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My brief but exciting career as frontline hero | Ken Hill

Wednesday, November 18, 2020 @ 9:50 AM | By Ken Hill


Ken Hill %>
Ken Hill
This week I was dragged out of my simple life of retirement leisure when my dear spouse, who had answered the call of duty herself and has been filling in for a fallen principal comrade, asked me to help out. The carnage in the school system is such that they can’t get qualified substitute teachers, so I have been called in as a warm body a few times. After nearly early 40 years of civil litigation practice I was confident that I could handle anything an elementary school could throw at me.

On my arrival at the school on Tuesday I was assigned to the “isolation room.” It was explained to me that my only function was to stand by in a specially equipped room in case a student or staff person should exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. So, from unqualified teacher I was being asked to pivot to unqualified school nurse, sort of. I said to Fran, “so, I guess that makes me one of the frontline heroes? OK, I’m in!”

She showed me how the room was supplied with copious quantities of PPE. In the event that I was called into action I was to don a gown, faceshield and gloves in addition to the mask I was already wearing. I would then have to stand by, comfort and supervise the patient until their parent came to take them home or to have a Q-tip pushed up their nose.

In an echoing, near-empty classroom, I sat ready for anything. I spent the day on a hard desk chair, web-surfing on my phone or reading. I had a collection of John Cheever stories, all set in the mid-20th century New York world of apartment buildings with doormen, elevator operators and servants’ elevators in the back. I was only able to visualize the Ricardo and Mertz apartments. And so I was lulled into the sense that would not be called in to action, until …

In the mid-afternoon I thought I heard the intercom mention my name but it was muffled by the earphones I had in place, listening to an informative podcast about the rise and fall of the Geocities web hosting service. I buzzed the office to see if I had been called and was told no it wasn’t Mr. Hill they had paged, but Mr. U (not his initial nor a nickname, like “Mr. D,” but his actual last name!). However, the secretary informed me that I would be receiving a patient imminently. Within seconds a teacher entered leading a little lad who was walking a bit oddly. I asked her if he has symptoms and I should don my PPE, but she said that, no, he had had an accident and his parents were on the way with a change of pants. The little guy didn’t seem very concerned that he had cacked his drawers, and in fact had a somewhat sublime expression. His mother arrived within minutes of his arrival at my isolation room and he was gone, leaving only a faint odour behind.

So, I was left to return to my reverie, now recalling a vague memory of having had a similar accident in grade one. All I remember is the odd feeling in the seat of my pants as I walked in line out of the classroom, trying to avoid eye contact with any staff member and hoping the telltale smell would not betray me until I could get out of the school. As I recall I successfully made my escape and poor mom had a cleanup job when I got home.

The rest of my shift passed without incident and I headed home secure in the knowledge that I had done my share in the battle against COVID-19. But seriously, as a retired person, I feel so fortunate not to have to contend on a daily basis, like those who are still working, with the stress, risk and disruption caused by the pandemic.

Hopefully we will all get through this soon.

Ken Hill is happily retired from just about 40 years of litigation practice in Newmarket, Ont.

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