This past February I abruptly left my job as a public school bus driver for a rather affluent town located approximately thirty miles from my home. Several people became infected with COVID-19, one driver died, and I found myself driving around thinking to myself that my life and, more importantly, the lives of my wife and daughter had to be worth more than the modest income that I was earning driving a school bus.
To make matters worse a number of the kids I transported to and from school had gotten sick and had to be quarantined, but, because of privacy laws, I was never notified of the outcomes. The policy that school officials adopted stated that drivers had to be in contact with a student who tested positive for COVID-19 for at least fifteen minutes before they were told to quarantine. It was a policy that made absolutely no sense to me given that a school bus is a perfect container to house an airborne virus, especially one that is known to linger in the air for extended periods of time. And let’s be honest: masks are not airtight and young children don’t really understand their importance and the need to keep them on.
Though the busses were disinfected twice per day, once after the morning runs and again at the end of the day, our only defenses against the virus while on board the busses were the personal protective equipment that the drivers were required to provide for themselves and plenty of ventilation … and by ventilation I mean that we were made to drive with all of the windows down, even during the coldest winter days, which included several single digit mornings.
I found the personal protective equipment to be very expensive but I was happy to purchase the various items that I found for sale because so much was unavailable at the time. Lysol Disinfectant Spray was impossible to find and, so, I did a considerable amount of research and discovered that while Lysol kills COVID-19 within two minutes of contact with the virus, Windex All Surface Cleaner kills the virus within four minutes: and, fortunately for me, there was plenty of the Windex cleaner available for sale on Amazon’s website. I purchased two spray bottles and two one gallon refills of the Windex cleaner, as well as numerous boxes of disposable masks and gloves, several cloth masks, and two airtight goggles, which are commonly worn by forest firefighters. All-in-all, I paid approximately $300.00 for items — items that were meant to protect me as well as my riders. And, because of my concerns for my passengers, I thought that school officials would be willing to reimburse me, at least partially, for the costs, but was wrong. I sent one email to my direct supervisor and another to the human resource manager but neither one of them responded.
When our state and public schools reopened and we returned to work for the 2020–2021 school year, all management personnel and support staff had taken shelter in their respective office buildings, and the bus drivers were no longer allowed into any of the buildings, except to use the restrooms in the transportation office building. Even then, only two drivers, one male and one female, were allowed in the building at any given time. A rolling file cabinet was purchased to house the keys to the busses and vans, along with all of the necessary paperwork, and we (i.e., all of the drivers) were made to wait in line, six feet apart from one another, each morning for the keys to the busses or vans. The cabinet would be wheeled into the building at the end of the day and then back out onto a sidewalk, which led to the back door of the building each school day morning. In an effort to try to keep things dry, a temporary canopy had been erected over the key cabinet but it collapsed under the weight of the first snowfall and, so, it was removed. Consequently, all of the drivers were made to wait for their keys while exposed to all sorts of weather conditions. Thus, tensions were high and many of the drivers felt as though they had been reduced to “second class citizens.”
The secretary to my direct supervisor, a woman whom I will refer to as Francesca, is a rather strong willed person who has a rather free spirit and a bit of a temper. Shortly before the Christmas break I learned that Francesca went out with several coworkers and friends to a local bar for “Karaoke Night.” She contracted COVID-19 and then became very ill; however, before she was formally diagnosed with the disease she returned to work — even though she was feeling extremely ill — and she put everyone in the office at risk, including the manager who, only a little over one year earlier, had undergone open heart surgery. When I heard the news I could not believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t believe that Francesca would be so careless, so foolish and/or so selfish. She didn’t take the “pandemic” seriously and, more importantly, she had absolutely no regard for any of her coworkers or their loved ones.
By now I was at my wits end but I kept telling myself that things would eventually get better; but they didn’t. The final straw for me was laid upon my back when I learned about the passing of a coworker by the name of Rob. Though I didn’t know him well, I took Rob’s death rather hard. He was in his early fifties and he had a nine year old daughter, which is the part that made his passing so much more difficult for me to accept.
The first rumors of Rob’s passing had him dying from a heart attack, and that thought terrified me because I feared that he had contracted COVID-19, which is known to attack the heart muscle and the brain, as well as well as the victim’s lungs. I would learn much later, however, that Rob had actually committed suicide. I would also learn that his wife was hooked on drugs and that she was apparently “hooking up” with other men in order to make money to support her habit. One driver also told me that she was really hard on Rob and that she once told him that she never truly loved him.
