I’ve come to realise that it was a lot easier to get used to wearing masks again than it was to get used to not wearing masks. The last time my city went into lockdown, it was mandatory to wear masks in hospitals and medical centres, as well as in workplaces where it was not possible to “social distance”. Having been through this before, it was easy enough to go back to that routine.
Once the lockdown was over, masks were no longer mandatory. Hardly anyone wore them anymore, but it felt so weird to walk into the building at work not wearing one. I’d approach the glass sliding doors in the morning, and the thought would occur to me that I didn’t have a mask on, and my hand would automatically move to my bag where my mask was kept, and … hold on, is the lockdown really over?
I had to glance around me at other people also not wearing masks to reassure myself that I wasn’t breaking any laws by not wearing a mask.
I just think it’s strange how I got used to it so quickly, and then going back to what I’d been doing for the vast majority of my working life was harder. Such are the times, I guess.
Thermodynamics was not something I expected to think much about after high school, but as I grasped my coffee cup with both hands while going up the stairs at work, I found myself thinking about thermodynamics and the transfer of heat, and about how wonderful it is that these concepts exist and have been explained.
It suddenly got very cold here around the middle of the week. On Wednesday when I left work, my watch told me that it was 18 degrees (Celsius) outside. I was surprised and thought it must be a mistake. But when I got outside, I felt like it was about 10 degrees, the air was so icy cold.
So on Thursday morning, I got a coffee from the cafe a few floors down from my workplace. They have a tendency of making the coffee quite hot (or a friend suggested I might just have a sensitive mouth that cannot handle high temperatures), but that morning I was grateful for the extra hot coffee, as I could allow the heat to warm my cold hands.
As I walked back up the stairs, I thought about the idea of heat energy, and of the movement of molecules caused by this energy. I thought most of all about how heat always goes from a warmer object to a cooler object, and about the concept of specific heat capacity, which explains why different materials absorb or lose heat at different rates.
And I thought about my high school chemistry/physics teacher, and about that semester of learning thermodynamics, and how most teenagers who don’t intend to pursue science or engineering careers probably think it’s all pointless. But how positively wonderful is it to be able to experience these phenomena — like the phenomena of heat transfer — and be able to know why and how it happens?
I remember there was a time in my university days when I had this realisation that I could no longer say “see you tomorrow” as a standard thing when leaving for home. The chance of seeing someone on any given weekday during semester depended on what classes were on, when we were going to have our lunch breaks, and which buildings they would be in during the course of the day.
During uni, I still hung out with several of my high school friends, even if they were studying different courses. During high school, it was just about certain to see each other each day and the next, so it was easy enough to say “see you tomorrow” at the end of any day, Monday to Thursday. Hence the change during uni made an impression on me.
When I was younger, my dad and his siblings ran a restaurant. It wasn’t anything fancy — a step above fast food but not fine dining. When it was busy on week-ends, my sister and I would help out with serving tables, packing delivery orders, and basic kitchen tasks.
The other day, while I was eating lunch at work, a random memory emerged for contemplation. It’s one of those things that seem insignificant, but has nonetheless been locked in my memory for some unknown reason.
This memory was just one particular moment — an instruction I had received. I think it was one of my uncles who said this, but it could have been my auntie. But the source of this wisdom is not exactly as important as the wisdom itself. (I’m sure they all shared the same wisdom anyway.)
A big part of what I do at work is checking chemotherapy order forms and batch sheets — making sure patient details and treatment details are correct, and making sure these have been correctly transferred onto batch sheets so that we can compound or make each dose for each patient.
In the course of checking an order this week, I noticed that my colleague had omitted what would appear to be the patient’s middle name. This usually wouldn’t be a big deal — we never include middle names on the batch documents — but this was not an English name. I recognised the name as Chinese, and for a number of Chinese people I know, the “middle name” is actually part of the first name.
I considered the situation for a minute: There were other patient identifiers on the batch documents, so it was very unlikely that the patient would be misidentified or that any other treatment issue would arise from the omission of the second name. However, it seemed disrespectful to omit it just because we’re all used to seeing names consisting of a one-word first name and one-word surname (including when it’s hyphenated, which makes it count as one word).
So I emailed the team and explained it gently in a “you might not have realised, but just thought it would be good if we added this in” kind of way.
I sent that email pretty early in the morning, and got no response all day. I asked a colleague if he’d seen the email, and his response was that he agrees, but everyone else seemed unconcerned. I went home feeling despondent and agitated. I didn’t want this issue to be ignored.
The next day, contemplating how I could bring it up again, and at the same time wondering if I should just concede defeat in this matter, I happened to receive another order for a patient with a Chinese name. And this time all three names were included on the batch documents! It actually brought a smile to my face because this was not the colleague I’d spoken to (the one who already said he agrees) but one of the others who had seemed unconcerned the previous day.
It felt good to know that I helped bring about this change, and it felt even better to know that I was capable of helping to improve cultural awareness in my workplace. It is one thing to continue to learn, but it is another to help others learn as well.
I have been in middle management for about a year and a half now, and there are still times when I wonder if I’m doing this “managing” thing right, or if I’m really cut out to be a manager. But I guess the day I stop wondering how to do things better is the day I stop improving (and there’s always something that can be improved on).
When new people start work in my department, there are a few things I tell them, regardless of their role or their previous work experience: