I went to the doctor earlier this week to ask about this weird cold/respiratory thingy that has dragged on and on for weeks. He gave the diagnosis I always hate to get: An unspecified virus, something that medicine won’t cure. Nothing to do but wait it out.
“And you really should be staying home from work and resting,” he told me.
I almost burst out laughing.
“I’m a teacher,” I said. “Unless I’m dying or in labor, it’s just easier to go to work.” He must have a teacher or two in his family, because he smiled sympathetically .
Later that day, I recalled our conversation. I realized that it touched on a few big truths: one about my profession, and one about myself.
Teaching may be one of the only jobs where it is just as much work to stay home sick as it is to go in. A sick teacher gets the joy of writing directions and lesson plans, figuring out what a sub needs to know about the students in your class. There’s the retweaking of the lessons you thought you’d be doing yourself, which will have to be altered in the face of your absence (even the best sub won’t be able to give that background lecture on Victorian England).
Often, staying home affects the rest of the week’s lesson plans, too, as you realize you can’t do Thursday’s lesson unless you’ve adequately covered the stuff you were going to get to on Wednesday, and since someone else will be doing Wednesday’s lesson now, you have to make sure the kids learned everything you wanted them to learn before you go on.
This is why I teach when I’m sick. It’s just too much work otherwise.
But this conversation with the doctor also touched on a truth about my non-professional self. Even when I’m not teaching – when I’m home during summer, say– I’m simply not very good at taking it easy when I’m sick.
Is this a female thing? I think it might be. Even though my husband is fabulous about taking care of the kids, there is still some very primal, very archaic part of my mind that seems to think that I need to be on top of it all, because I’m the mom, and the wife, and the woman. I feel guilty about resting, even though no one is making me feel guilty but my own weird little mind.
And even if I’m home sick, I still notice things that need doing: the unmade bed, the teetering laundry baskets, the stuff in the entryway that needs organizing. My husband has a higher tolerance for clutter than I do, which is good in some ways, but it also means that he’s not likely to take the initiative and de-messify on his own. And when I’m not feeling good to begin with, I feel even worse when the floor is strewn with stuff. This means that my ill little self ends up putting it away instead of hunkering down on the sofa with a blanket and an entire season of Monarch of the Glen.
All of this explains why — bizarre as it sounds – I don’t dread going to the hospital. I look back with nostalgic fondness on last summer’s surgery, as well as on last year’s day spent in the ER for stomach pains. I’ve realized that being in the hospital is the only way that I can completely rest without guilt. I can’t clean house if I’m hooked up to an IV, can I? If you plotted my relaxation levels on a graph, my hospital stays would be right up there with my infrequent spa visits. (“That’s really, really sad,” said my brother-in-law.)
He has a point. If a friend of mine were to tell me all this, I’d tell her she needs to change. I’d tell her she needs to be better about doing what the doctor ordered and – gasp! – resting for a while. I’m not sure how, but I know I need to find some way to chip away at these old thought patterns – some are actually more like instinct patterns, not even thoughts – that make it so darn hard to stop taking care of everyone else and let others take care of me for a while.
Something to strive for, anyway.