Staying home sick, or Item #391 of Things Made More Complicated By Growing Up

I caught a cold last week.

That’s not entirely true.  I think I actually caught this cold at the New Year’s Eve party I went to, but it has just been festering and biding its time for the last several weeks.  My immune system was waging the Hundred Years’ War with this cold.  The symptoms were barely present, considering I’m one of those people who is usually sniffling and sneezing.  I just assumed that one morning I would wake up aching and unable to breathe through my nose, having finally submitted to this determined germ.

Last Thursday night, it happened.  I sensed it in my sleep – the increase in mucus, the swelling of the throat, the faint but ever-present aching.  Friday morning, I woke up, sat up, and felt my sinuses jostle together miserably while my tonsils engorged and sought refuge in my nasal cavities.

I was sick.  Officially.

It took a while to admit, of course.  I sat on the couch and did my morning email check, waiting to see if this was just a “morning thing” or if I had an actual cold.  After standing up too quickly and giving myself a throbbing headache, I admitted that my health was not up to public standards of approval, and texted my employers to say I’d be staying home that day.

This is a first for me.  I have my moments of sloth – okay, I am frequently sloth-like – but I don’t like missing work or school unless I’m feeling very rebellious or very ill.  It took some mental self-coaching to convince myself that staying home was a good thing to do for my body and my health, and that I wasn’t using my cold as an excuse to skip work.   I wasn’t being weak or lazy; I was protecting myself and my coworkers.

Judging from their reactions to the last time I got sick, I think they appreciated this. 

There are two kinds of colds: Colds and Bad Colds. Colds just affect your body, making you sniffly and sneezy and croaky. Bad Colds, though, get into your very soul. Your body is suffering and you, as a being, just want to curl up under five blankets armed with a pot of tea and two boxes of Kleenex and several Disney movies.  These are the worst, because they’re guaranteed to floor you, no matter what commitments you have or how determined you are to maintain your daily routine.  This recent cold most closely resembled a Cold; my last one, however, was a full-blown Bad Cold.

That one struck back in October.  Day 1 was fine. Day 2 was also okay. I had myself convinced that this was just a Cold, and went around work as usual.  After all, I am a young person with a thriving immune system, right?  Besides, everyone is used to me sniffling and sneezing – nothing new there.  Right?

On Day 3, though, the Cold became a Bad Cold.

I went to work on time and spent the day huddled over my laptop with a mug of tea and my water bottle within reach. I hid myself in the bathroom whenever I had to blow my nose (every five minutes) because I was grossing everyone out, including myself. Several coworkers came by making sympathetic comments while I slowly went through listings.

As the day progressed, however, and the trash cans filled with ungodly amounts of Kleenex, the sympathy began to die away. One reminded me, while standing ten feet away, that he can’t afford to get sick because he has a baby son. Someone else studied my face and suggested that I was probably getting a sinus infection. My boss put a bottle of hand sanitizer on my desk. I used it dutifully, but the messages were clear – I was no longer welcome in the office.

By that point, I didn’t really mind. It was about 1:30, and I was having trouble focusing on anything.  I began to admit to myself that the Cold had officially become a Bad Cold. I had used up my pack of Kleenex, plus the four or five I had pulled from my box at home.  My throat was dry from having to breathe through my mouth all the time.  The forms I was working on no longer seemed to be written in English.  I resolved to leave as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I still had about three more things to do. I posted two new listings in a half-conscious state and managed to throw an article onto someone’s blog.  At 3:01 I turned off the computer and staggered out the door.

I had three goals for when I got home: make tea, get quilts and pillows, and watch “X-Men: Evolution.”

I set the kettle boiling, hauled my pillows out to the couch, and stumbled over the cat a few times as she ran around trying to get me to feed her.  I pulled on my fleece sweats.  I rummaged around on the shelves, sniffling and wheezing like Gollum, and discovered that the “X-Men” DVDs were missing.

I spent another ten minutes scrabbling around the living room with increasingly achey limbs until I finally decided that X-Men cartoons were not worth my life.  I wrapped myself up on the couch and raided Netflix for a show that didn’t require me to think too much.

