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Sick Time/attendance Policies


Elfie
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Someone else's post, combined with the situation already going on at my school, inspired me to write this.

I am a full-time college student. I am not currently working. I had been seeking employment, but now with the school year starting I am just barely keeping my head above water with POTs, life, and classes. Right now I am keeping my head above water financially (barely) because of some savings and the support of some of my family members. School has been is session for about two weeks now and there is already what seems to me to be unusual numbers of colds and even suspected H1N1 zipping around through the school. I haven't caught anything viral yet but already have had a sinus infection because my body is run down. The day I went into the doctor I could not get my heart rate lower than 160 b.p.m. I barely had a blood pressure to take.

Our teachers are allowed to set their own attendance policy. Most of my teachers have. I can miss as few as three classes and many teachers make no exceptions/no way to make them up. I understand the importance of attending classes, but I really think that is going overboard. All that is doing is screwing over people like me (that sometimes cannot safely come to class) and encouraging other people to come to class sick. I am sure many of you deal with this same dilemma in your jobs.

So, I guess my question is, what do you do? How do you deal with POTs issues and attendance? Do you go to work or school when you are contagious just because you need to save sick days? How do you deal with other classmates that come to school sick? Have you ever asked a classmate not to sit by you are asked them to please not to come to class because of your own immune issues? Do you wear a mask in public? How do you deal with these issues? Ditto for work.

I would really appreciate the advice, because I get sick so easily since POTs and become practically unable to function.

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I can completely understand where you're coming from and I really feel for you. I struggled through a Masters with POTS before I started working and ended up vomiting in a lecture room, passing out in a corridor and taking loads and loads of time off. The Masters was practical so there's no way I could have worked at home or caught up in my spare time; you had to BE there at the right place at the right time. When I started my job it was even worse - I was working on a live television show so there were no get-out-clauses and it was the kind of work you couldn't put off or leave for another time. I don't know how I got through either of these things, but what really helped was:

- Finding someone in authority who can understand your illness. Have them get to know you and what makes you worse/better.

- Show that you work REALLY hard and you're not somebody who uses illness as an excuse to underachieve or be lazy. So go above and beyond the call of duty sometimes and they'll realize you're serious about what you're doing.

If you do this, like I did, there is a chance you'll be able to reach an understanding with that person that you mentally WANT to achieve and you want to continue and that it's just the physical stuff holding you back.

Saying that though, I've now been forced to stop work. I saw some friends last night and they said they were really worried about me while I was working because I looked "awful."

Janey

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Certainly in the UK, these days universities and employers have to do their best to make things work when people have illness related limitations. Discrimination laws mean that the onus is on them to accommodate everyone where possible or have a robust specific reason why they cannot do so.

How about getting your college to take some of the initiative rather than feel you are having to make excuses. Tell them you want to complete your course and have the academic ability to do so. But you might have to unavoidably take some time out now and then. You could probably get the work done at another time, just not necessarily to fit in with their standard schedule. What can they do to help you? Offer some suggestions and see what they say.

When I was at university, I went in no matter what. But it is nothing to be proud of because I achieved so little in most of the lectures. I made up the study time during vacations and in the period between lectures finishing and exams starting. My view is this sort of strategy is possible for some of us, but is a last resort. I did it because I had no diagnosis at that time and, to an extent, it was what I was used to through school.

Janey - I know what you mean about people saying after the event that you looked ill. I have had so many people do that to me in recent years now I am "better" and weigh a sensible amount having resolved most of the GI issues. It makes me smile when people say it to me who only knew me for a couple of years and say I looked terrible during that time. I looked like that for about 15 years!

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I hope that a school administrator would be able to be appraised of your medical condition and work something out with the teachers officially. If you have not done so yet, I'd say to inform them up front, as opposed to waiting until you miss a day, so it doesn't play as an "excuse" after the fact but is a known circumstance and just something to deal with. At a minimum, people usually respond more positively when given warning (as opposed to feeling ambushed by a tough situation and getting unduly defensive or uptight).

