Several years ago, I worked with a young man named Carl in the pharmacy. He would frequently stumble into work late, muttering excuses under his breath.
Although none of us witnessed firsthand, his car seemed to get flat tires on a regular basis. The quality of his work, although passable, seemed below his capabilities.
The pharmacy staff was somewhat annoyed with Carl’s shortcomings, but did not question them much. Carl had a knack for making his many excuses seem legitimate, and besides, he was a likeable guy. No one suspected that there could have been a driving force behind his apathy; we assumed it was simply the way he was.
Carl worked the midnight shift in the pharmacy. His duties involved servicing patients from the emergency department who could not wait until morning to get their ailments treated. There was also a chance that the hospitals nursing units might need something from the pharmacy during his shift, such as intravenous fluids or an as needed medication.
Working the midnight shift was considered a huge responsibility because the weight of the pharmacy rested solely on Carls shoulders while he was there. After all, anyone who has ever worked in a hospital knows that patients do not stop being sick in the middle of the night, and the patients of this hospital were certainly no different.
It was approximately 2 A.M. on Carl’s shift, and a patient made his way to the pharmacy with his discharge paperwork in hand. He peered over the pharmacy counter, searching for someone who could help him. The patient called out, his weathered voice echoed throughout the hollow pharmacy.
He sat in the waiting area and fantasized about his warm beds sweet embrace that wouldn’t come soon enough. Meanwhile, a baby from the Mother Baby Unit was almost due for her 2:30 A.M. dose of ampicillin. One of the nurses called the pharmacy to alert Carl, but no one answered.
After several more vain attempts to get Carl to answer the phone, the nurse went to the pharmacy, forcefully knocking on the door, slamming her fist into the heavy wood while calling out Carl’s name. Despite the ruckus she caused, only silence could be heard from the other side of the door.
The security guard on duty was able to access the pharmacy with his master key, so he unlocked the door and stepped inside and glanced about. Light from a television danced around a dimly lit room in the back of the pharmacy.
The security guard could not help but notice the dim light, and cautiously made his way to the break room to find Carl sprawled out on the couch, drool trailing down his cheek. The security guard roused Carl out of his deep sleep with a firm shake of his shoulders.
Why are you sleeping? Everyone has been trying to get your attention for the past fifteen minutes, the guard exclaimed. Carl squinted at the guard in a confused stupor. He could not muster one of his infamous excuses in this sleep-like state.
Carl submitted to a drug test in which he tested positive for benzodiazepines. Carl had been caught red handed and could offer no explanation that would void him of responsibility. He admitted to stealing and abusing Xanax and claimed he wanted help. Carl was not allowed to return to work in the pharmacy, as he could not be trusted around medications anymore.
The recklessness of Carl’s actions affected a lot of people that night in a multitude of ways. The most concerning thing about the incident, however, was the threat it posed to patient care. Another pharmacy worker was able to relieve Carl that night and assist the patients he had let down.
Fortunately, the lack of timeliness in delivering medications only served as an inconvenience that night. If a patient had an emergency that required immediate intravenous medications, Carl’s negligence could have served as a death sentence for the patient.
The pharmacy supervisors learned a valuable lesson through Carl’s mistakes: to dig deeper when a co-worker exhibits problematic behavior. Someone could have engaged Carl in a professional conversation after he was late for his shift for the third time in a single week.
Someone could have asked Carl why he did not seem to be performing to the best of his abilities. Someone might have discovered that Carl’s tires were fully functional and not flat, had they looked into the situation.
By dismissing Carl’s behavior as being inconsequential, we left his theft of Xanax and subsequent addiction unchecked. If his situations were addressed differently, the well being of patients might have not have been jeopardized that night.