Too Many Changes in Too Short of Time

I can honestly say, these past three months have been the most exhausting, frustrating, rewarding and fulfilling months in my life. Well, maybe not my life, but they certainly rank in the top five.

1. We moved offices.

It was a confusing, whirlwind mass of chaotic activity. We all knew we were going to move to our new office at the hospital, it was inevitable, but we were told it wouldn’t be until closer to Thanksgiving, so though we knew we were moving, we weren’t really PSYCHED to move. Suddenly, our new office was done and the CEO of the company didn’t see the need to delay the inevitable so we got the green light to move.

It wasn’t a slow, organized move, it was a crazy, throw everything in boxes and load up our cars move.

We moved on a Friday but we didn’t close up shop to move. It was business as usual and we packed our crap up in between patient phone calls. Each team was allotted about two hours to pack our crap, load it up and drop it off at the new office. Then, once the phones shut off at 4:30, we all went into frenzy mode and moved the rest of our stuff. We unloaded just the stuff we knew we would need for clinic on Monday and the rest stayed in boxes.

It was a crazy, disorganized but sort of fun time. And we survived our first clinic in our new place. My doctor was pretty patient, (what choice did he have?) and when we explained the situation to the patients, they were pretty understanding and patient, too. (Again, what choice did they have?)

I love this office. I truly do. It’s spacious and still has that NEW smell. We’re located on the 7th floor and we have a spectacular view of the city. We are the only specialty on our floor so we have the place to ourselves. I’m proud to work here. I know it’s impressive and people are impressed when they get to us.

We’ve had issues. We’ve had doors that wouldn’t open and doors that opened so fast that they were seriously a hazard to anyone within slapping distance. We have been unable to locate light switches and we still have problems with light-motion sensors that are too sensitive and often shut off leaving us in the dark and either having to wave our arms to bring the lights back on or we have to work in the dark until we physically get up to turn the damn things on again.

The toilets flush so loudly they are seriously damaging our eardrums and everyone has to hold their ears when they go off to protect ourselves. At least we won’t have to worry overly much about clogging them as I’m pretty sure they have so much suction they would suck a small child down the pipes if given the chance.

Our docs don’t have offices. Instead, we have collaboration spaces within each “pod.” We have five pods total. In fact, I’m using a collaboration space right now to write this. (More on that later). These collab spaces are intended to allow the physicians to sort of disappear whenever they need a break or want someplace private to eat their lunch. These collab spaces also double as meeting rooms or in my case, study spaces. Since the doctors are only in the clinic two times a week, they are in surgery the rest of the week, they didn’t see the need to have permanent spaces for temporary occupancy.

We’ve been in our space now for three months. Three months, in some ways, it feels a lot longer. We still don’t have enough stools to sit on in the exam rooms and supplies to supply 55 exam rooms. (Each pod has five exam rooms each – we also have one large procedure room in case the doctors need to treat wounds or more complicated issues). For several weeks, we didn’t have enough scales and we had to routinely share and move scales around in order to work our clinics.

Even though we are the only specialty on our floor, we still have room to grow. The front part of our floor is undeveloped and locked off. I have no idea what the hospital plans on doing with this undeveloped space and can only guess that it’s intended to add on more doctors, but we’ll see. So that’s exciting, knowing that at some point, there are likely more changes in our future.

If you can count on anything in business, it’s change.

Let me see if I can explain this set up for you …

When you get off the elevators, you can only go one way and that way is to a centralized podium. The person at the podium then “blues” you in on the schedule so that people like me will know you’re on the floor. The podium person will then direct you to the pod where your doctor is located. I work out of pod 5. Patients will then settle into our waiting room and wait for me to call them back to a room where I start their charts and get their vitals.

On Wednesdays, we share the waiting room with another doctor and last week it was so crowded it was literally standing room only. It’s so weird how the patient flow works out – we will be an hour ahead of schedule and suddenly, we have an influx of patients and we’re an hour behind.

I think this week, I’m going to ask my doctor if he would mind if we used the main waiting area – the area that people see when they first get off the elevators. It’s just too confusing for patients and awkward for me to try and keep track of everyone.

I’m all about efficiency. In fact, I’ve sort of developed a reputation for being “on top of it.” I probably over plan clinics but in my mind, a little preparation goes A LONG WAY towards a more organized clinic. In fact, I’m pretty sure my doctor has come to expect this preparation from me now so there is no way I would NOT plan my clinics, I wouldn’t want to disappoint him.

Which leads me to the second big work change ..

2. We finally switched over to the hospital charting software program in August.

The hospital has been “warning” us for years this change was going to happen so it’s not surprising that it happened once we moved onto the hospital campus.

