by Kristen Jacobson
I’m a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit nurse. I love my job. I love where I work. I love what I do. Unfortunately lately, I haven’t been able to do it, and every time away from work has cost me, not my hospital.
When my son came in 2018, who knew I’d need all of my sick bank later? I used the time off that I’d earned to that point, and only when I returned to work, could I start accruing time off again.
Along came 2020, and nobody knew how serious the symptoms were or what they meant. One day, I had a headache that just wouldn’t go away. That meant a test and time off. Earlier this year, some of those tests took five or six days to come back with a result, and, if it was negative, the time is on me. It’s not compensated. I figured out I lost 10.5 shifts over the last year or 126 hours of work.
Then came March, and the good news that kids were going back to school. My six-year-old daughter was happy to go back, and then she couldn’t. About March 5, she was exposed by a child who was positive on the school bus. Through no fault of her own, she was back at home, and so was I.
It’s just me at home right now to care for her and my little one. Helping the first-grader at home while keeping a two-year-old entertained. Trying to figure out how they can get outside at all. Since no childcare will take them when they’ve been exposed, I went back to distance learning with her for a week. I had her tested, and I’m so glad she was negative—except it didn’t make one bit of difference. According to the school, she couldn’t back to school for a full two weeks even with a negative COVID test result. Once again, it’s another week of my time from work. I had to apply for a Leave of Absence to be excused, and the paychecks came from my earned hours, not the hospital.
I asked, “isn’t this covered?” I was told no because the hospital is an employer with more than 500 employees.
I know I’m lucky. I actually had some time earned to use. I had some savings. I have a financial planner who’s been urging me to plan for that rainy day. Well, that plan is in action. It’s raining. I know a lot of nurses are not able to make up for all the time and the benefits they’ve lost. At least we don’t have to worry about buying sports equipment right now.
We really need our earned benefits back. We don’t know how much longer this pandemic will continue. We don’t know when the next time will be that forces us into quarantine. It could be the kid on the school bus. It could be the patient who wasn’t tested or tested negative but was really positive. Nurses need to be able to whole again, maybe just to take a break after this is all over.
For now, it’s nice that I am going back to work. Not just to earn some more time in case I need it, but because sometimes it’s easier to be a nurse and help others with their problems, instead of my own.