I have been struggling these past few weeks. I was supposed to go back to work in early December, but the c-diff infection made that impossible. Since then, I've been doing my best to get well. I've gained some weight, started feeling better, moving more.
Then, I had a little relapse of c-diff, which set me back. I caught it early, and I didn't get dangerously sick like last time, but I'm back on vancomycin. It's disappointing because once you have a relapse of C-Diff you are very likely to have another and another and another. But I'm trying to learn not to think about scary things that haven't happened yet.
Along with physical struggles have come the mental. I've labored with the tough decision of whether to return to work. As you all know, I enjoy my job and the people I work with, and I especially love being around high school-age kids. I have been very eager to go back, having been off much longer than expected. But, I'm physically not up to it yet.
And then I got a letter: time has run out. As of the 17th, I have to go back or take a year-long leave of absence, with no guarantee that I can return to the same job at the same school.
Realistically, I am not well enough to work full-time, but I've come a long, long way. Two months ago, I was unable to walk, or eat, was bloated, in danger of a colon rupture and just very, very sick. Now I can go to the store, run errands, cook meals, pick up the house. I'm slow, not swift like I used to be, but I'm functioning.
I'm not strong enough to work a full day right now: morning pain, fatigue, and stomach problems are an issue - but what if I can in two months?
It's hard to think about giving up a job when maybe soon I'll be back to normal, or closer to it. My improvement over the past two months has been gradual but definite. Where will I be in two more months?
Unfortunately, it's decision time. What is best for me? What is best for the school? It's a choice I knew would come, and I've been wrestling with for some time. I sadly concluded that based on this moment in time, I would have to go out on SSI disability and give up the job I find satisfying and enjoyable, and let them be free to hire somebody healthy and dependable. That is difficult mid-year but certainly not impossible. I was pretty sad at this idea but I have to think of the school.
Cancer was taking my life in ways I had not expected, earlier than I was ready. But that's what cancer does.
So, I was in my oncologist's office, and after my visit with the doctor, I discussed the disability paperwork with the secretary. I walked out into the front office, where I saw two kids from my school, a girl and a boy - the girl an office TA. I did a triple-take.
Why were kids in the oncologist's office? MY oncologist's office? MY kids? I about decided I was imagining things, when the girl said, "Hi Ann." I said hi back and we chatted for a while. (They were there to accompany a friend who was with a sick relative).
The male student had once come in to my office and picked up a paperweight. It's designed with the British WWII slogan, "Keep Calm and Carry On." This kid got into the routine of pointing at me and saying, every time he walked past my office, "Keep Calm!" and I would smile and and say back, "Carry on!" Silly, but the kind of conversation that makes it fun working with kids.
The coincidence of these kids, from my school, being in my cancer doctor's office at the very minute I'd decided to give up my job could not be ignored. I had been ambivalent, and this cleared things up for me.
I wanted to go back, and I needed to figure out how that could happen.
I came up with a plan.
First, I met with my substitute (a wonderful lady who has taken over for me and learned a hard job quickly) and explained to her that I wanted to try to come back, but could only work half days. A substitute is only allowed to work a certain number of hours per year, and she would not be able to stay full-time much longer either. To make sure the school would run smoothly, since she knew the job - would she stay mornings through June, and I would come in afternoons? She agreed. Details worked out, I took this idea to my Principal, who kindly agreed to this arrangement as well. I then contacted HR, not knowing the rules and expecting that might be the stopping point. But, they also agreed.
Whatever you might be hearing in the news about schools, all I have to say is none of it is my experience. It's truly a people business and everybody from upper administration on down does care about employees and especially about kids.
So, I'm going back February 17th (yes, that's a Friday). I am going back to work from 11:30 to 3:30. My hope is that being somewhere every day, at the same time, will help facilitate the rest of my recovery, and I'll soon be stronger and back to working full-time.
When you are home sick, you tend to fall into the habit of napping when you want, eating when you want, resting a lot. There is no structure. While that is assuredly good for you when you are critically ill, as I was, at some point - my theory is, at least - your recovery stops with rest alone. Getting out to work half days should help me get in a routine, used to getting up at the same time, going to bed at the same time, eating regularly, etc. It should, I hope, help me get physically stronger. Mentally, I know it'll be good for me to have something to think about aside my health and immediate family.
My assumption is my recovery will continue and down the road - a month, two months - I will be able to work full-time again. I've come so far, I should only get stronger.
And, if by summer, I am still not able to work a full day, if my body won't tolerate it, then I'll have given it a try. I can leave in the summer when they have time to hire somebody right for the job and I can help train her, and not leave during the chaos of a school year. But, my goal, now set, is to be back to work full-time before then.
My next goal is to get over this c-diff permanently, so I can get back on chemo.
So, thanks kids. Because of you, I'm going to Carry On.
Pain and Frustration
1 week ago