Working from home isn’t supposed to be painful, too. Is it?
For those of you who have followed me through some recent transitions, you know I changed positions last November. I shifted from working in an imaging facility to schedule patients for their imaging services and invasive procedures instead. The change came with a “Get Out of Hell Free Card” and I happily jumped at the opportunity to be safe at home while still working for an organization that has consumed my life for over three years.
At my previous job, I began as a Patient Access Specialist, assisting patients during their check-in process and showing them to various departments within our facility. My job also included accepting their payments and explaining their estimate printout to them for their services.
And then, there was COVID-19 . . .
And our world changed. We had to prepare ourselves for what was quickly shaping up to be a royal pain in the ass. Our facility needed screeners for Coronavirus COVID-19 symptoms. And since I was my team’s Patient Experience Innovator, I felt obligated to volunteer for this task.
We started off with four screeners. Soon after dealing with a few irate patients and the possibility of contracting the virus, we dwindled down to two. Because of the influx of patients we began seeing for chest X-rays and chest CT scans, it was obvious we needed all Patient Access Specialists at the front desk to assist with the check-in process, but a screener had to remain. That screener was me.
The job . . . was a mind-numbing, heart-crushing, soul-deadening position, but it had to be done. And I am glad my time doing that — screening people in the depths of a deadly virus for the actual symptoms of that virus, is over. But the pain of it all has followed me to the safety of my home.
Although I have no physical contact with any of the patients with who I communicate, I am still there with them. I feel their pain. I try to understand their concerns and their worries. With the Delta variant of this virus scooping up the lives of many, answering the phone to schedule patients for hundreds of imaging scans and invasive procedures is becoming a full-feature film, completely immersed in the lives of others.
Many of the conversations I have with patients now include the following phrases or some variation of them: “I’m sorry, but I have to cancel my appointment. I’ve got COVID,” “Hey! I have to reschedule to a later date. My husband tested positive for the virus,” “I can’t make my appointment. My child’s school sent them home,” or “I’m sorry . . . I’m going to have to bury my mother soon, and I can’t think about anything else right now. I need to cancel.”
And this is my daily interaction — speaking with the sufferers or suffering and my heart is about to explode!
I am often told by my patients who I schedule I make their scheduling experience easier — lighter. I’m easy to talk to and efficient and thorough. My supervisors commend me as their voicemails pile up from little snippets of recorded calls from these interactions. This is all fine and well, but . . . I thought I would feel differently at home.
These are the times in which I am glad I am not completely alone. Many of you know of how I have spoken about and still speak about the healing powers of my little Chorkie, Jernee. She has truly been a godsend. I can feel myself cracking — breaking away slightly, but I can take one look at this being in between calls, and something in me settles, sits back, and realigns itself.
The tears stop flowing. The pain slowly subsides. Life feels fresher — freer again, if only momentarily. Those few moments are necessary throughout my workdays.
What do you say to someone who is going to bury their mother amid a raging virus? How do you comfort a worried parent who has to take time off work to quarantine with and care for her child? How do you comfort a wife who will now be her husband’s caretaker as he wades himself through the various symptoms his immunocompromised body will endure? What do you tell a mother/grandmother whose adult daughter had to be rushed by an ambulance because she couldn’t breathe on her own?
Hundreds of scenarios pass by my ears. Hundreds of people hurting, worried, scared, and counting down the days before death slips them a calling card. All of this . . . and then, Jernee. And then, Jernee. And then, Jernee . . . again and again.
And I have to tell you, I am a bit on edge. She must know this. She sees this. And she doesn’t care. The only thing she knows to do is approach me with love.
And right now, during these dog days of living, I need that love — her love. Right now, I am grateful it exists. She’s not judging me for breaking down. She’s not telling me to be stronger. She is simply being here for me.
Working from home isn’t sheltering me from any pain. It only keeps me safe. And really, is that enough?
I hear of stories from my team members who are still at the facilities, still trying to make caring for patients work and people have gotten beyond rude. I am told patients hurl objects at the Patient Access Specialists or screeners who ask them the COVID-19 screening questions. It gets worse when someone questions if they’re going to follow up with their second dose of the vaccine (really, if you knew how many people actually only received one dose and are simply avoiding the second dose, you’d raise an eyebrow, maybe two).
Is this living? Are we living? When did it ever become acceptable for healthcare workers to be abused based on someone’s fucked up sense of “freedoms” and “rights”? I seriously want to know. Do any of you have the answers?
I sit at home, stare off into space in between calls or I say a prayer or two or three, and I look to Jernee to get me through each day. As time plows on, I hope this is enough.
I hope it is. I really hope it is.
Musical Selection: Michael Jackson, The Lady in my Life
Originally published in Age of Empathy via Medium.
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