'I ain't got time to bleed'

6th January 2012 at 00:00

My resolution for 2012 is to redress my work-life balance. Last term, I was trying so hard to keep my teaching in credit that my health went into the red. And I don't mean metaphorically. During the final run-up to Christmas, I started peeing blood. I watched, fascinated, as my early- morning urine turned from a blush Californian rose to a muscular South African Shiraz.

Now if you worked in any other profession, you'd arrange for an emergency appointment, then head home for a week to watch Cash in the Attic while you sort through your laundry and triage your old tights. In my previous career, if a colleague so much as snagged a nail, they went straight to Aamp;E, but we teachers are made of sterner stuff; we have a reputation for heroic stoicism that puts our health at risk. We are notorious for soldiering on in the face of adversity and often go to ridiculous lengths to avoid admitting we're ill.

Like Monty Python's dismembered Black Knight, who truculently refuses to acknowledge defeat, we gamely fight on, muttering "It's just a cold" when we've got pneumonia and "I've had worse" when we have TB. This pyrrhic fortitude doesn't go down well with our partners who, having selflessly spent the night mopping our fevered brows and the diced carrot that went wide of the bowl, watch in disbelief as we head into school clutching a couple of aspirin and a can of tomato soup.

You have to be more than ill to stay off work; you also have to be able to mark. You could have a temperature of 103, double vision and a chest that rattles like a two-stroke mower, but you won't waste this term's two-day sick leave if you have left your coursework in school.

One of the reasons teachers keep going is partly down to FEAR. We're terrified of inconveniencing our colleagues, and we're also scared of what the kids might produce if they are left to their own devices. No matter how strict your instructions that kids should only watch the Skellig DVD, or colour in a poster and ON ABSOLUTELY NO ACCOUNT write anything in their books, you'll inevitably come back to a set of extended essays entitled "My holiday in Spain", the literary highlight of which is a three-page unpunctuated description of buying a cheese pasty in Tees Valley airport.

Last month, thanks to the pressure of work, I ignored all my body's early health warnings. Armed with my husband's favourite Predator sound bite, "I ain't got time to bleed", I battled through a jungle of extra exam- revision classes and caved in and rang my GP only when I started pissing port.

She diagnosed acute cystitis and berated me for working too hard. Apparently cystitis can be triggered by stress. When you work in a time- squeezed occupation such as teaching, you respond to the pressures of the job by skipping "unnecessary" tasks such as having a drink of water or going to the loo. I'd pared my life back to the bone: by not drinking anything at all, I salvaged an extra few minutes each day that I spent answering emails, instead of the call of nature. After three days of abstention, my inbox was as clean as a whistle; my bladder, however, was less so. Some bad-boy bacteria were throwing a party in there.

Thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, I'm happily on the mend. Jesus may have been a teacher who turned water into wine, but you can't beat antibiotics for turning it back into wee.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England.

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