Don’t worry; none of my tips involve wearing a face mask! This post was inspired by Linda, a fellow music therapist who sent the following question in an email yesterday:
I was wondering if you could write one day about how you stay healthy when working with so many students. I began working with over a hundred kids this school year and have already been on antibiotics twice for upper respiratory infections and had the stomach flu. I clean my instruments after each use with antibiotic wipes and wash my hands constantly. Aside from wearing rubber gloves and a face mask, I’m not sure what to do. Do you have any suggestions?
Oh boy, Linda. I have been there and done that! In fact, I spent my internship — the first time I’d been exposed to many children on a daily basis — sick as a dog. We’re talking flu, sinus infections, pink eye, bronchitis…you name it, I had it at one point during those nine months.
And since I came right out of my internship into a job at a school working with over 120 children every week, I knew I needed to come up with better methods of self-defense against all those germs. There’s no single guaranteed method for avoiding sickness when you work in such an environment, but here are a few I’ve come to swear by:
- Get a flu shot. This may seem like a “duh!” statement, but I wouldn’t be surprised if half the people reading this do not make a habit of getting a yearly flu shot. My former workplace provided flu shots to all of its employees, so I was always first in line to get one. This year I’m on my own, but planning to get my shot before the week is over. It can be unpleasant, but avoiding 4 days (or more) of pure misery is worth having a sore arm for a day.
- Emergen-C. I keep multiple boxes of this Vitamin C-packed drink mix stashed in my kitchen. Anytime I feel a cold coming on, I stir a packet into a glass of water and repeat throughout the next couple of days. It doesn’t taste amazing, but it is effective!
- Stock up on antibacterial gel. There are multiple pump bottles of this stuff throughout my studio — on my desk, next to my piano, in my instrument closet — because I dive for it anytime I see a student touch his or her nose or mouth. I also try to make a habit of having students rub their hands down before touching the piano or any other instrument.
- Cold-Eeze. This falls into the same category of Emergen-C as a necessity, especially during cold and flu season. This is a homeopathic cold remedy containing zinc, and although it leaves a funny aftertaste, it seems to do its job.
- Remind parents not to bring their children for music therapy sessions or lessons when they are sick, no matter how minor the illness. I send out emails reminding parents that even coughs and runny noses qualify as reasons to keep students at home, because they can lead to more severe illnesses that spread like wildfire. You may not have this luxury in a school setting; if a child is showing symptoms, be sure to take extra precautions.
- If you do fall prey to germs and end up sick, stay home. Music therapists are notorious for “working through” illnesses rather than canceling or rescheduling sessions. I am guilty of facilitating music therapy sessions with full-blown laryngitis in the past, but I’ve learned never to do that again. My voice is my livelihood, and it’s just not worth the risk!
Other no-brainers like eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, and not touching your mouth and nose before, during or after contact with children should be heeded as well. Now it’s your turn: help Linda and the rest of us out by providing your tips for staying healthy around kids.