At least it wasn’t COVID

I’m back to work again after having about the worst case of the flu I’ve ever encountered.

It all started the Thursday before last, I was feeling pretty blech upon coming home from work, I remember going to bed earlier than usual, but ended up sleeping almost 16 hours into the next day. Not all at once, mind you. I woke up after a full eight hours and just felt tired, and my body was achy. I mean, all over achy. I got up but didn’t stay up very long. Went back to bed and slept for another eight hours. Of course this sort of screwed up my sleep/eat/up schedule for the next workday, but I didn’t end up eating all that much anyway. My wife asked me what I wanted for dinner and after thinking about it, I said “waffles”.  It’s quick, easy and I hadn’t had them for a while.   Made the batter, got out the iron, and bing bam boom had them done in pretty short order.  Now normally I can polish off two and be back for more, but that evening, I barely finished one.  For whatever reason, I just wasn’t hungry.

At this point, my wife was concerned, but not so much that she thought I ought to call off of work for the next day.  Which for me is a huge undertaking.  I just don’t do that normally.  I’ve gone to work with a broken toe before.  Bad cold, feeling like death warmed over, doesn’t usually matter.  The only things up to now that have kept me from work are my gallbladder surgery, kidney stones, and one hellacious tooth abscess.

I went to bed early and slept nearly nine hours.  Got up for work and didn’t feel well at all.  I certainly had more than one thought of “I really, really don’t want to go to work today.” but I couldn’t bring myself to call the store and beg off.  It’s just not in my nature.  Even writing this, after going through what I did, if I had the same symptoms tomorrow morning, I’d hesitate before picking up the phone.  How weird is that?  I have co-workers that don’t agonize about calling off from work, they just do it and take the day.

Upon arriving to work, I knew it was a mistake having gone.  I tried, but after 30 minutes I knew I had to go back home.  Which to me felt like a failure.  But I could barely stay awake, let alone put in a full day of hard work.  I told my supervisor, who, to his credit said what he always does when someone needs to go home for a medical issue “Do what you need to do for yourself.”  That’s it.  I went home and went back to bed.  I would have called my Dr. for an appointment, but his office isn’t open on weekends.  I didn’t feel it was so dire that a trip to the ER was necessary, or even Urgent Care.  I figured more sleep would do the trick, even though it hadn’t up to that point.

Sleep didn’t work, except I was quickly becoming slept out.  By Saturday evening, I was trying to justify going to work again.  My wife was convinced that calling in was going to be the best option, and a good friend of mine was attempting to do the same when it came right down to it.  I had a feeling if I called in, I was going to get the store manager, who wouldn’t be very understanding when it came to me asking for Sunday off.  Of course, I was spot on.  When I called the store and talked to him at 9:30, first he blew me off “Oh, come on…” and then when I attempted to explain, he muttered “Whatever” and hung up on me.  Wonderful.  Not only was I feeling physically ill, now I was feeling like a failure for calling in.  That feeling didn’t go away for a while.

Sunday was a blur for the most part.  Starting Saturday night, I was taking my vitals, beginning to think I might have COVID.  I was wearing a mask around the house, trying to be circumspect around my wife and my cat, hoping that I wasn’t inadvertently infecting them with my very presence.  Too, I wasn’t eating all that much, but I was drinking copious amounts of water, but I was cognizant that I was losing weight as well.  Over the course of the weekend, I dropped ten pounds (4.5 kg).  My vitals for the most part were normal, the only thing that was a little off was my pulse, which varied from 90-120 bpm.  I think that was more due to nervousness and dread, but by Monday that came down.  I was checking and re-checking the CDC and Mayo Clinic websites, looking for COVID symptoms and ticking off the ones I had (fatigue, body aches, dry cough) and the ones I didn’t (loss of taste or smell primarily).

My plan at this point was to call my Dr. on Monday for an appointment and get the answers I needed.  Seeing as I called off on Sunday, and went home early on Saturday, it was possible that I required a Dr’s note to return to work on Tuesday.  It just so happened that I had Monday scheduled off as we were having a washing machine delivered.

I called the Dr’s office in the morning and got an afternoon appointment.  When I asked the nurse if I needed to tell her why I needed the appointment, she said no, I could tell the doctor when I arrived.  A little odd, since usually they ask.  In preparation, I sat down at my computer and typed out a synopsis of everything that had happened over the weekend so that he had a full accounting and I wouldn’t forget anything.  Came in handy later on, I think.

At the Dr’s, I gave him the synopsis, he read it and then gave me a cursory exam, along with weighing me (confirmed that I had lost 20 lbs since the last time he saw me in May) and quizzing me about any other symptoms I might have forgotten.  When he finished, he said he wasn’t positive, but he was pretty sure I had the flu.  Even so, without my prompting, he gave me one of the ‘quickie’ COVID tests, the nasal swab ones that only take about 10 minutes to determine positive or negative.  I had heard second-hand that the swab was the worst part of it, in that some people have reported that they ‘felt’ the swab tickle their amygdala when it was shoved up their nose.  This wasn’t like that.  It was a quick swabbing of both nostrils, and then in the swab went to its little home to percolate before it came to a conclusion.