A few days after Rob’s passing, Francesca sent out an email to all of the drivers which included suggestions on how to cope with grief and loss. In truth, I was incensed by her email. Our mutual supervisor, Andy (also an alias), on at least four different occasions told me that he considered me to be a “friend” and, to me, Andy was like the little brother I never had. As I read through Francesca’s email I could not help but think that her ignorance surrounding the seriousness of the pandemic — and her absolute selfishness — could have led to a very bad outcome for Andy and his family … and, so, I decided to respond to her email.
In my response I outlined my concerns as well as several of the concerns that fellow drivers had shared with me. In return, Francesca forwarded my email to the human resources manager, Violet (again, an alias), who responded with a rather vague threat.
In her email to me, Violet essentially said that I was to no longer have any communications with Francesca unless it was business related. (Business related? Really? I responded to her email! It’s not as if I asked her to join me at the next Karaoke party.)
Violet ended her email to me with: “This will be addressed by [Andy] separately in the future and closer to the end of the school year, as I don’t believe this is a good time for this to be addressed further.”
Ultimately, I decided to submit my immediate resignation.
Though I desperately tried to find work outside of academia (i.e., outside of driving a school bus), I very quickly discovered that there was not much in the way of good paying jobs for an older worker like me. Thus, I accepted a position as — you guessed it — a school bus driver for a town located closer to my home. Unfortunately, though, I’m now earning half the money that I was earning previously.
I’ve been in my new position for a little over five months and, because of the money issues that my departure from my previous employer created for me and my family, I have, on more than one occasion, found myself questioning whether or not my human frailties got the best parts of my better angels. But, when I consider the fact that my new employer helped me and my wife get vaccinated against COVID-19, and the fact that our daughter, Kathleen, has had absolutely no seizure activity since I left my previous employer, I feel as though I made the right decision.
At first I thought that the reduction in Kathleen’s seizure activity was due to an increase in the dosing of an herbal supplement that Kathleen’s Lyme specialist had prescribed; however, she told me that she stopped taking it because it upset her stomach. I told my wife, Amy, about our conversation and she said: “Harmony has returned to our household.” Essentially, Amy indicated to me that my stress levels played a major role in Kathleen’s seizure activity.
So, what’s the point of this story? Well, first, stress can be as devastating to a person’s health as any disease: and, much like COVID-19, stress can be very contagious. Though I am very concerned about our overall financial situation, I could not be happier with Kathleen’s much improved health. To not have to see her seizing has been a tremendous relief for my heavy heart. For over six years I have carried a very heavy burden around with me wondering whether or not there was anything that I could have done, or anything that I could have done differently, to cure Kathleen or to ensure that she was never infected in the first place. Now, though, I can see that the constant stress which exuded from every part of my being actually played a major role in precluding Kathleen from fully healing. In other words: my stress was “contagious.”
The second point that I would like to make is the importance of getting vaccinated.
I am old enough to remember some of the dreadful diseases (e.g., chicken pox) that ravaged our society when I was younger and how much people of that time welcomed the vaccines. They truly are medical miracles; and for those of you who have concerns about the speed of the development of the vaccines for COVID-19 in particular, you should know that the technology behind mRNA vaccines has been in development since the mid-1980s.
With the help of my new employer, my wife, Amy, and I received the J&J vaccine this past March; and once it was made available for her age group, Kathleen received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine shortly thereafter, in May. The day after she received her second shot, Kathleen experienced a little bit of headache but, by day three, the headache was completely gone. With regard to the J&J vaccine, Amy and I had absolutely no side effects whatsoever. And, from the time that all of us were fully vaccinated, I have slept much more soundly.
Bottom Line: Don’t be afraid to get vaccinated!
If I had gotten sick and then made Amy and/or Kathleen ill, I would have had a very difficult time forgiving myself — especially if the virus took their lives. Personally, I would much prefer to deal with the loss of income rather than the loss of life of a loved one. Money is replaceable — Amy and Kathleen are not!
These are most certainly extraordinary times in which we are living, and I would bet that, like me, there are a large number of people out there who could never in their wildest dreams have ever imagined that we would be living through a hundred year pandemic. Each and every evening when I sit down to watch the news I quickly find myself praying for all of those people who are suffering … and there is certainly no shortage of suffering these days.
For all who come to this website looking for assistance with their own suffering, please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you and your loved ones.