Ex-sick-utive Assistant

Dude, you look like I feel…

On Sunday night, I caught a plane back to Berlin and touched down in the late afternoon. I pottered home, dumped my bag, had a cup of tea, and mooched off to the supermarket to grab a few bits and pieces for an improv dinner. I returned to the flat, put away the groceries, and lazed around for a little while. Slowly, I began to realise that something wasn’t quite right. And then, more suddenly, I was catapulted by a sudden urge into the bathroom where I would then spend the next eight hours puking like a cheerleader on prom night (I believe that is the expression?). Every twenty minutes. It was horrifying. I was clutching my pillow as if it were the pope and I was seeking absolution for my sins.

At 6am, it finally stopped. At 7am, my alarm began to spout cheerful fragments of German news into my ears and it dawned on me that I had to go to work; this week was the week. The week of the network-wide managers’ meeting. Where people had been flown from all around the globe to sit in vitally important meetings, which would require the constant background support and contribution of one Assistant to the Executive Team, who was currently in bed, moaning softly into her mattress. For an hour, I lay in bed sensing my various muscles and organs to see if there was any way they might be coaxed into calming down and taking me to work. No, they replied. We are in shivery agony and require you to remain motionless. Also, no, you may not drink any water so don’t even think about it.

After another hour, I eventually bit the bullet (couldn’t keep it down though) and called in sick for work for the FIRST TIME IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. Let me make this clear: throughout school and my professional career, I have never once taken a day off for sickness. Not because I am a masochistic trooper, but simply because generally my immune system is like a SWAT team and those boys do goddam good. Calling in sick for the first time ever – breaking my lifetime 100% attendance record – was heartbreaking. But as it turned out, people barely batted an eyelid (at first…) and my workmate told me in soothing parental tones to just go and get a doctor’s note sorted.

 Ah. A doctor’s note. This would be another lifetime first. I have never been to a doctor in Germany before; I’m terrified that the system is different over here and legally requires a smear test for every single appointment, even for men, or something. Creeping about the flat like the whole place was filled with landmines, I verrrrryyyy slowwwwllly managed to Google a doctor my friend had recommended and put on the official Sick Person Uniform: jogging trousers, an old jumper and a skewiff ponytail. I then shuffled, verrrrryyyyyyy slllooowwwwwllllyyyyyyyy, to the doctor’s surgery. Naturally, there was a grandma in front of me at the counter, and she was having a lovely long discussion with the receptionist about everything she’s ever thought and felt in her life up until this moment. I swivelled my eyes around until I had identified the bathrooms and decided on the most efficient way to turn the door handle if the necessity should arise. Finally she left and it was my turn, and the receptionist smiled at me sympathetically and asked for my health insurance card. Which was in my ski purse. Which was in my hand luggage. In my flat. I had to sit on the steps of the building for a while before making my way back because everything around me had started to turn into interesting shapes and colours, which made it hard to figure out the way home.

The second time I arrived at the doctor’s counter, I couldn’t believe my eyes: the same grandma was there at the counter again, once again having a conversation that seemed to be looping on into infinity. I was about to take her by the shoulders and ask her why she was doing this to me, but then she pattered away and my card was scanned and everything was fine and I could go and sit down. I waited for two hours, half-asleep and leaning diagonally in the chair, looking like a homeless person made out of grey playdoh, feeling like I was about to be consumed by the fourth dimension. When the sweet, kind doctor came out and ushered me into her room and opened with, “So, you are ill…” I nearly burst into delirious tears. “Yes, I am certainly going to write you as sick…I think really we’re looking at at least a week to get better here, Frau Ampelfrau,” she said. To quote the internet: LOL.

