A Working Mother’s Lack Of Sick Time Might Make Her Sick More Often

sick momI happen to have some congestion in my lungs, along with a fever and a really disgusting cough that you should all be very happy you don’t have to listen to. After a couple days of suffering in a litany of whiny sighs to my husband silence, I finally headed to my doctor’s network’s walk-in clinic for a quick Z-pack and maybe even a little cough syrup with codeine. Instead, I was treated to a little lecture about actually taking time off when I’m sick, the overuse of antibiotics, and why all of it is making me get ill more often.

Before she even asked about symptoms, my nurse practitioner looked at my file and asked me, “Did you realize you’ve already taken antibiotics three times this year?” I knew that it seemed like a lot for a grown adult, but I mentioned that I had a problem with ear infections over the summer that counted for at least one round of medicine. “I also have a four-year-old in school and daycare, and I volunteer in the school once a week.” Kids are germy creatures. We all know that.

My NP wasn’t having my excuses though. “I’m around sick people every day and I don’t get sick that often,” she reminded me. And I worked really hard not to mutter, “Well yippee for you,” under my breath. It’s possible that this lady just really wanted to sell me on using probiotics, because she definitely made the sales pitch. She let me know that using antibiotics so often knocks good germs out of my body, making me more susceptible to illness afterwards and creating a pretty crappy cycle that people can get stuck in.

Then, she hit on a topic that my personal doctor has been bringing up to me for years. “Part of the problem is that working parents never want to take any time off just to get better. We all want a quick fix. And we feel like drugs are the only way to get that.” I cannot count the number of times since my daughter’s birth that my own doctor has told me, “If you would just take time off to rest when you started to get sick, it wouldn’t reach this level.”

While I have to admit that I was annoyed with the NP’s sales pitch and presumption since we didn’t exactly have a history of working together and I had a real illness I was trying to treat, I couldn’t ignore that she was pointing out a very troubling pattern. Working parents don’t feel like they can take time off when they’re sick, so they work through an illness, only to let it get worse. It gets to the point where they finally need an antibiotic. The overuse of antibiotics makes the parents more likely to get sick again.

Obviously, I’m not a doctor, but the logic seemed to make sense for me. More than that, through my own personal experience, I can see how easy this pattern is to fall into. For parents, sick days are absolutely precious. And if you’re lucky enough to have a couple, you’re not going to waste them on your own sickness. You’re going to save them for that call from the school nurse saying your child just threw up all over their desk.

I’m the worst at refusing to take time off to recuperate. That could be why I’m currently downing my fourth pack of antibiotics for 2012. (To very little effect, I might add.) My body might decide to force it’s hand, leaving me no choice but to stay in bed for a couple days and let myself get better. But while I’m here, how about we discuss ways to help working parents take the time off they need so that a cold or flu doesn’t turn in to a sinus infection or pneumonia? Let’s talk about how it could benefit companies to provide more sick days, letting employees who need the time off rest and get back to productivity when they’re at their most capable. Let’s talk about how I can make I don’t have to sit through another lecture from a crabby nurse practitioner on a Friday evening because I didn’t take care of myself and I’m through my year’s allotment of zithromax.

(Photo: InfinityPhoto/Shutterstock)

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  • The pines of Rome

    Yet another reason I’m so grateful I live in ‘socialist’ Europe. In Italy, where I live, when you go to a doctor for illness or an accident, he gives you an official diagnosis with how many days off you get to take. Might be just a day or two for a cold, or up to six months for a serious illness or injury. Your employer doesn’t have any choice in the matter. It’s the law that they have to give you paid time off. You don’t have a set number of “sick days”, that doesn’t make any sense as how can you predict what will happen to you that year? Things aren’t perfect here, far from it, but this is one of the things that gives people a sense of tranquility in the workplace. That, and five months full-paid maternity leave.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shelly-Lloyd/826469442 Shelly Lloyd

    I know a lot of working moms (and dads) who simply can not afford to take time off when they are sick. They can barely take time off when their children are sick. In some ways I’m lucky because even though I’m just a lowly cashier the store I work at does have paid sick time for cashiers–that is the first time I have ever worked in a service job like that and had paid sick time. But it is only about 3 days a year. But with 2 children it is very easy to burn through those 3 sick days and then not have any sick time left for when I’m sick.

  • may

    My last 2 jobs have been contract. Which means I have no sick days, no benefits at all. If I take time off I don’t get paid. The companies like to piously mention that get paid more hourly so that I should take care of that “sick time” myself but the reality is that in the last 5 yrs hourly rates have dropped and I can’t afford even one day off. So I go to work sick, feverish, sneezing, almost fainting If I take a day, I get nothing.

  • Scarlette

    Assuming you don’t mean that you get more time off because you have kid, then sure more time off would be nice for people with/without kids.