So, it happened. What we discussed and feared back in March. My partner, who works in the business, has tested positive. The shock is immense. He doesn’t have any ‘classic’ Covid symptoms. Just dizziness and a headache, as well as backache and a few sniffles.
He gets tested on Monday, just in case – knowing how important it is to ourselves, our staff and our patients that we are Covid-free. When we get the news at 5pm on Wednesday that he is positive, I’m knocked for six - we had expected a negative result to confirm formally what we believed was true.
Immediate self-isolation for me means finding a locum at 15 hours’ notice. I won’t be the first or the last to be hit by this, but on top of the stress we have been under recently, my usually calm and organised cover is blown. I let it all out and have a bit of a cry.
Top tip number one: Get a test for yourself or any family member if you have any unusual symptoms.
On the way to the test centre again (for myself this time), I write lists of locums to call, commissioners to contact in case of service disruption, the need to update my DoS and inform NHSE&I if I can’t open the pharmacy.
Thanks to my network (all the pharmacists, locums and managers who immediately tried to help), after contacting more than 20 pharmacists, I get cover sorted at 3.40am. It comes at a cost – ouch. This is the first time I’ll pay a locum the same rate as my solicitor.
Top tip number two: Maintain as wide a network as possible. Use your LPC and their contacts to help.
The good news is that I can now open. With my team briefed and a locum in place who can do flu jabs, all is well until I’m meant to be on duty. I have to wait for my test result to know whether I can go back 14 days after my partner’s symptoms started, or whether I’m positive too.
We grapple with what to tell customers. Would news of a positive result scare them away, even though we’re operating behind Perspex and wearing Type IIR masks, or would they show sympathy and support? It’s tricky.
Obviously, the staff are aware, but would it serve any purpose to tell others? We decide to keep things on a ‘need to know’ basis for now. My result arrives on Friday, 48 hours after my test. Negative. I’m elated for a minute, before I realise we cannot relax. I might be negative, but I have to live with a positive case – in separate rooms, wearing masks when close, wiping door handles, etc, after use. The earliest I could go back to work is the following Friday. My thoughts turn to the practicalities of organising cover until I can return.
The cost of locums and extra staff alone to cover both of us being absent exceeds our normal month’s wage bill
As the week progresses, I hear stories on my daily briefing calls to the team of unacceptable patient behaviour. A customer whose private flu jab has had to be rescheduled shouts at my staff. I will speak with her when I am back in the business.
It is this part of patient care I find distinctly troubling. Adverts running on Channel 4 show abuse to railway, bank and shop staff. It would be good to be recognised in the same light. We are in a pandemic; you are only being asked to wait. She will still get her jab. I had thought lockdown had taught people more manners. It seems I was wrong.
So where am I now? It is 10 days after my partner’s first symptoms, five days since the positive test, three days after my negative. I am climbing the walls. Maybe this is what retirement is like, but worse – I’m not allowed to go anywhere. Can I relax and consider it as a holiday? No. We are keeping our distance indoors, with only the garden as an escape.
It’s a great opportunity to get my PQS2 training done, so I’m doing that. However, being well but unable to help my team is extremely frustrating. One team member is off, following an operation, another is on holiday, so the pressure on the rest is immense, and I’m concerned for them.
I consider what more we can we do in the pharmacy. We sanitise after touching any object or cash, but customers don’t help. They try to lean around the Perspex; some still arrive without a mask. I decide to take a more hard line when I’m back.
This virus is crippling our nation’s health and its economy. I can attest to both now. The cost of locums and extra staff alone to cover both of us being absent exceeds our normal month’s wage bill. For independents, the business is our livelihood. It’s not just a job.
As we approach returning to the business, staff concerns grow. Do we need a second test to confirm we are negative? We will follow the guidelines, and only allow him back when he has no symptoms.
Top tip number three: Put yourself in this scenario now.
Write down everything you would need to do. If this does not match your business contingency plan, re-write it.
As I wait to go back to work, I’m trying to ‘reset’, although that doesn’t stop me writing down work thoughts in the early hours of the morning on a notepad by my bed.
I think the reset we all need is to be able to work together and support each other more. Don’t think you are alone and that nobody will help you.