I'm not sure if there is much you can do about the general issue of other people being implicitly encouraged to attend while ill... but at least you can hopefully cover yourself for extra absences. It wouldn't be the worst thing to "get a little OCD" about carrying some Purelle or whatever. I always wonder just how effective the masks are for infectious sorts of things. I would ask a doctor specifically about that. If they said it offered some real protection out in public then I'd give it serious thought... perhaps it could become a fashion trend :)

Overall, there is the obvious of minimizing loads on your life in general, so you give yourself a buffer or margin for some down/recovery time as best you can (and minimal extra stressors... I hope things are getting better on that front for you). For example, even if you know you can handle 15 units... if at all possible, drop to a minimal classload until you get into a rhythm and have some time to begin recovering. If there are administrative requirements on "progress" there is a chance that exception can be made. I don't know about scholarship eligibility requirements (I believe you mentioned this prior), but it is at least worth asking if exception can be made there... sometimes even hard rules can be bent if you bring up the issue with a counselor or administrator and get lucky. Perhaps there could be a "fluff" class that could substitute for official requirement and buy you some slack as you get used to managing all this. Better to slow progress a bit and make it through than to hit a roadblock. You will most likely begin to recover or fine tune treatment and lifestyle over the coming months and surprise yourself eventually. I think your diagnosis was pretty recent, right? You can frame any "request for accommodation" in that light too, point out that early recovery accommodation is key to making some progress despite the chronic nature of the condition.

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I always wonder just how effective the masks are for infectious sorts of things. I would ask a doctor specifically about that. If they said it offered some real protection out in public then I'd give it serious thought... perhaps it could become a fashion trend :)

My theory is that if you wear a mask, you freak people out because they think you're contagious with something. Then, everyone stays away from you, and you stay healthy. :blink:

I've never worn one, however.

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Quite true! In the old days a nose ring and a mohawk would do the trick too... not so now-a-days :)

Oh, also if you're the type of POTS person that gets an adrenal surge from being upright it might pay to get places really early and let your body physically recover a bit before a class... not to mention recover from the effort of getting there. I guess you'd be in the business of "scheduling" the stressful events as best you can... facing known extra stresses head-on so you can maximize the windows where you get to face the normal stresses of school. Not fair... but that's the situation.

I knew a fellow that had finals rescheduled due to personal events... there is a remote chance that some scheduling accommodation could help when that comes up eventually... either spreading out, or doing back to back... or better yet having a main date and a backup date established up front. If you're like me, some days are just "off" days and it is stressful just worrying about the possibility of ill-timed "off" days. It would be ideal if a prof could understand and accommodate that... perhaps wishful thinking... but it can be worth bringing up those issues up front as you see fit, as people can surprise you some times.

And "philosophically" give yourself license to be self-concerned... bordering on "selfish". This is tough and always a challenge to find balance doing, but it can be important. Depending on personality this can feel unnatural and I don't know the trick to it, but find a way to be firm and assertive as best you can (if you're not already).

I'm just throwing ideas out there... obviously you know what fits you, your personality and your situation best. Just brainstorming here.

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I've been in a school setting for a long time. I struggled through a Bachelors undiagnosed, and did my Masters (mostly) online. Now I'm onto my PhD. The PhD requires me to be in the lab for long periods of time, but my boss knows about my problems and is helping me deal with them.

I think the best recommendation I can make is full disclosure. It's the hardest thing you'll have to do, because you probably don't want to or (at least in my case) admit I was that sick. I came clean to my boss when I started working in his lab. Before that, I had spoken with the disability rep on campus. Exceptions can ALWAYS be made to rigid rules. I miss one day of work a week to get a 4-5 hour saline IV. My boss is okay with this because he knows about it. He was concerned at first because I didn't want to tell him and kept telling me to work harder and not miss so much lab time - now that he knows he is very understanding and doesn't push me to be in the lab when I can't be.

I make it a point to keep my feet up and don't stand for too long. For presentations I walk back and forth, which, though mildly distracting, keeps me upright. For me, pushing myself makes the disease worse, so I have to be careful not to live beyond my limits (I can occasionally push them this way, instead of being dead at the end of the work day.) I'm supposed to work 60-80 hours a week. I try to get in 30. And because people KNEW about my disability, it's okay.

As for H1N1 and colds/ flus - I'm not sure what to do about that. I miss work when I'm sick - I have to. If I try to push through it I guarantee pneumonia. Easier to take 2-3 days then 2 weeks. If someone at work is sick, I avoid them. I wash my hands / wear my gloves (it is a lab after all) and will not hesitate to tell someone to "go home" or "sit over there" because they are sick. I grant everyone the same courtesy, isolating myself when I think I might be contagious.

Good luck with your classes.

Sara

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I can relate to both sides, as I'm a professor and someone with chronic health issues. In fact, I had to cancel my Thursday afternoon class because I was coming down with something. I hate doing that so early in the term. We've been asked by the administration to be especially understanding about student absence now, to contain the spread of H1N1. And I know I certainly don't want to catch or spread that.

