Get Well Soon. That’s an order.
Sickness has struck at work and we are looking around for cover. At times it is very hard to suppress the cynical mutterings of the misanthrope that lurks within. Each year, it seems as if some of the most robust-looking individuals fall prey to whatever virus may be doing the rounds. Fortunately, within 24 hours they are usually back at work and looking as right as rain with nary a sniff or a cough that lingers on. It gets to the point that I read about the year’s new potentially fatal epidemic and start to think about how much cover I am going to have to try and find over the next few days.
When SARS was around, everybody fell victim to it; well, everyone except me and those who never fall ill. Ditto Asian Bird Flu and the swine fever was a joke in itself: the government advice was not to risk infecting the sick at the local medical practice: just ring in sick and get someone to go and get your medicine for you. Why not just declare a week long bank holiday?
The most recent round of illness involves sudden vomiting and diarrhoea. It tends to happen towards the very start of the week or the very end of the week and, while the illness itself is so severe as to render you incapable of leaving the house and worrisome for your hopes of survival, the prognosis is good and you can expect to make a full recovery to the point that nobody would ever know that you have not held a bite down since before the (extended) weekend.
Despite my lack of medical training, I am now able to point out the team members who are likely to fall victim to such sudden attacks. I haven’t yet tried this out, but I suspect that I could predict not only who will be hit next year, but the order in which they will be struck down and the length of time needed for recovery. Perhaps I am wasted in this profession. I wonder if the government would give me a job on a medical panel or something. There’s bound to be more prestige.
Our suffering teachers ring up, typically half an hour before their teaching is due to start.
Cough, they splutter; I am not going to be able to come in today. COUGH. I have been up all night, vomiting and with diarrhoea.
–And,-say I, I don’t know if the emetic activity is so severe that you have failed to notice, but you have also developed a bad cough as well.
-Yes, they agree, I have been feeling really ill since last week (although I soldiered on bravely).
–Well, I say, if it started last week, it must be genuine. We all know that such illnesses tend to come after some period of incubation. Don’t you worry yourself. We’ll find some cover from somewhere. Hell – if after wasting hours trying to find cover from our pool of underpaid, under stairs, untermenschen doesn’t pay off, we’ll leave whatever work we have to do until later and cover your classes for you. What would you like us to do with the class?
-Oh. COUGH. Anything you like, really. I haven’t touched Unit 2 of the book.
-Right, I muse. Did you actually have anything planned before you were struck down with this mystery illness?
–Erm. Cough. I was going to do some work on the past continuous.
– Really? I’m thinking aloud now. That’s a very traditional approach to language teaching. I wonder, did you have any meaningless sentences that you were particularly keen for them to practise? The grass of my fathers was growing higher each year? The ladies were playing badminton with surprising aplomb last night? Englishmen were setting a fine example while the locals were behaving with appalling disregard?
–Oh. Well. Err. COUGH. COUGH. COUGH. Anything you like, really. Or you could do anything you like at all.
– Yes. I could, I suppose. Well. Whatever I might be able to concoct in the fifteen minutes between ending this phone call and walking into the class. I will try to ensure that I, like you, will take into consideration the vast sums of money these people are spending to learn about the past continuous.
I silently thank God that I have employed a team who are so attuned to learner needs that they feel confident enough to eschew entirely the syllabus which is based around helping learners to develop communicative behaviours in favour of the tried and tested grammar syllabus that Alfred the Great instituted in his pre-enlightenment educative reforms.
But is there a way of addressing the problem? Sure – I could just say to them: look, you don’t actually sound very ill and you seemed fine when I last saw you. In fact, I don’t know if you realise this, but your absence record suggests that you are regularly ill and that your illnesses tend to fall either side of the weekend and last typically for one to two days. Do you not think you might be lying a little bit? Like I used to do when I worked in a factory during my university days? Because to me, the only difference between you now and me then is that I was an irresponsible teenager who had scant regard for the company or its goals and just wanted to make enough money to get drunk whereas you are approaching middle age and appear to have scant regard for the company or its goals and just want to make enough money to allow you to do your grocery shopping at Marks and Spencers.
I say nothing of the sort, of course. Where I work, we don’t call people’s bluff. They say they’re sick; we roll our eyes and try to find cover; we have entire unspoken conversations with other managers wherein we say everything while saying nothing. We are mute bitches. We pay full whack for all illness and are obliged to carry out a return to work interview that is so meaningless that it fails to contribute positively to the whole situation. I inwardly turn my back on all of my own/old principles and ponder how bad it would be to enact the company policy: only statutory sick pay for all (the first three days of which are unpaid).
The Old Me warns sternly, An attack on one is an attack on all. I silently wish that the bugger would come down with something.
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