Monday, February 04, 2008

Today's Options

Last Thursday, my IBS was acting up in a way it rarely does. This means I spent most of the night, awake and aware and suffering. Thus, when I got up and sat down at my computer around 7:00 Friday morning to email my colleagues and tell them I was taking a sick day (oh, excuse me, according to our new parent company, it’s an “optional day.” Don’t you just love that? As if we could wake up in the morning and say, “No, I’d rather not have today. Keep it around, though, as I might change my mind and want it some other time”), I was thinking that spending the rest of (what I hoped would be a very short) life in bed would be an excellent idea. As a matter of fact, I was even wondering why Death didn't just open that damned door instead of keeping me standing there staring right at it. By 10:00 a.m., however, I was regretting having had any such thoughts and hoping that Death had been way too busy to be listening to Little Old Me. By that hour, I was contemplating the odd concept of what it means to take a sick day when one telecommutes. I mean, I didn’t exactly feel like doing anything too taxing, but I could certainly get up and check my email at that point.

In the old days, back before I could afford to own a laptop, and telecommuting was a pipe dream, when I had physically to be in the office in order to do any work, I loved days like this when I’d be feeling better before noon and had a good excuse just to lie in bed all day with a stack of books by my side. These days, though, I feel “obligated” to take advantage of the fact I’m no longer sick. Why? After all, it isn’t as though I’m going to get that “optional day” back now that I’ve claimed it.

So what do I do? First of all, I think, “No, your body was obviously telling you that you need to rest. Take it easy. Don’t check your email.” I choose a pile of books to bring to bed with me. I get back in bed and decide I’ll just bring the laptop to bed with me, so I can catch up on everyone else’s blogs. That’s a bad idea. It’s like saying “yes” to that former GQ model you met at your friend’s party when he asks if he can give you a ride home, and then thinking you really shouldn’t have invited him in, because you know absolutely nothing about him, but then, how often do you have a former GQ model drive you home from a party? You might as well take advantage of the fact he’s here.

Yes, after catching up on all my favorite blogs, I did check my email, and then, that’s a stupid thing to do, isn’t it? I mean, if I answer any of my colleagues’ emails to me, they’re going to wonder why I’m doing so when I’m supposed to be sick. How many people do you know who call in sick and then show up at work a couple of hours later, seemingly fine? If I did happen to know anyone who did that, my first thought would be, “Does she have a drinking/drug problem or something?” So, I’ve got emails from colleagues that my fingers are itching to answer, but I’d better not, if I don’t want well-meaning people recommending rehab or something. I stick to answering author emails; they don’t know I’m sick. But I don’t have too many of those today. Oh well, I can easily lie in bed and finish editing that manuscript.

You see, and by the time 2:00 p.m . rolls around, I’ve wasted a perfectly good sick day, because I've been working most of the day. Our number of "optional days" isn't optional. They eventually disappear if one takes too many of them. What if I get the Black Plague in a few months and really need it? I really should have just slept in a little longer this morning and waited to see how I felt before so hastily emailing all my colleagues (I’ve quite obviously forgotten that I’d been knocking on Death’s door long before I sat down to send off that email).

I haven’t had a cold yet this year, but colds can also be problematic when one is a telecommuter. It used to be that I knew when to take a sick day with a cold, because I’d wake up in the morning, and my body would say, “Stay home in fleece sweats all day. Don’t go out.” That was my body’s way of saying, “Call in sick.” Well, now, that sort of a demand from my body pretty much describes how I spend many of my working days: at home in fleece sweats, not leaving the house. When I'm feeling a little down and out and sniffly these days, no matter how hard I listen for its (obviously high-pitched like a dog whistle’s) call to “stay off-line,” I don’t seem to be able to hear it. More often than not, it seems to be saying, “Email won’t hurt. You can bring the laptop to bed with you.”

Barring migraines (when my body then booms in a very loud voice to “Stay in bed in a completely dark room with a cold cloth on your head OR ELSE," something that's never "optional," no matter what the parent company thinks), which I still get on a fairly regular basis, despite everyone telling me they’d lessen as I age, and trips to the doctor and the dentist, I don’t tend to call in sick. I’m not sure, though, that this is the best approach for speeding recovery from whatever ails me. I’m guessing those of you who know much more about the mind-body connection than I would say “no, it isn’t.” However, I look at it this way: so many women I know who are my age are mothers who don’t get to take “sick days” from motherhood, no matter how sick they get. Surely that’s far more-demanding than lying in bed checking emails.

