Friday, August 27, 2010

Unpleasant Lessons: Learning to be Sick

I spent five weeks seriously ill this summer before having my gallbladder out on August 6th. In my attempt to contribute to the library's preparation for fall (as well as our pending WMS rollout), and given my disgust with daytime tv, I only missed one full week of work, despite the doc telling me to stay home for two. My attitude was, "I can move. It's not like I do a lot of heavy lifting at work. And it's not as though there's not a ton to do." Turns out, you should listen to your doctor. (No, really. He's the one with the knife, after all.)

I am very lucky. While I was seriously down and out, my colleagues and friends went grocery shopping for me, offered to walk my rambunctious basset hound, and checked in on me regularly via phone, email, and visits with chicken soup. With continued complications, whereas I expected frustration and annoyance, all I've received is support and the expectation that I go home when I need to so I can rest and heal.

This experience has been incredibly frustrating - being sick was not on my calendar. I don't really have time for it, and I have a ton of other things to do. However, when I run myself down, it takes me longer to do those things. Lesson learned, mostly. Second, this has really made me appreciate my coworkers, and the comfort that a supportive work environment can give. I do not like to miss work - it makes me cranky, frustrated, and fearful that I will be seen as "not a team player" or as lazy. I figure this is a result both of a hardcore blue collar home life ("Are you bleeding from the eyeballs? No? Then you're well enough to go to school/work") and of experiences I've had at other jobs where when someone took a long vacation, if the place ran decently well while they were gone, they came back to a pink slip. I'm lucky to not work in that sort of environment any more, but it still echoes in my head.

I firmly believe in the need for renewal/sick time for my staff, colleagues, bosses. Life takes a toll. people get sick. People need a refresher. Life can be a sledgehammer sometimes, and it's not always within our control. I would never hold being sick against someone - not only is it out of their control, it's a miserable place to be in any case, and I would want them to concentrate on themselves and getting back to healthy. But I have a hard time applying that same acceptance to my own circumstances. With the help of friends and colleagues (nag, nag nag, guys - but I love you!), I'm working on it and trying to find a better balance.

My race to get back to regular life has created some problems with my recuperation, and now I'm re-frustrated that I've not healed as well as hoped, and will have some more downtime. As of today, I am working hard to: go home when I need to, instead of waiting until the collapse/dizzy point; not be afraid to ask my boss & colleagues for some slack if my health demands it; accept that sometimes I can't just gut through it and be fine; accept that sometimes downtime is necessary time. It helps immensely that I work with compassionate and kind people (who have been ordering me to do this since Day 1).

I am working on learning to be sick gracefully, as opposed to hobbling around like Quasimodo trying to get things done before falling apart. If the people I work with are not going to hold being sick against me or be resentful about it, then I should not be holding it against myself. Right?

And so before I continue cracking at my department's annual report, I am going to take a nap, because I feel terrible and it will still be there when I wake up.


Rachel said...

"I figure this is a result both of a hardcore blue collar home life ("Are you bleeding from the eyeballs? No? Then you're well enough to go to school/work")" - I am the same way about calling in sick when I really need to. I hesitate, I take my own temperature to see if it's above an arbitrary threshold I deem appropriate, I have to talk myself into it. More than once, I've gone in anyway, only to be sent home by managers with more sense. Until your post, however, I had never thought to attribute this characteristic to my own similar background, and the kind of punishment/stress/suffering that can occur when people don't have sick leave and can be readily fired for being out sick, and the attitudes about taking sick leave that might perpetuate. *mulls it over*

Conrad R. said...

First of all, take care of yourself, and I hope you feel better soon. Now to address the other topics you bring up, yes insecurity about work while sick is a huge issue, and as a manager, you also need to model good sick leave taking behavior. Staff take their cues much more from how they see the boss acting than what it says in the personnel manual.
Because I am Canadian, I also attribute some of the 'work unless your are dying' attitudes to the way health care is handled in the USA. This kind of learned behavior can come from families who had no health insurance and forcing yourself was partly due to the fact that there was no other option.
I am mostly of the opinion that the sick leave benefit is there to be used and the fact that I have it is an indication that my workplace expects me to be in top shape while working. I have been sent home by my boss as well, but I have also left every job with huge sick leave benefits unused.

Anonymous said...


Awesome post, just want to say thanks for the share