Who is really helping you?

I have been binge-watching reality shows that chronicle emergency-room services, seeing people caught in crime or happenstance going through lifesaving treatment. Some die. Most featured on these shows live, sometimes to the amazement of the doctors who treated them. Part of the appeal is seeing strangers help other strangers. Part of it is seeing ego in action: “Ask a surgeon who the best 3 surgeons are and they will reply ‘Who are the other two?’” And part of the shows’ appeal is seeing the unpredictability of life. We have no idea what’s going to happen to us.

Those caught in crime or addiction face the fact that the responsibility for helping themselves avoid imminent death falls on themselves, as difficult as that may be. From the outside, it seems so simple. Just find new friends who aren’t criminals. Stop drinking and using drugs. Get a real job. But easy answers don’t apply here. People are caught in a web that difficult to get out of, and they may have no support.The people on these shows were are victims of car crashes often have far more family support show up at their bedside than those in trouble with the law or intoxicants. These victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time are swarmed by generations of family, all emotional about the victim’s situation.

The medical staff take the emotional middle road. They express care for those people who have no one, but they don’t get overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment. One doctor said that it’s a hard path to follow, but if he let himself feel all the feels about his patients he wouldn’t be able to do his job.

This got me thinking about what help is available in other situations. Lots of people commit suicide because they feel isolated, often to the surprise of those who felt they were close to them. Others turn down medical treatment because they’re scared of needles or transfusions. Some people do not trust modern medicine. Others feel that asking for help or going to therapy demonstrates weakness. Many of these people die because they’ve made a choice that death is better than taking a chance on the unknown. At least they have control over their destiny, as drastic as that may be.

I’ve had emergency surgery for a gall bladder and I’ve been in an intensive care unit with ketoacidosis — a condition where the body gets too acidic. In both situations, I felt I was in good hands. I trusted the medical staff to make me well again, and they did. Some people look to family or friends to pick them up when we’re down, and in normal times they are a source of constant support.

I’ve been struggling in the workplace to find a position where I feel supported. It’s a large retail outlet with 300+ employees doing a myriad of tasks. Often people are moved from job to job like pawns on a chess board, and that’s what happened to me. I had spent a few months as cashier in the cosmetic department before I was moved to online grocery. In cosmetics, I had time to chat with customers and I really loved that. You get people on good days and bad, and people will often share poignant details with strangers like me. I may not know a lot about cosmetics, but I know a bit about people.

About a month ago, I made a shift to the other job. It involves pushing carts through the grocery aisles, picking items for people who’ve ordered online. Every order has a deadline, and there’s pressure to get all the items into bins on time. I find myself having to brush off customers who want to know where stuff is, and I’m frustrated I don’t have time to take them to the pancake syrup or veggie-based chicken. I think it’s unfair that customers who don’t come to the store have priority over those who take the time to show up in person. Have you ever tried to get attention from a store employee when they’re dealing with a phone enquiry? So frustrating.

There are many teams in the store, and I see some team supervisors being like border collies — checking on all the workers and making sure everyone understands what they’re supposed to do. If one person is in difficulty, they get help. My team is run differently, and I’m having difficulty that a supervisor thinks things are more important than people. This can make a team feel isolated, disoriented and unfulfilled. Some people like this prefer online games, car repair or hobbies over connecting to family members. Connecting can be hard, and you might get hurt. Things are stagnant. They can’t reject you or cause emotional pain.

On the other hand, checking on people under your watch and offering support can go a long way. “How can I help you? Let me give you a hand so you can have your break on time. You’re doing great, keep going!”

I’ve talked to a senior manager about my concerns and she wants to help me. But I don’t think what she has in mind is enough. The border collie of another team is encouraging me to come over and join her group, and I’m going to pursue that. I need to know help is available and that my colleagues are there to help me without shame or blame.


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