We spent weeks staying after work transferring people over on to the new schedule program and into the new charting system. It was exhausting but it allowed us to make extra money and to familiarize ourselves with the new program so that ultimately, we taught ourselves how to get around it faster than if we hadn’t stayed to do data entry.

The first week we went live, we had software representatives available for questions. Which sounds awesome on the surface, but wasn’t really awesome in reality. Though they knew their way around the program, they were unfamiliar with our specialty and our specific needs. I can’t tell you the number of times I heard, “well, this is the way it’s supposed to work, but the feature is not working now.” After a time, they were just in the way and became super annoying to have around.

You could FEEL the tension emanating off our bodies that first week we went live. IT. WAS. FRUSTRATING. to say the least. And it’s still frustrating to this day. It’s hard to find anything, let alone quickly. Everything is filed into folders, each doc has a folder, I have a folder for all of the documents I put into the patient’s chart, every type of document has a folder, days have folders, it’s pretty insane, quite frankly.

And the programs, the charting program and the scheduling programs, are GLITCHY. Things will disappear, or we get error messages, or the program will just shut down. And our servers SUCK. They are SO SLOW. In fact, these programs are SO glitchy and slow that our ER finally put their foot down and refused to use it. They use something different.

It’s not unusual for me to completely shut down my computer, several times a day because it just locks up.

AARGH.

I think our docs had the most trouble with the program. They were definitely not set up the way our physicians wanted them to be set up and we’re constantly coming up with ways to get around restrictions. The hospital will likely figure out some of the workarounds we’re doing but that’s the only way our physicians can get their work done so I’m sure the hospital, at some point, will no choice but to make those changes. In the interim, we make do.

So. We moved on July 17th and went to a new software system one month later.

I was working 60 hour weeks for WEEKS during this process. I’m just NOW getting to a point where I’m now going home at 6:00 instead of 8:00. I haven’t seen my family in three months. Truly, I haven’t been home to have dinner with Kevin or the boys, during the week, in three months. I haven’t had time to stop. It’s been crazy.

Some of that crazy came from our phones.

3. We FINALLY went back to voicemails.

Some knucklehead had the bright idea that answering all of our calls live was the way to go. And for a while, it seemed to work. We answered live calls and did our best to help the patient with his/her questions/requests. But after a while, that’s ALL we did. Let me break it down for you.

Monday – I was in clinic. So I didn’t answer calls. I focused primarily on making sure the clinic ran smoothly.

Tuesday – I needed to schedule the Monday clinic patients for testing, but I didn’t have time to do that because I was in the pit answering live calls. So, I was taking calls for other doctor patients who had to tell their stories, from the beginning, to me because I was not familiar with their background. And then, being on a new system, it look three times as long to look anything up because we couldn’t find the damn information. AND/OR we had (still have to) access our old system – so in essence, we were working out of four systems, our old charting/scheduling programs and our new charting/scheduling programs. And when you answered live calls, you had to stop what you were doing before the call, to take the call, and when you hung up, you didn’t have time to start your own work because the damn phone would instantly ring.

Can you tell I LOATHE the phones??

Wednesday – I’m back in clinic. And I haven’t had a chance to touch my Monday clinic.

Thursday/Friday – I’m back on the damn phones. And again, I do not have a chance to get my clinic work done because I”m now forced to take care of patients for all of the docs. So the ONLY time I had a chance to clean up my week’s clinics AND prepare for my upcoming clinics, was after hours.

It was an insane process.

And to top it off, I started having chest pains. I don’t know if it was because I was under so much stress and working 60 hours weeks, or if it due to gas from starting to take Coconut supplements, or maybe a combination of both, but I ended up in the ER one night.

I was working clinic on a Wednesday and I just couldn’t breathe. I felt like I had to continuously take large breaths in order to function. I made several trips to the restroom just so I could pause, close my eyes and force my body to settle down. I took my blood pressure and it was way high. And my heart rate was over 100. I had chest pain but no arm/jaw pain so I really didn’t think I was having a heart attack but something was OFF.

Then that night, I just couldn’t sleep. My heart was racing double time and I was laying down!! I started hyperventilating and text Kevin (because he was at band practice) and he rushed home and took me to the ER. They hooked me up to an EKG machine and luckily, I wasn’t have a heart attack. They put me into a room and gave me liquid Ativan. Liquid GOLD, I say. That calmed me right down and my blood pressure went back down to normal. They didn’t give me an explanation for my crazy, but I’m pretty sure I had a panic attack. I think the pressure just got to me and I snapped.

I haven’t had an attack since then. I’ve adapted and learned to cope with this stress.