On Tuesday, I slithered out of bed and put on my comfiest smart clothes for the Manager’s Meeting. I will take it easy, I said to myself; I can make sure everything is fine for the meeting without chundering everywhere, I can I can I can. About two hours later, I had to go and get twelve big bottles of still and sparkling water for the meeting and carry them all the way back to the office. Task #1 for the Manager’s Meeting: take care of water and snacks/pastries provisions throughout the week. Lifting a bag of Erdnussflips felt like hefting nine house bricks up some stairs. It did not go well.

On the second day, some other managers arrived and settled down in our boss’s flat for the night. On the third day, they arrived in the office, their eyes were wide and bloodshot as if they had been through a zombie horror adventure during the night. This wasn’t far from the truth: it turned out that the flat hadn’t been cleaned at all since before New Year’s and had been gradually decomposing ever since. Task #2 for the Manager’s Meeting: find and engage an emergency cleaner before sleepytime that day. Shockingly, emergency cleaners tend only to be available for post-homicide cleanups rather than ‘a fairly grody flat’, so hours of calling all the cleaners in town proved fruitless. Just as I was about to close a deal with one miraculously available cleaner’s, my boss poked his head through the door: “Cancel the cleaners, we need to put these guys in a hotel instead.” Cue the remaining hours of the day spent trying to find a cheap and affordable last-minute hotel room near the office. 

On the final day, midway through a morning that should have had this music as its soundtrack, my boss popped his head around the doorframe again: “Get the cleaners back on board, there’s a partner coming to stay in the flat and they’re arriving this afternoon.” Luckily the first guys were still available. Unluckily, they got stuck in traffic so were going to be late. Then, I remembered Task #3: organise a scavenger hunt for all the managers as the Team Building Exercise for the last day. Sadly, it seemed that I had vommed out all of my creative zeal on Sunday night, as I had already struggled desperately to think of ideas for the hunt, straining through the dense cotton wool that was packed into my brain cavity: if there had been a thought balloon hovering over my head, it would have just had a pigeon walking around in it occasionally stopping to stare at something in the distance. I sketched out a few ideas (along the lines of ‘Brandenburg gate – yes? Take photos. TV Tower? Printouts.’) and then thankfully it was time to go out again and get supplies for the meeting, as one of them was so desperate for a croissant she was clutching my wrists and begging.

When I got back, it was time to go and let the cleaners into the flat. I went over and got a call from them letting me know that they had finally arrived, an hour and a half late. At the billing address. The office. Not the cleaning address. Where I was standing, ready to let them in. I bellowed the right address down the phone at them and then set to work washing all the filthy bedclothes so that they would at least be clean – wet, but clean – on the partner’s arrival. Finally I had a phone call: ‘Hi, we’re here at number 2, where are you??’ ‘I SAID NUMBER 10, YOU SCRVBCKARGHLFFSCHMfffff…’ By the time they arrived, they only had 45 minutes to clean the flat before the partner arrived and I was starting to lose my grip on the fragments of sanity I had left. I marched off to get an apple for lunch, which of course was mouldy and brown all the way through. I marched back, kicked the cleaners out of the flat, checked the post, then ran back to hand the key to the partner before running straight back out again to hand a bunch of lollipops to a hostel receptionist as one of the clues for the scavenger hunt. “I’m sorry, you are giving me some lollies?” “No, I need you to please give one to each team that arrives saying that they’ve solved this clue for the scavenger hunt.” “So then I give them the lollies?” “No, just one for each team.” “What are the teams for?” “The scavenger hunt. We talked about it over the phone about an hour ago?” “Which phone?” *face explodes* 

Meanwhile my doctor’s letter for a week off was fluttering around in my head with angel wings, making a soft giggling noise. Eventually everything was in place and the teams headed out into Berlin to bond and learn leadership and teamwork skills. We wrapped up the week in a traditional Berliner restaurant where I tried hard to avoid making eye contact with all the plates of schnitzel that were making my stomach wibble. Phew. The week was over.

On Sunday, I woke up with a sniffly nose feeling like someone had swabbed my throat with a bottle brush made of knives. At least I know where my card is this time…

Rose T