To the Sick Person at the Office Powering Through the Day, Please Stay Home

Dear sick person at the office,

I understand what it feels like to think you are indispensable — that, no matter what your profession is, no matter what your job or level, if you don’t show up for work the whole operation will just. fall. apart. Whatever will they possibly do without you if you miss a day or two of work because you have a cold, a fever or even something more serious?

Let me let you in on a little secret: they will survive.  Trust me.

Two years ago I left work on a gorgeous Friday afternoon with a swollen eye and didn’t go back… for six whole months. And guess what? The building didn’t collapse! (gasp!) The 130-year-old business kept running without little old me! (double gasp!) Life, as they knew it, went on! (triple gasp!)

Listen, I get it. I, too, have dragged myself to the office so I could muddle my way through the workday because (I believed) there was just too much going on for me to stay home. I, too, have convinced myself I didn’t have luxury of time needed to rest and recover.

What I have learned in the past year is that life does in fact go on. As amazing as we all are (or think we are…), it is OK to do what you need to do for yourself to get better.

Put aside the belief that your respective place of business cannot make it without you. Realize you have earned the right to be sick, for crying out loud. Our society’s workplace environments have become so intense that the most many of us will concede to do when we are sick is “work from home.” It’s like, “Fine, you may have made me admit I’m sick but I will still work, damn it!”

I have done the same thing. I have pushed myself in the name of selflessness. I have gone to the office, hopped up on Tylenol cold medicine because I had a deadline or a commitment.

I will make another confession (this one is bad, you guys…). I have even sent my kids to school or daycare when they were just-about, pretty-close-to, let’s-call-it all better. Hey, don’t judge me. We’ve all done it! Most parents have told themselves their kids were OK, given them a children’s Motrin, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best (and then jumped every single time our phones rang). And why? Not because we don’t care about our children’s health — 9 out of 10 times I am sure it was because we had to go to work ourselves.

But here’s the issue. That day two years ago when I left work? I went to the emergency room with a swollen eye and came home with a blood cancer called multiple myeloma. Among other things, multiple myeloma impairs the immune system, weakening the body’s ability to prevent or fight off infections.

So when you decide to come to work sick, now it’s my problem too. Now I have to worry that you are going to pass along whatever germs you have to me. And having a disease that makes my immune system betray me at the drop of a dime means I constantly have worry that your “minor” cold is going to get me a Fast Pass to the hospital.

Listen, we all do it or have done it — pushed ourselves for many reasons, not the least of which is that we can’t possibly miss work. But the truth is that life does go on without us. If we miss a day or two, products will get made, contracts will get signed, kids will still learn, the plant Earth will not fall off its axis.

Aside from getting me – or anyone for that matter – sick with your many germs, let’s also stop telling ourselves that we don’t have the right to be sick. We all know we are no good to the people in our life if we ourselves aren’t taken care of. Yet, despite knowing this, we still push… and push… and push.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned since my diagnosis is that I have to put myself first. When you’re a mom and wife – as well as a chronic people pleaser – this is not easy to do. I have always pushed… and pushed… and pushed. Pushed my needs down and put everyone’s ahead of mine.

I can’t do this anymore. It could literally become a matter of life or death. And yes, I realize just how dramatic that sounds! But the truth is, a small cold can become so much more when you have multiple myeloma. Last Thanksgiving I had a cold, got dehydrated and ultimately found myself in the hospital with pneumonia. In the winter especially I often have to stay away from my germ-filled office – where everyone goes even when they are sick – because it puts me at higher risk for even more sickness or infection.

Now everyone at your office isn’t like me. Not everyone has a sucky immune system. But that doesn’t mean when you’re sick, you shouldn’t still just stay the hell home. Take care of yourself. You deserve it – and I do too.

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