Jan 16

Being “On Call” On Holidays: An Epiphany

student debt survivor telephone

Have you ever had a job that required you be “on call”? My current job requires me to be “on call” all of the time. Day, night, holidays, you name it, I’m fielding calls. In case you’re wondering, I work at a supportive housing residence for a wide variety of individuals (low-income, HIV/AIDS, individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses etc.). All of them have their own apartments within the residence and are basically living independently, with some supports.

Some people want and need our help, others don’t. But the bottom line is, if someone goes to the hospital, gets in a fight, disappears or god-forbid dies, I’m the person who gets the first call and has to direct staff in how to handle the situation. Being a manager is so much fun, right?

The Friday before Christmas one of the clients we work with went to the Emergency Room. She was not initially willing to go, but we felt she wouldn’t be safe to stay in her apartment alone, so we sent her against her will (this is often difficult for us and for the patient, so it’s not something we like to do unless it’s medically or psychiatrically indicated. It was in this case).

Needless to say, the rest of my Christmas holiday was spent talking to MDs and social workers, advocating that this individual was not competent to care for herself or refuse medical care. Multiple times throughout the weekend I found myself getting angry that I had to spend my Christmas (when I should be spending time with my family) advocating for this client and arguing with MDs. I felt completely chained to my work.

Then Christmas day around 6pm I had an epiphany. Holy shit, I’m so lucky to be in the place I’m at. The client I was advocating for was medically and psychiatrically frail, was alone at a hospital, had no family interested in her well-being, was basically lost in the “system” on Christmas day. Sadly, I was her only hope of getting the care she needed.

There I was feeling bad for myself and having a mini pity party, when the client I was fight for had basically nothing. How selfish and terrible am I? The rest of the day and the rest of the weekend I answered every call cheerfully, because I am so fortunate and so blessed to have everything that I have.

Have you ever had a job the required you be “on call”?

Image: Images_of_Money


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  1. I’ve never had a job that I was on call for. Well, I take that back, I had one while in college that required me to be on call several times a month. It wasn’t too bad as I was already up late as it was.

    1. College on call job, interesting. I guess technically all of the Resident assistant and Resident Directors at the college are on call basically all the time.

  2. I have not had an “on-call” job but know many people who had and have on-call jobs. My mom has had to field calls on holidays before. It’s not a fun thing, but like you said most of the time it’s a perspective thing.

    1. Most days I don’t mind being on call. i think I was cranky because it was a holiday.

  3. I have a good friend that is on call, pretty much everyday. He always gets a call out when we are about to eat or go do something. He loves when he gets called at the most inconvenient time!

    1. Yeah it’s a lot of “fun” when you’re trying to do something with friends/family and you have to take a call. People must think I’m super important, like a doctor or something. Now I just have to work on that MD salary πŸ˜‰

  4. Glad you came to that epiphany, it does suck to be on call but there are worse things in life. My company used to close for Christmas but you had to be on call and one hour away from the office. I was the only foreigner and even though it was an IT company and I could have taken calls and used remote login to support clients, they wouldn’t let me go home for Christmas. All the other workers were local and didn’t mind. Instead of getting bitter I invited a few friends who don’t celebrate Christmas and we had a blast. Bad situation are bad if you let them get to you.

    1. Absolutely. So many worse things. I was just being a brat. At least I got to be with my family on Christmas. Good for you for making the best of a tough situation.

  5. I’ve been on call, but never had to do something like you. I have worked in a retirement home when I was younger and seen people essentially abandoned by their families and spending the holidays alone. It still breaks my hear when I think about it.

    1. That’s so sad. I felt the same way about my client, she was elderly and alone, it broke my heart.

  6. No, but I did have to deal with rude, angry people at my last job who took their issues out on me because they had little to no power in their sad, pathetic lives. I was the only person they could take it out on.

    1. Oh that’s crappy, a lot of jobs in customer service and social services can be pretty rough. You have to be a special person to be able to put that aside and keep doing a good job.

    • Brian on January 17, 2013 at 10:40 am
    • Reply

    I had a job where I was on call and even given a company Nextel. Only ever had to come in once and it was because they couldn’t reach the other 3 people they tried and needed someone to come unlock part of the plant when they accidently locked themselves out. It wasn’t a big deal.

    Most of the time I would just get one of my co-workers drunk direct connecting me on a firday night as a joke and it was funny the first 5 times then got old quick…

    1. Yeah, I’d be pretty pissed if my co-workers were drunk dialing me. That “joke” would get out real quick.

  7. Wow, thats heartbreaking. I am glad you reached your epiphany. It certainly helps in times of need.

    1. It was really sad and when I actually thought about what I was doing, it make my Christmas much more meaningful.

  8. My husband is in IT and at his last corporate job he was on call all the time just like you wrote about. Many times he would have to drive into the office at 3 AM to fix something, come home, and be back for 8 AM. After many years of that he himself got ill from the stress, lack of sleep and way too many hours at work.

    Sorry to hear that you do on call, but at least your work is different, as you mentioned. Specific people benefit from you being on call and from you being there to help them, esp that girl that has no one else. She is fortunate to have you and your staff!!

    1. Thanks, there’s not a lot of appreciation for the work that we do, so I have to constantly remind myself why I do what I do. That totally stinks about your husband, I usually don’t have to go to work, just answer questions and direct people about what to do.

  9. My husband is a mortician and he is on call about 1/4 of our life. Evenings, weekends, holidays, during birthday parties. People die at the most unexpected times.

    But really, its hard on us as a family. Not only do people die all the time, but the phone rings all the time. People call at midnight to ask a question all the time. There are days when we wonder if its really worth it.

    1. Oh man that’s that worst. You have to be a really special person to be able to do a job like that. Most of the time when I’m getting calls it’s just fights and pysch emergencies, not people dying (thank goodness). But I guess if that’s your line of work those are the types of calls you get πŸ™

  10. We often don’t know just how good we have it until we’re placed into a situation like that. You did a great thing there, even if it is your job.

    1. Thanks, it’s good to be reminded that what we do is important and useful, most of the time we just get yelled at.

  11. I feel sorry for our doctor who was on call for the baby and had to be in the hospital a 5am πŸ™

    1. At least he was getting paid to be there. And hopefully it’s his passion. And you got a baby out of it so it’s all good πŸ™‚ Congrats again!

  12. Oh yes. On call is one of many reasons I’m glad I’m retired! I was IT and supported a system that ran nights and weekends. We had a night shift that did some of the work, but I was often called in the middle of the night. The night shift just loved to call and wake us. It is difficult to drag up out of sleep to instantly handle an issue.

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