On being sick

Everyone knows that having a cold is nothing at all, and you should just grin and bear it.

I know that, because that was how I was brought up. While I was despatched off to school, snuffling, coughing, spewing phlegm and germs everywhere, Nicky’s mummy always wrote a note for her to stay off school.

Why didn’t my mother do that? It was only when I had my adenoids and tonsils out, appendix out, and a few fractured ankle bones and ripped ligaments that I ever got to stay off school.

It’s a real Protestant Work Ethic (PWE) thing isn’t it? Go to school, feel shite, can’t think straight because your head is a blur and infect everyone else. Great idea.

But I grew up on that and diligently continued down the same road. Unless it was life or death, or you couldn’t walk (limping was no excuse), you should turn up for work.

I turned into work regardless of how crap I felt. I expected my staff to do the same. One of them, a civil servant in London, smugly claimed that she never exceeded her sick allocation. Uh?!! I suddenly learned not only was there annual leave, there was sick leave to add on to that, regardless of whether you were sick if you knew how to play the system.

At one point, as a journalist, I got some sort of colic. No idea why or from where, but we had to call the doctor out because I couldn’t even walk down the street to the surgery. What did I get? Endless ringing up from the news editor asking when I would be back to work. I appreciate she obviously also was brought up with the same PWE, but how the hell did I know when I was going to be able to walk upright again and not keel over in a heap? I couldn’t even get down the stairs to the ‘phone. Fortunately. So it fell to Partner to be nice and say, no I wasn’t better yet.

It was many years later when I was sitting in the car, clogged up with a cold, determined to get into work, and I felt dizzy. I didn’t think being in charge of an Audi A4 and going dizzy was too good an idea. Or any vehicle as far as that went. Alert? No. Reactions? Crap.

I got out of the car and rang in sick.

After that, I gave myself a new rule and chucked off years of the PWE. If I couldn’t drive confidently because I had a muzzy head, or get myself to the bus stop, what the hell use was I going to be taking important decisions at work? Office time? Face time? So I actually started taking sick leave. Unpopular.

But what is the point? You spend all day, sitting in the office, getting nothing done, and I mean, nothing, because you can’t concentrate, and you cheerfully ensure that everyone who comes remotely near you, also gets whatever local bug is going around. And, by going to work, you continue depleting your natural resources that should be helping you to recover. How stupid is that when a few days off would help you to recover much more quickly?

What also happens? Well everyone using public transport also generously shares it around too. My partner almost certainly caught his vile cold from the local bus.

Occasionally, when you live with someone, you may be lucky enough to avoid their cold, but mostly, you spend one or two days waiting for the blocked nose, the sore throat, the thick head. It usually arrives.

He’s currently on Day 4 of Crap Cold from Hell. I am on Day 3, and for once seem to have made a faster recovery. But ….. once, in the health service, we were discussing colds and influenza and one of our clever public health doctors was telling us that just when you were thinking you were on the road to recovery – the little bastards turn around and bite you in the nose/throat/head wherever and spin off into a different variant. And you are sick all over again.

I thought I would do a little tinties search to see what the latest advice on colds is. It used to be: they only last three days and if it is any longer go and and bother your GP. (Uselessly I might add as GPs can prescribe nothing for it, and therefore a total waste of NHS money).

So I was mildly surprised to discover that a common cold now normally lasts for a week, two weeks or even three. Well I knew that, so why did I get grief for taking time off for it many years ago? Ah, thinking has moved on. Although I am sure I would still get grief. The cold may last for weeks but does it merit staying at home to recover faster and keep your cold to yourself?

What a crazy system. All the advice is that colds are spread by common contact. You need lots of rest, fluids and all the rest of it (soup), and how the hell do you get that if you are pressurised to go into work and share your germs with everyone else?

Your doctor (ie UK GP) can prescribe absolutely nothing of any use. A cold is a virus and not a bacterial infection so antibiotics are a waste of space – although clearly not a waste of money to pharmaceutical companies.

