It was gloomy outside, but bright and busy in the library where I work when I went in last Sunday to put in a few hours in the afternoon. For fifteen years when I was at the public library, I had to work one evening a week and every third weekend but since becoming a full-time college archivist, I have much more freedom over my schedule. That’s really nice.
Teaching a college class last semester not only required a three hour stint every Thursday night but also about all my other free time including big chunks of my weekends. I wondered if that would seem oppressive, given the quite low pay one receives as an adjunct (you could simply not earn sufficient income this way unless you lived in a Walmart) but the time I spent on teaching always felt creative and fulfilling.
I taught public history, which encompasses archival science but also related fields like museum studies and historic preservation which are, of course, the coolest things a person could do with their career. I shared my excitement and love for this but also tried to give my students a realistic view of the work they would be doing and the job possibilities.
After all, as I confessed to them, while I work forty hours a week (or full time), I do that by combining two twenty hour a week jobs, doing the same thing for two different institutions of higher learning, neither of which pays for any of my health insurance and one of which pays me no benefits at all.
I worry that the students’ job prospects won’t be any better. Despite that, I could never bring myself to tell them they should abandon their dreams for more practical careers that could offer them mere security and materialism. And even if I could, those jobs are disappearing in every field.
I don’t seem to have scared them off. According to Career Services at school, several of them are out pursuing internships at places like the City Archives and the Gerald Ford Museum. This, you must know, brings me buckets of Jen joy. Those young people seem fearless to me and dedicated to lives of meaning and value. I told them they will have to create their own opportunities and I’m really excited about what they might do. Maybe, (and you have to be willing to believe this is possible through the thing you are doing for a living) they will save the world.
The piece of saving the world that I was working on last Sunday was a bit bureaucratic and I could have worked on it anytime. But I was there on the weekend, of course, because I’d had a doctor’s appointment the Friday before.
What do you do when you have a doctor’s appointment? I have two choices: I can lose income, or I can make up the time.
If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know that I’ve had quite a few doctor’s appointments lately. In fact, in the last couple of years, I’ve had six weeks of radiation, six months of chemotherapy, two surgeries, three hospital stays, multiple MRIs, CT scans, and colonoscopies and I wore an ileostomy pouch for half a year.
Making up that time, as must be clear, became a losing proposition almost immediately (rather like preserving local history often seems, but this is a blog about my cancer journey, not my more fun obsession).
But losing income was also problematic. Especially as it was timed so precisely with the appearance of thousands of dollars in medical bills. (That part, actually, seems like it must also be clear.) Thank gawd for insurance, which I pay for myself and thus, has a high deductible, or I would owe Spectrum Health one and a half my houses – but the deductible was devastating enough.
So. I will not be joining you when you complain about your co-worker who came in to the office sick and risked troubling you. Perhaps you should ask yourself what it would cost that person to stay home. Maybe they’re already dealing with the cost of one and a half their houses. Here’s some other things you can do about your sick co-worker: wash your hands, spray Lysol on the phone at the front desk, politely decline when they ask you to taste their soup and identify that spice in it, support our president’s attempt to mandate paid sick days for all workers.
When he talked about that during the state of the union address Tuesday night, my heart leapt. That would be really nice.
I remember a day going on two years ago now, a couple weeks into my radiation treatment and I had developed a belligerent cold. I longed to be home. Instead I sat huddled in a cubicle for eight hours pretending to work. In fact, about all I accomplished was blowing my nose and watching the clock. And not having my pay docked. I was in a space where people could hear me but not see me and at one point a voice said, “She sounds miserable.” I think I remember that because it was the perfect description for how I felt, and because I couldn’t tell if there was sympathy or annoyance in the person’s voice.
Soon after that, I cut some images out of home decorating magazines and glued them to the pages of the paper organizer/calendar thing I carry to work. They were just pictures of comfy looking chairs with matching throws draped over an arm. I figured that even though I couldn’t be home in comfort, I could carry a glimpse or a representation of comfort with me to work.
I was reading this article on npr.org just before I headed to Lemmen-Holton last Friday. Here you will see that Forbes contributor, Tim Worstall claims that paid sick time is unnecessary because, “Those who value the ability to take paid sick leave presumably have self-sorted themselves into jobs where they get it and those that don’t haven’t.”
I want to find this man. I want to tell him every day, no every hour of my career, from how I imagined it would go when I was nineteen to how I’m still kinda hoping to get there: the happy little hopes, the frustrations, the faltering hope, the heartbreaks, the rallying, the regained hope, the frustrations – well, I won’t put you through it. In one flippant remark, he has dismissed all my passion and good intentions and disadvantages and heartbreaks (dang it, I’m gonna use that word twice in the same paragraph) and blamed me for them.
Those that value the ability to take paid sick leave? Really?
Perhaps I don’t need to find him. Perhaps he will be forced to relive my career in the afterlife as part of a long, futile effort to reach Paradise. And I will tell a reporter doing an article on it, “You know, I have to say that those who value the ability to spend eternity in heaven presumably have self-selected themselves into behavior where they get it…”
This is America and its 2015, people. (It really is, even though you’re still writing 2014 on your checks.)
I feel that if we can’t afford to send a sick employee home once or twice, or a few times a year then we should look over our budgets very slowly and carefully. We should really think about what’s important to us and our family and our community and all the folks coming along after us. Then, if we still refuse to do the Obvious Right Thing, well, then we should be forced to.
Let’s make this happen, All a You. After all, we’re not very productive when we come in miserable, and it would be a lot less annoying for the woman on the other side of the cubicle wall from me.
Also, my students are so great and I so want them to do important work but also be able to stay home sometimes when they’re not healthy enough to be anywhere else but a comfy chair.