A slight variation on what dear old Dolly Parton had in mind but it was more than enough for me yesterday. My esteemed manager rang and asked me to cover a few hours in a busy clinic as one of the three “normal” receptionists was otherwise engaged “going for a job interview”. This last piece of information was imparted with a sniff of derision. “Quite frankly, if she gets this other job I shall not only hang out the flags but the bunting as well” said my beleaguered boss. I have to admit, I don’t envy her her job – finding and keeping enough admin staff to run the whole of a busy hospital is not something I’d relish doing. It’s no wonder she’s on 30 a day and takes her coffee intravenously.
Anyway, I found myself outside my comfort zone in an unknown setting but with two people that I knew but not worked with before. So I didn’t know how the appointment system ran, wasn’t sure why the consultant kept running in and out of his cubicle and peering into the busy waiting room without saying a word or even where the kettle was but I knew and got along with my colleagues. Or so I thought. Anne and Fiona both greeted me with cursory greetings and sat me at a computer terminal and phone and more or less left me to get on with it. I’m a quick learner – after fifteen minutes I was greeting patients with aplomb and answering the phone with a dash. Anne disappeared at twenty to eleven to make some tea. No sooner had her sensible shoes squeaked their way across the linoleum than Fiona started in on the sighing and moaning.
“Oh god, she drives me insane, she’s so lazy!” she huffed. I didn’t get a chance to say anything before she was off again. “She’s never on time, she’s so dippy, she makes no end of mistakes and I have to sort them all out and, oh, I wish she’d just retire and leave us to get on with it!”
I was goggling at this point. To hear the two of them gushing over each other earlier - “Do you want me to get that Annie, while you do this?” “Oh yes darling Fi, if you do that I can do this, you’re such a sweetheart!” – you’d think they were the best of buddies.
“Her problem is she’s been here so long she thinks she owns the place and she won’t take changes or anything I have to say on board – we have to do it her way or not at all!” Fiona was apoplectic at this point. “I mean, how old is she? 90? I suggested that we get some blue marker pens once and she ranted on for half an hour as to why we should get green because we’ve always had green – I mean, come on!”
Anne reappeared with a tray of mugs and an open packet of caramel digestives. “I’ve sugared your tea precious” she cooed as she handed Fiona a spotty mug. Fiona did at least have the good grace to blush as she took the proffered refreshment. Several minutes passed in silence before Fiona wondered how Jane was getting on at her interview. They both then proceeded to put the boot in. “She won’t get it.” said Anne. “Of course she won’t, they’ll take one look at her attitude and she won’t even be on the long list, let alone the short one” added Fiona. Silent but Staring Consultant handed Anne a wodge of files and took another selection from the trolley at our side. “We’ll leave this for her to do tomorrow, she doesn’t do anything else” said Fiona as she dumped the whole lot unceremoniously on the side. “I mean to say” said Anne “She’s hardly receptionist material, her nails are atrocious and those hair bands she wears that masquerade as skirts! Do you know her?” I was fixed with a beady stare. I admitted that yes I did know of Jane but didn’t know her and busied myself with my caramel digestive. “Hm” said Fiona. “You’re lucky then.”
A simmering silence settled upon us and I dealt with a very sweet but extremely deaf elderly gentleman who asked me where the Gents was. I told him, first at normal voice level and then shouting so that the entire waiting room heard where he was going. I then decided it was quicker to take him there myself. Off we shuffled and I got the distinct impression that I would be discussed during my absence.
I was right, of course. There was a distinct chill in the air on my return and both ignored me as I retook my seat. “We don’t generally do that” Anne informed me sniffily. “If they can’t find the toilet then that’s their problem, we’re not here to spoonfeed them.” Fiona added. I kept my mouth shut but I could feel my dander rising.
Fiona went off for lunch at 12 and Anne started. “I’m not sure where she goes for lunch but she comes back reeking of garlic. Mind, she’s got personal body odour issues at the best of times. In the height of summer it’s like the changing room of a men-only gym in here.” I had another 25 minutes of, quite frankly, vituperative, comments about Fiona before she came back and Anne took her break. I was then treated to another round of “She’s so old, she’s no use to anyone” for another half an hour along with “And she complained when you took one of her biscuits”.
Now, I’m grown up enough to realise that you haven’t got to like the people you work with but does everyone do this? Did the girls that I usually work with wait for me to go to the loo or to make the tea and talk about me like this? Are my biscuit habits discussed at will? The length of my skirts? The state of my nails? Is every bit of kindness I display to our patients remarked upon?
It left me feeling quite sad to be honest. I know, in my heart of hearts, that my usual merry band of lovely girlies I work with wouldn’t do that but…..are we guilty of behaving this way when a “new” person joins the team, however briefly?
I was immensely cheered by one of the emails that I received (my inbox is now well in to treble figures) from one of the aforementioned girlies – I shall reproduce it here for you all to enjoy.