I have made it! All the way to Easter that is!
Some years the first few months of work can be really, really slow, and some years they can be booming. This year pilot season in Vancouver was crazy busy… our local union was putting every available person to work just trying to get bodies to fill positions… regardless of experience.
What does that mean? Well, don’t get sick! Sickness is not an option!!
Now obviously that’s not realistic; we all get sick and our bodies need rest, medicine and on occasion some level of quarantine. But sometimes you can’t help it; if you don’t catch a cold or flu in time, you’re going to be sick at work… and being sick at work sucks! It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, this one fact is universal across the board.
This year, aside from battling off a couple of colds, I got a case of the Shingles!! That was first for me! (And, ahem, I am proof that you don’t need to be ‘older’ to get the Shingles.:) Don’t worry; you won’t catch them reading this blog. Shingles are a form of the Chicken Pox virus that sticks around after Chicken Pox and can tend to show up later in life when the body is experiencing extraordinary stress.
Let’s see; sixteen-hour days, nights with rain towers, upwards of sixty set ups a day and a conservative one hour each way commute… yup, that’s extraordinary stress!
I received an email a few months ago asking what the medical was like for workers in this industry and how many sick days we get a year?
My answer, the medical depends on the plan that your union has (if you are in a union), and we are paid for each hour we work, nothing more, nothing less… sick days don’t exist. Do not. At all.
For the most part, crew-members are independently contracted, so it is up to each of us to decide if we can go to work. We need to be responsible for our health first and foremost, the health of our coworkers of course and the health of our work obligations and finances.
What the heck does that mean?
It means quite simply, if you’re contagious and a risk to yourself and/or others… don’t go to work!!
But it also means having contingency plans in place; who can you call to replace you if you do have to stay home, have your work up to date so that if somebody does have to take over for a day or two they won’t be lost in your system, and plan each year to have some days off work either from sickness or lack of production.
Sounds simple right, but it takes discipline and a bit of planning. But trust me; your body and your coworkers will thank you!
I know it’s hard not to go into work; the drive of no paycheck at the end of the week keeps getting us out of bed, even if we don’t really want to, or maybe even shouldn’t. But we have to think of others here… and give ourselves a break.
If you are feeling under the weather you should ask your self some questions:
1. Am I contagious? Colds and flu are contagious, so assume yes. Got something else? Move on to question 2…
2. Is this something that I should be seeing a doctor about? Then sniffles are one thing, but a fever can indicate much more serious conditions like a virus or even pneumonia… and because we work in a group environment, potentially serious food poisoning can easily be misinterpreted as a stomach flu. Not sure? Get it checked out.
3. If I’m not contagious… but I can’t be 100% at work, will that affect the safety or comfort level of my cast and crew? If we are contagious, it’s a no brainer… don’t go in to work. We’re costumers for goodness sakes, we’re touching the cast all day… and they can’t take a sick day without huge repercussions! If we’re not contagious, but we are personally hampered by whatever we’re dealing with, it’s a common sense call. Is your ability level going to endanger yourself or someone else… no brainer, stay home.
If you feel yourself becoming under the weather when you’re at work, be respectful and responsible while you’re figuring it out. Practice safe contact… use tissues, wash your hands a lot especially after using a washroom, sneezing into your elbow, use antibacterial hand gel, greet your friends with a stylish elbow bump or knee knock, insist on safeguards at the craft service table… make these practices full time habits whether you feel sick or not and that you not pass on bugs to the other very tired and probably immune deficient people you are working with!
While working on the last show, 3 members of my crew, including myself, had a bout of food poisoning. Each of us had a different response. We all got sick on the day. Fortunately, I just got cramps and was able to work through them. One of my costumers went home sick but was back the next day and the third ended up spending a week in the hospital due to complications!
Food poisoning, Salmonella, a fight with E-coli!! Yep, this is something that is fairly common on set. I am SOOO not blaming the food providers such as Catering or Craft service. These departments normally work under very strict cleanliness guidelines. But there are often open containers on the food table and different people reach into to grab the food… and well, that’s just Union Station for bacteria! Just like everywhere else in the world, some people are cleaner than others!
Back to my story… 2 days after recovering from the food poisoning some new symptoms started and I realized I had a new problem. Fortunately, I had a late call and though very tired, I decided to go to the doctor in the morning. Good choice.
I am so thankful that I did… it was the accursed aforementioned shingles!! With the medication that I received, within the 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, I only had a week and a half of discomfort. Subsequently I’ve heard horror stories of pain and symptoms lasting for up to a year! I was also happy to hear that I was not contagious to my cast. I was working with a lot of children, so it was extremely important for me to know I was fine to continue working.
After I got the doctor’s okay, I call my Designer and the Production Manager to let them know what my condition was and what the doctor said about being not contagious. They both said that they were comfortable with me coming back to the set. Why make the call? We are professionals and it’s the right thing to do. Make the call, be upfront and honest… trust is a commodity.
Side note: If you get Shingles, I found that wearing really tight compression clothing as a base layer closest to the skin helped a lot!!! Lose clothing sucks! Every time it brushes against you the pain is not fun! Also a serious pain reliever and wicked itch cream helped me get through it all!
By the end of week two on the show, here was the costumer health rundown; me (on set with shingles), truck person (hospitalized), replacement truck costumer (sent to emergency with an eye ailment), first costumer who went down with food poisoning but did not end up hospitalized… fit as a fiddle and back on set! We were still ahead!
Not all shows are this crazy! But we do work long hours and if the year is busy we can roll from one show to another with out any down time. We have very little time on our weekends to get the sleep we need to recover. Some feel that sickness is just the body’s way of asking for a break… or inflicting a penance!
Last week I was chatting with the Keys from Hair and Makeup… while we spent eight straight hours driving around in a follow vehicle… and heard that the Set Supervisor on their last show had Walking Pneumonia and she refused to go to the doctors. She just didn’t think that she could leave the set. Holy cow, guys! Don’t wait for Walking Pneumonia to get yourself checked out and taken care of… don’t just brush off your health and everyone else’s!
There is always someone to fill in for you. It may be busy and you may be replaced with someone who is not the most experienced person at the job… but part of being on a costume team means that we cover for each other and we do the best we can. Who ever replaces you will be fine, someone from the costume department or even another department will help them get through the day, and the show must and will go on with or without you! The best part is you will come back after some well deserved sleep, healthy and ready to get back to work.
Taking time to see the doctor, because you are not well, or even to just stay healthy is something we all need to do. If you don’t have enough down time to book an appointment, get someone to take over for an hour or 2 at work.
Get a check up each year. The film industry takes a lot out of us. It’s up to us to rest, replenish and take care. Stay healthy, stay happy and keep sharing the love of your work!