I could hardly believe my eyes.
"Dear Mr. DOENUTS,
Please join me in room ____ for a discussion about your time and attendance. This is a disciplinary meeting. Please bring your UFT representative."
I knew I had missed some days this year. My life after being sick is vastly different from what it had been. As a result, 'not feeling too well' has become sudden body aches with a high fever lasting only between 2-3 hours, or a sudden stomach issue so profound that I dare not walk too far from the bathroom. Or a reaction to fatty foods that can only be described as feeling like I have just been poisoned (only it was just a hamburger). And forgot about quickly climbing stairs or running or sports. I didn't know a human heart could beat as fast as mine now does with exertion. With these types of ailments, and after losing so many folks I care about during the pandemic, I concluded that if I'm not feeling well, I am just staying home.
But I am responsible. I almost always send a doctor's note along when I call out. In fact, I rarely call out without sending a doctor's note, with an email.
This is why I couldn't really believe that I was being called into a disciplinary meeting during a pandemic for missing work. This was surprising for me.
My new chapter leader wasn't there for the meeting. This left me all on my own with the (very affable) administrator who had called the meeting in the first place. He showed me his records with all of the absences that someone else had marked as "self-treated". I showed him all of my doctor's notes. He wondered aloud why 'they' didn't list these as a medically excused absence. I expressed "gee I wouldn't know. So sorry I have caused you more work this way". It felt like kabuki. But it felt like productive kabuki. The meeting ended and I tried my best to put the whole experience out of my mind.
And that's because I have other things to worry about. Long COVID is a nice catch phrase for the press and for people who are glued to their TV screen, but it (or whatever the hell this thing I now live with is called) is no fun to have to live with. That reality is made more difficult by people's confusions around exactly what it is and is not. The folks who hear that phrase and see it on TV must think long haulers are bedridden disheveled messes who can barely function. I'm really none of those things, per se. I just feel like crap -a lot.
I can function. I just get sick -a lot. The fevers come from no where and go away just as fast. And this happens -a lot. The blurred vision and headaches are a consistent pain to live with. They happen a lot too, but only if "a lot" can be defined as every single damn day of my life. I don't read as much as I used to because of it. I hate that. I don't know as much as I used to because of that. My friends and former friends (in my world, lots of people have lots of 'former' friends, lately) laugh at me when I don't know as much as I once did. It sucks eggs. Not reading sucks eggs. Not knowing as much because of it sucks eggs. But I can function. That's all that matters, really.
Yet if you say the words "Long COVID", everyone suddenly acts like they should be speaking to a cancer patient or something. I blame our information systems (the media) for this but it makes it no less arduous to contend with. I once used this term to describe to someone what I was going through. The person gave me a quick glance and said "I don't know, you look pretty good to me, doenuts" (no one ever tells me I look good unless I tell them I'm not feeling too well. I guess it's part of that passive-aggressive thing teachers are known for).
The thing is, if you don't fit this singular pre conceived notion of a how a "long COVID" person should look, then people just conclude you are a 'full of crap' guy or something. I mean, damn; I'm not bed ridden. I'm not on my last breath of life. I'm not J. Alfred Prufrock waiting around for death to come because my the rest of my life is over. I'm still here. I just don't feel good anymore....
- I have asthma attacks more often
- I can't eat the wrong food or my whole body has a histamine reaction.
- I can't raise my voice because my heart rate shoots through the roof, which causes breathing difficulty.
- I can't climb stairs too fast for the same reason.
- I can't stand in one place for a long time before I feel myalgia in my hips, knees, back and feet
- I suddenly have a heart murmur that I think way too much about
- My seasonal allergies affect me (much) more than they ever have before
- My ears ring
- My brain if foggy for about the first 4 hours of every day
- I'm down 25 pounds from my pre-covid self and I was never on a diet.
Yet I feel like people expect an apology from me because my experience is not life threatening. This long hauler thing hits different people in different ways. It hits me this way. I'm sorry, I'm sure it hits thousands of other NYC teachers in similar ways; in ways where they can function yet have to endure some pretty tough times; like a fast heart rate, or some difficulty breathing, or a disciplinary meeting for no good reason. But health is health. I mean, I love work and all. But health is a pretty basic need.
This system will, indeed, eat you from the inside out if you let it. (I'm pretty sure I got sick in the first 2 weeks of March 2020 before the schools were close. This was back when tests were not yet developed at that time, you see. Mine, when I took one, was negative. But we know when we're sick and I haven't quite recovered since.) But if you do get eaten from the inside out, this system will, absolutely, allow you ways to focus on your health. The administrator seemed very happy to accept the medical excusals and seems lo have preferred to end the matter, rather than having to write a letter to file. The system will allow you to focus on your health.
But that doesn't mean I can act irresponsibly. Each time I am absent, I follow all of the requirements the school has made. Those requirements are listed in a 165 page "staff handbook" which we are all expected to follow (🍩). Per those requirements, I must call before a certain time, so I do. I must dial one and only one specific number, so I do. Because the person who is to be called doesn't arrive at work by the time we are expected to call, I must leave a voicemail so as to ensure that I have "called out" the right way, so I do. And I'm a teacher. So I take the extra step of sending an email. And, because I am a teacher, my doctor's note has been prepared before I even send that email. Because of this, every email I send has the words "Doctor's note is attached" somewhere in it. And because I am NYCDOE teacher, the words "Doctor's note is attached" is prominently displayed in said email. And, because I'm a blogger, I'll also mention here that the very affable administrator who decided to arrange for my disciplinary meeting was CC'd on every single email. yet the same system that did that is the same system that will allow me time to be healthy again.
And the best part is this ....