The only reason you need to go to your GP is to get a sick note, whereupon, depending on whether they like you or not, they decide whether or not you are capable of returning to work. And if they don’t like you, there you go, back on the treadmill again. Not fully recovered, sharing your cold with everyone you meet and work with, and still feeling like shit.

I am sure a peer analysis-reviewed study might possibly come to the same conclusion as me. More working days and hours are lost by people turning in sick to work than are gained. Sick people achieve nothing at work and they manage to make everyone else sick too.

So all I can say is, if you are sick, do try and stay at home.

The sad truth is, most people don’t have a choice, or they will lose their job. And THAT is just one of the many aspects of our society that is so fucked-up.

Turn into work if you are sick. Who cares if you can do the job – or how well you do it. Who cares if other people end up sick. You are paid to turn in. Not to stay at home to get better.

More on cold treatments/remedies back on this post about paracetamol.

And an interesting poster from Organic Lassie along the same theme.

About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
This entry was posted in childhood, health, life, parents, thoughts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to On being sick

  1. Vicky says:

    Your last paragraph says it all.
    I have to admit, I’ve had to live by those rules for almost all my working life. No workie, no money! (Apart from the SSP, which hardly pays the bills)
    I’ve only ever had the luxury of company sick pay with one company (in those ten years, I had one week off) until they decided there were too many folk being off sick, so they changed the rules.
    I’m afraid my attitude has rubbed off onto both my girls, they both admit to feeling guilty to taking time off, even when they are really ill.
    It is certainly true about it returning with a vengeance when you think you’re recovering.


    • I’ve obviously been relatively lucky with employers. But I’d obviously made up for lost time, because by the time I left the last job I was one of the highest sick leaves 😀
      There is a real problem between people who just milk it eg the civil servant I referred to above making sure she took her sick leave, and people who are sick and daren’t take time off. After my two days cossetting, I felt better yesterday – could probably have gone into work, but would def have been ok for today. A however, who has not been cossetted, is still coughing and groaning all over the place.
      I think the idea of a sick leave allowance is quite reasonable. If the average adult gets 2-4 colds a year, that’s two days off a week. Take 3 as the middle figure, times 2 gives you six. If you wanted to be strict, you could go for five days, ie one week’s sick a year. Or if you were lenient bump it up to seven or eight. So if you were taking your sickies to have a day off, or because you had a hangover, once you had used up your allowance you would be in trouble. Except life doesn’t work like that.
      I had to add the last par because I was being told most firmly by A that people could NOT stay at home when they were sick or they would get sacked. If I thought it was bad me writing, talking and saying rubbish when I couldn’t think straight, imagine what it is like working ten floors up outside on scaffolding!


  2. EllaDee says:

    Such good issues you raise here. I love to get on my soap box about them but first I hope you and A. are both well into recovery by the time I’m reading this 3 days later.

    I agree we need to get smarter re contagious common illnesses, they can cost more than time. They cost me goodwill because I quite bluntly tell sick people who don’t get the space/hygiene boundary concept to bugger off because mostly nicely has no effect. Because of this I haven’t had many colds/flu’s but I picked one up earlier this year and it took me out for a few days. I’d forgotton how nasty that are. I stayed home, but checked emails and work was quite happy to have 1 less sick person wandering the corridors, touching things. Had I been busy it may have been different. Of course the G.O. caught it despite our best efforts but had to go to work – indispensable unless you’re dead…

    When I read this article http://www.theherald.com.au/story/207635/flu-lockdown-to-continue/, I called Dad and read him the riot act about staying away from sick people. Both he (at almost 70) & my stepmother drive community car/school buses and gave him a reminder re hygiene #101, because they are both always sick despite flu shots.

    And yes, flu shots. Something else I get on my soap box about… but another day.

    We’ve just come back from 4 days at TA – prior to our trip, the G.O.’s 83 year old step father was hospitalised and on life support due to a cold/flu he caught from the germy local barber. He is slowly recovering now. The M.I.L. (age almost 80) got it too. Neither of them went to the doctor but the M.I.L. at least went & consulted the pharmacist for medication to alleviate the symptoms and is now well.

    And, deep breath, last, I have a colleague who during 18 years in the workplace has frittered their sick leave and has none left to use for recovery from a major operation, and has to take holidays and leave without pay. Crazy.