Ironically, most of the guidelines we get about absence, illness, and accommodating disability are student-oriented. It's tricky when it's the prof who is sick, as no prof, no class! And we are supposed to provide a certain number of contact hours. I have to decide before the semester starts that I'm healthy enough to commit to teaching the term and coming most days at the appointed time--which is really hard to do with ans issues. Unlike some other jobs, if I'm having too rough a time to commit to teaching, then I have to take the whole term off, as one can't really start several weeks in, or disappear for several weeks. And that's a lot of sick days to burn, if I want to keep an income and health insurance. Classes get cancelled when profs have emergencies, but the university isn't really equipped for longer stretches, and we often teach areas that are so specialized, it's essentially impossible to get a sub. Often it means I am teaching when I don't feel good at all. I mostly teach from a seated position, but get up to switch overheads and the like. And I tell students a little about my odd positions and squirming, so that they understand. This is my first time back in the classroom after a sabbatical, and it has been a little rough. I had to teach the first day of my period when my ans stuff was raging, and I was convinced I was going to keel over. That was not pretty and I don't think it was a great class as I barely had enough blood flow to not faint, let alone communicate anything worth learning. I just had to remind myself that that was probably the worst it would get.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I really prefer face-to-face instruction, rather than online. I learn and teach better that way. But I know that if I transfer more things online, I allow everyone, myself included, more flexibility. Myself, I'm having to rethink attendance policies. But not sure how to make those apply to me too!

So I don't have a magic answer. But it is something I"m thinking about.

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I really appreciate all of the responses. From the gist of it, it sounds like you are all in agreement that I need to disclose to my instructors about my condition and try to get them to work with me. I think it is a good idea to give them a heads up rather than having them blindsided later in the semester. You all have given me the nudge to do this, which is something I have been putting off.

I wasn't sure that I would qualify for disability services but thought I should go talk to my college's center because of the new addendum to the ADA in January of 2008 broadening the scope of who qualifies for those services. No one from the office would talk to me over the phone, but they set me up an appointment and told me to bring in paperwork verifying and explaining my diagnosis. I finally went in for my appointment last week and the director of the program was verified that I was eligible for services. However, he was very upset when he found out that I had not come in with a list of accommodations I would like fulfilled. I had one thing in mind and he said that that would not be considered a reasonable accommodation. So I asked him what type of things would be considered reasonable accommodations. He told me that I could get permission to tape record lectures (which doesn't work well in most of our classrooms) and that I could get extended time for testing (from 50 min to slightly longer).

The director told me it was my right to chose to disclose or not to disclose to my teachers. However, if I disclose, I am on my own if the discriminate against me. In my opinion, I should tell my instructors about my condition. I already have the paperwork from the disability office to back me up. I doubt any of my teachers are prejudiced against people with POTs! However, I really do not know what type of services to request from the disability office and how to go about talking to my teachers. Does anyone have any advice?

I think I may try the masks when the viruses really start going around. There are a couple of studies out that say they are effective.

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The director told me it was my right to chose to disclose or not to disclose to my teachers. However, if I disclose, I am on my own if the discriminate against me. In my opinion, I should tell my instructors about my condition. I already have the paperwork from the disability office to back me up. I doubt any of my teachers are prejudiced against people with POTs! However, I really do not know what type of services to request from the disability office and how to go about talking to my teachers. Does anyone have any advice?

If it were me and I could request certain services from the disability office they would be:

- accommodation with proximity to the college so it's not exhausting for you to travel back and forth

- the opportunity to "work at home," if you need to, on bad days

- the possibility of retaking exams if you have a POTS flare up on the day of examination

- Extensions of coursework that you'll be doing if you get behind due to illness

- being able to leave lectures with understanding from your teachers if you take ill

Janey

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I do think the more specific you can be about accommodations, the better help you'll get. Would it help to brainstorm with an occupational therapist? The idea of "reasonable" accommodation is a vague one. I know that if I were to say that I reserve the right not to teach class whenever I feel unwell, and that were more than a couple times a semester, and my class were not online, that would not be considered reasonable. But I have brainstormed/problemsolved so that sometimes I teach my class in a zero-gravity lawn chair. It's weird, but it has worked. I have found occupational therapists to be great about translating your needs into specific suggestions.

Sometimes I wish that people would understand how hard things can be in a general way, but at the end of the day, they really want to know if they can count on me. If some specific adjustments will allow them to count on me, then it's a go. I'm not trying to be a downer, but it's hard to give someone a general accommodation.

