Thursday, 12 April 2018

Prevalent, ignored and therefore, condoned - Bullying and the NHS Part 4

One day in February, after my first meeting but before the second, I had just dropped Jakey off at school and popped to the drive-through Subway to get a coffee for me and a cookie for the Gruff.

Driving home, I had to pass a colleague's road end. I chatted with Gruffy about popping to see her husband; I didn't know him that well, as in we weren't close friends, but I had always had a ridiculous amount of respect for him and we had always gotten on well.

Gruff agreed (in the only way a two-year-old can) that we should pop round to see him, as I was desperate to see/speak/hear a friendly voice and face.

I didn't realise what a HUGE mistake I was making!

I had taken an educated guess that his wife, my colleague, wasn't home, given the day of the week and, spying no car in the driveway that I recognised, felt fairly confident I was okay.

Remember, I wasn't allowed to have contact with anyone who I worked with.

I gathered anyone else would be fine, especially if they don't work at the hospital.

Knock on the door, it's answered with a friendly smile and my suspicions that my colleague isn't in are confirmed.

A quick chat about how we are both doing, I share perhaps a little too much about myself in an emotional barf and say that it's really hard having heard that your colleagues perhaps think you are sexist.

I'm asked in for a coffee, I politely turn it down, am given his phone number if I ever wish to chat and I am on my way, Gruff in tow.

I get a message from his wife (my colleague) saying how sad she is that she missed me and a message that weekend from the husband asking if Kelly and I wish to go for tea for following weekend. I decline, because a) I'm not allowed to speak to work colleagues and b) Kelly and I are away at an event.

But the fact I have even been asked... priceless and for the first time since my suspension, made me feel that someone actually cared.

Did I mention I had made a HUGE error?

The weekend passes, sleepless, nightmare-filled nights continue...

INTERLUDE - I have always had nightmares since I was a child. My therapist when I was younger told me they were brought on by classic 'Daddy' issues. Night terrors, climbing out of my bedroom windows (they had to be nailed shut!), the whole nine yards.

My first vivid memory of my father was my holding my Mum's hand whilst she held my baby brother and him throwing a telephone at her, breaking her jaw and severely injuring her face.

My father... what a guy!

Anyway, sleepless nights, blah, blah, blah and it is Monday. I am on my way back from Newcastle with Kelly after meeting a friend to discuss a book idea for the two of us to work on.

Mobile rings. I answer (hands-free, of course) and it is an obsequious gentleman from H.R. If fact, it's Mister 'I'm just calling to tell you I can't tell you anything'.

"You were told you couldn't speak to anyone from work!"

ME "I haven't."

"You spoke to so-and-so on so-and-so."

ME "I did, but they don't work for the hospital."

"They do."

ME "They don't."

"They do."

You get the jist...

"YOU WERE EXPLICITLY TOLD THAT YOU COULDN'T SPEAK TO ANYONE." (He's shouting now)

He puts the phone down.

I absolutely cannot stand it when someone hangs up on me. And this is a professional, H.R representative from work and he just put down the phone.

Granted, I should have remained calm. There was no shouting, but it was emotional then, only two months afterwards and still not knowing anything and it's still emotional now. My passion, my life, my career, all hanging there, in the palm of a few individuals hands and the one person supposed to help me, hung up.

However, bear in mind this gentleman called Kelly and threatened her on the 19th December 2016 that if she tried to contact the office where I worked again to ask what was going on, she would be open to disciplinary action. This stemmed from, on the day I was suspended, I had come home, kissed her and walked back out without really saying a word. She had panicked and called my place of work to ask what was going on.

It turned out my manager had told H.R she had called, rang her back and said she couldn't tell her anything (not before saying "He doesn't know what he's like... what am I like, boss? Because the last you told me in my SDR only two months prior was that I was hardworking, motivated and was doing a really good job. So, please, tell me, what was I like, 'cause you only ever told me I was doing a good job). That Monday, H.R man called her and threatened her with the above.

I felt all warm and fuzzy when I found out how concerned and supportive they were being.

Anyway, Kelly tells me she thought he was a tad rude whilst we were in the car and he hung up, but also asked what have I done? Who did I speak to?

I tell her again it was so-and-so, but he doesn't work for the hospital, so I'm a little confused to be honest.

Kelly tells me that she knows I'm a little dim and that it takes a village to raise a David and am I certain I haven't done anything?

I tell her I am absolutely, positively certain that I don't think I might have not done something.

A letter comes in the post the next day, advising me I have to attend a disciplinary meeting. This isn't my second, formal disciplinary meeting, this is an added extra.

I turn up with my amazing Union rep (who is and has been a Godsend along with his colleague and regional manager) and am told that I spoke to so-and-so on so-and-so and he is married to so-and-so and did I know this?

I confirmed all the so-and-so's.

I was then told I was explicitly told not to speak to anyone from the trust.

I said I thought it was work.

No, it was the trust and he works for it.

No, he doesn't.

Yes, he does.

You get the jist...

I explain I didn't know he worked for the trust (I honestly, didn't, which was confirmed by the man himself when they called him in for an interview about my behaviour. Yes, an interview!)

