Sick guilt

Image taken from headexplodie's photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

I went to the doctor’s today.

For the past 2-3 months I’ve been having problems with severe dry mouth, and most recently, dry eyes and a lack of tears.

I’d been back and forward to the doctor a few times, but now I came clutching my own possible explanation for these weird symptoms – Sjogrens.

So the doctor is there telling me that I’d know about it if I had Sjogrens. It isn’t just a dry mouth. It’s a terrible dry mouth.

Obviously the doctor doesn’t get the fact that I’m generally not one to make a song and dance about my health and the mere fact that I had come back to the doctor again was only because I was at desperation point.

So I’m telling him my symptoms and (as it does at the moment) the effort of talking for too long dries my mouth out completely and my words begin to stick together.

He has a look at my throat. ‘Your throat is really dry!’

That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you…

He gives me 3 days sick leave.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a doctor prescribe that much leave in one hit for me.

In the surgery it comes as a relief. I have the image in my head of being able to rest: to sip drinks for three days, to bathe my mouth in biotene (I’m keeping the company in business at the moment), to apply fake tears liberally at will, to rest my aching glands, and heaven forbid – to nap.

But tonight I’m being haunted. The gazillion things on my work and personal to-do lists are rolling through my head at break neck pace. New things that weren’t even on my list to start with are occurring to me, threatening to crush this precious rest and recuperation time.

I’ve always been the kind of person who never sits still. I’m usually found doing three things at once, or squashing too many things into a hectic schedule. It’s on my to-do list to learn how to slow down.

But the other thing working against me is ‘sick guilt’.

I’m a firm believer in sick leave. I believe we’d all be better off if we stayed home from work and school when we are sick and didn’t ‘soldier on’. Fewer people would catch the communicable illnesses, and if we actually rested we’d fight off bugs earlier and be more productive. But this belief doesn’t mean that I don’t suffer from sick guilt.

It feels like even though we have a workplace entitlement of 15 days sick leave per year you’d better be really sick to take it. It’s not something openly talked about in the workplace, but just a feeling that’s entrenched the more people do soldier on. If you can sit and type at a computer for a while, clearly you’re not really sick, after all – ‘Jones, Smith and Walker’ only ever have sick days when they’re flat on their back in bed.

I’ve never taken a ‘sickie’ in my life. When I’ve taken leave, I’ve needed it. But I still feel that at times the need for my sick leave will be doubted. Not necessarily by my manager, but generally in the workplace. I don’t think I would ever be challenged on this, but I just don’t like the feeling of ‘sick guilt’.

When at times I’ve used my sick leave to look after my sick children my level of ‘sick guilt’ escalates even further. Again, this is not because of my own personal belief, but my sense of the broader workplace culture. And I don’t think it is one confined to my own workplace. It feels like we try to talk the talk of family friendly and ‘flexible’ workplaces, but we’re not all really able to ‘walk the walk’ yet.

Recently I learned of at least one workplace in the private sector having unlimited sick leave. Some also provide legitimate ‘doona days’ as part of a package to attract and retain staff. I wonder if the phenomenon of ‘sick guilt’ still rears its head in these organisations?

So I don’t know if I have Sjogren’s or not. I’m under instructions to take some rest, lubricate my mouth and eyes regularly and see if 2 weeks of that makes a difference. If not, some more investigations will be in order. But hopefully tomorrow I can fight my own nature and the sick guilt demons and follow the doctor’s orders.

Do you get sick guilt?

How can we change this aspect of workplace culture?

Image from with thanks to headexplodie.

About greenleftyidealist

Green, left and idealistic. A mum, a runner, a rogainer, a public servant and wanna be writer. My dog is golden.
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