What It’s Like Being An Essential Worker During A Global Crisis
My role as a pharmacy technician is not one that is glamorous or attractive. We work collaboratively with pharmacists in both hospital and community settings to perform tasks like filling prescriptions. I can’t say I’ve ever finished a shift feeling fulfilled or proud of my position. To me, it was just a job that paid the bills.
I never expected to make this a long-term gig. It was the paycheck that supported me while I was earning my degree. I never intended to completely invest myself in this field, but this crisis has given me a newfound appreciation of my role.
Most of my days are quite religious in routine: data entry, insurance billing, filling prescriptions and selling to the patient. Throw in a little day-to-day inventory management and some cold calls, and that’s my day in a nutshell. The panic from the COVID crisis, however, hit us like a hurricane.
We’re always at risk of exposure.
As soon as our governor had his first briefing about the pandemic in our state, we experienced a mass influx of patients, not only in the store but on our phone lines as well. Our calls got so out of hand that, at one point, we ran out of phone lines as the calls continued to ring. Doctors were calling in scripts left and right, and it felt like everyone decided to visit the local urgent care as our triage was flooded with new e-prescriptions. People wanted all of our cleaning supplies, toilet paper, all of our available personal protective equipment (PPE), and a 90-day supply of everything they could get.
We’re a smaller pharmacy than others in our area and we were understaffed for the situation, leaving us struggling to manage our daily tasks. It threw us off our game, we lost balance, and we struggled every minute of every business day.
My idea of the “essential worker” was a role that was illustrious and noble, at least initially. One that deemed me, the humble pharmacy technician, so important that I was granted the freedom to physically report to my job while others were trying to navigate the work-from-home lifestyle. But then I wondered if that meant I was really “essential,” or if this was just an excuse to make me and my essential colleagues the sacrifice amidst the contagion that was infiltrating our communities. Oftentimes, pharmacies are the first place people venture out to with clinical or health-related questions because consultations are free. We’ve had patients who were asked to get tested for COVID-19 for their recent exposure, but only informed us of the request after they made contact with our team. There’s always a possibility of exposure without any way to confirm it or to protect ourselves from it.
“Essential” workers are usually underappreciated.
The title of “essential worker” applies across a variety of different fields. While we all vary in jobs and job functions, we seem to have a couple of things in common. We’re the ones who get yelled at by customers. We’re often underpaid. What made the government decide that we were suddenly so necessary? Are we not allowed to be just as scared as everyone else? I felt guilty having these thoughts because many people were losing their jobs during the crisis, some were struggling to find jobs even before the panic began, and here I am feeling resentful about my role.
My employer didn’t exactly enforce PPE, but they did instruct us to clean and sanitize hourly — which was something, I suppose. We made an effort to clean hourly as directed and more often if time permitted. We tried our best to ensure that our customers were able to get their necessary medications, obtaining insurance overrides whenever possible, keeping our shelves stocked weekly, and limiting quantities per person for hot commodity items like rubbing alcohol and toilet paper.
My role as a technician didn’t strike me as essential or important until I assessed the big picture. Daily, I stood next to my colleagues who had families of their own — some with young children, others with immunocompromised spouses and those with underlying conditions themselves. They reported for work as scheduled, not giving their position a second thought and giving it their best daily even though it often didn’t feel like enough for the current demand.
My job may be small, but it matters.
Our presence in the pharmacy allows us and our customers to continue our respective routines. It provides them with a little bit of normalcy as they enter our pharmacy and gives us a pattern of procedure to stick to when the world feels out of control. Many of our customers have been so for years, and my colleagues and I have been tenured at our location so they know us, and we know them — we built our own community there. We helped the patients in our community get healthy, stay healthy, and helped them maintain comfort in knowing that our presence and our service in the pharmacy would be to ensure that they had what they needed from us.
I’m reminded that my role in this newfound ecosystem of necessities is indeed essential. My position isn’t as crucial as hospital staff who have to face the virus itself or the first responders who report to emergency situations without a second thought. My role, as small as it seems, provides patients with their necessary medications and a sense of comfort in knowing that this part of their routine can continue. And there is a bit of reassurance in knowing these life-saving medications are still available to them, even during a global crisis. With so many Americans who rely on prescription medications for their therapy, it’s no wonder that pharmacies play an essential role in keeping communities healthy.
I’d be remiss if I said I wasn’t scared when I had to work my shifts. I know that others feel the same, especially those who work with the public as we do. While we are extremely thankful that none of our team members have reported any of the typical symptoms of this virus (knock on wood), we are still trying to be rational when it comes to its infection. Reports of asymptomatic carriers is a terrifying statistic and emphasize the importance of practicing social distancing and obeying stay-at-home orders.
My colleagues and I show up to work to perform our job functions so that people can remain healthy with their medication therapy, but it’s important to take responsibility and stay home if possible. Reach out to families with video calls, leave notes on your neighbor’s door to show love, and be kind to those around you. It’s a vulnerable time for the world, and a little bit of kindness is welcome. We are better together, even if we are at a distance.
Jennifer is a registered pharmacy technician and freelance writer. She loves hiking, cooking, and watching true crime shows.
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