I wrote this piece on July 11, 2009, on a website for one of my podcasts (that no longer exists). I wrote it while I was sick and fighting a hazard of the job that teachers have to put up with – constant exposure to germs and viruses!
This piece has been edited for typos and clarity.
I read “Hazards of the Job” on Episode 047 of Words of Jen.
I’m writing this while running a fever. It is not too high of a fever, so don’t panic. These are not my “last words” in blog format. No, I just have a fever, probably due to the start of a cold that will become a raging sinus infection when it grows up.
The reason I am sick is because I work with children. An occupational hazard of teaching is that you catch absolutely everything! Every cold, flu, virus, germ, parasite…. every last damed one of them!
I just started teaching again about six months ago. I love what I do and have wonderful coworkers. The students are fascinating, each in their own way. I truly feel like I have found where I am supposed to be right now.
The only thing I would change, if I could, is the level of sickness I am constantly exposed to.
Kids sneeze into the air, showering everything in their path with microscopic, virus-laden droplets. Younger kids simply do not understand the reason why we ask them to use a Kleenex (instead of a sleeve) to wipe their nose. They don’t get why we try to discourage them from picking their noses, or why we insist they must wash their hands – with soap – after using the bathroom.
Inevitably, children will wait until there are no adults paying attention and “forget” to do all the things we ask them to do in order to avoid spreading disease. They end up sharing whatever communicable diseases they have with everyone else.
All it takes if for one kid to get sent to school with a cold, and I’m doomed. Germs spread like sand at the beach. You cannot help but have a few grains attached to you that you didn’t even see – no mater how careful you are.
I have been severely sick three times in the six months since I’ve gone back to teaching. Twice is from what I call the “Curse of the New Building”.
Ever wonder how many strains of the “common cold” exist? Count up all the school buildings. I am convinced that there is a unique strain in each and every one of them.
Three weeks into the new teaching job, I got a nasty sinus infection. It was as though the unique mix of germs and viruses that called this particular school building home knew that I was easy prey. Unlike the teachers who had been there longer than me, I had not been there long enough to build up immunity to this invisible illness-causing cocktail.
It is no fun to be on antibiotics for a week at a new place of employment. The students I worked with were in a special education classroom because they had a history of becoming violent, throwing chairs, or “eloping”.
In this context, “eloping” means that the student starts running like a gazelle in a fit of rage, tears, emotional instability, or PTSD. They run towards wherever it is they are driven to run to. Teachers are required to quickly follow after an “eloping” student in a desperate attempt to keep them safe.
Antibiotics tend to do unpleasant things to people’s stomachs. Mine did not thank me for making my body do a sudden sprint across campus.
This is the type of teaching assignment that drains a teacher’s physical, mental, and emotional energy on a daily basis. High stress environments aren’t a good place to be while trying to fight off an infection.
Things got less fun when the first round of antibiotics failed to do its job. There is one that I use all the time, and it always brings me right back to health. Unfortunately, the antibiotic did absolutely nothing for me this time.
I spent another week on a second round of antibiotics. Finally, after I had taken them all, it felt like the sinus infection was gone. I started feeling a little better.
That was when the resident flu strain found me.
Unfortunately, I happened to start teaching at this school right when the United States was coping the pandemic called “Swine Flu” (which is also called H1N1). I’ve had the flu before, but this time I felt much worse than usual.
I ended up going to a MedStop for diagnosis and treatment. They made me wear a mask in the waiting room. No one wanted to sit next to me, for fear of catching Swine Flu.
The doctor required a sample of mucus from my nose, and offered me the choice of two equally unpleasant ways for him to obtain it. I’ll spare you the details. Clinics were required to test every patient who had so much as a bad cold for H1N1 – just in case.
It turned out that I did not have Swine Flu. Instead, a slightly less vicious flu virus was attacking me. The doctor required me to stay home for an entire week. My coworkers understood, and were likely relieved that I wasn’t coming to school to spread this bad flu bug around.
My principal was… less understanding.
The unnamed flu that I acquired made me much more exhausted than normal. I spent my required time off resting, napping, and drinking plenty of liquids. When I was awake, I alternated between worrying about if I was going to get fired for being absent, and fearing what this strain of flu would mutate into come next Fall.
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