If there was ever a piece of plastic that held significance it was the one that I held in my hand yesterday.
It wasn’t a credit card, a games console, a blu ray, or even a laptop – it was my ID card for the NHS – which for obvious reasons I can’t show you but – but you can have a look at my fetching laniard.
For one reason or another, since I started my job I’ve never had more than a basic door pass that said ‘contractor’ on it – and I’d never really questioned it or been overly concerned by that fact until recently.
I’d just assumed that if I ended up having a more permanent role one would materialise with a picture of my face on it.
There’s a browsing hour for NHS staff at Tesco on a Sunday morning, where you get to choose your shopping before the tills open – and whilst chatting in the office on Thursday I’d jokingly asked my manager whether I’d ever get photo ID so that I could take advantage of this.
He seemed aghast that somehow I’d fallen between the cracks, and never been given one – and immediately went about sending off a form to the right people. ‘You’ll have it tomorrow.’ he told me and left me with instructions about how to collect it.
I was quite happy.
After last week’s scenes at Tesco this would be a real help.
So – on Friday I walked through the (eerily quiet) hospital grounds to the support services so that I could have my photo taken and my pass issued.
As I walked back to my office with this I couldn’t help but think about the other words my manager had uttered after my comment about going shopping – because the reality of what this pass really meant had slowly begun to sink in.
‘You’ll need it if you get stopped by the police and they ask you why you’re out…‘ he said – before pressing ‘send’.
I’d laughed at this – but the truth is that we’re probably not that far away from this happening in the UK. Italy’s lockdown is becoming so tight that there are police checkpoints everywhere. You have to have a seriously good reason for being out and about (Link) and their coppers aren’t messing about.
The UK is almost certainly on the same trajectory – and here people are already being fined for breaking the rules (link). Since human beings will always be idiots – and there are invariably those in our society that really couldn’t give two figs about public safety (or anyone else’s health) I can only see the fines imposed on thoughtless behavious going higher.
When I got back to my desk I looked around the room.
Apart from one other person (who left shortly afterwards) I was alone with little more than a phone, a PC, and a queue of tickets – in which person after person needed some kind of urgent help.
Some it was really pressing – some of it seemingly irrelevant – but all of it in some way shape or form was stopping someone focusing on patient care.
It all needed to be looked at as quickly as possible.
There was little else to do but ignore the fact that I was in a strange building, out of my comfort zone, and just try to get on with my job – which (as regular followers will know) is still relatively new to me. Even without the stress of the world falling apart I still have an underlying worry that I will make mistakes or screw something up.
Despite how unsettled I felt though I just have to do my best and get on with it like everyone else. If I make boo-boo’s (I made a doozy on Wednesday) I just have to quickly learn from them, move on and do better next time.
Usually, in times of stress even a new job would be a comfort.
It can be a safe space where you can throw yourself into a task and avoid worries at home or with family – but in my case practically everyone I talk to, and every piece of work I undertake is for one purpose only – and that’s to support the fight against Covid-19.
Less than a mile away from where I sit people are fighting day and night to save patients who are affected.
As much as I love what I’m doing (I really do) and I know that it’s worthwhile and helpful I wish I could get away from Coronavirus chatter for just five minutes.
I thank heavens I’m not a front line nurse or doctor – because I don’t know how I’d cope.
They have my unending admiration and respect.
The uncertainty and the worries I have about just getting up, walking through the world and going to work with other people (all of whom have now become an abstract threat that needs to be navigated around) is more than enough to cope with.
When there have been people in the office there’s an almost comical dance being played out that I’m either watching from a distance or personally involved in.
In this carefully choreographed ballet unexpectedly nimble dancers are trying to maintain social distancing whilst walking through a narrow corridor, in and out of a little kitchenette, or avoiding holding door handles that others have just touched.
They take a squirt of hand sanitiser after almost every journey they make.
Attempting to go about normal life in spaces that aren’t designed with social distancing in mind causing us all to move and behave in ways that we normally wouldn’t. Suddenly everyone is taking odd routes from A-B that require conscious thought and effort.
You’re suddenly hyper aware that every surface has been touched, every tap has been held and every toilet flush previously pressed by someone else.
You can’t just zone out any more.
Every step has to be planned on the fly and every unconscious hand movement suppressed.
I’m sure that I’m not alone in realising that I’m finding the sting of alcohol based sanitiser comforting as it hits the cracked skin on my eczema ravaged hands.
Nothing is normal about any movement or choices that we’re all currently making.
I watched a woman walking along the pavement with her dog on Wednesday – and then unexpectedly a bus pulled up in front of her.
She froze as people got off and immediately turned to walk the other way, then stopped because she realised that she still needed to go the way she was originally heading.
She waited for a moment.
The passengers headed the same direction that she was originally walking on the narrow pavement, so (at a safe distance) she began to slowly follow them.