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Work ahead! Underschedule and get out in front of the curve so if (when) setbacks come they don't derail progress and can be accommodated. This might even be something a prof can assist with depending on how much of the course is public and up front, defined in a syllabus, etc.... vs. how much is not (but even if not, one can often work ahead unless the course is very scattered & undefined).

Something that you might not consider truly necessary, like a tutor or other assistance, can be used to lighten stress even if you normally don't need help digesting information. Simple things like meal plans that one might not normally use can be boring but potentially helpful overall.

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I think I may try the masks when the viruses really start going around. There are a couple of studies out that say they are effective.

My mom is quite immuno-compromised and was encouraged by her doctor to wear one in crowded places, like an airplane. They can stop transmission of infection if someone coughs or sneezes (droplet transmission). The mask probably also reminds her not to touch her face throughout the day. If I as at college and everyone else were ill around me, I'd probably wear one too!

I'm of the mind that if your teachers are given warning ahead of time of your illness and potential absences, it will make them more sympathetic than making an excuse for being absent after-the-fact. Just my 2 cents!

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One of the disability accommodations provided by my university is medically excused absences. I tried to plan classes either online or in big lecture halls with no attendance for my own sake. However I still landed up two attendance classes (a 1 credit and a 3 credit.)I have either e-mailed or met the professor (of the 3 credit class) during office hours later. I?ve already missed each attendance class once due to illness (the university health clinic gave me a note for bed rest anyway) and plan to miss again tomorrow for a lumbar puncture? it?s only the first day of the third week of classes!

Last week I took advantage of the reduced course load accommodation (dinging my stubborn pride, admittedly.) It lets me remain in the dorms/ keep university scholarships/ and any other full-time student benefits while actually taking less than 12 credits. The ability to take a reduced course load is one of the things keeping me at university while I figure all these mystery health issues out.

If I?m not required to attend the class then I don?t plan to attend, ever. Going out that much puts me downhill fast (illness, episodes, just living.) From experience I find it more important to keep up with the work and readings on my own. Until I get these health issues under control I?m attempting to avoid any classes where I need to attend to learn (language/lab.) Unfortunately I have a lab milestone coming up next semester. Not sure how I'm going to handle that yet.

Last semester, before I was diagnosed and given accommodations beyond ADHD, I tried to attend all my classes. I ended up falling seriously ill for most of the semester (like every semester before it!) I will attend sick. However I usually get hit with sickness so hard, fast, and long professors would be keeping me out of their classrooms anyway. I just want to be able to stay at university? attendance is usually the first to go for me.

I even brought a pamphlet from the doctor?s office when disclosing to the disability office. Thankfully my mom and I got all of our ducks in a row with paperwork from doctors, accommodation request forms, ect. The doctor had to list accommodations I was requesting. Thankfully my doctor?s clinic had terrific advocate staff so I came in ready for a fight with them as my support. To my surprise they were very helpful and even suggested additional accommodations.

I am required by the university to meet and hand professors my accommodation list during the first week of classes? so they wouldn?t be a surprise either way. The paper lists the accommodations, not the disability (which is supposed to remain confidential at my discretion.) It?s up to me to still learn the material, do the work, and participate where and when I can. I don?t feel accommodations like medically excused attendance policies are unreasonable. Professors with attendance usually state the first week of class they don?t intend their attendance policies to be punishment. They want active learners and class participation. But if your health is to the point when you can?t attend you Really can?t attend they understand that, too. Your job as a student is not centered on attendance. The important thing is you are able to learn what it is they have to teach! Learning that is physical lab/oral/ect based would be a problem.

If anyone is interested I can PM the accommodations the university provided for a reference. I go to a large public instate undergrad university if it makes any difference. I sure was nervous about returning to school before my accommodations were approved. I wouldn?t be making it without them.

To stay alive and afloat at university is a whole ?nother issue. Kind of feels like I?m going into battle against my body. I keep a highly detailed agenda of everything from school related work to planning laundry and grocery shopping. First I write down all test and projects dates. Then I work backwards from the first exam or two of every class counting up and writing down which pages I need to read each day, notecard writing and from which pages/chapters, drafting assignments/completing assignments, and so on. I also make sure my schedule puts me in front of the professors and the work each day is light enough where if I?m too sick to lift a finger I can easily shift all the work to the next day without worry.

Oops, looks like I rambled much more than I intended. Sorry! I've yet to find key to not getting sick. Sure hope you find something that works for you!

Just try to hang in there!

