How I suck at calling in sick

When I was little girl I didn’t like to go to school. I liked it once I got there, but I was very attached to my mother and had separation issues. In retrospect I wish home schooling had been popular back then as I would have been a perfect candidate for it. But my poor mother needed a break.

One of my ploys in trying to avoid going to school was to pretend I was sick. Monday morning was the prime day for these ‘illnesses’ to overtake me. I was naïve enough to think no one would catch on, but my mother was no fool. She came up with a sure-fire way to avoid unnecessary truancy. This was her criteria for me to stay home from school:

1)  Fever

I know you are expecting more but this was it.

Photo courtesy depositphotos: used with permission

As I grew up and became a responsible adult this criteria stuck with me. It helped me push through when less dedicated people would have called for an intermission. It has created memories of driving to work with a barf bag in one hand, and the steering wheel in another.

It has been a badge of honor and reinforced my belief that 90% of success is showing up.

But have I taken it too far?

Last year I missed two full weeks of work due to a crazy upper respiratory infection which developed into pneumonia. Technically the first week was only four sick says, since Monday was a holiday. The fact that I needed to help justify the time off by including the detail about the Holiday tells me I have some ‘issues’ around this topic.

  1. Ego – How can my work team get along without me?
  2. Shame – What is wrong with me that I can’t push through and work even if I am sick?
  3. Workaholism – the 5-year-old potato-picking child comes out to chide me for being ‘lazy’ and indulging in time to recuperate.
  4. Difficulty with ‘sick’ criteria – I had a fever only for 3 days so how can I justify the rest of my sick days?  After all I could wear a mask at work and take multiple changes of underwear for those uncontrolled coughing spells.
  5. Fear of disapproval – I hope I still have somewhat of a cough when I go back to work next week, as people may think I made the whole thing up.
  6. Over-responsibility – I have a commitment to my work team, my singing groups, my church choir, etc. I can’t let them down. This ties in with no. 1-5.

I wonder if this is a baby boomer syndrome or if people from all ages struggle with issues of calling in sick. I’d love to hear your views on it to give me comfort that I’m not alone or show me a new way to look at things.



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22 thoughts on “How I suck at calling in sick

  1. I emailed my boss to call in sick as I’d totally lost my voice. My boss replied that I had to ring the “sick” line to report sick and she made it clear that it was a pain to get somebody into cover my job for that day. I couldn’t call as I had no voice … and decided to go into work, do the job that “had” to be done & come home. It was annoying that I couldn’t talk with my colleagues but I was actually able to work!

    • Oh Linda, that is horrible! Glad at least you were able to save your sick time but what a crazy ‘rule.’ My latest issue that just developed is laryngitis so I hope this doesn’t happen to me!

    • It really is almost impossible for me. During my recent bout with numerous issues I soldiered on and took a couple of planned days of vacation time to try to recover. But there was no last minute call in.

  2. I hear you Molly, it’s tough to go against a good work ethic or to let others down. But I never feel bad about calling in sick, that is what sick time is for. I never worry about if others would believe I was sick, they know I have a good work ethic and that I’m honest so I would not upset the team if I really was not ill. I applaud people who keep their germs home. I have an autoimmune disease and if someone comes to work sick I’m probably going to get it and it will be twice as bad for me as it was for them and it will take longer for me to get over it. On another note, my former employer told us if we were sick to stay home, she didn’t want to get it and she didn’t want it spreading around the office, to her coming to work sick was lost productivity. So please, take care of yourself, don’t spread germs, and don’t feel bad.

  3. I agree that we’re looking at a work ethic issue you honestly inherited, but not limited to the residents of Maine! Retirement has made it a moot point for me, but the upside was this—-I had so much sick time banked I was able to retire five months before my actual birthday, and rolled 80% of the cash value into a health spending account when I retired—-vindication! But potentially infecting others earns you no friends……

  4. You see, my mom was easier on me – she tended to baby me I think.

    BUT my dad on the other hand..definitely the opposite of babying. He was like a drill sergeant’s worse nightmare. Those green eyes glaring at me – coming in my room, as I laid there pretending I was just “so sick” ..I’d hear the shades yank up and felt my covers rip off of me.

    needless to say..
    I have a VERY difficult time calling out of work too. You’re NOT alone at all!!

    In fact, the week I took off for my grampie’s death – the whole week I felt guilty and felt like I was doing something “wrong” for taking 5 days off to be with my family and plan my beloved grandfather’s funeral.
    It’s an awful feeling – just terrible!
    I’m not writing this while at work…
    no I’m not…
    stop accusing me!!

    gtg bye I hear footsteps

  5. The joys of retirement is there is no guilt to stay inside when you are sick – as a matter of fact, it’s expected of me! But looking back on those “working” days, I carried the same burden – and would drag myself to work, and end up leaving early because of whatever dread disease was settling around me. The hardest part about being sick was that my work never got done while I was home coughing up a lung – and that just made me want to get up and out sooner (than I should) and yes, pneumonia will come back and lay you flat…listen to your body, and hopefully you are soon on the road to recovery.

  6. It was obvious to me yesterday when I saw you at Hannaford that you have been very, very sick. If you do go back to work next week, take it as easy as you can. You are wise to stay out this week, as relapse is very common with “pee-numonia” (Dad’s take on the word!). I’ll be you went to bed early and slept like a baby after your short jaunt to the grocery store. Rest well and guilt-free!

  7. 1) In your case, I don’t think it’s all that much a baby boomer issue as we baby boomers were “babied” quite a lot by our parents generally. …no, in your case, I’m afraid you’re afflicted with, a) Maine work ethic syndrome, b) farm girl indoctrination, although Noreen and I would probably agree you got this one via osmosis, c) McBreairty/Dickinson DNA, those who know our family tree will understand, and d) “County cultural contamination” which is something fully understand by only County Folk.
    Now, as to 2) When you consider the modern diluted loyalties of corporate America. … can overcome all this and milk every sniffly nose to the max!

  8. Molly, you are not alone! I am always afraid that I’m going to get back to work after taking sick time and people are going to be secretly thinking, “Well, she doesn’t LOOK like she’s been sick…”

    However, I’ve tried a new thought tactic to help me on work mornings when I feel in any way out of sorts. “Is this (cough, sore throat, nausea, stuffiness, etc) something I want to be on my conscience if other people get sick from my germs?” Of course, I am in constant hand-to-hand or hand-to-instrument-to-hand contact with students, so its very easy for me to pass on germs.

    But maybe thinking of it that way could help! Best of luck in your continuing recovery!

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