After closing my computer, I coughed. It was that scratchy, back-of-the-throat, oh-shoot-you’re-almost-ill cough. With due haste, I went to bed. The following days I followed my typical I’m-only-pre-ill-so-I-can-get-healthy regimen. This generally means eating exorbitant amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. This time around, it's meant consuming colourful bell peppers, dried seaweed, goji berries, dried ginger, hot salsa on my morning omelette, drinking juice (which I normally don’t), (little to) no coffee, upping all-things-tea, and trying to sleep as much as possible.
Friday, after teaching 5-year-olds and 4th graders, I left the school with my head feeling like there was an overly-affectionate five-year-old on my back gripping my head with all his might. I went down for as long of a nap as I could manage: under an hour. Unable to sleep, I decided that reorganizing the kitchen and pantry was a good idea. Nothing like all that dust to get your lungs going.
Despite all the vigor of reorganizing, dusting, vacuuming, and doing laundry for 4.5 hours, Friday night’s sleep lasted even less. I was up at 3 AM, knitting, brewing tea, and finishing miscellaneous tasks. When I decided I wanted to watch something and knit, naturally I chose Clash of the Titans. (I mean, who doesn’t like watching a Greek-mythology-inspired action film while knitting baby things and looking at the sun rise over the brick church tower?) Around noon I finally slept for an hour and then gave up. I decided to go see the boyfriend, so I donned the ever-necessary uniform of the sick—a large, snug scarf—and jumped on a train. Too weak to skate or bike, we went for a walk.
Now let’s stop for a cultural interlude. There are some wives’ tales pretty active here in the Czech Republic regarding illness. I hate to generalize, so I’ll quote some things that have been said to me over the years:
I hate it when the windows are open on the tram when I’m standing. The wind hits me and I get sick.
Everyone gets sick in the autumn because the mornings are cold and the afternoon’s are warm.
It was cold last night so I got sick.
[To a waiter] The fan’s blowing on us, can you move it so we don’t get sick?
I don’t use the air conditioning in the car—it makes me sick.
My mom would never let me play in the rain; I’d get sick.
I personally think I'm ill because I've been incubating the germs of about 150 students and many staff. But, generally, it's not too difficult to hear talk of being cold makes you have a cold. Moreover, if I speak hoarsely, I instantly get sympathetic looks and sighs of, “Oh, are you sick Miss S?” On one occasion, a colleague called me brave, and I had no idea why. I thought it referred to my living in a foreign country, but no, it was because I had a cold and I was still teaching.
The USA is the no-vacation-nation, and the Czech Republic ranks towards the top of most sick days taken. This graph is from 2006 from a World Health Report entitled “The Case for Paid Sick Leave” published in 2010 by the World Health Organization. As you can see, the Czech Republic ranks towards the top for sick days taken.
If I’m not mistaken, in 2006 there were sick leave laws that gave more benefits. In a story from 9 September 2008 on Radio Prague, Dominik Jůn states that in 2008, “… limited sick pay was again reintroduced. But the result, according to recent statistics, is disturbing. Absenteeism fell by one fifth during the period that the zero sick pay for the first three days was in effect. Since its reintroduction in July, where employees now receive 25% of their pay, some employers are complaining that absenteeism has risen by as much as 15%.” To my current knowledge—having not yet taken a sick day—the three-days-without-compensation law is back in order. But perhaps this connection between sick-days-taken and the level of benefits is why Czech law even includes a surveillance system. If someone has taken sick leave, they are allowed to leave their home only during certain pockets of time. While at home, they are subject to random checks to see if they’re really ill.
Whether it was/is the benefits, the perception of sickness, or the local smog, it seems that sick days are taken here much more liberally than back in the USA. Though, being a teacher, I feel like it’s safe to say that in my work environment, teachers understand it’s often more work to take a sick leave than to suffer through the illness while teaching. So I think my colleagues don’t play hooky so much.
So how am I faring? Sunday, I broke with all Czech belief about how one should heal herself while ill, and I not only went outside, but I spent the day kayaking with colleagues and my boyfriend down the river--without a scarf. (Read: potentially cold and wet!) We met around 11 AM, started on the river around 12 PM, and finally got back to our cars close to 6 PM. The sun was shining, the water was cool, and the company splendid. The drive home, I felt more energetic than on the drive there, and I slept soundly through the night. I took my morning dose of strong ginger tea with lemon, and taught through the day with minimal voice-cracking and frogs/dumplings* in my throat. That being said, it’s not even 7.30 PM and I feel like a three-year-old who desperately is trying to convince his parents that he’s awake while his eyes are droopily closing.
*the Czech idiom equivalent