Until that is one of the disembarked people changed their mind, turned, and started walking toward her.
She panicked, turned again and walked faster in the opposite direction – pulling her (now rather confused) little dog with her out of the path of danger.
Then to her horror she spotted someone else coming along the pavement in the other direction. She was now hemmed in with someone bearing down upon her from the left and right.
She then stopped dead.
Unable to decide what to do (and surrounded by what she perceived as threats on all sides) she scooped up her little dog, stepped off the pavement, and walked around four metres firmly into the middle of someone’s lawn.
She didn’t look like the kind of lady who approved of standing on random lawns – but her need was great – and she stayed there motionless for a few moments, holding tightly onto her terrier and watching the passers by until the danger had passed.
When there was no-one in sight and she’d looked up and down the pavement a few times the lady placed the dog back on the ground and continued briskly on her way, all the while checking over her shoulders for threats.
I’m sure if it was videoed and set to music (Bolero?) that all of this would make an amusing YouTube video – but I for one don’t find it funny.
I felt sorry for her because (probably because of her age) she felt so vulnerable – and I understand her concerns completely.
I’m a people person that loves working in teams, is tactile and friendly – and all of a sudden I feel like I have an invisible exclusion zone all around me. If people get too close my tension ratchets up and I want to tell them to back away.
At the same time I’m meeting new colleagues and trying to form workplace bonds with people that I need to distance myself from.
It’s like one of those bizarre dreams where you find yourself without any trousers in public, or unable to find a toilet – yet it’s all real – and it doesn’t seem to have any end in sight.
If Italy (and Spain) are an indicator of how bad things are going to get then we’re in this for the long haul, and I just hope that this new normal is something that eventually I’ll settle in to.
I’ll probably get used to moving to people moving desk positions around me or upping sticks to new buildings and unfamiliar desks to ensure we have the appropriate segmentation of support functions and social distancing in place – but I doubt it.
Some time ago, before I was made redundant (from rather a large company who loved making you do largely pointless online training courses) I remember completing a learning objective about ‘stress budgets’.
It was a very ‘American’ way of looking at things – and suggested that we only have a certain number of things we can overload ourselves with. Some stress points in life have a higher cost than others and we only have 100% of our ‘budget’ to play with.
Bizarrely it had broken down the percentages so that you could work out your own personal ‘budget’ and see how comically how much over 100% you were. In the office we all laughed about it – comparing our totals by e-mail and seeing who had the highest one.
Although I don’t remember all of it I do remember that one of the top stress inducers in this (clearly written in the USA course) was ‘changing church’ – which completely bemused me because it had a whopping 30-40% tag associated with it.
Illness, moving home, a death in the family or marriage came in pretty close behind with percentages in the 30’s and 20’s – but further down the list was one that really made my brain itch.
I laughed at the time because it was all absurd – but deep down I knew that this was actually something that most people (me included) hate with a passion. Ultimately we’re all creatures of habit who find comfort in some kind of pattern.
In the case of all the major stress factors above the one common element is uncertainty.
Even people who like a free life wandering over hills and mountains (before they were told to stay indoors and not go out) tend to get up and have the same breakfast or cup of coffee.
As much as we like to think we can go anywhere, do anything, and be free to make choices on a whim there are always certain things that people don’t like to let go of. Regularity gives us all some level of comfort – and provides (an illusion of) structure in an otherwise chaotic existence.
I like knowing where I’m sitting and having things arranged the way I want them.
In the last week I’ve moved around a lot – and yesterday (whilst trying to support a user who was coming for an appointment) I managed to lock myself out of the (unfamiliar) building that I had been temporarily placed in.
I’d left my phone with the code for the door lock in it on my desk and I had so much going through my head that I’d completely forgotten to put it in my pocket.
I therefore was stuck outside trying to find a way in for about 10-20 minutes – but it just highlighted that my mind was all over the place.
I was trying to remember where I’d put all the things in the huge moving box I’d hurriedly filled with items to do my job – and also complete all of the tasks that I had to finish before the day was done – as well as prioritising them on the fly their order of importance.
My mind being in a million different places at once has also meant that my sleep is still suffering – and you may notice that this post is hitting the press early.
That’s because I’m wide awake – and have (since 3am) been trying really hard not to look on the internet at any kind of news relating to death tolls as the sun slowly comes up.
This weekend (thanks to the lockdown) I can’t do much but I think I’m going to try and make the environment in which I live a bit nicer.
The garden needs some work and there’s even some decorating that I can engage in. Although my mind can’t currently turn off I’m going to attempt to force a an unexpected exception shutdown (CTRL+ALT+DEL) by wearing my body out.
Hopefully turning myself off and on again will work.
If nothing else I can take time off the ballet for a couple of days before it all starts again next week.