Hamid goes to pick up his wife, who is returning from a trip to Sweden, at the airport. She is sick. High fever, muscle aches, weakness, loss of appetite. He is happy she is home but worried about taking care of her and their two small children. Two days later, Hamid reports that he is sick. I insist he go home to rest and fight the bug. He flat out refuses. He tells me in no small terms that he fights sickness and doesn’t give in. I tell him he’s being stupid. Go home, rest, get better faster and, most importantly to me, don’t get anybody else sick! He doesn’t listen. The next day he makes it through his lunch shift but absolutely can’t make it through dinner. Faisal fills in for him. I’m relieved. He can’t get me sick when his germs aren’t floating around the restaurant. But the next night he and his armada of bacteria are back for another round of germ spreading. His bravado now gone, his face gaunt, his temperature too high, he tries to trudge through his job. Now it’s ridiculous. Would you want this walking germ factory handling your food? I go to the owner/manager/chef. Insist he go home. He can barely walk and you want him around your customers? Finally, a tiny beam of sunshine. He gets sent home.
Next night, he’s back again. Perhaps slightly less sick or trying to hide it? Later that night, Cesar, the dishwasher, goes home with a high fever and muscle aches. Victim number 1.
Finally, the next day is Sunday, the restaurant is closed. My strict hand washing regiment is so far working, it seems. I am still well. Monday arrives and Hamid returns. He looks better, but now his hacking cough follows him around. I stay as far away as possible, washing my hands often. Closing time. Count my checks. Go to find owner/chef/manager. He’s gone. Gone where? Gone home early, with a high fever and muscle aches. Victim number 2.
Skip to tonight, wed. Chef/owner/manager is back, still unwell. Making the food for the customers, small units of nasty sickness not doubt oozing from him. I try to stay away. Wash my hands. Deliver food. Wash my hands. Clear the table. Deliver more food. Wash my hands. Come home, feel a tingle in my throat. Start coughing. Fuck! Take a dose of Tylenol cough syrup. Pray I can fight it off early. And wonder:
Why do you come to work sick? Why don’t you see the easier path for everyone? Stay home, stay in bed and fight your war on your own. My white blood cells don’t want to meet your virus. And neither do Ceasar’s. Or chef/owner/manager. Or the rest of the kitchen staff. Or the wait staff. Or anyone else. It’s not weak to stay home. It does everyone, you most of all, a favor. You stay home, 1 person is out of work a few days. You come in, 4 people are in and out of work. Worse for everyone, worse for you since you took longer to get well! Simple message that nobody follows.
I’ve stopped coughing. Winning the war already? Or temporary relief thanks to the acetaminophen potion?
One thing’s for sure. If I get sick, I’m staying home.