Sick Day

phlegm wads not to scale

There’s an odd coldness clawing at the back of my throat as I lay down for an uncharacteristic 6 PM nap. By the time I stir to life, it’s four in the morning. I’m drenched in fever-sweat and that tenderness I felt hours ago has become an unmistakable, raw rasp. I down three days' worth of Vitamin C in a vain effort to give myself some peace of mind before splashing water on my face. I scribble a quick note to my girlfriend (“Call in for me. Thanks.”) before turning in again. As my mind falls blank, I balance the pros and cons and think only of tomorrow’s inevitable conclusion:

I’m going to have to take a sick day.

The phrase would ordinarily arouse joy. Almost instantly, a teenager’s ideal vacation pops into my mind. I’m waking up at the crack of noon to a fridge stocked with pizza, tuna fish, and soda. I’m spending hours on the couch, neglecting food and bathroom needs while I vegetate to the tune of a movie or brand new game. Ordinarily, the thought of taking a Saturday afternoon and extending it into the work week is something most people would relish. This could just be the baggage of a Puritan work ethic speaking, but the concept of taking time off to sleep and drink fluids feels like an excessive extravagance to me.

This wasn't always the case. Even as recently as my college years, sick days were framed in my mind as beautiful, luxurious breaks from the monotony of work. They were unscheduled down-time that traded productivity and routine for a binge of intemperance, at the price of mild discomfort. They were interminable affairs punctuated by medication and lazy sleep. The very definition of indulgence, really.

Nothing can quite compare to the days I took off as a child, though. Living in a home without central heating, in the shadow of a 5 story apartment complex, left me at the mercy of chilly Los Angeles winters. Like clockwork, I would develop a case of bronchitis in the days between Halloween and Christmas. For eight years, I received an extra week’s worth of vacation, all thanks to my compromised bronchi. It was like an early, sputum-filled Christmas.

For a child of the pre-internet age, when television was confined to rigid, precise schedules and information was available in glossy pages on a monthly timeline, the extra days meant a lot of games, a lot of syndicated TV sitcoms, and a lot of VHS movies. On one occasion, I ran through The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past in a bit over two days, with time off for vomiting, fevered napping, and lunch. On another, I marathoned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory over three days (total viewings: 9). And then there was the time I plowed through my collection of Nintendo Power and EGM magazines. These wasted days were a Faustian bargain.

Looking back, it feels as though I was doing anything within my power to keep from being bored. The intensity and frequency of my coughing made getting actual rest impossible. The amount of phlegm spewing from my face required constant tissues (or trips to the sink). It was either entertain myself or sit in bed, eyes fixed at the ceiling, while I waited for the next round of coughing spasms to hit. I was sidelined for days on end, sure, but spending almost every waking moment in my tiny, little room left me with a feeling of timelessness that has become very hard to recreate. I was cut off from friends (all at school) and family (all at work) and left to my own devices for interminable hours.

As I grew older, the feeling of having lost time grew more pronounced. Sure, a day off from college to whiz through Kingdom Hearts wasn’t necessarily a life-or-death proposition, but the time I spent on a game could have been more judiciously applied to that month’s term paper. It’s not as though I absolutely HAD to finish the game that afternoon, after all; I was just trading instant gratification for eventual gratification. And keeping myself from being bored.

Now, I’m stuck feeling as though I’m playing hooky, picturing a stack of “TO DO” items growing and growing while I roll about listlessly in bed. I’m no longer cut off; I can call, text or chat with a number of my friends from the comfort of my bed. From the couch, I can connect with a multitude of players around the world—speak with them or play with them silently—and share an entire game’s worth of moments with them. Something about that feels a bit off, messes with my conception of a solitary day of sloth.

Of the sick time I’ve taken this year (a grand total of two and a half days), I’ve played a video game for maybe three whole hours during one of those days. I’ve not watched any movies, save for the television serving faithfully as background-noise while I try to sleep. Of magazines, I have read not a single issue of anything. As for the internet, I muster a good 30-minutes' worth of checking mail and browsing before I’m weary of it all.

All of the changes that have come into life in the last 15 years, such as the convenience of on-demand entertainment or the always-on nature of the internet, mean very little to me when I’m curled up in bed with a bottle of Vicks VapoRub and a bag of cough drops. Nor do they help ease the infuriating tingle at the back of my throat.

It just reminds me that a sick day isn’t a vacation.

Comments

Amen.

I'm on my first sick days of 2010, and haven't got any gaming done. I felt a bit better today, energy I used to do some chores at the house (dishes, cleaning the bathroom, cooking).

Gaming requires focus and mental energy, which I do not have right now. Some mindless tv maybe, but serious gaming is out of the question.

Last sick day I had was way back in 2006, I had something that knocked me out for 2 days. I didn't know what it was so I called it flumonia.

Screw that. The sick day is still a refuge for this working man. The joy of not having any expectations on you, for a few short days, except to get better is something I would gladly trade for a rounding bout of coughs, sniffles and fever.