Bottom line, it said I didn’t have the coronavirus.  Which in one way was a relief, but in another, it gave me pause because I still felt like a truck had run over me in a bad way (is there a good way to have a truck run you over?).  I asked him for a note for work, as well as one for possibly getting another day off for medical reasons.  He gave me a generic one that said I had been seen in the office and allowed me Tuesday off, returning to work on Wednesday.  Which was ok in my book since in my work schedule, I had Wednesday off.  So by good fortune, I didn’t have to go back to work until Thursday.

The kicker?  On Thursday, when I was back to work, the store manager said to me ‘Welcome Home!’  Eh?  You dismissed me and then hung up on me you bastard!  He then said “you never call in.”  Duh, I know that!

Maybe he can have it.

Turning Point

A friend of mine from work was terminated on Sunday.  In many ways one could have seen it coming, but the way it happened was particularly jarring, and its been bothering me since then.  Of course, I was somewhat embroiled in the action, since I had to stand in for the union steward who just happened to have the day off.

*Jack (not his real name) has been working at the store since before I started back in 2012.  He was part-time, a good worker, but he’s always had a drinking problem.  It’s not inaccurate to refer to him as an alcoholic.  His typical day involved getting up in the morning, going to work, going back home and drinking himself into a stupor, or using the alcohol to assist him in getting to sleep, then starting the whole routine over again the next day he had to work.  To say this is self-destructive would be putting it mildly.  However, it’s hard to be able to count the multitude of times his co-workers have gone to bat for him, trying to get him help, only to be turned down (always politely) and things continued down the road.

About 18 months ago he confided in myself and a couple other co-workers that he was considering committing suicide.  When someone says something like that to you, you take it seriously.  On my lunch break I called my wife and informed her of what I’d heard and asked for her advice.  She worked for the local county social services for 30 plus years, so to me that was about the best place one could go for how to proceed.  She gave me several options, one being getting the store manager involved.  Unfortunately, the store manager isn’t exactly the most approachable person, and he tends to be a bit of a hands off sort of person when it comes to issues like this.  Even so, I forged ahead, informed him of what I had heard, involved another co-worker that had acted in the past trying to help Jack and all three of us assembled in the manager’s office, informing him that we were there to help if we could, and did he in fact need help.  He very politely insisted that he wasn’t interested in assistance and that he was in fact fine.  Of course after this happened he knew enough never to mention it again.

Last week I was on vacation, and I’d heard through the grapevine that Jack was pretty out of it on Saturday.  There was supposition that he had come to work inebriated and wasn’t exactly even close to being on his game as far as getting work done.  When I saw Jack Sunday morning, he didn’t seem his chipper self, in fact it did seem like something was off.  Over the course of the morning when I talked to him, he seemed ok but not completely ok.  As if there was something wrong, but when I asked him about it, he brushed it off, and I didn’t pursue it.  I was in the midst of getting my own work done, so by the time it was getting towards the end of my shift, I had forgotten about it.

I was about 10 minutes away from being done for the day when the grocery manager came into my department and told me the assistant store manager needed me in his office for a union issue.  Well, not me particularly, but he needed someone who was A. Full time, and B. been in the union for a while, rather than one of the part timers that don’t have much (any) experience in disciplinary actions and how to go about the union side of being an advocate.

Heading up to the office I figured it was going to be a quick affair, probably it was a cashier that either had too much money in their till, or too little.  It would be something along the lines of a verbal or written disciplinary action, I’d have to do my part and be done for the day.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case.  When I got to the office, not only was the ASM (Assistant Store Manager) there, the night ops manager was too…and….Jack.

Apparently, someone had observed him and determined he was acting strangely.  At this point I’m still not sure if it was a customer or co-worker, but at this juncture it really doesn’t matter.  It was brought to the attention of the ASM and once that happened he was duty bound to investigate.  Whatever he either observed himself or through someone else was brought to the attention of Human Resources (which is never a good thing, HR in my company is pretty much a forgone conclusion, never positive) and at that point the ASM was given 2 choices.  Either Jack had to submit to a breathalyzer test from the local Police, or he had to be taken to a medical facility to be blood tested and determined what sort of substance he might be on.  It was put to Jack and he was the one that had to agree to one or the other.  Of course I’m sitting there as his union advocate, and I know he’s in a pickle.  He has to agree to one or the other, OR he can be terminated for refusing either.  After 20 minutes of back and forth, it’s agreed he’ll go with the breathalyzer.  And at this point, even for just his sake I’m dying inside.

Long story short, it was determined he was drunk on the job.  Not just a little drunk, if the breathalyzer was accurate, it’s a miracle he was even upright.  That bad.  The ASM went back to the manager’s office, called HR and they lowered the boom then and there.  All the while, Jack was insisting that he hadn’t been drinking, that he was fine, but clearly there was something amiss.  After the ASM did his thing, I made sure Jack got a ride home, and promised him that I’d make contact with both the union steward and our union rep so he could hopefully get into the process of getting his job back.  But even as I was telling him that, I couldn’t see that happening.  Having a union is a good thing in my experience, but there are some things that can’t be fixed.