Now, I've changed my mind. I want my optional day back after all. It's still right there where we left it, isn't it? I can just go grab it, right?


Litlove said...

I know all about the difficulty of taking a proper sick day when you work at home AND the immense difficulty of taking a day off from motherhood. The latter is possible but requires the kind of military organisation that might have been responsible for wearing you out in the first place. I am always caught out by incremental decision making - the 'oh I'll just do this tiny thing' principle, quickly followed by one more tiny thing, and so on. Isn't it tricky? If you find an answer, let me know!! And most important of all, I do hope you are now feeling MUCH better.

mandarine said...

I just touched on the perfect meaninglessness of the barrier our work ethics has erected between life and work. How would an 'optional day' look like for a hunter-gatherer or a farmer? After all, humans have been hunter-gatherers for eons, farmers for millennia, and office workers for less than a century. No wonder our mind has difficulties justifying the concept of sick days when physical commuting no longer materializes the stupid psychological barrier.

PS: you can answer your email but then set a delay ("Do Not Deliver Before" option in outlook) so that nobody knows...

musingsfromthesofa said...

I'd forgotten about Optional Days. I see one of those coming up very soon. Thank you for the reminder!
I have two stages of sick days: stage one is that I work from home, where staying in my pyjamas all day with the heating turned up and copious amounts of tea will help; stage two is where I respond to email from home and then tell everyone that's it for the day because my head isn't working.
By my reckonings, you can reclaim your optional day because you worked.

ZoesMom said...

I can relate. I don't work from home regularly, but I can work from home because I have a laptop and I often end up at least checking email on a sick day. I make up for it by taking "mental health" days. Mental health days are taken as sick days, but I plan some restorative activity like watching movies or sleeping or reading all day. It is important that these mental health days be taken on days when my daughter has school.

All that said, I agree with Becky -- you should reclaim your optional day.

Dorothy W. said...

Oh, I'm glad you recovered quickly! And I'd have a hard resisting the laptop and the emails -- I make the mistake of checking my work email over the weekend (I do like to be able to answer student emails, and I work over the weekend anyway, grading papers and such) and then getting upset or tensed over something I read, and it can ruin the weekend, if I'm not careful.

Cam said...

Oh this strikes home with me. I lost 8 days of PTO (combined vacation/sick days with my employer) last year and worked both Christmas Eve and New Years Day, not to mention Labor Day and a portion of the one 'free' day I tried to pack into my Dec NYC trip. I've been out sick -- truly sick -- for 5 days now. For two days my office phone was forwarded to my cell phone and I stupidly answered it and garbled things like I'm sick, have X look at it. Delegated emails almost everytime the blackberry buzzed. When I was at the MD's, the bb buzzed about 5 times. Finally he said: You really aren't going into the office are you?. I finally turned off the phone and didn't check email until after hours and responded to only a few. Yet today, I agreed to work on one problem which turned into a two hour phone call. I can't remember ever taking 5 sick days -- not even when I had mono and I think I kept my son -- then an infant -- home from daycare. What the heck was I thinking? Yeah, I'm sick all right. Will see what Wednesday brings. Thursday may have to be a mental health day just on principal. And I expect to get a hearty laugh from my Doc when I ask for a Return to Work note. I'm sr management and I need that? I so wish that was a joke.

Emily Barton said...

Litlove, oh yes, it's those "tiny little things" that all add up to one gigantic thing that are the worst. And, yes, I'm feeling MUCH better, despite gorging on fat yesterday.

Mandarine, that hit home with me as I was listening to ROBINSON CRUSOE on my afternoon commute the other day. When he got sick, well, THOSE were real sick days, no? And thanks for the tip re: Outlook.

MFS, your stage one sounds scarily like a normal work day for me.

ZM, funny. I used to take mental health days as a matter of course, but now that I telecommute, I don't find I need them. And right: what's the point in taking one if Zoe's home? That's called a "play date," isn't it?

Dorr, yes, it's those horrible emails that suddenly ruin what was a perfectly good day that are so problematic. Ignorance really is bliss sometimes.

Cam, sounds like you absolutely, positively need a mental health day, so take it (and unplug all phones, computers, etc.). Hope you're feeling much, much better soon!