As adorable as my students are, I am constantly reminded that they are hosts for infectious parasites. Each day my inner child chants the playground song "Circle, circle. Dot, dot. Now I've got my cootie shot" as I pour a dollop of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer on my hands. They stick their fingers in their mouths, in their pants, in their noses, and just about anywhere else that they will fit. We even have breaks where we stop the lesson and make sure they wash their hands. Our classroom set-up is perfectly arranged so that all germs will be thrown my way. It all began last week when one student turned to me and sneezed. It is said that each sneeze can throw over 100,000 bacteria in the air. I shivered as I felt the little poisonous droplets fall onto my skin like acid rain. Immediately, Sang Won was sent to wash his hands as I quickly followed behind. Just as I sat back in my chair, Woo Jae sneezed on me. At this moment I was terrified and back to the sinks we went. Another point to this is how I have never missed fresh air until I moved to Korea. The air in Seoul is thick and after a 10 minute walk outside without touching anything I somehow manage to feel dirty. The pollution lingers in dark smoggy clouds. I think the culmination of these things finally got to me. Thursday morning I woke up and my throat felt raw. I figured that I was being punished for sleeping with my mouth open (as I do snore) and with the AC set at an icy 21 degrees (Celsius). Mid-afternoon I was still feeling ill and my symptoms progressed. This made me wonder if the fan death theory (http://www.fandeath.net/) could be real. After work, Ella had suggested that we take a trip to a jinjilbang, which is a public bath house/spa. I stripped down, exposing my curves to everyone and dipped into a soothing bath of green tea. Afterwards, I paid 2000 won for a back and foot massage. After my massages, I locked myself away in what appeared to be mini ovens- which were actually saunas. I started to feel better and I was definitely ready for sleep. The next morning, I felt worse. My ears felt like they had fluid in them, I felt dizzy, and I could not stop sneezing. That Friday morning, I warned my students that I was not feeling well and I did not want to yell at them because it hurt. My energy level was low and it was hard to keep up with the students. It was a coincidence that we were discussing emergency situations with ambulances. The students had an activity where they had to match and color the sick person and line her up to the ambulance. Each student colored a stripped polo and gold hair exclaiming that it was Niki teacher. We finished the lesson plan and still managed to have a half hour left. I didn't plan for this unexpected gap, so I let the students play duck duck goose while I sipped on my peppermint tea. During lunchtime, teachers have a 20 minute break away from the students and we all hide out in the teachers room. I put my head down for about five minutes when all of a sudden I heard one of the other teachers bringing in four of my students. Apparently one of the bullies (and ironically my smallest student) called the chubbier student fat, so a fight broke loose. I was lucky in this situation, because they had a hard time retelling the story in English, so the Korean teachers had to get involved. Before my last afternoon class, I planted my head on my desk and waited for the day to be over with. My partner teacher Kristen suggested that I go to the doctor. Thirty minutes and a walk down the hall from our school later, I felt 25% better. The doctor concluded that I had a really bad sinus infection. I had tubes and water picks sucking and pouring things out and in my nose. She gave me a prescription for five different medications, which I can say have helped me a lot. Five days later and I am almost 100% better with the exception of having sporadic coughing attacks and a voice of an old lady.
Sickness is inevitable when you are teaching young children and living in the city, especially with my immune system. I am bracing myself for what is ahead.