Education, health, teaching

Sick again? Can this new teacher catch a break instead of a virus?

My education career started sickly.

First full week with students?

COVID-19. Mandatory five-day quarantine.

Fine.

Back to work.

I’m the teacher.

I’m a learner.

Things I’ve learned so far.

I can make what I think is an eloquent point about Albert Einstein and people’s desire to make fun of other’s mistakes and I am most likely to answer one of the three following questions:

“What page are we on?”

“Can I get a drink of water?”

“Can I go to the bathroom?”

I refuse to be the grammar curmudgeon that says, “You may.”

I just hand out the pass.

The water thing is new to me. We got water breaks a couple times a day when I was a kid.

In middle school, we grabbed a few sips at the bubbler between classes.

Today, the kids come with big, heavy, jangly water bottles that carry enough water to hydrate a football field and make enough noise to compete for a remake of the Broadway show “Stomp!”

The hallways must’ve gotten longer and drier since my days traversing the corridors of schools in Winterset and Des Moines.

At least three times a class, one of these portable water clatters to the hardwood in my classroom with the sound slightly quieter than a wrecking ball smashing into iron girders and cement pillars.

Oh well.

I teach sixth graders. They sometimes remind me of Dug, the dog from the Pixar film “Up.”

With the aid of a device made by his genius former master, Dug can talk. He’s generally well-mannered and friendly.

But occasionally in the middle of an important piece of dialogue — SQUIRREL!

This joke works better if you’ve seen the movie “Up,” but I made that joke about “Stomp!” earlier and I’ve never seen any adaption of that.

Pop culture is a cheat sheet for metaphors. Watch more TV.

Back to the matter at hand.

I’m sick.

Again.

I got seven consecutive, uninterrupted days with my students from COVID-19 recovery to whatever has malfunctioned in my lungs.

I wheeze.

I hack into a tissue.

The doctor or nurse asks what color it is.

I walk about 40 feet and feel as if I walked in the shadow of the valley of death.

I’ve heard this vicious rattle in my chest before.

It came in February 2020, just weeks before coronavirus became a household word.

I got pneumonia.

And it knocked me out for a month.

I know I don’t feel as badly as I did the night I went to the emergency room with a cough so bad I would occasionally black out from lack of oxygen.

I remember staggering into the ER at Iowa Methodist Hospital and the security guard whisked me up behind me with a wheelchair as I leaned heavily on the check-in desk.

“That bad, huh?” I asked him.

“It wasn’t looking too good.”

It wasn’t.

I don’t have the machine-gun cough this time.

And my doctor, the angelic Shawna Basener of McFarland Clinic in Ames, put me on a steroid called prednisone to run the infection out of my chest as fast as possible.

Sounds great, right?

One problem: The steroids shatter my sleep schedule and drive my already amped anxiety wilder.

This is the trade: For eight days, I take the pills to knock out a virus that could very likely give me life-threatening pneumonia but go practically insane while I do it.

Or I hack, cough, sweat through however long it takes to beat the virus — if I can.

What a time to be alive.

I’m taking the pills, of course.

But I’m missing school.

I’m not building the relationships I need to build.

I’m behind.

I’m an old newsman. There was no falling behind in that business.

My body feels terrible.

I’ve got no energy or wind.

I’m wired hour after hour.

I’m going to survive.

I’m going to get back to my class.

But in my head, all the little worries and doubts get louder.

You’re going to fail.

You’re going to get fired.

You’re a loser.

Nobody — and this is serious — that I work for has said anything to me other than get well soon, take care of your health, and “we got this.”

But I can’t hear positive mojo like that when my brain is around this terrible bender on medication and my body is broken down like a 1983 Buick on I-235.

But just like the coronavirus, algebra tests, and every other challenge in life: there’s the only way through — forward.

Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney writes a column for the Marion County Express.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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des moines, Faith and Values, healthcare, Iowa, life, mental health, obesity, People, Unemployment

A throughly restless spring break

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

One day, hopefully soon, I will write an update and it will be lovely.

I’ll talk about my new teaching job and how I’m looking forward to it.

I’ll go on about how well my arthritic knees are responding to aquatic therapy.

I might have even lost a few pounds.

Surely my mental health will have improved.

One day.

I hope.

This isn’t that day.

I hoped spring break, which ends Monday, would be a time for rejuvination.

I picked up a chest cold at school the last week before break. My doctor diagnosed it as an inflammation of my asthma. She prescribed a steroid inhaler.

