If you show up to work sick, you’re no hero
The sniffles began around 6:17 pm and by 10 pm it was a full-blown cold that was getting even more cumbersome as the hours went by. There’s nothing more infuriating than staring at what appears to be the ceiling in a pitch black room as your head steadily swells into a knotted ball of snot.
The following morning — I crawled to my parent’s bedroom and saw the splashes of used tissue on the floor — near the bed — and it only took one look at my mother to realize that we were both enslaved in the same torturous state.
She was apologetic but sounded better off than me as she explained that her co-worker had been battling a cold all week — and despite efforts to keep her distance — it appears that the virus found a way to capture my mother — thus initiating the chain reaction that would eventually hold our household hostage.
As I felt my fever rise and the coldness of the wall behind me — embrace my chill — I quickly recalled how distraught I was about sharing space with deathly ill co-workers who refused to confine themselves to the chambers of their over-priced apartments.
One young associate in particular harbored symptoms that sounded like the middle stages of pneumonia. Aside from her dull coloring — her frequent coughing sessions did very little to convince us against securing disposable masks.
Everyone told her to stay home. I encouraged her to see a doctor to verify the status of her illness. She was convinced she wasn’t nearly as bad as she seemed and proceeded to ignore all recommendations to banish herself until further notice.
Meetings were a priority and the pitch books needed to be assembled — come what may. The notion of staying home and missing out on the opportunity to showcase how invaluable she was especially with the latest announcement of promotions looming in the distance — absolutely necessitated polluting numerous cubicles with an infection that none of us wanted to endure — ever.
Then one day she was gone. She didn’t come back until almost a week later. After days and days of performing under the curse of an evil spell that kept getting worse — she finally saw a doctor who informed her that she did indeed have an advanced bronchial infection that was on the verge of evolving into something virulent.
The casual way in which she delivered her prognosis stuck with me after the crowd around her desk dispersed and I was left to my thoughts.
It occurred to me that our society seems entrenched in the logic of long hours at the office with very little time for rest. The vacation days allotted to new employees is pathetic — and what’s even worse is how long you have to toil to accrue the extra days you were supposed to be granted — as someone with a thriving existence outside your 9 to 5 mandatory sentence.
Nigeria follows the British way of things — thanks to our colonized past — and my parents were automatically issued a month long vacation as part of their hiring package. They didn’t have to allow a handful of years to go by before enjoying that privilege.
That might seem excessive to the average American — but when you consider the demands of life in general with all the responsibilities and events that can’t be avoided — it really doesn’t seem unreasonable or overly-generous to begin a new job with the reassurance of a four-week break — to tend to personal matters or at the very least to rejuvenate those highly-utilized brain cells.
As I watched our returned co-worker expertly jot down notes — during the conference call I had scheduled while she was recuperating — I wondered why she was so determined to show up at work sick as fuck — when I could bet my life that she had more than enough personal days to last the rest of the year.
In most cases — workers use up their days before mid-year hits and then once flu season kicks in and they get contaminated — they’re forced to be functional lepers — infecting break rooms, mail rooms and copiers on every floor. Or they simply prefer to work through their fever and nausea in order to protect the pile of days required for their planned extravaganza.
Some who notice praise them by noting what “troopers” they are for displaying super human strength — despite the burden of their ailment. While others like me bitch about it during lunch breaks — as we step out into the brisk air and wish we could stay that way until the end of day.
The truth is that showing up for work with a viral infection doesn’t make you a hero.
You don’t deserve to be applauded for being uncannily resilient and willing to sacrifice your health and wellbeing of others for the sake of what is usually a measly paycheck and average benefits. It’s never worth it to exert yourself past what’s advisable just to guarantee the security of your holiday schedule.
Yes, having a job is key to survival, but being well enough to keep it is also vital — not to mention innocent co-workers who also want the chance to function in an environment that isn’t threatened by the gush of diseased air — hovering around them with imposing silence.
There has to be a rule book that houses the laws for dealing with overtly sick employees who need to be shown the exit with a quickness that’s boosted by zero tolerance.
That may sound harsh but you can’t make me believe anything else will do when you find me half-conscious — at the foot of the bed — with my mom’s lukewarm tea soaking my face and hair.
That woman that got my mom sick is a scumbag! And then the lights go out.