(broad)ject self #2: Self-Care When...You're Sick

It’s that time of year. The temperature is falling, kids are back in school, we’re all getting busy and…the sniffles are starting. Those sniffles will soon morph into hacking, coughing, and, if you’re lucky, the occasional bout of gastroenteritis. There are two kinds of people in this world, in my view. Those people who will happily take a sick day and those who would rather selfishly spread their germs to every human they encounter and make everyone around their feel their pain because they don’t believe the world will continue to spin without them sitting at their desk. I think you can guess which one of people I am.

It wasn’t always thus. I come from a long line of Calvinist martyrs (the worst kind, because PREDESTINATION), who don’t believe in the miracle that is over the counter pharmaceuticals. And it didn’t matter, because I never got sick anyways. But then about five years ago, after a trip to visit my sister and nephew, I woke up one morning feeling awful. A normal person would have called in sick. BUT NO. I looked out the window at the howling wind and pouring rain and headed into work anyways. As the bus neared my stop, I knew that I had made an awful mistake because it was all coming back to me now. I had strep. I went into my office only to look up the nearest walk-in-clinic, dragged myself there, got a strep diagnosis and a prescription, and then dragged my sorry ass home. I was clearly sick. I felt awful. I had a doctor’s diagnosis of strep throat. My boss was a lovely and understanding woman. And yet I still felt guilty about missing work.

I was not a brain surgeon. I was not arguing a case before the Supreme Court. No lives depended on whether or not I made it into work that day. I had a capable boss and capable co-workers who even if they may not have been able to do my job to a tee, they could at least manage to triage emails for a few days until I came back. But I was so convinced of my indispensability that I worried the whole time I was home in bed, unable to swallow (literally).

I’m not like that now. I have been in my job since February and I have been home sick twice, once with a sinus headache and once with what turned out to be bronchitis. I woke up, realized I felt like crap, sent an email to my boss, then took some cold medicine and went back to bed. In both cases I ended up working from home later in the day, but I was under no obligation to do so and only did because the extra sleep and pharmaceuticals allowed me to get some work done. If I had gone to work, my three hours plus commute alone (including 8kms of walking) would have done me in.

In Ontario, if you work for a company that regularly employs more than 50 employees, you’re entitled to 10 days of personal emergency leave, which is “unpaid job-protected leave each calendar year due to illness, injury and certain other emergencies and urgent matters”. Depending on your employer, you, like me, may also be entitled to a certain number of paid sick days as well. So really, assuming you’re a normal salaried office employee, there is absolutely no excuse.

In my opinion, sick days are a situation when my “by any means necessary” protocol kicks in. While I normally don’t believe that self-care should equate to self-indulgence, when you’re under the weather the heart wants what the heart wants. You should feel free to indulge yourself in any way that would make you feel better, even a little bit, and your loved ones should submit themselves to your irrational and feverish will. In my case, that has more than once involved lying on the bathroom floor, texting David (still in bed) a shopping list at 8am on a Sunday morning because I was barfing my guts out and needed Jello, saltines, and Gatorade STAT.

What if you truly can’t take a sick day? Maybe you have an important presentation, a new employee starting, or the CEO from Switzerland is in for one day and one day only. I would remind you here then that you have almost certainly been on the receiving end of having a meeting cancelled or day otherwise reorganized because a key member was home sick. And maybe you rolled your eyes in the moment, but I guarantee that unless the person involved did this in a pathological manner, you almost certainly didn’t hold it against them (because you’re a kind person who believes people should take care of themselves). But if you must go to work or be fired? Take whatever meds you need, drink as much tea and water as your bladder can manage, wash your hands every time you’re anywhere near a sink, and don’t let anyone come near you (and frankly, they probably won’t want to).

This week, I'd like to encourage you to start keeping an eye on flyers and in-store sales so you can build up your medicine cabinet for the coming winter. Make sure you have the necessary medication and supplies, especially tissues and hand sanitizer, to get you through anything the germ fairies can throw at you. If you have prescription medication that you use only in certain circumstances, make sure you have that prescription filled or at least on file at the pharmacy for easy pickup. Consider the things that make you and your loved ones feel better when you/they are sick and stash them away in case of emergency.

And remember, every time you come to work clearly sick, you’re modelling to your employees, co-workers, and family that self-care isn’t a priority in your life. Is that the impression you’re trying to give?

Self-caringly yours,