Saturday, March 2, 2013

Moment of Truth: Autistic People technicians

This post is reprinted with permission from Rather Unique's original post and blog Moment of Truth, which you can visit by clicking on the links.

   I am a full time pharmacy technician.  I have held this job for 6 years.  I work sometimes up to 50 hours a week.  I interact with a lot of people, sometimes over 100 in a day.  It is not easy to deal with so many people in one day.
  It is not my first retail job.  Most of the jobs I had involved me dealing with the public.  I was not very good at it at first, which is likely why I did not keep those jobs.  I am not terribly comfortable with the public, but I manage.
   Out of desperation, over 10 years ago a friend got me a job at the electronics retailer he worked.  High pressure sales, you produce or get out.  Fortunately, he was a good friend and taught me things.  Fortunately the job had training videos.  I learned the value of small talk and eye contact (or in my case, feigning it).  I don't much like small talk, but it has much value to others.
   With a template on how to sell, which I followed with precision, I became an above average performer.  Nowhere near the best, but not in fear of my position.  I also suffered tremendous anxiety from that job.  I felt like I was forcing people to spend hard earned money on things they do not need.  Why spend money on things you don't need?  It troubled my sense of logic that I was there to convince people that they need things that they don't need.  I was ashamed of myself and I quit.
   The pharmacy is different.  People come in for things they do need, and its my job to help them get it.  I am much more at peace with that, so the socializing does not bother me as much. 
   Many of the skills I learned from the electronics job serve me well as a pharmacy employee.  Most of the people that come in are suffering, or caring for a loved one that is suffering.  Even if it is just for a maintenance drug, that prescription is a reminder to that person of their own mortality.  Eye contact, a soft smile and brief small talk off the topic of illness of medication makes the experience more pleasant for the patient.
   Most people are in a hurry to get out of the pharmacy, which makes the small talk brief and unstressful.  Occasionally you get a person that likes to talk.  My talk template runs dry in about 120 seconds, then I am in trouble.
   Having engaged in social pleasantries makes moments when a patient has a high unexpected copay or deductible or no insurance at all, and not expecting the cost less traumatizing for me,  I do not like to give people bad news, it causes me great stress.  If I am tired, especially at the end of my day I do sometimes forget my social pleasantries.  I look at the counter while I speak and do not make small talk.  This results in whatever problem that patient may have being taken out on me although I am not the cause of that persons discomfort.
   I wish interactions could be more brief.  The sooner I am done, the sooner that person gets to go home and take their medication, and the sooner I can get to work on the next one.  Less suffering for all that ends sooner, but for some reason that perfectly reasonable philosophy is lost on most.
   Social pleasantries help when dealing with call centers for insurance.  I have never worked at a call center, but they say it is an unpleasant job.  The turnover ratio is high.  I have a template for talking to them.  I try to guess where they are from by the accent.  Then I ask them how the weather there is.  Gets them on my side, which is good since they are essentially my enemy and working for a company that is being a jerk and not wanting to give medication that is making my patient feel better or possibly keeping them alive.
   I work in a small pharmacy.  Three people back there at most normally.  Sometimes managers and visitors come.  I don't like them in my workspace one bit.  Sometimes too many patients are in the pharmacy, with too many conversations that I hear all at once.  Sometimes my clothes are too itchy.  Sometimes the sun is too bright through the window.  Sometimes I tell my boss I have to go to the bathroom and I cool down in there.
  I like to touch the door to the storage room.  I keep my water and coffee over by that door on top of a half sized fridge, and it is cut off from view by a shelf of medicine.  People think I am going for a drink, but I am going to touch the door.  The door is cool and smooth and I like it.  I wiggle my toes inside of my work boots while I count pills.  I shift weight from one leg to the other while at the cash register.
   The store has had the same song list playing over the speakers for years.  I like to sing along until I am told to stop, which is often.  It has been brought to my attention that I cannot sing.  I don't dare dance....I have the grace of a groggy hippo.
   Sometimes patients die.  I have to go to the bathroom when I hear about it and hide.  Sometimes I cry,.  I do not let people see me cry, at home or at work.  Sometimes a friend or spouse of that person comes in to the store.  I don't know what to say.  I say "I'm sorry".  I wish I had something more profound to say but my mind does not give me words at those moments.
   I like what I do, I like to help people.  If I feel like I helped someone it makes the discomfort worth it.  Also dealing with the suffering keeps my own life in perspective..  People at work like me.  They know I am a weirdo but its ok.  We are all human.. 

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