surviving

The first four weeks of this year have been a hellish rollercoaster. The last few weeks of 2021 went reasonably uneventfully, but then 2022 came roaring in, gnashing its teeth.

The first three weeks saw various staff members, across all departments, in and out of isolation because they either tested positive, or were a close contact to a positive case. Isolation rules of the time required seven days of isolation once a positive result is confirmed, and people could only return to work after two consecutive days of negative tests.

Having one person away for one day is usually ok. We can shuffle staff around, or find ways around it. We might stay back a little bit to finish up on work that would usually get done earlier, but it’s not so bad because we know it’s just one day. It’s a lot different when it’s multiple people across all departments, for at least seven days.

To say that it was exhausting is an understatement. There is the physical aspect of standing and running around all day, carrying boxes here and there; but it was also mentally and psychologically draining to be juggling the work of 1-2 other people, and to always be wondering who would be away the next day. It was pointless to plan ahead, not knowing what kind of staffing we’d have, so each day started with a game of “roster problem solving”. Sometimes this plan changed throughout the day, depending on whether other departments were struggling more, and needed to borrow our staff.

This last week has been better: most people are back at work, and my department had a full team again. But I still feel a bit on edge, like I don’t trust that everything can be ok again — someone will be away, something will go wrong, there will be something that I forgot about in all this chaos. I would say it’s like some kind of PTSD, but that makes it sound a lot worse than it is.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I reminded myself of something I read on someone’s blog many years ago. It was something about facing a difficult or trying time in life, and being overwhelmed, and maybe it’s hard to know what to do, but actually all you need to do is “just keep going”.

It might sound noble and courageous, but it’s just a series of little things — just one small task, and then another, and just keep going.

To stop — to think about stopping and giving up — that’s when the despair comes knocking, and pokes its head through the door.

To rest is different. Rest is essential. But one should rest with the thought of getting up again, not with the thought of stopping.

And so, I just kept going, and my team kept going, and I guess we got through it ok.

At times, I was jealous of shop-keepers who can just close up early because they don’t have enough staff, and they don’t want to work a 12-hour day on their own; or of businesses who can tell customers that there will be extended delays, and everyone’s just going to have to wait a bit longer for their orders.

But a wise colleague of mine reminded us before that we are not in the business of selling shirts or flipping burgers. We make chemotherapy, and the work we do is vital to the well-being of many people. Delays in treatment can result in poorer outcomes and prognoses for patients. It is not an option for us to say “Can you wait till next week?”

So we have to find a way, and we have to keep going.