This speaks to me. Here I am at work, sick, because I fear that "TO DO" pile in my absence. I save my sick days for when I'm feeling well enough to enjoy them.

For me, sick days when I'm actually sick feel like a waste of sick days.

I don't game much on my sick-days either, but that's not because I don't feel like it. Even if I take a "day off", the stuff I need to get done at home doesn't go away and since my own tolerance for household higgeldy-piggeldy is my boss it's not like I can take the phone off the hook. And kids don't go away no matter how awful you feel. I remember times when I went to work just to get some rest rather than the other way around.

Now that I work from home a lot, it's even harder to get away. Since no one's found a way to transmit viruses or bacteria through the internet, I lose the "not giving it to everyone else" escape-hatch entirely. And the "just getting there is more than I'm up to" thing goes out the window when all you have to do is walk across the room and you don't even have to get dressed.

I keep hoping to find a silver lining in that I also have less opportunities to catch stuff, but since I deal with the youth group at church I think losing this vector isn't going to help as much as I'd hope.

If you have kids, time spent at home whether sick, healthy, indolent, or busy, is never a vacation. Work is my vacation.

Sounds to me like you're just not a very dedicated gamer, Spaz.

Although I get what you're saying about being "no longer cut off", and how it feels different from the sick days of yore. Solution? Disconnect, Appear Offline, etc etc etc. Render yourself digitally unavailable to regain that old feeling.

The one sucky thing about working from home full-time is "sick day" has now translated into "work day where I lay down for half an hour every once and a while". It's just not the same.

MilkmanDanimal wrote:

The one sucky thing about working from home full-time is "sick day" has now translated into "work day where I lay down for half an hour every once and a while". It's just not the same.

You need an office you can go into when you're sick. Kind of a bizarro sick day. Someplace where you can sleep under the desk.

My problem with sick days is that I only get so many before I have to start cutting into my precious vacation time. I know damn well that come November/December I'll need to use a sick day or two, so it pains me to no end when I have to use them earlier in the year.

Back when I was younger, in school or working part-time, a sick day didn't cost me anything of importance. That's not the case anymore, which means they're much less enjoyable.

I haven't taken a sick day in years. I always seem to get sick on weekends or holidays

kazar wrote:

I haven't taken a sick day in years. I always seem to get sick on weekends or holidays :(

That is me, too, man. I just can't seem to let myself call in and have been lucky enough to never get seriously ill.

With a toddler at home, I understand this too. I had a sick day recently and it's really hard to explain to your child why they shouldn't crawl all over groaning Daddy and demand to play. Sometimes it feels like it's better to just haul yourself into work and slump at your desk.

I just put a four day weekend in the books with the nastiest cold I've had in a while - first sick days in as long as it took me to max out my accrued time. I managed to kill some time with Peggle and Shoot 1-Up on mellow mode, but aside from that and MilkmanDanimal's "work day where I lay down for half an hour every once and a while", ultimately only had the energy to sit and watch X-Files from the beginning for hours on end. Now I'm screwed and have to continue through eight more seasons.
Now that I'm feeling better and wading through the backlog at work I have to tell myself that I needed the "vacation".

Sick days used to be like that for me, too. Nowadays I can't really take it easy as I stress out about the time I'm losing from my training and the money I'm not making at work. I still do indulge myself in play time, however, as there's really very little else I can do at such times.

When I was on chemo a couple of years ago, I had three sick days every two weeks - compensated by telecommuting on the weekends, so it wasn't really sick days.

The chemo drugs didn't make me sick-sick, but fatigued enough to spend most of my time sleeping. The rest of the time was spent gaming. Usually I chose ones that didn't require any brain power, comfort games I could breeze through. Like the Halo series on Easy.

The peripheral neuropathy worried me, as sometimes the numbness and tingling would make it difficult to feel the buttons. But that's gone now. Mostly.

This is now my pattern for sick days - sleep and games. Sleep is good for the body, and games for the soul.

Hans

I rarely get sick, but I never take sick days until I'm actually sick because I know that once I get sick, it's going to be devastating. Like, unable to move, shivering and sweating, staying up all night making trips to the toilet that last an hour at a time as every last drop of liquid of any kind has left my body from every available exit, all of it very fast and very long and very violent and very painful, starting suddenly at 1 am and ending at 10 am, and then sleeping for the next 20 hours straight uninterrupted, kind of devastating. I can barely muster the strength to sit up and sound makes me nauseous, so there's no fun to be had. When I get sick, I get turbo-sick. Once I was turbo-sick for four days, and two of them were the weekend. Sucked.

I'm here at work, reading this when I should be home in bed. Sleeping. Being indispensible sucks right now.

If I'm home sick I may be able to sit and browse the net for a while, but like dejanzie says, the concentration a game requires is not available.

I'm reading this at home, wondering how soon I can drag myself back in to work. Being self-employed means (in addition to having a bastard for a boss) that I'm just too aware of the impact my abscence has. Days like today I try to convince myself that's an inflated concept of how much my presence actually means. But come tomorrow, if I in fact take today as a sick day, I'll be reminded dozens of times an hour with all the details that need attending, that the concept is all too unfortunately accurate.

