Stress is a funny thing. Not enough of it, and you get complacent. The right amount and you find a level of focus you didn’t know you were capable of. With too much stress, your body and mind can crumble. Tasks you’ve done a thousand times before become impossible. Your back aches, your legs cramp. You lose your sense of calm.
Over the past few weeks, I’m fairly certain I haven’t been the only pharmacist experiencing higher than normal levels of stress. One look at Twitter and made me aware of just how much strain everyone is under. Pharmacists with more experience than me are at breaking point and there is definitely a feeling of gloom in the profession.
I’ve always counted myself fortunate that my mental health has been unwavering even in times of real crisis. Not last week. My usual happy disposition was replaced by one of anger and impatience. Requests were met with grunts and muttered profanities.
The endless extra hours were taking their toll and the result was a side of me I’m not proud of. My staff are a wonderful team, some of the best workers I’ve ever shared a dispensary with. However, instead of being a positive motivator and keeping up their spirits, I was the one bringing the mood down.
I’m man enough to admit tears were shed at the end of that day. Pressure, abusive patients and a feeling that there was no end in sight to this insanity finally got to me. It led to my worst day as a pharmacist and I was ashamed with how I dealt with it.
But this tale is not a tragedy. Let it stand to those who are yet to face the worst day or who have just experienced it, that it will get better. The obscene levels of prescription requests will ease, patients will stop yelling and inhalers will come back in stock.
They will tell tales in university lectures of the brave pharmacists who – in spite of a lack of funding, staff and personal protective equipment (PPE) – delivered exceptional patient care to the very last cough.
Keep providing the wonderful service that your patients know so well. It can be a thankless job at any time, but there are some lovely people so grateful for what we are doing. Remember their words, not those of the furious man looking for the Seretide inhaler he hasn’t had since 2002 that the GP rightly hasn’t prescribed.
Until the impact of COVID-19 settles down, try and keep calm, take breaks and try to breathe. The first step to looking after your patients is looking after yourself. I am now much more serene than last week. What will be, will be.
One thing is for sure though, if we don’t get Christmas levels of biscuits when all this is over, I will no longer be responsible for my actions.
The Multiple Manager works in a Northern Irish branch of a pharmacy chain