Under the Weather, Under the Gun

Two weeks ago my son, Dawson, came down with a terrible cold. He was whiny. He wouldn’t eat. He was barely able to swallow a few tablespoons of Pedialyte. He was miserable, and I was getting there. Because my husband is the primary bread winner of our household, I called in sick to work to take care of our little one. 

Like most people, I hate missing work due to an illness. I worry about getting behind with my duties and losing sales and productivity because I haven’t worked as many days in the month as my co-workers. I also suffer an irrational fear that my boss thinks I’m calling in just to avoid having to sell another set of hearing aids. As much as I love a day off, taking a sick day to care for a three-year-old who can’t blow his own nose is no cup of tea.

After two days of forcing fluids and watching back-to-back episodes of Go, Diego, Go and Spongebob Squarepants, Dawson was still not feeling better, and I was near death. It started with a sore throat, gradually getting so horrible that I couldn’t talk, followed by a runny nose, congestion, fever, migraines and body aches. It was inevitable. I would have to use three more sick days. Every morning as my husband got ready to go to work, I begged him to start picking out my funeral casket because I was certain I wouldn’t make it through the day.

I cursed the germs that were taking over my body. I prayed to the Gods, hoping for a magic spell to make me healthy again. I even told Dawson that he was never going to daycare again, because I was certain that’s where the virus came from in the first place. Stick 12 kids in a room for eight hours a day during the cold winter months and someone is bound to catch a cold.

As I was laying in bed, trying to kick the cold, my boss was panicking. He called several times a day to "see how I was feeling" but what he really meant was, "Can you help me with __________?"

What I was thinking: "I can barely get out of bed to take Sudafed and you want me to work from home? Are you serious?"

What I said: "Uh, yeah. Sure. You can find that information in the filing cabinet under __________________."

Excluding childbirth and a minor back injury a couple years ago, I have rarely missed more than a day or two because of a sick child, or being sick myself. This was the first time any manager had called me at home to help with work stuff.

I do my best not to work from home, and I work hard to not worry about my job when I’m not on duty. Working in a competitive industry like hearing health care, I sometimes work through lunches and read through memos and e-mails when I get home, just to stay on top of the game. I just can’t bear to be behind schedule.

During the five days I was locked in the house barking like a seal and blowing through four boxes of Kleenex, I managed to reply to e-mails and check in on the office at least once a day. When I finally returned to the office, a mountain of paperwork had accumulated on my desk and thirty-five voice mails were waiting to be responded to. 

My boss was not as understanding as I hoped he would be. Every conversation began with, "While you were sick…" and "I know you’re just starting to feel better, but…"

It was then that I realized I wasn’t easily replaceable. The flow of our office depended on me being there to field telephone calls, reply to e-mails and follow-up on sales leads.

I felt like I had adopted another child. Not only did I have to nurse my son back to health, but I had to nurse my office back to efficiency.

After two days of playing catch-up, I traveled to our corporate office for a sales meeting. I had missed a conference call while I was out, and no one bothered to fill me in on the details. I felt like an ugly step child. Because I was out of the loop, I was the only person asking questions while the others looked at me as though I was speaking Greek.

What they were thinking: "Gees, Dana. Get with the program. We talked about this last Thursday."

What I was thinking: "Oh, okay. Except, I was out sick last Thursday and I didn’t receive the usual 500 memos that follow every phone conference.  It would be nice if someone could have filled me in before I drove 90 miles to waste my time."

What my boss said: "We’ll go over this, one on one, after the meeting. Just try to follow along."

What I said: "Sure. Sorry to interrupt. I’ll just take good notes."

As the meeting progressed, I realized that we were discussing the same "urgent" topics that we covered six meetings ago. I figured I hadn’t missed much at all, until I was asked to talk about some of the successful sales tactics I had been implementing that had attributed to achieving my sales goals last year.

He wants me to speak? In front of 60 of my co-workers? Without any preparation? This was so not fair, I thought.

I took a deep breath and began improvising. Just like I told Dawson that Diego takes a nap three times a day and that’s why we can’t watch him on television all the time, I told my co-workers just how important is to never miss a day of work, even if you’ve contracted pneumonia or worse yet, malaria; because the company just can’t function without you. Everyone laughed, and the boss nodded his head and said, "It’s so good to have the company’s stand-up comedian back at work." I’m taking it as a compliment. How funny would it be to call in sick tomorrow?