We’ve all had that moment. The moment when you’re two hours early up for work and you’ve got your head bent over the toilet throwing up and you’re convinced you shouldn’t be going into work. Or the alarm goes off and the migraine you’ve woken with is an extension of the headache the night before. Or the moment you are in work and the green-around-the-gills feeling suddenly appears or the really nasty cold you’ve had has drained you to the point of exhaustion. You can’t imagine anywhere else other than the safety of your own home, where if you’re sick it doesn’t matter or if you just want to lay your heavy head down on a pillow, you can.
But how do you tell your colleagues you won’t be in work? How, as a pharmacist, can you ring in knowing there won’t be a replacement for you or there will be an almighty struggle to get a locum and in the meantime the staff will have to signpost patients because the pharmacy can’t operate in your absence? How does a dispenser tell her colleagues she’s going to be off work and leaving her colleagues to pick up the extra workload in her absence, knowing that they’ll be more stressed when she isn’t replaced.
You’re terrified to get a sick note, knowing full well you shouldn’t be working but the guilt of leaving your colleagues without you is keeping you at work. You’re angry because you feel ill and all you want to do is rest but you just can’t do that to the team. And eventually, when you do go off sick, the guilt gnaws away knowing they’re struggling and you can’t rest properly knowing the pressure your colleagues are under. They say they’re managing, but you know it is a struggle. They’re telling you not to worry but you want to go back in to help out.
Pharmacy guilt is real. The guilt of being ill and being unable to support your team is really quite frustrating because when you do have to be off work or you just can’t make it in that day, it really is hard to rest. The difficulty with this can stem from a lack of trained staff to support your absence or a lack of support from employers to ensure cover.
As a manager, I’ve faced the struggle with both sides. I’ve felt ill and stayed in work knowing I can’t leave or the pharmacy will be in a mess. In the past I’ve been sick in the car park as I’ve left work, having somehow managed to hold it in until I’ve walked out the door. I once had to bring my son as a baby into work to ensure we continued to supply medication to patients. I’ve also seen colleagues go off sick and struggled to overcome their absence, wanting them to get well but missing them so much at work. I’ve seen colleagues walk into work and sent them home because they are clearly not well enough but they were prepared to soldier on anyway.
The guilt is horrible. The guilt is not fair but we in pharmacy feel it because we care about each other and we care about the patients. Nobody wants to shut their pharmacy because the pharmacist is sick and a replacement cannot be found. Nobody wants their colleagues to work extra to make up for their absence.
It is a fact of life, though: everybody will get sick at some point, even the caregivers. Everybody needs a break to get well. The question is: is the pharmacy supported enough to manage the absence of colleagues who desperately need the time to restore their health to be fit to look after others at work?