There’s a bug going around town.  The wife is a school teacher and has been fighting a bad cough and low-grade fever for the past week.  I’ve opted to sleep on the couch, to try to hold it off.  That and a lot of Lysol seems to be doing the trick so far.  Some on the office staff had kids home from school this week due to similar symptoms.  While we haven’t had the dramatic weather fluctuations that a lot of the rest of the country has seen in the past few months – with extremes of warm and colder days – we have seen some unusually cooler days later into April and a very active allergy season.  The air in an old building and no ability to open a window (on those rare days when it’s cool enough to do so) doesn’t help in knowing if it’s a cold, a virus or allergies. 

By 3pm today, I found myself as literally the last person standing in the office.  The rest had succumbed to the bug.  Either that or found this a good excuse for an early start to the weekend.  With the high season winding down, I don’t begrudge anyone from taking a bit of “me” time, if they can manage.  Normal office hours don’t really exist in this business anymore and we’ve been allowing most staff a work from home day at least once a week anyway.  On top of that, Fridays are often deadly quiet up until about 4:30 and then some major drama pops up.  It’s like clockwork and often involves a requirement for some document to be signed by someone who is unreachable or some expensive operational decision that must be taken when senior management or decision makers are off the grid. 

I’ve never been shy about making command decisions and am used to the fire drill by now.  It’s slightly disappointing if nothing pops up, since the adrenaline and extra caffeine go for naught.
I’ve been in this current position for going on 20 years and I was trying to think back to when I last called in for a sick day.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve missed days to attend to family in the hospital for surgery and for funerals.  Honestly, though, I can’t recall a single time I missed coming to the office for an own illness.  Going back to the job prior to this one and the 10 years spent there, I also can’t recall ever calling in sick. 

I broke my hand a few years back.  The doctor called it a boxer’s break.  Let’s just chalk that injury up to a temporary lack of sensibility.   The break required surgery to insert a titanium pin.  I scheduled that surgery for an early Saturday morning and was back behind the desk that Monday morning.  On more than one occasion, I’ve gone straight to the office after a root canal. 

I always encourage our staff to stay home, if they don’t feel well, as I don’t want to risk catching what they may be carrying.   I’m sure that there were a few times when I came into the office carrying a bug and selfishly passed it on to a colleague.  While admittedly not the right thing to do, I just have never felt bad enough to spend a day in bed or on the couch.  Believe me, I do enough of that on quiet weekends.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that I’m blessed with a golden immune system.  I grew up at a time when Marcus Welby MD was a weekly TV fixture in our household and every week I would swear to my parents that I had contracted the featured disease.  Unless a limb was detached, or a stream of blood was flowing out of an orifice, my mother was having no part of taking me to the doctor.  After a few weeks of complaining about constant stomach pains, my mother finally broke down and took me to the doctor.  When the doctor prescribed that my mother give me an enema (I was probably 13 or 14 at the time), the thought of that alone quickly took care of the stomach pains. 

Even when I was truly sick, I was rarely taken to the doctor.  One time I contracted a case of hives that was so bad that it covered my eyelids – along with the 99% of the rest of my body.  Three days into my mother’s standard medical treatment of flat Coke and warm baths, the symptoms had worsened.  When she took me to the doctor, he told her I should have been taken straight to the hospital.  I spent two nights in the hospital. 

Then there was the time while mowing the family lawn that I got frustrated with the mower and kicked it.  Not a smart decision, as my foot slipped under the mower while the blade was running.  The pain was intense and there was most definitely blood.  My mother’s suggestion was to wrap a towel around it and wait for my father to get home.  Two hours later I was in the hospital again getting a dozen stitches.  Luckily, I was wearing a pair of heavy leather sneakers and not canvas.  Otherwise, they would still be calling me “nine toes.”

In high school, I took a nasty fall on a wet staircase – just to paint the picture more clearly for you, this was the late 70’s, when platform shoes were a thing for guys to wear – think John Travolta’s shoes in Saturday Night Fever.    It was a hard fall that was witnessed by a couple of teachers.  The teachers insisted I stay on my back until an ambulance arrived and I could be taken to the hospital.  They called my mother to come down to the school.  She was what was called a housewife in those days and home was 10 minutes away.  By the time she got to school I was strapped to a gurney and being rolled out of the building.  I remember it was raining and my mother was arguing with the ambulance driver that there was nothing wrong with me and that I should be unstrapped and sent back to class.  This discussion was taking place while a steady stream of rain was falling from the roof of the building on to my face.  Finally, she agreed to let me go to the hospital.  I had a concussion. 

Now don’t get me wrong.  My mother was not a horrible person.  She simply had a different sense of what constituted a medical emergency, and, in her defense, I tried to fake my way out of school many times as a kid – spinning in circles to make myself nauseous or holding an oral thermometer under a stream of hot water to try and fake a fever (she never did buy the +110oF fever).  She was also a tough lady who survived multiple cancers, a heart attack, diabetes and serious internal injuries incurred as the result of an auto accident at the age of 78 – only to succumb to the MRSA virus contracted while in the hospital for the injuries from the accident.  Maybe she knew hospitals weren’t safe places?

The hypochondria/TV show syndrome followed me into adulthood and continued into the era of House - the TV show that featured an exotic or rare medical condition that had to be diagnosed and cured in each episode.   I can vividly recall doing a self-check to determine if I could possibly have one of these diseases. 

That aspect of my personality seems to have dwindled over the past dozen years.  These days I’m more reluctant to go the doctor unless it’s something that simply won’t go away on its own.  I’ve had persistent disk/back problems and related pinched nerves for many years– something doctor’s call “tech neck”.  I’ve tried spinal injections of cortisone, physical therapy, hypnosis, acupuncture and deep tissue massage.  While all these treatments helped to some extent, time and exercise seem to work best – that and changes in posture and repetitive motion or simply putting the damned phone down.

I did have a real heart health scare about 5 years ago, that had me in the hospital for a couple of days (weekend, of course) and has resulted in me now being on blood pressure and cholesterol medications.  These things come with age.  Doctors always tell you that you need to reduce stress.  Yeah, sure, let me quite my stressful job.  There’s nothing stressful about that prospect.  It’s not like we can simply choose to become yoga instructors and all our worries will disappear.

Entering 2018, I made a commitment to running a 5k race each month.  I was never a runner growing up, so it’s been a challenge with occasional aches and pains.  I’ve managed to get my time down to a 9-minute mile average speed.  Strangely enough, I start each race thinking if I can make it past the first mile I’m not going to have a heart attack and drop dead.  That’s an encouraging sign and I trudge through the other 2.1 miles.  Last week, I even managed to earn a medal finishing second in my age group.  If I can keep this up a few more years, I’ll be in the next age group and might find myself finishing first. 

Illness and injury are a part of life.  Maybe I don’t call in sick because of stupidity or dedication or fear? We are the only ones who can judge our own bodies and own capacity to endure, but then life is an occupational hazard.


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