We had another person in the office break out into a rash because of the stress. When the director of our department found out about our physical manifestations to all of this stress, he put his foot down – it was time for changes.

We narrowed down that the phone situation just wasn’t working for us. So, we called our communications department in and they set it up so that each doctor has a voicemail now. Now, I can get to phones on MY time. And I’m already familiar with my doctor’s patients so that cuts down on response time. And I can return phone calls all at once so it’s way more efficient for everyone.

We’ve been back on voicemails for several weeks now and everyone is WAY more relaxed. We have time to BREATHE. We can all go to lunch together, if we want. We’re more in control of our processes and time. And that has left more time for me to pursue my next goal …

4. I’m studying for my CMA test

The CMA test is the Certified Medical Assistant test. The hospital has put together a pretty sweet incentive package for the medical assistants to become certified. It’s better for us, for the doctors and of course, for the hospital. So that has motivated all of us to study for the thing. A few of use have been staying late, or coming in on the weekend (like today – but I’m writing to you instead because I was feeling it today), to prepare for this. It costs $150 dollars to take the 3 hours test so I’m also motivated to take this pretty seriously because I don’t want to blow $150.

I’ve purchased study materials and I plan on purchasing a practice test so that I can focus my studies on the sections that will be on the test. I’ve only really been studying seriously for the past several weeks and I already feel like I’ve learned a lot. It’s stressful though – I feel like I’m cramming four years of medical school into about six weeks. I’m not going to tell you, or anyone I work with, the actual date I plan on taking this test, that way, if I fail, no harm, no foul. My goal is to just announce to everyone that I passed. If I told everyone my plans, took the test and then failed, I’m pretty sure I would be too mortified to show my face again. Everyone is wanting to go take it on the same day, but I simply can’t do that – I will be a bundle of nerves anyway, let alone taking the test with a bunch of people I work with.

The hospital is not only offering a bonus for becoming certified, but they’re also offering an hourly pay increase. And it’s a pretty sweet jump, let me tell ya.

So yes. I’m focusing my energies onto passing this thing now. I’ve been staying after work not only to finish my work, but on collaborating with my fellow co-workers on studying for the CMA.

I’m looking forward to the day when things get back to normal. Our entire worlds, and not just working worlds, but personal worlds, have been turned upside down these past several months.

But then I’ll have continuing education requirements after I pass the CMA in order to KEEP my CMA status.

It just never ends, does it.

Prompt: Accidental Healthcare Career

Tell us about your first day at something — your first day of school, first day of work, first day living on your own, first day blogging, first day as a parent, whatever.

It’s Obama’s fault that I work in healthcare.

I never, in a million years, even TOSSED the idea around of working in healthcare before our glorious dictator, erhm, leader, (*said with sarcasm*) started the current nightmare we’re living in right now. (Have you guessed that I DESPISE the man?)

It never even occurred to me to attempt it. I knew I could never be a nurse. Not so much for the gross factor (though there is that – KUDOS to nurses!), but I get so impatient with people who are sick or in pain. (Just ask my family). My first reaction is to say, “suck it up, buttercup.”

Not exactly stellar bedside manner, right?

This attitude applies to me, too. It drives me CRAZY to be sick or have some pain I can’t seem to control or get rid of.

But when Obama waved his scepter and deemed Obamacare to be the law of the land (*snicker* – yes, I’m being bitchy), I knew I had to DO something to protect my family. I had been a stay-at-home mom for the past seven years – the kids were old enough to take care of themselves and it was time to get back to work. But where to work? I could try and use my degree (I graduated from college in 2003 with a Technical Writing degree – more on why I didn’t pursue this later), but what if it took me forever to FIND a local job in that field? Time was of the essence, who knew how Obamacare would screw everything up for us?

Kevin was (is) self-employed. And with me not working, we were paying ASTRONOMICAL fees for family health insurance. And we were looking at even higher fees once Obamacare passed.

What were my options? I could go back to retail, banking or even the restaurant business. I have a lot of experience in all of those fields, but even then, how much would it ultimately cost us for health insurance?

I admit, the main reason I applied at the hospital was because I wanted to thumb my nose at Obama and his stupidity. How ironic would it be to have health insurance through a healthcare facility? Oh sure, I know that Obama will never know, nor care, about my decision to work in healthcare simply because of his God-like complex to ultimately control his minions (again with the bitchy), but I figured, on some level, that it might be the safest option in order to protect my family.

So. I applied and to my utter astonishment, I got the job.

