Like Working In A Hospital

October 13, 2009

Upon getting to work today, I entered the staff room where I was greeted by the sight of nearly everyone wearing a surgical face mask. I can’t think of many creepier ways to start the day than going to your place of work and seeing everyone dressed up like a dirty bomb went off. I said my usual “ohayo gozaimas” and sat down, hoping I wouldn’t be shortly escorted out of school for not having a face mask.

It’s sick season here in Nabari and it’s no joke around these parts. The amount of masks you see around town has shot up the past few days. Couple this with the still-going-strong Swine Flu worries and you can imagine the paranoia. I think I had a very minor cold over the weekend, but I wouldn’t tell a soul at work out of fear of being hosed town by a toxic-cleanup squad. I just chugged bottles of C.C. Lemon (a drink boasting “70 lemons worth of vitamins” in each serving) and soldiered on. Schools take sickness super seriously.

My first clue to this actually came before I saw my co-workers surgical mask fashion show. The bike area, usually crammed tightly with student’s bikes, was nearly desolate. Turns out all third-year classes weren’t allowed to come to school because too many of them were sick. Another teacher told me the week before that if two or more students in a class caught the flu, that class couldn’t come to school. But how many students had to come down with an illness to prevent more than a hundred kids from school? It’s like a much more plausible snow day…if this existed when I was in high school I’d do everything in my power to cover my classmates in used Kleenex so I could get a day off to play Star Fox.

So a huge chunk of students couldn’t come to school, leaving an entire of the school eerily empty. And everyone had to wear a mask…including me. Another teacher came around passing them out, so for the next seven hours I had the privilege of looking like a surgeon. It seemed kind of cool at first, but after about an hour it starts getting very itchy.

My new fashion accessory did offer a fun new twist on an old favorite. I’m still not done with my self-introductions (gahhhhhh) and had one to do today. But, a new challenge! Could I do it while wearing this itchy mask? I found out shortly after the teacher passed out a face mask to every student in the class. Staring down a bunch of students dressed extra spooky, I gave my usual self intro…but it was probably the most annoying go around yet. My mask kept falling off and I needed to hold it up, since I figured my exposed mouth would lead to everyone getting sick. I’m all about the kids.

After that, I had no classes so I just sat around doing various little things all while constantly tugging at my face mask in hopes of making it less itchy. Since a few hundred students weren’t here, a lot more teachers were just hanging out in the staff room. One confided in me he “had done nothing at all” this Tuesday. I don’t think he was the only one.

I came up with one big question at the end of my work day – where do people buy personalized surgical masks? I didn’t see a Hello Kitty surgical mask or anything, but some people definitely had special guards. Some appeared to be made out of different materials, which is fair enough, I’d have killed to have something that didn’t make my face feel like an ant hill. But others had ones in different colors – blue? Pink? Where do you get those? Is there a store devoted to selling just surgical masks? I want to know.

I’m hoping the sick-mania dies down a little bit tomorrow as I don’t want to wear a mask again and I have more classes to teach. Whatever happens though, I do have a new appreciation for surgeons and what they have to put up with.

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