Wednesday, 21 December 2011

I'M ILL, I SWEAR: The problem with calling in sick

When it comes to being ill, I subscribe to the "keep calm and carry on" school of thought.

At least, I do once I've finished Googling my symptoms and following various flow diagrams to the inevitable conclusion of "YOU COULD HAVE BRAIN CANCER: SEEK URGENT MEDICAL ATTENTION", then crying for a bit before gently probing my mother for family history of headaches leading to sudden death.

But once that's all done and I'm reassured that it is, in all probability, just a cold, I don't really make a fuss.

The last time I took any time off work because of illness was - well, I actually can't remember. The worst affliction I've suffered in recent times has been a broken heart - more crippling than any bout of flu in my opinion - and the best medicine for that (allegedly, see chapter five in the book of Things That Mums Tell You) is to drag yourself out of bed, into work and "keep busy".

My last sick day was that long ago that when Monday morning rolled around this week and I found myself unable to concentrate on anything other than the pulsing cramps gripping my stomach, I wasn't quite sure of the etiquette.

Was I really ill enough to warrant a day off? Would it be better to go in and leave early, or better yet get sent home for looking awful, having shown willing?

Then there's the actual process of phoning in to let people know, which always carries the risk that - if your affliction isn't throat or nose related - you might not sound sick enough.

What's more, it's nearly Christmas. They might think I'm just angling for a day off after a heavy weekend.

As it was, my day in bed with the dreaded Winter Vom-Voms soon ran to two. No matter how many times my boss expressed her sincere hopes that I rest and get better (and sympathies, she'd had the same bug a few weeks earlier), I still felt an unassailable guilt about taking the time off. Ill, yes. But also in bed. Curled up comfortably in a duvet. Watching TV.

And that despite only managing to stomach half a slice of toast, a tin of Heinz tomato soup, a spoonful of rice and a Ryvita crispbread since Sunday evening, and forgoing all advice on the NHS website, here I am - feeling better, sure, but not 100% - and back in work today.

Thing is, I know I'm not alone. I'm probably not the first person to demand that if a colleague is sick, that they stay off work until the sniffing subsides. I mean, bloody hell. I don't want it.

So when it's us that's ill, why do we find it so hard to stay at home?


modelofamodernmajorgeneral said...

I'm in much the same position. I have a suspected hairline fracture to my right leg. The only way it will get better is complete rest, and painkillers for a bit. So here I am, on my sofa, surfing the web, pain-free whilst my Ship is working (at sea) until the 23rd. I'm feeling hugely guilty, but I know intellectually that if I went to sea, there's a better than even chance my leg would snap properly.

Hell, there's a chance I won't get to go to Somali next year as these things can take up to 4 months to heal fully.

I've resorted to rationing my painkillers until it hurts to re-affirm the fact that my leg is in 2 bits, and I am not a malingerer!

Oh, and commiserations on the norovirus, it's truly awful and I hope that you feel properly well quickly.

j said...

I was talking about this topic with my colleague this morning. We feel guilty calling in sick because we have a very strong work ethic. I have this notion that you do not miss work unless you are on your death bed. And often times I never feel ill enough to call in but I am still ill.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

modelofamajor - Urgh, that sounds painful. It's worse when it doesn't hurt but you know its got to be rested. Like with this winter vom voms, I know the NHS website says stay at home for 2 days after you get better as you're still contagious. But I actually couldn't justify it in my head. I'm feeling better today though, thanks.

j - Yeah that's the thing, often I'm ill, but I'll think "well, I can get up. I can move about. I can walk. I can function. Therefore, I can work.". How ill is too ill? Or do you just have to be catching?

Paper-Rock-Scissors said...

The worst thing about being off sick is the phone call you have to make, I always feel I have to put on a 'sick' voice even though I am genuinely sick it may not be a throat based affliction yet I don't feel I'm conveying my truth without the 'voice'.

nuttycow said...

Don't feel sorry for modelofamajor - he's just milking it.

Glad you're feeling better my love. Don't feel guilty - if you're sick, you're sick.

modelofamodernmajorgeneral said...

Nutty. No more helping you with your wrapping up. Bad cow.

Cat said...

I'm a lecturer, and being off sick causes huge amounts of inconvenience - someone else has to cover your classes, the students fall behind etc etc - and is not really encouraged. On the flip side to that, while it's not too hard to soldier on through a snuffly cold when you can keep your head down at a desk most of the day, it's virtually impossible to stand up and address a sea of people four or five times a day when you feel ghastly, plus here we're exposed to more germs than most.

I had a really disgusting cold at the beginning of November, which went into tonsillitis, which disappeared for about a week after a course of penicillin, and has now returned just in time for Christmas, white spots and all. Lovely. I can't help but think if I'd just taken a couple of days in bed at the start, everything would be so different now!

My mum sent us to school regardless - even though she was actually at home - and basically told us that unless we were actually dying, we soldiered on. I think that's stayed with me, plus the fact that sickness days are one of the benchmarks which were used here in the last batch of redundancies. The whole thing's nonsense, really, and sometimes I think I'm my own worst enemy.

Hope you're feeling better soon, and you're fully recovered for Christmas gluttony.

London-Lass said...

Jo - glad you've recovered from the winter vomiting thingie :)

I'm an oddity in that I text my bosses when I am ill/injured (managed to do my ankle in twice this year). I did used to call in but a former work colleague just used to text, the bosses were fine with that and so I now do it. Saves all the `sick voice' nonsense and sweating palms/flipping over stomach palaver whilst making the dreaded call into work.

Ellie said...

I read this from on my sofa and under my duvet after spending a guilt full day of not working due to some virus. And I too thought the timing would be suspicious.

Anonymous said...

I'm the same, I think in my last job I'd had 1 day off sick in 4/5 years and I that would've been a (very) bad Monday morning hangover, which I wouldn't have been able to battle through at work.

Do I want a medal...yes, yes I do.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Paper Rock - YES. The voice. Stomach ache doesn't tend to give you the husky voice required. Dammit.

Nutty cow - Oh, I know I shouldn't feel guilty. We all do though, to some extent (and wholly irrationally) I think.

Cat - I think it's definitely worse for teachers. I mean, how can being sick be "encouraged" anyway? You're right in that half the time, one day off when you're not feeling AS bad can save you taking a week off later once everything has escalated. Luckily I'm feeling much better and should be on fine eating form for tomorrow. Hope you're the same.

London Lass - In fairness, everyone else on my team texts and e-mails in, we're only a small team, but I still felt like as it was my "first time", that I should call. Then I emailed. A MINEFIELD.

Ellie - Oh, love. Hope you feel better in time for Christmas Day. x

Cynical - It's in the post. (to both of us. YEAH WE'RE GOOD)

Brennig said...

I had the voms at the start of the month, so the 'He's only doing this to get a day off to go Christmas shopping' thought didn't occur to any of us. The unfortunate side effect of being ill (apart from vomming, obv) was that my immune system took such a hammering that I caught a cold. As a result of the cold I got sent home early the next day. Can't win, eh? Stay at home being sick. Go to work the next day. Get sent home.

But the work ethic gets in the way, as ever.


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