I rarely take sick days. Even when I worked in positions with copious amounts of compensation, I have always viewed sick days as a last resort. I have no problem if my employers, fearing for their own health, send me home in an act of quarantining more than compassion, but when it comes to my own choice, I typically elect to push through the symptoms.
It helps that overall, I am a pretty healthy person. I have a few chronic muscle and nerve conditions and a dental rap sheet that’s a mile long, but when it comes to the day to day flus and colds, I am fortunate to not have to deal with them on a regular basis. Furthermore, when I do get sick, my body takes a scorched earth approach to the whole affair. That is to say, when I get sick I get sick! My body temperature rises to a million degrees and I enter a state that can barely be described as functional.
On one occasion however, my body’s scorched earth defense failed me. I am sure that everyone has heard of Strep Throat, but for those of you that don’t it is a relatively mundane infection of the throat the leads to copious amounts of phlegm clearings coughs and a general sense of malaise and flu symptoms.
At the time, I was working at a daycare and Strep Throat happened to be the disease of the month, making its rounds through the kids and staff. Thankfully, the children and my co-workers were quick to bounce back, taking only a few days to recover.
In my situation, this was not to be the case.
I woke at 5:30 A.M covered in sweat. My throat felt like a dry layer of gravel supporting fledgling cacti and my head reeled with vertigo. I recall stumbling out of my bedroom and into the hallway before collapsing on the bathroom floor. In my altered state, I became convinced that I despite my opening shift not being scheduled until 7:30 A.M, I was late for work and needed to leave immediately.
I began to crawl along the floor, dragging myself out of the bathroom and back into the hallway. At this point, my father came out of his room to investigate the crash and seeing the scene, helped me back to my bed and reminded me that I was not supposed to be at work.
Sleep did not come however, as I tossed and turned wracked with the anxiety of falling asleep and missing my shift. I cover the hazards of the opening shift in greater detail here but in brief, failing to show up for the opening shift at a daycare means that dozens of parents can’t go to work. When these parents happen to be lawyers, you can be assured of a prompt firing.
After ten minutes, I came to my sense and called my boss. The phone rang but she understandably did not pick up, given that the clock read 5:40. So I called again and again and again, leaving messages composed of equal parts mumbling and gurgling.
My boss eventually got the message however and called me back, inquiring into why I couldn’t get to work. “Trevor, I really need you to go work” came the groggy reply of my employer. As I struggled to compose a sentence in my head, I watched as the shadows on my walls begin to move; a lamp’s shadow suddenly assumed a spider-like appearance and began to crawl down the walls towards me. “Boss, I am not really in good place to being taking care of kids” I replied, trying to hold in the terror of the scene unfolding in front of me. The negotiations between a groggy employer and hallucinating employee continued for a few minutes longer before the call ended with a sharply worded “fine, I’ll go” from my boss and a hard click of the call ending.
I would later learn that my employer would forgo her normal makeup routine in an effort to make it to the daycare on time and arrived at work looking like ten miles of bad road. As luck would have it, the once a year surprise certification inspection fell on the same day, leading to a bad experience for all the daycare staff.
I had bigger problems to deal with however; namely the fact that I felt like hell and the shadows on my bedroom walls were moving. Adding to the poor timing of the day, my parents left that morning on a trip to the States, leaving me alone in the house to fight the illness.
Truth be told, the standard symptoms of the Strep Throat were not earth shattering. I felt a general sense of malaise to be sure, with chills, congestion, migraines and a horrifically sore throat. Faced with these symptoms, my body adopted a mantra “burn baby burn” and my temperature rose rapidly, eventually plateauing somewhere near the surface of the sun. The trouble was that this temperature increase not kill the Strep Throat, but did lead to a mind altering experience when I closed my eyes.
The trouble arose when I fell asleep. The moment I closed my eyes, I entered a nightmare realm where I found myself being killed over and over in all manner of ways. At one moment, I witnessed the collapse of the Hindenburg directly onto my head; another I felt my body being pulled apart by wolves in the snow. It reminded me of the reprogramming scene in A Clockwork Orange, as I experienced an unending series of horrific events.
When I awoke, my body was drenched in enough sweat that I recall wringing salty water out of my pyjamas. I was also plagued by moments where I treaded the line between sleep and consciousness. I recall sitting up in bed one moment and watching in abject terror as my own shadow animated and came off of the wall before producing a knife and diving towards me. I witnessed myself bleeding from the blows of the shadowy projection and recall saying out loud “my God Trevor, you are not fit to take care of kids today”.
I began experimenting with lucid dreaming, but the results proved ineffective. I recall at one moment in my dreams, Darth Vader approached me and produced his signature red lightsaber. I grabbed his mask shouting “get out of my head George Lucas, causing the dark lord to explode in a cloud of particles. I stood in a moment of triumph, before turning around and being ripped apart by wild dogs. Lucid dreaming it seemed, was no match for a Strep Throat.
Besides abject terror, the second problem with the vivid hallucinations was that they prevent any sort of meaningful sleep. By day 3 I had accumulated 2 hours of rest and was at the end of my rope. When my parents called home to check up on me, they decided to cut their trip short after hearing an honest account of what I was experiencing.
For my part, I dragged myself to the hospital and got an antibiotics prescription. The trouble was that the antibiotics took a day or two to kick in and I continued to face nightmares in the interim.
I eventually overcame the illness. The antibiotics served their purpose, smiting the strep throat infection in a way that a sharp increase in body temperature could not. My parents would later tell me that I spoke constantly in the night, a steady mumbled chant that lasted for hours and I can only hope wasn’t in Latin.
Thankfully, the illness didn’t last and ten days later, I was back at work. I brooked no opposition to the use of my sick days however, as my battle with Strep Throat stood as a clear example of what sick days are meant for. Not for headaches, congestion, or chills, but for the days when you can say without exaggeration: I can’t come in to work today because Darth Vader is killing me whenever I close my eyes.