I was also asked about having contacted someone from my place of work. This I had done because said colleague was a character in my book and I had never received permission for her use. I didn't fancy altering all the book where her character was, so I sent a message.

I was able to prove all of this as the book was available for pre-order on Amazon with her details, but I still got into trouble for it. Fair play. I had contacted her in a moment of weakness, so I held my hands up.

But then I was told why I had said to so-and-so on so-and-so that work had said I was a sex pest.

Excuse me?

I told so-and-so and so-and-so had said I was a sex pest and had discussed the case.

I said that I didn't know anything to tell anyone, but that I certainly had;t said I was accused of being a sex pest. I had said I had been accused of being sexist.

"That's not what you said. You went with the intention to speak to so-and-so and this was confirmed."

"How do you know what my intentions where?"

"We'll ask the questions, David. And we were told that was your intention."

"By who?"

"So-and-so's husband."

"But how would he know what my intentions where? It was a spur of the moment thing in a moment of weakness and desperation to speak to someone and see a friendly face."

"You went to their town deliberately."

"Of course I didn't. I was dropping my son off at school and have to drive past the end of their road to leave the town. It was just something that popped into my head as I was having a conversation with my two-year-old."

Cue funny looks.

"Your son goes to the school in this town?"

"Yes."

"So, you were already there and didn't go intentionally?"

"Er, no. I go there twice a week to drop him off and pick him up."

"We were under the impression you went there on purpose."

Did I mess up calling in? Absolutely. Huge, massive DOH! As I said, weakness.

Was I asked why I was there?

Nope, it was just assumed why I was there explicitly to cause trouble.

Fair and unbiased H.R at work.

But then, it became profoundly sad. As if it was even possible to become worse.

I received a few text messages from people at work who had bumped into members of my workplace and had been asked to pass o their love and that they were thinking of me.

It was truly lovely, even though they weren't speaking to me because they had been told they weren't allowed, that they had gone to the effort to have messages passed on.Two people whom I loved and respected at work, who kept me right, who taught me so much and who made being at work enjoyable. They had held my baby son on our sofa, held my baby son in a coffee shop, had myself and my children to their house every Christmas so the boys could see the Christmas lights they had (which were awesome by the way!).

I couldn't speak to them to say thank you, but I hoped they knew how much it meant. It told me everything would be okay. Maybe I wasn't universally hated and reviled (Not that that had been said but I'm a self-conscious, paranoid, anxiety-ridden individual. I automatically go to everyone hates me, nobody loves me, I think I should go and eat worms).

I'm called in for my second meeting that constitutes part of my disciplinary investigation and am asked some more questions. the whole thing maybe takes an hour and a half. Towards the end, I am asked if I have had contact with any other so-and-so.

I say I have, but how do they know?

I am asked if I mentioned that I would keep them posted on what was happening with my suspension?

I ask how they know that and am told that said individual mentioned something in passing to someone and that someone told H.R.

I completely understand why certain rules are put in place. As difficult as it can be, an investigation, any investigation, has to be as impartial as possible. Difficult to ensure 10%, but best efforts can be made.

On this end, when you know so little, the urge to find out anything is almost overwhelming. To stop myself getting into trouble, I had already deleted everyone from Facebook so I didn't accidentally get caught up in a conversation and had blocked everyone on Whatsapp for the same reason.

Horrible to do, but I felt it was important.

INTERLUDE - I was sent home from work in the September by my manager and her manager due to concerns over my mental health. Some scarring had been seen on my arm and in a lovely showing of concern and affection, with tears in their eyes and mine, I was told to go and get the help I needed to be well. My job would be waiting for me and that my boss just wanted me to be safe and helped. 

She called Kelly to tell her what had happened and what she had felt she had to do. Kelly was moved by how upset she was about it all and was so grateful to her for having done what she had.

You have to bear in mind, my manager had managed to do what my wife and countless others had failed to do and that was to get me to confront the fact I needed help. Kelly had so much respect and admiration for her and was so pleased that I respected her so much that I had listened (I don't think I had a choice, to be honest, but it was still a very powerful and emotional moment). 

I was a little hurt at first, thinking I had been betrayed, but after I was home, I accepted that it had needed to be done, not only for me but for work as well. And it was the final push I needed to get the help I should have sort a long time ago.

I respected her before, but now, knowing my manager had done that for me, I was so appreciative and humbled that she had cared enough. Maybe it was something every boss would do and I was making too much of it. But to me, that is how it felt. My boss had made me see what my beautiful Kelly hadn't been able to.

And that deserved respect. I truly thought she was awesome!

The next time I was called into work, I was asked for permission to view my mental health records because they had been told of my experience and concerns had been raised about my 'behaviour'.

Upset, because how could they know that? She wouldn't have told them, surely? It wouldn't have been used against me, surely?

I said that I would rather not and that it was wasn't relevant. More than that, my records of appointments and discussions had with my therapist were full of personal, very emotional issues and I didn't really wish to share them. 

I was told, in more or less these exact words, that if I didn't or refused to share them with the trust "it would reflect badly on me."

 Rock. Hard Place. Me.

I knew I should have asked for a long sleeved tunic!

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