Actually, that’s not true. I applied first to the insurance processing center and made it to my second interview. I sat at a table with four other women, the women I would be ultimately working with, interviewing me and I guess they didn’t like me because I didn’t get the job. I didn’t give up though. There was a scheduler’s position at the neurosurgery center that I went for and got. I was now responsible for scheduling testing for two neurosurgeons.

I was both excited and terrified. I bought my required scrubs (at that time we were wearing a different color every day so it was quite expensive initially) and my first day on the job consisted of all-day training, becoming familiar with the hospital rules and regulations, signing up for benefits, etc. We were allowed to wear business attire for my first two days of training.

There were a handful of us – maybe around 20? I remember feeling VERY THANKFUL because the economy was tanking at that time and I was just grateful to have ANY job, let alone the job I landed. I felt extremely grateful to be there.

That feeling quickly dissipated when I started my first day at the clinic. It was on Wednesday and after my boss took me around the clinic and introduced me, I began to fully appreciate what I had gotten myself into.

I knew nothing, NOTHING, about the medical field. In essence, I had to learn a whole new language. I had to learn new software; I had to learn how to be what they wanted me to be by constantly adjusting and readjusting my expectations and my personality. I was absolutely terrified and I wondered, on more than one occasion, just what the hell I was doing there.

I also came very, very close, to walking out several times. (Even recently).

I was so stressed. Just when I thought I had “gotten it,” something, or someone, would throw me a curve ball and I was left floundering. I suppose I did a good job of hiding my terror because months later, when I had become comfortable with my position and the people I worked with, I told them how I felt when I first started and my co-workers were shocked – they had no idea, they said.

I guess that was something, at least.

I could BS my way through patient interactions. I’m telling you, the most helpful class I took in college was communication. It taught me to understand different personalities and how to get along with those personalities. It taught me patience and how to word things so that people didn’t take offense but at the same time, it allowed me to maintain control over the situation.

I think everyone should be required to take a communications class like that (and I’m talking about the art of communication – studying Aristotle and the likes. It sounds boring, and it was, for the most part, it was also difficult to digest, but once that light bulb went off in my head, I feel like I can pretty much handle any personality now).

What stressed me out the most, and still does on many levels, was interacting with the doctors. As if rubbing elbows with doctors in general is not nerve-wracking enough, I’m rubbing elbows with BRAIN SURGEONS. To become a brain surgeon, you have to be the top 1% – these guys are SCARY SMART. Human, but Einstein smart.

I would feel nauseous anytime I had to speak directly with a doctor. Did I ask my question plainly? Should I have been able to answer my question without going to the doctor? Did I present myself in a professional manner? Will they like me or ask management to get rid of me?

(Hey – that’s actually happened before).

The doctors TERRIFIED me. I drove home, on many, many occasions when I first started working for the hospital, crying because I was so stressed out from trying to learn everything. Thank God I’m a fast learner. I tend to catch on quickly.

Looking back, I’m pretty proud of myself. I stepped into a world I knew little to nothing about and conquered it, somewhat. I’m currently working on educating myself so that I can take a certification test and become a CMA (certified medical assistant) which will lead to a raise and more responsibility. I’m feeling more comfortable in my duties and I’ve been told by both management, and the doctors (EEK!) that I’m doing a good job.

It sort of blows my mind, to be honest.

Oh – one more first to tell you about – the first time I had to take staples out. It was a PLIF (posterior lumbar interbody fusion). The nurse showed me how to use the tool and I got down on my knees, swallowed the bile back down my throat and took those suckers out. It’s actually sort of fun, to be honest. Unless they’ve been in for a while and they’re starting to scab over. Then you have to dig into the flesh a bit and that hurts the patient. I’m still not 100% confident on removing staples, but I just swallow my apprehension, grit my teeth and force myself to do it and appear confident while doing it. (Which is key – my lead nurse told me that patients will never know that you haven’t done something very often, as long as you sound confident while doing it).

I watched a carpal tunnel suture removal the other day. I haven’t done one of those yet. My doctor doesn’t do very many carpal tunnels. That’s pretty cool. You first don a pair of clean gloves, swab the stitches with rubbing alcohol to remove germs/bacteria, then you take your scissors and snip the stitch while pulling it by the knot with the tweezers. I’ve yet to see one long continuous stitch removed – I’ve put the word out if anyone gets one of those to come get me so I can watch how they do it.

So those are some of my firsts. Without sounding like a braggart (too late, I’m sure), I have to admit, this job is one of the things I’m most proud of in my life. I have grabbed this medical monster by the tail and conquered it. Not bad for someone who didn’t go to any sort of medical school. The other girls I started out with? The other schedulers? Didn’t last. They couldn’t hack it and transferred to other departments.

I’m the last scheduler standing.