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Working during the coronavirus crisis is a nightmare


Working during the coronavirus crisis is a nightmare

The pandemic has been mentally, emotionally and physically draining. At one point I felt low, I started hallucinating and doubted if pharmacy really was for me, says Peter Kelly...


I manage a small pharmacy in London. I suppose for us, it all really began at the start of March. Staff members were seeing what was happening in other countries, particularly Italy, and were rightfully becoming worried about their own safety.

My counter staff asked me if we could start implementing social distancing measures in the shop. Of course, I said yes. We started to only let one person into the shop at a time and we insisted they stay two metres from the counter.

It`s hard to believe looking back now but at the time we faced a lot of resistance to these measures. A percentage of people applauded us for these measures, most were mildly amused by the fact they thought we were overreacting and a percentage openly mocked and ridiculed us for it.

It was a very tiring couple of weeks, constantly explaining and trying to justify doing something that should have seemed like an obvious thing to do at the time. There was a lot of anxiety brewing about inaction at the top.

The next couple of weeks were manic. The official lockdown began and then a lot of different things happened at once. Through illness, fear and anxiety, I lost four out of my regular five members of staff in the space of a few days.

Luckily, I was in the process of hiring a student to do four hours a week after college. I rang him up, his college was closed, so I asked him if he wanted to do more hours and he said yes. That was a phew moment.

And then I managed to get an old student who used to work with us, who was home from university. We got very lucky because just as the staff dropped off, business picked up. Panic had set in with the public. Everyone wanted PPE, paracetamol and to request their prescriptions early to be on the safe side.

These two weeks were the hardest. The phone didn’t stop ringing, there was a constant flow of OTC customers and prescriptions. There was a permanent queue outside the shop. I felt like a newly qualified pharmacist. Some doctors’ surgeries lifted up the drawbridge and became very inaccessible and directed all repeat requests through us which was fine but tension soon came about when patients saw us as the go-between for all communication with the surgery which was extremely frustrating.

I had a number of patients who tried to phone surgeries to speak about issues not related to repeat requests. While they were trying to phone through, the waiting time on the phone was too long for them so they wanted me to phone on their behalf.

They wanted me to be a queue waiter for them and when I refused as it is not normally something we would do, on top of the fact that I did not have the time as we were flat out doing prescriptions, I was berated and abused. 

This was a very tough time but there was an element of excitement. My adrenaline was constantly going. Every evening after work I was going for runs to help bring it all down so I could sleep. I would drop off a couple of deliveries on my runs too.

My runs coincided with the 8pm clap for the NHS and it all felt like a bit of an adventure. Over the next few weeks things began to calm down and we actually had a couple of quiet weeks. The tension and panic subsided and staff began to return to work.

I found these weeks hard. There was a slump after the adrenaline dissipated. It was during these weeks that I got a migraine for the first time in my life. It was a bad one too. I hallucinated and had a severe throbbing pain.

I sat in the consultation room for two hours with my eyes closed and my hands on my head. When it was manic, I had no time to think about anything but then I did and I felt low. I felt in some cases I had interacted badly with patients. I was maybe a little impatient at times, maybe a little harsh and mean.

And I had doubts. I qualified as a pharmacist 14 years ago and for the first time I had doubts about whether this really was the job for me.

In the background to this stress on the ground, I felt disappointed in the leadership at the top. Initially I watched the news every night but after a while I had to stop. I found it too upsetting.

All the deaths from coronavirus have been tragic and I feel very sorry for the families involved. A few of our patients died and a few patients had family members who died.

And there is not a lot you can say. Too many bad decisions were made. But maybe that’s for another day.


Peter Kelly is a pharmacist based in London and occasional stand-up comedian.


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