Our school has been under siege over the past two weeks. Classes have been halved; staff absences have been through the roof and the sick bay overflowing. We have been in the throes of a gastro crisis the like of which we have never seen before.
When I walked past the sick bay last week, there was a line out the door. I stopped to see what the issue was and was confronted with eight students clustered inside clutching buckets and vomit bags. Others were waiting for their parents to pick them up in the foyer as there was no room for them to lie down.
The administration staff nervously surveyed them across the reception desk and the principal spent a lot of time in his office with the door closed. Sharing the space in the foyer with the growing number of pale-faced kids were several applicants for a job at the school, leafing through their notes and trying to limit the number of germs they were inhaling. I think contracting the virus was probably a scarier prospect than facing a panel at that stage.
Not surprisingly, the sick bay attendant was one of the first adults to fall prey to the lurgy despite wearing a mask and rubbing her hands with sanitiser and spraying Glen 20 around every few minutes.
An email went out asking staff to keep windows open in classrooms as well as informing us that a pump pack of hand sanitiser had been placed in all pigeonholes. We were advised to use it generously and send any students who looked under the weather straight to the sick bay, now staffed by very reluctant office staff.
Those of us unaffected by the plague continued teaching our much smaller classes and urgently dispatching pale or green students to sick bay, congratulating ourselves on our resilient immune systems.
“I think it’s because I’ve been taking five echinacea tablets every day this winter.”
“I put it all down to the flu shot.”
“But it’s not the flu that they’ve got, it’s gastro.”
“I know, but I still think the flu shot helps fight off lots of other things.”
“You need to get on the Vitamin C and keep your fluids up. I’ve been doing that for years.”
“I’m on probiotics.”
That afternoon, whilst supervising a year 11 class for a colleague who had been away for several days, I heard my stomach gurgle. Not loudly, but loud enough. It’s nothing, I told myself and continued on with my work. A few moments passed and I began to sweat and shiver simultaneously. I thought back to the hand sanitiser on my desk. Had I used it enough? Should I have had the flu shot? Echinacea? Needless to say, my name was duly added to the list of fallen staff: there was to be no escaping the gastro outbreak.
Christina Adams is a member of the Australian Education Union (Victoria) and a stand-up comedian