I'll even make a sincere mental note to consider hiring someone to take some of this crap off my hands. Then by week's end, I'll feel fine and be back to thinking, "why not just do this all myself; I'm essentially slave labor, and the job'll get done right."

Some goodjer talk about taking sick days for new games has long made me very green with envy. And not just because of the games. I'd love to play hookey again.

I'm very lucky that my job has a very liberal sick day policy. I very rarely take a sick day without being sick but sometimes, when I can feel burnout creeping up on me, a "non-sick" sick day is needed. I just feel that if I can take a day of rejuvenation that when I come back I'll be much more productive and the day off will pay for itself. Also, when people talk about being indispensable or whatever, not to be morbid, but what if you died? What would happen? Your place of business would continue to function. So for that day, just imagine you're dead!

As for the self employed and parents: my hats are off to you.

padriec wrote:

Also, when people talk about being indispensable or whatever, not to be morbid, but what if you died? What would happen? Your place of business would continue to function. So for that day, just imagine you're dead! :)

If I died the coffee shop that I run would cease to exist and 12 people would be unemployed.

Nice thought though. :p

Try being self-employed. Not only do I not get paid for sick days, but my cell phone rings several times a day whenever someone needs to talk to me.

Not fun.

I do remember one time during high school when a buddy and I skipped school and spent the day at the mall. Everything was going great until I ran into my grandmother, who was at the food court on her lunch break from work.

Back in the day - I kid you guys not - whenever a Final Fantasy would drop I would literally get a fever. I'd be sick for 3 to 5 days burning yet happily playing my shiny new game in marathon-like sessions. Final Fantasy IV(2), Final Fantasy VI(3) and Final Fantasy VII fit the bill.

The last time this happened, however, was Final Fantasy IX. X came with it's surprise pre-xmas launch and my fever never came. I guess my body no longer reacts to the Final Fantasy bug the same way anymore... must've developed better defenses against fun...

Frohike wrote:

If you have kids, time spent at home whether sick, healthy, indolent, or busy, is never a vacation. Work is my vacation.

Amen to that. I have a 2 year old and a 9 month old... Work is my salvation!

I got REALLY sick just recently, three courses of antibiotics later I nearly kicked the infection. Would have been done in one with a few days in bed and a lot of sleep. Being the only person who does my job where I work, you just have to keep going, and those two little monkeys just don't let up either.

I miss taking sick days as 'bonus me time'.

Taking a "sick day" almost always means spending 3-4 hours on the phone with a co-worker explaining how to do things that would have taken me just a few minutes to do if I was driving the mouse and keyboard. So being sick is often more frustrating then recuperative. I have tried to pay some games while I do this but I often find myself too distracted to play anything well. I have also found the multi-player games I enjoy lately have a rather lousy showing in the middle of the day vs the evenings.

padriec wrote:

I very rarely take a sick day without being sick but sometimes, when I can feel burnout creeping up on me, a "non-sick" sick day is needed. I just feel that if I can take a day of rejuvenation that when I come back I'll be much more productive and the day off will pay for itself.

I take these from time to time, as well. Once or twice a year I just need some time to get my head right.

I don't suffer from an office that makes me feel indispensable. Much to the contrary, in fact, but I do feel like I'm chickening out if I stay home when I could conceivably make it through the day. I'm coming to learn, however, just how much the office suffers if I come to work contagious.

wordsmythe wrote:
padriec wrote:

I very rarely take a sick day without being sick but sometimes, when I can feel burnout creeping up on me, a "non-sick" sick day is needed. I just feel that if I can take a day of rejuvenation that when I come back I'll be much more productive and the day off will pay for itself.

I take these from time to time, as well. Once or twice a year I just need some time to get my head right.

Isn't that a mental health day? It's what I call it.

wordsmythe wrote:

I don't suffer from an office that makes me feel indispensable. Much to the contrary, in fact, but I do feel like I'm chickening out if I stay home when I could conceivably make it through the day. I'm coming to learn, however, just how much the office suffers if I come to work contagious.

Yeah, I've seen corporate environments where someone with swine flu will be determined to get through the day, and then have dozens of people off sick for two weeks afterward.

Vacation is one thing, as those days are mine to be paid out if I leave the job. Sick days, well, use 'em if you got 'em. My current employer offers copious amounts of sick and vacation time, but then makes the process of taking anything more than a day something on par with confession with a shaggy-browed priest. Calling in "sick" for mental health in a position where the world won't come crashing down is perk that should be exercised. This job is particularly stubborn about certain arbitrary office rules (dress, "support coverage"...) but then touts how it's decidedly not "corporate" and that the fringe benefits outweigh the loss in salary. One of these days...

Sadly, my sick days are my vacation days. Gotta love PTO (no you don't).

If I'm not playing games during my sick day, I'm probably on death's door.