospitals, which of course I’ve found very challenging to accept! Hospitals are my place, I’m sure of it, but the politics of my first and third hospital jobs have been tough on my health for different reasons. So, I did what he suggested and tried retail pharmacy. I wasn’t very enthusiastic at first, but I tried to see it as a challenge, as a chance to update and broaden my drug knowledge and expand my mind with a different type of practice. But unfortunately, I found a great job in a terrible environment. I tried hard to make it work, but it began to drag me down after a couple of months and my psychiatrist could see that clearly, once referring to my ex-boss as Frankenstein’s brother, and another time as a peasant which amused me greatly! But still, when I broached my new job at Slade Pharmacy with him, I went cautiously and emphasised the words dispensary, retail, community pharmacy, and minimised the word hospital. But as it turns out, that first job as a casual dispensary pharmacist starting in September was easy to sell. Meanwhile my GP is supportive of anything that I want to put my hand to, even recommending I just not work for a while longer if it suited me. But getting back to work has always been a driving force with me, for better or for worse.

A week into my casual dispensary role, I heard someone dropping the words job and emergency department!! Wait!! What?? My favourite ever job so far! On offer right here? Where I already have a job? Ears pricked, senses heightened, on full alert I went into action finding out as much as I could. As soon as possible I interviewed for and was then offered later that week a role in the emergency department, 2 weeks into my casual dispensary position. I was more hesitant in telling my psychiatrist about that. I used words like part time, structured, working with another pharmacist, dedicated time, no involvement with the main hospital. But it went over easily. He saw how the community pharmacy thing went; we tried that. So now this is a new thing that I wanna try, and we’ll watch and wait this time.

The third and last factor is a third party checking in on the progress of my work. I’m receiving income protection payments from an insurer, and they check in on me every month. There’s a lot of filling in of forms by myself and my GP, supplying payslips when I’m working, and periodic check ins with a “rehabilitation consultant” who keeps tabs on my work and my health, and a case manager who keeps tabs generally. They do keep the pressure on to remain in paid work, of course, and they aim to get me back to full time work, something that I’m by no means convinced is possible. When I wasn’t happy in that retail job, I did experience some pressure from them to keep going rather than quit, but I was sure I was doing the right thing, and now in hindsight they agree. It’s just another little something in the mix that complicates my plans for what work I want to do and how I want to do it.