I won’t make your stomach turn with details of my digestive pyrotechnics – suffice to say it wasn’t nice and the location inconvenient.
Being sick when you’re two hours from home, and know that only over an hour trapped on a train with the train toilet for sanctuary will see you safely home to your own bed and bathroom is a mightily unpleasant experience. As The Royle Family so wisely state, ‘there’s nowhere quite like your own toilet’, or indeed bed.
But the whole horrid experience did, once I was convalescing, get me contemplating the difference between being a teacher and being a city worker when you’re ill.
It’s hard to be ill in teaching. It’s not hard to get ill, you’re surrounded by 30 individual sets of germs and people who don’t know how to put their hands over their mouths. Apparently the same can be said of having 60+ young people in your vicinity each day – plus the Underground bacteria. But I digress. It’s hard to be ill in teaching, because to take a day off ill you have to reach the point of no longer caring.
To be off for the day requires the preparation of four lessons, resources, a backlog of marking, and explaining, probably in detail, to someone else exactly what you’d planned to do, by email. It’s not for the faint-hearted, and it’s why teachers will often make their way into work feeling considerably under par. When the thought of someone else teaching what you’d planned is preferable to making it in yourself, it’s usually the moment you know you’re too ill to be in, and probably should have had the day before off too.
In the job I do now, I’m equally as aware that someone has to pick up the slack that’s left by me not being in. Because the programmes we offer aren’t just taught by me this is significantly easier, although being aware of the extra work I’m placing on them still makes me feel guilty. But I do know that the experience the children are getting will be just as good, whereas it’s hard to convey exactly how you were planning to teach that activity laden lesson on apostrophes in an engaging way. What it means that a day off sick is a restorative day, rather than a day with a backdrop of guilt.
This all said, it is considerably easier to be sick when you’re close to home, where teaching is to be infinitely preferred. My main illnesses in recent years, which are fortunately few, have sadly all occurred at least an hour from home when the only option has been to return there somehow. So teaching closer to home definitely wins on this score…there is absolutely nowhere like home when you’re poorly. Being in front of 30 small astounded children wondering what to do with an unwell grown up who’s meant to be in charge is, by an absolute whisker, more preferable than a two hour motorway drive feeling at your worst.
My continue-at-all-costs mentality is hard to shift. The impact on the institution and colleagues has always been something that’s bothered me. In teaching, nothing waits for you to get better and you end up more and more behind but as a city-worker I have begun to allow myself recovery time, rather than rushing back in. I’ve reminded myself that it’s not selfish. I still don’t like to be off work but I have felt released to go back when I feel like I can contribute something of worth, rather than germs and moaning. Perhaps it is testament to my kind managers that I feel able to do this; but the pressure and need for me to be back is much less urgent – the priority is to be well, not to be in.
Germs in both environments remain plentiful, and having naively thought to myself last week that I must now surely be immune to almost everything (oh so foolish…), I am now happily recovered and back to work. So while I would not wish the travelling distance on any poorly person, and had I relapsed on the train I may be feeling very differently now, it is safe to say that being ill as a city-worker does allow for proper rest and recovery, which when you’re ‘poorly sick’ as one of my colleagues phrased it this week, is precisely what’s needed.
One thing does not change however, which is the convalescing need to watch a period drama and eat soup and toast…that is a recipe for recovery whatever your role.