I should point out, to begin with, that I don’t have COVID-19. As I’m writing this, there haven’t been any confirmed cases in my state, let alone my general area. But that doesn’t matter: it’s still cold and flu season. It’s still dangerous for the immunocompromised to even go out in public. All the advice applies anyway. Wash your hands. Drink lots of fluids. And for Pete’s sake, stay home if you’re sick!
HAH. “Stay home if you’re sick.” Whoever heard of such a concept! Even if you’re NOT paid by the hour and can’t afford to miss any of those hours, even if you AREN’T in a position you can easily lose, even if you actually have sick days, you’re made to feel super-guilty for the work you aren’t doing, for the coworkers you’re putting increased burdens on, for the cancellations and reschedulings that need to be made.
Even the schools do it! Why’s your kid staying home? Do you have a doctor’s excuse? How much school has this kid missed this year already? School is important! I notice this particularly because my youngest has migraine problems and often ends up pushing the most-allowed-absences limit each school year.
And when you combine the two? Sick kid needs someone home with them, so now somebody’s got to call off work even when they’re not sick? What a mess.
But one thing to be said about pandemic panics: it makes people rethink this whole process.
I’m used to pushing myself to the limit. Can I accomplish what I have to do, even if it exhausts me? Then I should go to work. I was about to do that this past Monday. My daughter was home with a sore throat and fever, and I was starting to feel not-so-good myself. But I had to drive my husband in to catch a carpool for a several-day business trip, and if I was getting sick I’d better stop at the grocery before I went home since I wouldn’t have him to send out for groceries later if I got bedridden, and then I had two storytimes and a lot of prep for the next night’s storytime, so, fine, I wouldn’t go home and rest until 1:30. Never mind that I felt dizzy and was beginning to wonder if I should even be driving. But while I was at the grocery store my daughter called my cell phone. Her brother’s school had called home, and he wasn’t feeling well, either. Well, I pass his school on the way home from the store, I’d just pick him up, drop him and the groceries at home, and head off to the library…
What was I thinking? Two kids home sick, even if they are old enough to stay home alone? Me with my dizzy headache and sore throat? A potential morning spent interacting with a variety of small children, several grandparents, and porous public materials? I called off work. Home was where I needed to be.
It was a weird sensation. Am I really allowed to do this? But all those coronavirus articles and tweets had been yelling STAY HOME IF YOU’RE SICK at me for the past week. I knew what we had was, at worst, strep throat, but really, that was almost as dangerous as COVID-19, just more common. I would be potentially putting so many immunocompromised people at risk if I went to work at a public library, laden with these germs as I was. And I am so privileged. Sure, I don’t get paid sick leave, but my husband makes most of our family money, and my skills are too unique and valuable to the library for me to get fired for missing a few days of work. It was selfish of me not to stay home today!
So I filled up water bottles for the three of us, and we all laid around the living room bingeing Gravity Falls and taking a sip of water whenever I reminded them. It was all we felt like doing, but all we needed to be doing. No one was asking anything else from us. We were all on the same pained and exhausted page. The next morning, when we were all still sick, it was easier to make those calls, and a relief to have that settled. We had our own cozy quarantine going here. We could rest up without shame.
It’s ridiculous how much our society shames us for not plugging through whenever we actually need a break. It’s bad enough how many people legitimately can’t afford to take a sick day. But this dread fear of taking a break is ingrained in us all, regardless of one’s actual financial ability to do so. Although I could be wrong. Maybe it’s a feature primarily of neurodivergent types and people with chronic mental and other invisible illnesses, people who have been told all their lives that they’re just not trying hard enough. Possibly there are plenty of people who have no problem calling off sick because they have the means AND the confidence. They might be the same people telling the rest of us to stop being such babies and suck it up. But so many of the people I know are those sensitive souls who just feel too guilty about taking any time to themselves.
Does it take a pandemic to turn this shame on its head? To convince society that our health is more important than our apparent productivity? Will anything really change?
I can’t speak for the broader picture, but I’m glad I took the chance and stayed home this week. Now I can actually focus on getting better.