Perhaps 20-30 years ago it might have, but unions are way different than they were back then.  There’s only so much advocacy, only so much that union reps can do when it comes to members that are terminated for serious allegations like being drunk on the job.  This much was related to me on Tuesday through the steward, who said that the union wasn’t going to be able to help Jack, because there aren’t any programs that the union has to combat alcoholism.  Even if Jack could prove that he was in the process of turning his life around, going to AA, or rehab or something of that nature, he himself would have to contact the company HR department and plead for his job back.  Just him.  So in that respect the union really failed him.  He paid his dues, and didn’t get the support in return.  Just a cold shoulder.

I hope Jack finds the help that he needs.  And gets back on his feet.  I wish him the best, but I’m not exactly confident that all is going to work on for the best for him.

 

Work Ethic (or lack thereof)

Something happened at work today.  Though I was aware it was going to happen, I wasn’t there to witness it.  One of my co-workers got fired.  For cause.  And it was most definitely avoidable.

Joshua (*not his real name) wasn’t exactly what I would call an exemplary worker.  If anything he was fairly typical of his generation, at least from what I’ve observed over the past month or so.   While he was able to show up to work on time, once he got to work, he needed to be led.  Always.  He honestly did not appear to have any ‘get up and go’ or the ability to think on his own.  He expected someone to tell him what to do, and if he didn’t do something correctly, once it was explained to him he merely said “Ok” and it was never seemingly clear that he either understood what he did wrong, or was interested in changing it.

It was my responsibility to train him to be my backup.  To work on my days off, and when it came time, to do my job while I was on vacation.  From the beginning, I wasn’t really certain he was going to fit in the job.  Even so, I did my very best to give him the ‘bones’ of the job, explain how to do things, the order they needed to be done and so on.  When it came to the technology aspect of things, he was all ears.  When it came down to nuts and bolts, to the physical side of the work, he wasn’t so much interested.  His lack of enthusiasm was immediately apparent, but he seemed like a good kid (he’s 19), and I did my level best to train him appropriately.

As time went on though, there were things that he wasn’t doing correctly.  He’d be called on them, corrected, he’d say ‘Ok’ and then go ahead the next time and do it wrong again.  When asked why he did it wrong, his stock answer was “I don’t know, I just wasn’t thinking.”  Too, he had a routine I could have set my watch by.  During a six hour shift, within an hour of first arriving, he’d need to use the bathroom.  And his bathroom breaks would last 15-20 minutes.  Midway through the shift, he’d have a 20 minute break.  Early on in his employment, he’d be gone only about 22-23 minutes.  Over time, he’d manage to stretch it out to almost a half hour.  And on off days, he’d disappear for large stretches of time, then without warning or asking ahead of time, he’d leave for the day anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour.  One of the meat cutters mentioned it the other day.  He had work for him to do, and he just wasn’t there.  He’d left without saying anything.  Which is absolutely both irresponsible and against company policy.

For me, the last straw was this past Wednesday.  On the day previous, we had a load come in, I’d done most of the work that needed to be accomplished and left him with the remainder to put up and enough work to keep him occupied.  One of the responsibilities in the job is to mark down product that’s close to it’s throw out date.  Typically, Joshua was never good at recognizing these items, would miss a lot of them, and that would constitute loss for the department, as they’d have to be marked down at a greater degree the day of, rather than less so on the day before.  I’d mentioned that many times to him, attempted to impress upon him the importance of why it needed to be done, but either he didn’t care, or just expected me to get it for him the next day.  The other part was that he just didn’t bother putting out the product that was empty on the sales floor.  He would wrap the meat that was freshly cut (and occasionally mark it inconsistently) and then wander around the store doing nothing instead of his job.  The meat cutter that was working with him isn’t the sort that likes to chase after people for not doing their job.  If they’re not, he just lets them fail, and shrugs his shoulders expecting them to hold up their end.

The store manager got involved yesterday when I had a long talk with MY department manager about Joshua.  I was pretty adamant about the fact it wasn’t fair for me to be busting my keister to get things done and on my off day for him to drop the ball and expect me to fix everything the next day.  I quite honestly had had my fill of it, and he agreed it was time to do something.

My department manager spoke to the store manager about it, after having had a chat with the assistant store manager the day before.  Originally, it was going to be a ‘write-up’, where Joshua would be counseled and informed that he was still employed, but he needed to really pay attention, buckle down and do his job.  The fact that he’d been leaving work without permission (far too many times) sort of put the whole thing over the limit and the decision was made to separate him from employment.  He wasn’t yet a member of the employee union (he hadn’t worked there long enough) so that wasn’t an issue.

No one likes to see someone else fail.  But when they don’t seem to care one way or the other, I can’t even fathom what that’s like.