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!

First day/s

[Saturday 29th, and Sunday 30th April 2017]

“So how was your first day at work?”

Well thanks for asking! Really. I’m so grateful to every person who has asked about my first shift, about starting this job, and about what’s next for me. It’s so encouraging and I hope this answers all of your questions!

Actually, it’s also a complete relief to have an answer! Being “unemployed” never got more satisfying as a reply when people asked what I was up to. Although “unemployed” is not how I ever thought of myself. I still thought of myself as a pharmacist, although the longer I wasn’t working, the looser that description felt. I thought of myself as a birdwatcher, a photographer, a bike rider, a lady who was able to lunch more days of the week than not; but that seemed to come off a bit lame as an explanation. These titles com in addition to the long term titles of wife and sort-of housekeep; although hubby would argue with the housekeep bit, most likely. And then there’s how sick I had been, and still was, and how that was impacting my ability to work (or not!). Yes, I thought of myself as sick, because it’s hard not to. I mean I was. But it’s hard to explain the full extent of that, and the gradual process of recovery, in a short conversation.

But here I am, a pharmacist again. And I’ve so surprised myself; I’ve fit back into the role like I never left! I really thought I’d lost something irreplaceable somewhere along the line!! Really! Something that would stop me being a pharmacist again. Despite my seven years as a hospital clinical pharmacist, despite everything that I’ve done well and every proof of my good work, I let some unfair feedback from my previous job get under my skin like I do with many little, minor things, plus I have some insecurity about the gaps in my work history and how they would look to a future employer, and I started to doubt myself and worry about what next.

But, thank goodness, no. I mean there are plenty of things I can brush up on, make no mistake about that. There are definitely things I’m rusty on, and there have been a couple of minor boo boos; nothing a bit less of a rush, and a bit more math couldn’t have solved! But I’m back, really back! After my first two full-on days as the in-charge pharmacist working flat chat alongside great staff, meeting lovely patients/customers, doing the job of a pharmacist I can tell you that I’ve come home with an exhausted, almost delirious but actual happy, contented smile on my face, and I feel good! I never quite got the adrenaline rush that’s meant to come from exercise, but work is definitely a rush! One of the biggest joys, and most surprising, of starting back at work has been the methadone/Suboxone customers on the opioid replacement program: they are a really friendly bunch and I’ve enjoyed chatting with them. Okay, so I might be quite starry eyed and all at this point, but it’s all gone better than I thought so I’m staying thrilled for now. I’m back. That’s the most important thing!

Okay what else? My feet have been KILLING me!! This should be no surprise when you spend 7 or 8 hours straight standing up with maybe 10 or 20 minutes sitting down. Especially when up till now it’s been more like 9 or 10 hours of sitting down with interjections of activity. Swollen ankles, aching legs, feet sending out electric shots and shooting daggers; all symptoms of half my blood supply pooling in my lower legs!! Home time means legs up above my heart to return all that blood back to my circulation…lying on the floor with feet on the couch does the trick, if you were wondering. A pharmacist who has specialised in wound care for 30 years or more recommends all pharmacists (and anyone else standing up most of their waking hours) wear compression stockings/socks every time they work for this very reason, to keep the blood flow from pooling causing varicose veins, venous ulcers, cellulitis and more. It’s a great plan. I did wear compression tights for a while in winter a few years back because they pass as opaque black tights and they make a huge difference in how tired your legs get. But honestly, have you seen those opaque beige stockings?? I may not have much to be vain about, but I’m not quite prepared for those stockings. Plus these days I keep too warm for stockings of any kind so that helps my case, but not my legs and feet.

It’s been busy! Not as busy as it should have been on Saturday, then way busier than it should have been today, Sunday! Which evened out to 2 solid days work but we only had to do 30 minutes overtime today, and got out on time yesterday so that’s a win. Unfortunately today was the day hubby was picking me up and he had to wait half an hour in the car! I’m going to drive on Saturdays, but Sundays I have to take the train cos hubby needs the car, and the timetable just doesn’t work nicely. I’m happy to sit around Ringwood station for half an hour on a Sunday morning, but I’m not keen after dark so he agreed to pick me up…dunno if he’ll be so keen next fortnight! But oddly I haven’t felt terribly stressed even when the work is stacking up. I think that these days I accept that I can’t do everything, and just pick one task after the next and keep at it till we get through them all. To give fair due, both days I have worked with amazing help in the dispensary: a 3rd/4th year pharmacy student all day on Saturday and a dispensary technician who I wasn’t supposed to have, but who balanced front of shop with helping me on Sunday. Both were very efficient dispensers, really excellent assistants and a great help with customer service and supply of pharmacy only and pharmacist only products. Plus the shop girls took all the load of processing payments as well as providing great product advice. And there was always that pharmacist out the back providing an invaluable back up to my uncertainty; what a team!!

For some reason whoever was working Friday hadn’t seemed to order medications as they used the last one on the shelf. This is the pharmaceutical equivalent of not only finding that the last sheet on the toilet paper roll has been used up, but going to the cupboard and finding that that was the last roll! And now you have a patient/customer who needs toilet paper or…you get the metaphor. We had a fair few of these annoying and really inexcusable outages on Saturday, and it was embarrassing. It’s also a problem because we can’t order on Saturday, or rather we can but it won’t come in until Monday anyway, so we couldn’t even tell people to come back tomorrow. By the end of the day we had a longer order of medications than I’ve seen so far on a weekday, and we couldn’t order anything; quite the irritation, especially for common medications.

This is going to be my main deal in this job, working every second weekend. After finishing this first one, I think it going to be okay, good even. People coming in on the weekend understand that you’re giving up your weekend for them (sometimes!) and can be really appreciative (or not)! But I think I like it! Even though I’ve taken a pay cut to be here, don’t like working Sundays, have no real entitlement to a lunch break or any other break on a weekend day, am more hectic than I’ve been in a good while, and have to keep processing scripts when I’m busting for the loo, its a job and a pretty good one, so there’s lots to be happy about! Yes, I’m happy!