Posted by: Kate | September 24, 2008

No Sick Days

I’m not allowed to get sick.

Ths goes beyond the typical, “Oh, I’m a mother and a wife and the bathroom isn’t going to clean itself, so I’m too busy to get sick.” Those things are all true, but the family and home life continue to run themselves pretty well when I’m down for the count. As we discovered in August, they even run pretty well when I’m post-surgery loopy, too stupid to sit still on the couch and recover and too stubborn to realize that I was really too woozy and stupid to do things for myself. “Don’t mind Mama, she just got lost on her way to the kitchen again. Just nudge her back toward the couch and smile benignly…”

No, lately, I’m not allowed, via my job, to get sick. I cannot take sick time. There is simply no one else, in the county, who is able to cover for me. If I take a day off, then there is a 12-hour span of time in which there is no one to provide telephone coverage on the crisis line, and no one to come into the hospitals to do a risk assessment for someone who is suicidal, homicidal, or having some other form of mental break. They can sit and wait – sometimes miserable, sometimes in restraints, always alone in a room – until the next shift. There are no other options.

No pressure or anything.

I’ve been ringing this particular bell since mid-summer, when Perfect J was promoted into a management position in another department and I was left alone to cover most day shifts. Mondays and Thursdays are covered by other staff members, leaving me with Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 8:00a-8:00p, with no backup. Even when I am working, there are times when patients need to wait several hours for me to show up, because I have to take calls in the order I get them, and every hospital assessment takes a minimum of an hour, more if the person requires hospitalization.

This situation does not thrill me to bits. It’s not just about the job pressure; I work reasonably well even under stress and am able to just focus on one person at a time and plug away until the work is done. I’m not thrilled when the job forces me to stay out until 9:00 or 10:00 at night, but I charge for the overtime and go home. And for the most part, once I’m home, I’m able to leave the job stress behind. Some cases stay with me longer than others, and staff meetings are guaranteed to shake up my Thursday mornings, but I’m able to go home, enjoy my kids, catch glimpses of my husband through the veil of grad-school widowhood, find some knitting and entertainment, and have a good evening.

So, it’s not about the work stress. It’s about the nagging awareness that this is not the best way to do things. It hurts the clients. Right this second, I’m waiting in my office for a teenage girl to come in for a risk assessment; her father doesn’t think she’s at a point of needing hospitalization but is also not willing to wait two or three days to have her seen at a regular appointment. (Can you imagine? A parent who is actually concerned and proactive? Amazing.) Meanwhile, there is a 60-something man waiting at the emergency room, in four-point restraints and likely to be chemically sedated by the time I arrive, because his hallucinations and delusions have gotten so out of control that he assaulted his son this morning. I feel crappy that this man is going to have to wait at least an hour and a half before I can walk in the door and begin the process of either authorizing the removal of restraints or transferring him to an inpatient unit, but there’s no alternative. Both are reasonably high-risk situations and both deserve the full attention of a qualified professional.


So I work. In the past month, I’ve worked through a concussion and a nasty head cold. Each time, I’m sure that both the clients and I would have preferred that I just stay home, but I was able to work through it, so I did. I don’t know what happens if I wake up some morning with a serious enough illness that I can’t work through it. I have not been able to convince my supervisor to give me a protocol – a phone number, an email address, some sort of process – to follow in the event that I, or one of the kids, can’t leave the house. “Oh, we’ll have to figure something out when it happens. Maybe I’ll look into hiring someone else part-time.”

I feel so pleased and validated to have such strong support in the workplace.



  1. You are a SuperHero-that is it!!!! The know and we know t. 😉 You really care for the people you treat and so I can see the conflict you would go through. If you can encourage the hiring of a part-time person, do it.
    Farewell Super Hero Kate, I’m sure you are off to Rescue another in a small, cold and sterile hospital room!

  2. Gosh Kate, I’m getting through school as quickly as I can…LOLOL. It does sound sucky especially because people with concussions should rest their bruised brains as much as possible.

    Let me make something very clear, your health and well being are way more important that a job.

    I hate the ignorance and lack of funding for mental health programs!!!


  3. Good heavens. That’s just awful, for both you and the clients. There is only so much one person can do!

  4. Sorry to do this to you, especially after reading this and seeing how busy you are, (oh, isn’t life funny!) but you’ve been tagged. When you have a sec, check out my blog for details.

  5. I’m worried that the failure to see the need for additional staff is going to come back and bite them in the arse when you do have to take a day. Mental health crises are often acute, and people can’t plan their mental breaks around the staff’s schedule. Seems like management needs to give this a close look. Now, not later.

  6. Put in for a two week vacation sometime between four and six months from now. Tell your boss she has that long to find a second person to do day shift.

    It doesn’t matter what branch of the health field we’re in. Our bosses count on our “desire to help people”. Learning to say “no” and mean it was the best thing I ever did.

  7. Similar situation on my end. It doesn’t leave much by way of piece of mind, although from my own stand point it’s a good thing for job security. Hope your situation stays steady, and doesn’t devolve into something worse.

  8. My temptation would be to just call in sick some day and let them figure out the hard way that they need to hire someone as backup asap. It would suck for the patients in the short term, but would possibly have the situation rectified pretty quickly.

  9. Outrageous but not unusual Kate. I’m assuming you work within public health? If not, then there’s no excuse for the private health sector not to have a replacement for you in order to provide 24 hour assistance to those who need it. Frustrating as it is, not your problem petal. You just do what you can.

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