Breathing hurts. The mound of tissues next to the groove you hollow into the couch grows faster than seems possible. Sound and light crash against your skull like hammers, so even binge-watching and reading become painful.
In the spring of 2016, my chronic sinusitis had flared up again. It does this at least once a year (hence the “chronic”). I’ve been going to hospitals for sinus infections all my life. The best doctors have told me all I can do is stay home, take care of myself, and keep myself isolated so I don’t get anyone sick.
But in the spring of 2016, I worked as a shift supervisor for Starbucks. After two years there, I had accumulated plenty of sick time. So I called my manager and somehow squeezed enough words out of the back of my throat to let him know I couldn’t come in.
“So who’s covering you?” he asked.
My heart sank.
Technically, it was against company policy to deny sick time this way, but Starbucks doesn’t have a history of enforcing this policy. And when you’re an hourly employee, you can’t afford to risk getting your hours cut by going over your manager’s head.
So I called all around the city, but I couldn’t find anyone to cover me. I called my manager back. I begged, I pleaded, I told him I would get other people sick.
It was all in vain.
So I showered, popped a few more Sudafed than recommended, and tossed a green apron into my backpack. I had no choice.
As the Covid-19 virus grows into a global threat, I can’t help but think about all the baristas, burger-flippers, train operators and janitors of the world — all the hard-working people across America who might go into work sick because they have to, like I had to.
The United States has no federal standards for paid sick leave. And Senate Republicans just blocked a measure to expedite emergency sick leave as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.