Coping in a pandemic

Jacqueline Meyer MPS

Pregnant and with an immune-compromised toddler, pharmacy owner Jacqueline Meyer MPS tells how she has learned to cope in ‘new normal’ times.

The news of being pregnant with my second child was overwhelmingly exciting. A severe intrauterine growth restriction complication in my first pregnancy, resulted in a 12-week neonatal critical care unit stay when my daughter was born at 28 weeks’ gestation weighing only 520 grams. The fear of history repeating itself meant I was taking every precaution advised to ensure the safe arrival of this baby. Then, when I was 4 months’ pregnant, COVID-19 hit.

As a pharmacist and pharmacy owner of two community pharmacies, I watched as my pharmacists and pharmacy staff entered uncharted territory in what was a period of mania and uncertainty in society. I needed to change business operations and procedures practically overnight, scrambling to find face masks, sanitiser, gloves and screens to protect my staff and the community.

There has been incredible advocacy work done by PSA for our profession amid the pace of legislative change occurring – with digital prescriptions, faxes, phone orders and customer deliveries – that made business operations hit a new level of complexity. Many of my pharmacists reported this to be the hardest period of their careers.

I couldn’t have been prouder watching my staff do everything they could to continue delivering our exceptional level of customer service. One of them described feeling that during a pandemic, it was their time to rise to the occasion as a health professional.

However, the sheer magnitude of change had a huge impact on the stress levels and mental health of my team and myself. As well, working in a community where I am well known and respected by many of my regular patients and local consumers, I became suddenly fearful of them passing on a virus which could be dangerous to not only myself but to my unborn child and immune-compromised toddler. I was suddenly conflicted, both personally and professionally.

As more evidence arose about the lesser effects of the COVID-19 virus on children and pregnant women, I have been somewhat relieved, so far. But I continued to worry about my team’s significant stress and coping levels.

Many of my pharmacists live away from parents, some interstate, and are not close to family – a support network we all need for our personal health. Others, with families and children of their own, were each fearful of passing the virus to them through exposure at the pharmacy, which made for stressful times as I was responsible for their safety at work.

As COVID-19 restrictions continued with many GPs seeing patients only remotely and via telehealth, our faxes/phone orders/email prescriptions became a heightened ‘interim normal’.

Regular communication with the team and the utilisation of available resources and offers of much-needed time away from work seemed the only solution. 

Other community pharmacy owners in some regions faced a decline in business from drops in tourism, etc. In my community it has been the opposite. Many regulars and community residents chose to use our free delivery service. Some days we travelled 150 kilometres around the region delivering to elderly, those self-isolating, those in forced isolation or residents who are too afraid to leave their homes.

My staff has been affected – and have reacted – in different ways. We owe it to ourselves – and the communities we are helping keep safe – to look after ourselves, take breaks and check in on each other, as we also keep our doors open as essential service workers.

With restrictions easing now across the country and state authorities slowly and cautiously allowing us to return to a somewhat familiar sense of normal, community pharmacy continues to shine as the most accessible health profession.

Customers feel less anxious, which in turn results in the staff and pharmacy feeling a sense of calm return to daily operations.

My pharmacists and pharmacy staff are able to take some much needed time off and reward themselves for the brilliant work they have achieved as essential workers.

Jacqueline Meyer BPharm MPS is a community pharmacist and owner of LiveLife Pharmacy Cooroy and LiveLife Pharmacy Pomona on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. She is also PSA Queensland Branch Vice President.