    • Interesting points. Well, if someone has frittered their sick leave …holidays and leave without pay would be the way to go. Sick leave entitlement should be used sensibly. Which is why I think it is a good idea – although having said that, if you need months off for an op, or you are signed off with something like ME (I had a colleague with that) – a week is hardly long enough. Unsurprisingly there were a fair few people in the health service – and we knew some in education too – who were off for months with stress. If they ever came back they usually left shortly afterwards. Sort of ‘Hello I’m back to tell you all I’m leaving.’

      I will mention the ‘flu jabs though. Perhaps we may disagree on this? 😀

      I have an innate dislike of compulsory vaccination. I had it before working in the health service as I think it is a total invasion of civil rights – that’s before I even get into the waste of money thing. I see no reason why a healthy adult should not possess sufficient anti-bodies to fight off a virus, and I don’t think trying to protect yourself helps the immune system. All that is personal opinion and not based on any evidence. Along with the majority of Gib we didn’t take up the offer to be jabbed for H whatever flu it was a year or two ago. Staff at Morrisons supermarket have to have a compulsory ‘flu jab. I would have to be penniless to stay in a job like that.

      Next, and this one is based on evidence, or at least on working with public health doctors in the health service. Unless things have changed (my usual caveat) the ‘flu vaccines have to be manufactured in advance. So much so that when they are made up, they don’t know what virus of flu is going to be prevalent that year. So it’s a pot luck guess vaccine. An even better reason not to bother with it – maybe if you are old or have a weak immune system, but I think your advice was best. Stay at home/away from sick people.

      I also think people tend to think they get colds/’flu from someone sneezing/breathing over them and forget about the transmission by hand. And, to see how that can so easily happen, all you have to do is visit public toilets and see how many people leave without washing their hands. It drives me spare!! And I am not an obsessive hygienist by any stretch. A works with people who use nasty solvents and similar – they don’t even wear gloves or wash their hands before they go to the toilet. I mean – just YUK. Do people have shit for brains or what?

      OK over to you on ‘flu jabs.


      • EllaDee says:

        I’m with you against flu shots & vaccination in general. I’m a big believer in homeopathic, traditional modalities. If you live as healthily as possible & take sensible precautions it’s more effective than being injected with an outdated virus when then often makes the recipient sick and at risk of infecting others. There’s too much money, secrecy & lies associated with the Pharma industry, and governments of course. I’ve mentioned misinformed & disinterested elsewhere…but ditto for hand washing, yet another of my soap box issues… if only people had half a brain they would wash their hands properly, use paper towel, use & wash bathroom & kitchen hand towels/cloths daily, use separate tea towels if they must wipe up dishes, and also for benches & floors and chuck them in the washing machine daily, wash their hands as soon as they get home… and then they wouldn’t need flu shots or sick leave.


        • If people want jabs, that’s up to them, but as ever, they should at least make themselves informed. It would be helpful if the health services were less disingenuous ‘hello come and get your ‘flu jab, although we’ve just guessed at this year’s strain, so can’t actually say whether it will be of any use,’ might be more honest, than ‘DO get your ‘flu jab and then you won’t be sick all winter’.

          I’m much scruffier than you regarding the towels, although we’ve always had separate tea towels (doesn’t everyone?). I don’t wash towels daily though. I don’t use handkerchieves. I can’t understand why people do. What is the point in carrying around a snotty piece of rag? In fact I use kitchen towel as it is stronger than stupid tissues. I know we didn’t mention hankies, I just thought I would chuck that one in 😀


          • EllaDee says:

            I agree, there’s no full disclosure & transparency re flu shots, and possibly people wouldn’t want to know anyway… to scary & thought provoking… I only wash hand towels daily & kitchen cloths. Hankies – no way. Yuck. Sadly not everyone has separate tea towels & I cringe to think the amount of times I’ve seen someone wiping their hands on our tea towel, or their own. I doubly cringe to think that they did & I didn’t see it… but when in doubt…


          • I do think vaccines are a product of our nanny state society. Not helped by the fact that my partner developed mild polio, maybe after his jab as a baby? Me, I’ll take my chances these days. I’m not into so-called preventive medicine, preferring to spend scarce resources on actually treating people. And as someone who has been involved extensively in programmes eg screening, fluoridation, I think I have as an informed a view as the average person in the street.

