I had an emotional breakdown at work. To be frank, I have been met with more responsibilities, lack of support from my direct higher-up, and an indescribable amount of tension within our walls due to America’s current state of affairs. My role has shifted. Not only do I register patients for imaging scans and invasive procedures, I also screen patients for COVID-19 symptoms prior to entering our waiting areas. My hours, on some days, are longer than others and my shifts have been inconsistent. I have been exposed to positive COVID-19 patients as well as patients who presented with symptoms or who have been around someone diagnosed with Coronavirus, COVID-19 in the last fourteen days.
I am currently on my ninth day of self-monitoring as our Employee Occupational Health team believes I have not been in contact with these patients long enough for it to warrant actual testing for COVID-19 — I am presumed to be safe enough to be at work. In each scenario, I was prepared, wearing a face mask, gloves, and goggles. They too had on face masks — one was wearing gloves. I was with each person for about five to six minutes. Upon verifying their status or confirming symptoms, these patients were directed to the PUI (Patient Under Investigation) facility where they would, in fact, receive their care.
I should have prefaced this by stating, we started the Coronavirus season with three screeners. One of my co-workers who screened with me is out on medical leave, post-surgery. The other has had two panic attacks due to exposure to positive patients and the fear it brings along with it. I stand alone, doing what I do to ensure the safety of myself and others.
But, I don’t feel safe at all.
From the constant cleaning of our front doors and entryways to questioning over one hundred fifty people per day, and dealing with the various attitudes that accompany some of these people, I am worn thin. Because we are short-staffed, there is no one else to turn to. We are all trying to make what we do work with the help we still have. It is not easy. There are many days where I dread getting up and taking another stab at the workday, but my bills are not going anywhere and I still have to take care of Jernee.
One of the recent changes among the ones listed above presented to us by my direct higher-up was to have us come in one hour early on our respective closing days and reduce our lunch break by thirty minutes. (That would be a 9 to 10-hour shift with a thirty-minute break.) She emailed this order to us one of the days I was scheduled to close. I received the message on my phone and upon reading it, the anger that had been boiling up in me unloaded.
I typed in a rage-response to her what I would and would not do and why it is wrong of them to ask more of us, then take even more from us as well. She passed my thoughts on to our center manager and since she and I have a history (she used to be our direct supervisor, left the center for a year, then returned, and is now the current center manager), she called me into her office to speak with her.
Come. Sit, Please. Tell Me What You’re Feeling.
I sat in her office knowing full-well why I was there. I had “acted out of character”, my response to an ill-fitting request of those who are already overworked, underpaid, and thrown into roles, not previously designed for them, was not what they were expecting. But, our center manager understood this. She said eight words to me, “Come. Sit, please. Tell me what you’re feeling.” And, I did. As I expressed what I felt and why and was open about how we’re being treated and what it does to me, the tears rolled down my face. My breaths quickened. My chest heaved. Sobbing became something that could not be contained.
She said, “You can take that mask off. I don’t need to be protected from you.” She handed me a box of Kleenex and let me continue. She listened to me, truly listened to me. I saw the expression on her face change from “concern” to “understanding.” In the midst of my storm, she tried her best to be a raft — something that provided safety. I cried until there was a sense of relief in my heart. She assured me they would find a way to lessen some of the weight hoisted upon us recently.
She did. She kept her word. But she has always done this. She informed me on that day if I ever felt the need to express myself to come to her — to not let my feelings stay pent up until they have nowhere else to go but out and in a way someone will not understand it or expect it. She ended our conversation by saying, “I am saying this because I care about your head (pointing to her head) and I care about your heart (pointing to her heart).”