By the time Kevin got home, I had settled on “Top Gear” and was making my way through an entire pot of herbal tea.  He made dinner that night and I slept until 9 the next day.

Day 4, though, was not a huge improvement.  The entire right side of my face felt like it was full of water balloons.  My voice sounded like I had been swallowing hot coals.  My coworkers were glad to have me back, but still avoided being in the same room with me.

That evening, I decided I had had enough.  No one likes being sick in the first place, and the last thing I needed at that point was to fall victim to a sinus infection.  I told Kevin I was going to lie down with a hot washcloth over my face to try to steam everything open.

“Will that work?”

“I don’t know, but it still sounds nice.”

It didn’t work.  Kevin suggested taking a hot shower, but it was past 9 (aka bedtime for us old folks) and sleeping on cold wet hair didn’t sound like a good idea.  So I went to the Internet for more sinus-clearing ideas.

Since I don’t have any essential oils and I don’t know pressure-point therapy, the best solution seemed to be the most hazardous: boil a pot of water, then stand over it with a towel over your head and breathe steam for fifteen minutes.  “WARNING,” the Internet said, “STEAM IS VERY HOT. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.”

I set the pot boiling and went to inform Kevin that I would be risking third-degree burns for a few minutes.

“This seems like a terrible idea,” I told him.  “This seems like something they would do on ‘Jackass’ and everyone would know it was going to end badly.”

“You’ll be fine.  If something goes wrong, just scream in agony and I’ll come check on you.”

“Thanks, sweetie.”

The process didn’t exactly clear my sinuses, but I didn’t wind up in the hospital, either. Brittney pointed out that it was a better solution than Neti-Pots, which is absolutely true. But the whole situation – having to skip work, trying to avoid getting everyone around me sick, and trying to avoid collapsing into a pit of uselessness – was disheartening. As much as I enjoyed furlough days working with the State, I really hated having to miss work unasked.  I rarely get sick that early in the season, and I’d only been in this job for a few weeks. I feel like I lost some credit, or Work Karma, or something, by taking a sick day so early.

You’d think I would have learned from this and taken as much time as necessary to recover, instead of running around on Sunday doing an Average Fantastic photoshoot, but no.  By Saturday I had convinced myself I was on the mend.  Monday went fine, but Tuesday – the dreaded Day 6, the point at which you’re either about to recover or about to get a lot worse – did not go well at all.  I wound up feeling like I was back on Day 3 of the October cold, wondering why the keyboard letters didn’t seem to be in the right places and interrupting myself every seven minutes to blow my nose (I timed it).  Eventually my boss gently suggested that she needed me to be in and at 100% on Wednesday, and maybe I should take the rest of the day off.


I did, though, and I rested as hard as I could.  I watched “X-Files” and spent two hours curled up in bed with tea and “The Long Halloween.”

Take that, Cold.


3 thoughts on “Staying home sick, or Item #391 of Things Made More Complicated By Growing Up

  1. When I was little and got sick, I’d cry and cry because I wanted to go to school and felt so guilty for missing it. My mom had to keep telling me that they school didn’t want me when I was sick. And in high school, I was in a crazy accelerated program and even missing a day could put you so far behind that we’d always go in, even with the flu.

  2. At work we have multiple signs up telling people not to come to work if they think they are sick. On our system taking a sick day cuts into your ability to take vacation, but so far I’ve not needed to make that kind of sacrifice. Thanks, immune system, I think you’re kind of hardcore.

  3. Uuuurgh. I’m still in the process of getting over the flu and have basically been out for a week now (when the dr. told me this might happen on Monday I thought she was kidding), which seems like an insane amount of time to take off to me, but here I am still with compromised breathing and terrible coughs. I went in this morning and my boss eventually stopped back by my desk and said, I know you said the dr. said you’re no longer contagious, but if you’re going to keep coughing, you should probably just work from home so people don’t freak out about getting what you have. This illness seems to be getting at me mentally more than any past ones, and maybe it just is dealing with it as an adult (esp since both I and bf got sick). I think it might be time to take my cue from you and rest as hard as I can.

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