            I just washed up and wiped my hands on the kitchen towel when I had finished. I thought of you. Will I be crossed off your blog list?

            In fact, my mum always had separate hand and tea towels in the kitchen. I’ve only just realised writing this post that we never wash our hands in the kitchen, only the bathroom, which explains why we don’t have hand towels in the kitchen. Not many people do that I can think of. Maybe washing your hands in the kitchen is a thing of the past?


          • EllaDee says:

            Not crossed off my blog list but if you were in my kitchen I’d hurl the tea towel into the washing machine and frown at you 😉
            I’m not sure if it’s a thing of the past, but when I cook I wash my hands in the kitchen sink as I go because I’m hopelessly messy.
            I agree, anything except truth & commonsense is a waste of time & money.


          • Wouldn’t dream of wiping my hands on the tea towel in your kitchen. Hopefully I wouldn’t be washing up there either 😀 I’ve obviously changed over the years, as I tend to use the bathroom for hand washing, even when cooking. We have no soap in any of our kitchens – and – the bathrooms are pretty near anyway.


  3. You think that’s bad? Consider yourself lucky that you can’t get man flu!


  4. I personally took issue with my employees turning up to work their shift while sick. i understood their need but my labor hours would suffer, and my other employes would as well, Productivity was in the bottom of the bucket. I would have done well to hire a substitute who felt well even if it was costing me double in wages.
    Not to mention that I had two young daughters at home at the time that I could not afford to have become ill. If they were ill how could I manage to get into my manage my pharmacy? I could not leave them alone ill, could not work, could not close the doors to my store.
    I asked my people to please stay home when they were sick. Just call in sick please. Let us nip it the bud as soon as possible rather than carrying it back and forth for weeks to each other,

    Love your always interesting posts MS ~ BB.


    • It’s easy for me to say people should stay at home, when I have always had jobs that paid full sick pay. However taking regular sick leave can affect your standing at work, and in the case of my partner working in construction, you basically get the push. I was horrified reading the link (the last one, to organic lassie’s post) to see that only FOUR states in America have compulsory sick pay. It’s pretty peanuts in the UK, but at least there is something. Won’t pay bills, but would provide enough to live cheaply on, assuming you weren’t a family of 20.


  5. Excellent post and completely valid points! I think your last paragraph sums it up brilliantly. Ultimately, we are all statistics and tough luck. I too agree with your post and have much to share, however, I think the following incident was the one that really took the cookie (for me)…

    I remember a telephone call when I was working for a nursing agency in mainland UK. I started with D+V very late in the middle of the night and was due to start work at 0700. Obviously, it wasn’t pleasant and I phoned in sick. The telephone operator said that I needed to give them 48 hours notice so that they could find replacement staff. I apologised and said that I clearly hadn’t harnessed my psychic powers to phone them earlier… Ridiculous, D+V needs 48 hours clearance and she knew I was working with palliative care patients. I was honestly disgusted at her response and promptly told her so!

    (Not sure I should be airing this – but no names were mentioned). Nine years later, I’ve still not ‘got over’ her stupidity.


    • Thanks OL. I did enjoy reading the poster thing on your blog, hence linking back to it on here 🙂

      I’ve had a couple of spells of D&V this year (mostly V) but basically you daren’t leave the house. It’s not safe to walk down the street or get on a bus!! I was chairing a meeting one evening, and was hoping to be well enough to attend, but I had to cancel it at very short notice. (My partner delivered the letters). Luckily one of the other members had a relative who had caught the same bug, ie couldn’t keep down any food for two or three days, so I didn’t feel like a total shirker.

      But 48 hours notice? “hello, I’m going to have a sudden and unexpected attack of D&V in two days time, hope this helps with your workforce planning….” And as for working with palliative care patients – there are just no words for that. It sounds like you were pretty restrained given the circs!!


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