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It is ironic that it's the large lecture classes, where the teacher is less likely to get to know you, that you are more likely to succeed without attending. Some even have their lectures available as podcasts online.

Myself, I hate teaching large classes. It feels like I'm a one-woman-show on TV, and I dislike being the lone voice. I do hold small discussion based classes where attendance does matter. So I admit my classes would be rough if one couldn't attend regularly. (And then as the teacher, I have to be there regardless). I would be sympathetic if someone came to me, but I would probably suggest they take a different type of class.

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This thread seems a little strange to me as the attendance policy for most of my classes as an undergraduate was "the class is so big no one will miss you if you're not here for the entire semester, but it's your job to pass the exams at mid-term and finals". In short, no one took attendance or anything like that. Now that I'm in graduate school and have some smaller classes, they do take attendance, but it's still rather informal. I guess they have my money either way and it's up to me if I use the service they are providing.

Now, in the workplace I can see it mattering more because then my employer needs to get something (work) out of me instead of the other way around.

The director told me it was my right to chose to disclose or not to disclose to my teachers. However, if I disclose, I am on my own if the discriminate against me. In my opinion, I should tell my instructors about my condition. I already have the paperwork from the disability office to back me up. I doubt any of my teachers are prejudiced against people with POTs! However, I really do not know what type of services to request from the disability office and how to go about talking to my teachers. Does anyone have any advice?

Here's what I did with my professors during the past three semesters of grad school. I made an appointment to meet with each during office hours or immediately after class (or conversed via e-mail in the case of one) and explained that my wife had a chronic health condition that goes through irregular periods of worse and less worse symptoms. I explained that, in some of those cases, it would be necessary for me to miss class on very short or no notice if she was having a particularly bad day and needed me at home for health and safety reasons because of the illness. I assured each of them that I would try to keep such absences to a bare minimum and that I would be very proactive about letting them know if I felt like I was slipping academically.

I asked each of them if they would be able to meet me half way by allowing me to submit assignments electronically if I was not able to be at a class when an assignment was due (provided I e-mailed it on the same date) or to take make-up exams should I need to miss an exam. In return, I offered to provide documentation should they need it for their records to justify to the university why they were letting me take make-up exams.

So far, it's worked well too be up-front with them and clear about my limitations. Also, in all such cases, I have not had to go into detail about the exact nature of my wife's illness or symptoms. Hopefully a similar approach will work for you and you'll have a good semester at school.

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Thank you all for your replies. I guess I am feeling kind of swamped. I am taking 16 credit hours this semester, which is down from the 18 I normally take. I have a scholarship, and that scholarship requires I take 16 credit hours (which is 4 more than the college's requirement to be a full-time student). I tried to talk to the scholarship office about this, but they said there were other students that they would give the scholarship to if I was unable to take the required course load. I cannot pay for school without my scholarship and would have to transfer to another school, which would probably add another year of classes to my degree program. I have three semesters of classes left. Unfortunately, at my college the upper-division coursework is taught in combination with the graduate school program, so the classes are small. No large lectures for me, those are only for the freshman. I guess I am frustrated with my teachers for not being more flexible with there attendance policy with my special circumstances because most of the classes I am taking are being taught like lecture classes with only very small disscussion or in class activities portions. I also know that in most those circumstances I could get notes over what the discussions were like from a classmate or have them run a tape recorder for me if I absolutely had to miss. I mean, I wouldn't be adding to the discussion, but I wouldn't miss anything either. I also could easily make up most of the small in-class writing assignments that I might miss. My classmates are willing to help me out in this way. All but one of my teachers put their lectures on powerpoints and could at least take the three minutes to e-mail me the powerpoint so I could actually listen to the lecture instead of trying to play note-taking catchup with brainfog, or if I have to miss class. However, none of these things are "reasonable accomodation" which means I am really struggling to keep my head above water.

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The thing with forums is that you want to keep the opening thread reasonably brief so people will read it, but invariably end up missing parts of the story which people then pick up on. I've been there too!

It sounds to me like you are stuck with your situation if you want to keep the scholarship. I might get shot down for this, but if all possible, I would put up with poor health for the year to get the degree finished. It might not be pleasant, but if it's manageable you might just have to accept it. I do sympathise that your college isn't being more accommodating, but it seems you have already suggested reasonable compromises to no avail and if you escalate further, you risk losing the scholarship.

Maybe try to streamline other aspects of you life so you have maximum energy to devote to finishing the course. You must be some way into the course already - well done for getting so far and try to hang in there, the end is in sight.

Best wishes

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