Social Work Journal: “I miss nonverbal cues, stares and eye contact”

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Image credit © Joshua Miranda from Pexels

On Monday

I turn on my cell phone. It looks like the 657th day of confinement. My new job starts tomorrow and I’m lucky to have met my new team before working from home becomes the norm. However, my new role was temporarily suspended due to Covid-19 and I received a letter from the NHS advising me that I should be ‘protected’ for the next 12 weeks due to a chronic health condition. It is a shock to the system.

For distraction, I read emails (mostly Covid-19 updates) and chat with my former manager about troubleshooting and identifying outstanding work.

I phone a service user to do a review of their Care Act needs. Immediately I realize how difficult it will be to conduct an assessment over the phone. I am now dependent on his words, his way of speaking and the silences. I miss nonverbal cues, stares and eye contact. I work hard to keep this from turning into a phone interview and ultimately we make a tenuous connection. He tells me that he received a food package from a food bank two days ago but is amazed at the bags of rice and pasta it contains. He wants something familiar that he can cook, like bacon. We are discussing how he can use the rice but it is difficult because he is overwhelmed and anxious with the confinement.

Tuesday

I talk about roles with my new team leader and how my protected status will affect what I can do. She puts me in touch with a neighborhood social work team who needs my help. I feel supported and useful.

My work laptop is needed by someone who doesn’t have their own PC at home. A colleague offers to retrieve it. I try to sterilize the laptop as best I can and leave it outside my door, with a note, beckoning it out the window as it is retrieved.

I catch up with a former teammate telling me about the house calls he makes. While most of the team work from home, there are still injections on deposit to administer and some visits must be face to face. I feel both guilt and relief to be at home.

Wednesday

I discuss my new temporary role with a team leader at the community center. I will provide telephone support to community social workers, focusing on mental health. It feels good to talk about social work and I end the call feeling useful.

I am answering emails, trying unsuccessfully to call payroll, and trying to pay for delivery of a new work phone as I am currently using my own cell phone. Everything seems to take twice as long as usual.

I fill out two Care Act documents, unleashed by my intermittent home wifi, and send them for authorization. I am looking for a care coordinator for a support plan and go through it with her offering suggestions. It feels like a productive day.

Thursday

My manager and I talk about the practicalities of working from home, what equipment I need and how I can stay in touch with the rest of the team. She supports me and listens to me as I talk about my worries about being away from the office.

My virtual office is working, so I record a call with IT support through their rather clunky online system. It’s excruciatingly slow and I almost threw my machine against the wall in frustration when my screen goes blank.

I speak to a care coordinator about a case we were working on jointly and she keeps me updated on the number of Covid-19 patients from a local nursing home. It makes me sad and anxious and I have a cup of tea and take a break.

Friday

Hooray! My virtual office is working! I feel victorious. My team is hosting a group chat for next week and I’m testing the necessary software on my machine. Yesterday’s care coordinator came back to me with a few questions about the panel and we resume the support plan.

An email tells me that I am going to buy a new phone. Delivering it to me is going to be problematic but I will save this task for next week. Now is the time to shut down and try to think of something other than the coronavirus.


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