When I was younger, like all of five years younger, I could push myself through a lot. I once fell off a stage, completely wrecked my ankle, and I could force myself back into work the next day. Now that I’m 29 and running right into 30, I’ve discovered that I can manage to sprain my ankle by just tripping.
I was on my way to work on Thursday when my heel – because ya know, women we gotta wear heels or risk looking “unprofessional”- got caught on a bump and sent me tumbling to the ground. I felt an all too familiar crunch and roll in that ankle socket.
With a resounding, “FUCK!” that no one around me really responded to, I picked myself right back up and walked to work. I compartmentalized it as something to deal with later. I’m usually good with pain like that, so I forced myself to work and went through the motions.
On the day of, it hurt, but I kept sitting down and propping it up. Luckily, my last two eikaiwa classes canceled, so a bit of ibuprofen and determination kept me going. When I got home to friends staying over and my roommate, I briefly mentioned the ankle but once again compartmentalized. These friends were from Sweden and a rock band. I had to stay up to make sure they got on those taxis and headed to the airport.
I stayed up late with them, learning Swedish and Finnish, singing Disney songs and generally having a good time. I was aware of the pain, but just chugged more ibuprofen when no one was looking. After 3:00 am, they were off in a taxi to Haneda and I fell asleep.
I woke up in SO MUCH PAIN.
My ankle wasn’t as swollen as I expected, but boy it didn’t feel good. I forced myself to relax, just take it easy. I had work the next day, so I needed to recover and go.The whole day I put ice then heat, I canceled classes and plans, I KNEW I needed to get better to go to work.
See, at my job we only get 5 personal days. That’s it. Granted, we get long winter holidays and other random holidays interspersed throughout the year, but only 5 paid personal days. No sick days, just 5 paid leave days. I knew if I wasn’t better I’d have to take that day off. I had a run of bad luck with sinuses and colds in the past couple of months beforehand, leaving me with one last precious paid day.
Saturday came, and I woke up once more in pain. I thought about it hard, as in furiously trying to tell myself that I SHOULD just push through it and go in. As I thought about it, I knew I couldn’t. The kids were active, it was 6 plus working hours on my feet. There were toddlers who would need someone running and jumping around with them. I knew I couldn’t do it.
Calling into work has to be done in a set time. If you miss the time window to call in, that means there is a chance student classes will have to be cancelled. From the business standpoint, that’s the real worst case scenario, and I get that. I’ve always called in within the time frame.
On Saturdays, it’s 8-8:45. Ok, fine, no big deal. I tried to call, twice, only to encounter a busy tone. I’m not surprised. I imagine a lot of people are calling in with a holiday on the horizon. It probably won’t look good on my records for me to call in as well. My stomach is in knots. I’m not calling in because I want more vacation time, I’m calling in because I literally cannot work with a sprained ankle.
When I get through, the operator gives his name and asks me how he can help me. I get tense, because I know this man is at a higher level in the business than me, and he’s not really as understanding as the other higher ups.
“Yes, hi, um I’m calling in because I’ve hurt my ankle and I can’t make it into work today. I’m really sorry.”
He sighed. He mumbled something, asking if I had tried to call in before. I said I had, tried to make my tone sound light and friendly. He didn’t seem to care. He asked about my schedule, if there’s anything to note, and I tell him. I did my best to answer his questions.
And then he said,”I see you’ve used 5 days of absences,” like I’d become the worst employee of the year for this, “is there anything we can do to help you?”
I…didn’t know what to say to that.
A thousand different thoughts flew through my head. Was he really asking because he cared? His tone definitely didn’t really imply that one way or the other. Was it a threat? No, it just sounded automatic, like he’d asked this question before a million times.
“No, I just got sick a lot recently. I know this is my last day, but I just can’t work on this ankle. I’m really sorry.”
I hate myself immediately. I hate how I sound, like I’m groveling to keep this job. I’ve found myself recently questioning what I really even like about it nowadays, and the answers are few to none depending on the day. Moments like these, where I feel as if I have to be sorry for being hurt or sick or just…unwell? It feels like fire ants under my skin.
“Alright, well take care of yourself. See you around, cheers.”
After the phone disconnects, I wonder if my boss will call sometime soon, to ask me about the absence or demand proof or something. The day goes by, but I don’t get that dreaded phone call. But then again, they will come to observe me at some point in the near future, and they’re never satisfied with what I do in the classroom.
I feel like a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit. It’s not the worst work in the world, but eikaiwa isn’t something that fulfills me. And it suddenly dawned on my half-way through the day why I could push myself through the ALT work and not the eikaiwa work: Because I was a part of a team at a school, but at the company I’m just a cog.
When I was hurt before, I went to work but the other teachers made sure I rested between classes. I knew the school nurse had compresses, so I could chill and heat it throughout the day. I knew I wouldn’t have to run, jump, or play but just use a crutch from the gymnasium that was lying about as I taught a grammar point on the board.
With eikaiwa, there was just me and the students. There wasn’t any help, just go to work or don’t and look bad. I’m still wondering if I’m going to get a phone call or an email or an observation with a side of lecture. And when I do, my normally backbone-hardened self might crumble again. I need to keep a job until the next hiring season, at least, I can’t just lose it only halfway through.
And all over a rolled ankle.
I’m going to do what I can, try my best not to get sick for the rest of the year. Maybe I’ll go out and find some nice professional looking flats? I don’t know, all I know is I have to make sure that I survive until the end of this contract without missing another day.
Hopefully, next year with a TEFL certificate and a JLPT certificate a few more doors could open up for me. Until then, I’ll just keep “taking care of myself.”