The inhaler works great except for one side effect: It plays hell on my anxiety.

Such a side effect normally tortures me enough in more steady times.

These aren’t steady times.

I’m trying to finish graduate school, earn my teaching license, and survive on the thinnest of financial margins.

I made it through midterm. I received my report. I talked it over with my mentor teacher and my supervising teacher. It seemed a fair assessment. 

I wasn’t where I wanted to be, but my mentor teacher and the Drake professor overseeing student teaching assured me that my development was on par with where they expect novice teachers to be at this point in student teaching.

Alas, a brain affected by acute anxiety rejects positive information. I’ve written before that most problems occur in the space between emotional reaction and intellectual understanding. Feelings overrun facts and thoughts run haywire.

I took the midterm and my wild thoughts decided I had already failed as a teacher and that I was going to die broke and alone and my nest dispatch would be from temporary housing at a YMCA.

I didn’t do this on purpose. It’s just a bad thinking pattern developed as a survival method to deal with childhood trauma. It’s the same bad thinking that leads me to overeat to morbid obesity.

So when the steroids hit the bloodstream with already jangled nerves, that was cherry bomb in the toilet. Everybody I’m in close contact with knew I was depressed and tried to assure me I was going to be OK. My teachers tried. Parents 2.0 tried. Friends tried.

The trouble is they used intellectual reasoning and the chemical malfunction I was dealing with mucks up emotional reactions.

The combination of physical illness and mental health struggles put me to sleep for the first four days of spring break.

My therapist finally helped me reason out the situation and come down from the rush of negative emotions.

Then I got my vaccine booster shot. That made me sick with fever and chills for about three days. I suppose a few miserable days are a good trade for avoiding the full force of a potentially lethal virus infection, particularly with my comorbidities, but it’s still no fun.

So spring break week has come and gone and all the books I was going to read for fun and all the schoolwork I was going to accomplish remain in the same state they were before break began.

There’s a possibility that would have happened even if I had been healthy, but I want to believe my better intentions would have prevailed if I wasn’t fighting a double- or sometimes triple-whammy of health problems.

There is a bit of good news. A friend of mine, a fellow former paragraph stacker, left the trade to become a lawyer. He reviewed the administrative law judge’s rejection of my appeal for a special benefits program that would extend my unemployment.

He and his boss offered some suggestions for an appeal, but my friend told me the appeals judges almost always side with the administrative law judges.

But an appeal costs me nothing but time. I appealed. The state is moving in its usually speedy way. The form says it could take up to 75 days. I would guess that figure will be doubled and add five more days for that.

I did my taxes. That was a brutal bummer. I’m due a refund from the feds that will be completely wiped out by my tax bill in Iowa. So the hope that a tax refund would keep me in rent, groceries, and gas for a month or so dwindles.

Some hope rests in some federal government deciding what income might be declared tax exempt because of the pandemic disaster. My tax software company says the feds haven’t decided this yet. No rush. Taxes are due in less than a month. 

Why would we expect the federal government to serve the people in any speedier fashion than any other government?

Ah, but why bother with politics at a time like this.

As my friend Todd often reminds me, the only way through troubles is straight through them.

I hate to trouble all of you again with my tales of woe. I hope you know how much each of you has helped me. These contributions have kept afloat during one of the most challenging times in my life. 

I’m learning to be a teacher while I’m also learning to live with the disability from my arthritic knees and facing financial struggle. It’s a lot of stuff to worry about all at once and, frankly, sometimes it gets to me.

But you people, you floor me. I don’t know many of you personally. I dare say I don’t know most of you personally. Yet you give and give. You send positive messages.

I hear the negative ones, both in my own thoughts and from others. 

I want you to know how much your letters have touched me, how much your faith in me becoming a good teacher keeps me going when the doubts mount.

And, yes, money is important. I wish I never had to talk about money, but we live in the real world. The electric bill is due every month, just like the rent, insurance, and other bills.

I’m hanging in there. I live frugally. I clip coupons now. OK, an app does it for me, but I never did before. 

So, this is a day I wish never comes, a day in which again I ask for your help. I need your support. Don’t overextend yourself for me; your first duty is always to yourself. 

For those who do help, I will remind you of the promise I’ve made many times before: I will become a teacher and eventually a very good one. I will pass on all that I have learned about writing and creativity and passion for a craft. I will be honest, tender my truths with kindness, and be the person you believe me to be.

And one day, soon, I hope, this will be a different kind of message.

Blessings to you all.

Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.
Meal Train: https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/5ek08z/updates/


Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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life

I have something in common with Aaron Rodgers: COVID

I pride myself on having things in common with famous people.

For example, New York Yankees Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter and I have the same birth date: June 26. Jeter is exactly a year older than me.

I used to tell my editors at the local newspaper that I expected to be making what Jeter made when I was his age. The joke, of course, being I will never be Jeter’s age because he’s a year older.

The other joke is that newspapers don’t pay more for writers. They lay them off and hire young people at half the salary. That’s less funny.

I recently learned I have something in common with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: We both share a fondness for actress Shailene Woodley.

Nah, I’m kidding. I’ve nothing against Rodgers’ fiancée, but to give you an idea of how big a fan I am of Woodley, I had to look up how to spell her first name.

Like Aaron Rodgers, I have tested positive for COVID-19.

Unlike Rodgers, apparently, I am vaccinated.

This is one of those breakthrough infections that took out so many of the Yankees’ players and coaches early in the season. See? I still have things in common with my beloved Yankees.

I do feel a little lame. I got COVID more than 18 months into the pandemic. How behind the times can I get? No wonder my younger classmates sometimes shout “OK, boomer!” at me. I’m actually Gen X, but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings with facts.

I don’t feel bad. If it had been any other time in my life, I would have assumed this was a chest cold. It feels like I get one with every change of season.

That’s how I treated the symptoms: runny nose, a slight wheeze, and a mild, productive cough.

What an odd medical term “productive cough” is. I suppose you need some less inelegant way of saying “hacking up lung butter,” but still “productive” is something I associate with work rather than the convulsions of my chest while ill.

Anyway, Mom 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines hairdresser who raised me after my parents died, suggested I get a test. My Uncle Jim recently endured a breakthrough COVID infection.

What could it hurt? The test is free. I drove to a sight by Hoover High School. They offered a rapid test with results within an hour and a slower, more accurate test.

I chose the slower route.

I got a text in just more than 24 hours: I was positive for SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

I informed Drake University, which told me to stay off campus for 10 days since I started showing symptoms, which was Saturday.

I went to my Shakespeare class Monday morning to deliver a presentation, felt more peaked, and went for my test.

I feel bad for my classmates. Not only did they have to endure my Shakespeare presentation — which included references to “The Simpsons,” “Petticoat Junction,” and Akira Kurosaki’s “Ran” — they were also exposed to COVID.

That’s a crap morning.

I mean I think they can forgive the COVID exposure, that’s life in a pandemic. But a “Petticoat Junction” reference? That’s a step too far.

I informed my doctor, the magnificent Shawna Basener. She worries about my asthma, which tends to be sensitive to seasonal changes and my animal allergy.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star Sarah Michelle Gellar has asthma and is allergic to cats. We’re practically twins! I’m not famous, just fame adjacent.

Dr. Basener wants me to go to the hospital Friday for something called Bamlanivimab treatment, or Bam treatment for short.

I like the nickname “Bam treatment.”

The 1966 “Batman” TV series displayed a symphony of onomatopoeia. “Bam!” I’m almost in the same company as the late, great Adam West.

Anyway, the Bam treatment, delivered by IV, sends in some synthetic antibodies to fight the spread of COVID while my own immune system churns out its own virus Avengers team to pummel the virus out of my system.

Bam is best for people within 10 days of their initial symptoms (that’s me) and have a complicating health factor such as asthma (me!) and obesity (sigh, also me).

Quarantine isn’t so bad, other than being sick.

I recall a time in high school when I got grounded for having a girl over to the house while Parents 2.0 were out of town.

That sounds more adventurous than it was. We sat in separate chairs and watched a video we rented. It didn’t rise to the level of “Netflix and chill.”

We actually sat and watched a movie — nothing happened. Then she dropped me off at my grandparents’ house, where I spent the night.

Anyway, Parents 2.0 were ticked off. A girl in the house without supervision was out of the question. They grounded me for the weekend.

I remember it being a beautiful October Saturday.

I mowed the lawn, showered, and finished my homework. I watched the baseball playoffs on TV.

Mom 2.0 decided to give me a haircut. She asked me how my day was going. I told her it was a great day. The baseball game was good. I was caught up on my reading.

Mom 2.0 tells this story to this day. My response chagrined her. She thought I would be mopey, forced to stay home all weekend. The lesson for both of us is you can’t punish an introvert by ordering them to stay home and keep to themselves.

I am, however, ready to be done with my Aaron Rodgers impression.


Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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