Iatrogenesis and Gratitude for Online Teaching

It’s been about 10 days since I spoke with my oncologist (yay, telemedicine, boo: overwork). My tumour marker is trending back down after a month back on The Drugs: just above 10. Everything else looks good. The visit to the cancer floor was par for the course. The place was more organized thanks to the private security people managing patient traffic, but the nurses doing the phlebotomy are clearly way overworked, and either burnt out or nearing it. It’s really a bummer to see. And I don’t think I can bring them anything because of Covid protocols.

I’m back on all my blood pressure meds and BP is stable. And all the side effects are back. I had a brutal wave of fatigue a couple weeks back, combined with stomach problems, including having to teach the big class right after having an experience that can best be described as emitting lava. I don’t recommend it, but I managed ok. This week I’ve passed out on the couch after dinner a couple times and one day this week I had to lay down for half an hour in the afternoon. I am making do and in some senses, teaching online is probably both the problem and the solution: it’s making me more tired, but at least I can crash out for a few minutes if I need to.

I think everyone is tired from online teaching (and OMG meetings–#livingatwork) this term, and in that respect I’m no different from anyone else. But it’s not just that (see: the “everyone feels that way sometimes” square in Ableist Bingo).

Ableist Bingo card featuring cliched ableist statements life “everyone feels that way sometimes” and “You don’t look sick/Disabled”) — as always, the centre space is a “free space.” Hat tip: Lena Palacios.

I am actually grateful that I started the term off the drugs, even though a vacation from them might have been more fun in the summer. I’m not sure I would have survived the first 3 weeks of term otherwise. I am mostly able to muster the energy I need to do the things I have to do, it’s the things I want to do in the interstices that are falling by the wayside. And I hate waking up after 9 or 10 hours of sleep feeling tired.

I want to write more about online teaching and will have some things to say about the mechanics of it in an upcoming post. Here it’s mostly happy stuff. I feel good about it. I am really fond of my students and am really enjoying the meetings and conversations with both undergrads and grads. I know how to make a podcast lecture now and am pretty good at it, though I will have to work on my “um”s if I ever really want to be a media personality. But the undergrads seems to like the podcasts.

The graduate seminar discussions have been great. I’m exhausted afterwards but look forward to it every single week. And I’ve been enjoying the “backchannel” on the chat. We’ve had amazing visiting speakers, and co-teaching has been a real balm for the spirit (as has working with my TAs in my undergrad class). I wish I could actually socialize with my grad students — we normally throw a potluck at the end of term — but for now we will have to contemplate Zoom Pictionary or some other social contrivance, or just leave it be.

I realize online learning hasn’t gone well for everyone (and I am just talking about the university level–I cannot imagine the struggles of primary school teachers, students, and parents). But for higher education, we have a real reason to make it work. The alternatives are bullshit Covid protocol classrooms that fail as in-person operations and expose people to unnecessary risks. I’d rather be “doing-alright-considering-the-circumstances” online that doing anything that could lead to an outbreak as infection rates are spiking here and many other places. My efforts at teaching online–including some spectacular failures, as well as the successes–have extra meaning because they are about keeping me safe, and keeping lots of other people safe. My parents had to make all sorts of sacrifices as kids living through the Great Depression. All I have to do is stay the fuck home and do my job.