Patience, long-suffering, persistence

I’ve been sick in one form or another since Thanksgiving, with the exception of about five days. It’s been a trying year for me in the realm of health overall. My body doesn’t fight off or deal with a common cold as well as other people I know who can often work through it. I tried that back in ’02, while working at a sandwich counter, biking to work every day in February. In Nebraska. I was miserable for two weeks. Earlier this year I ended up in a situation where I was ill but had to be at a conference we’d already paid for. It’s never fun to be sick when you travel.

Conversely, when I take time off I can usually be on the mend in three or four days fighting the common Rhinovirus or its kin. I often wish I possessed the superpower of my officemate who, when he feels sick, can sleep for a solid 18 hours and wake up pretty much good as new.

None of this would be worth posting here were it not for one line in Kathleen Norris’ Dakota, where she suggests we in America don’t have the proper patience to weather sickness. I don’t personally know how this compares to other cultures, though if I can cite a controversial source Michael Moore’s Sicko suggested that Europeans are generally allowed as much time off as they need when feeling blue, whether that’s from illness or a recently dissolved relationship (though Moore’s claims about the wondermous nature of nationalized health care were outright poo-pooed by my friends who actually live on the continent). However, just seeing how cold medicines are marketed these days it’s easy to confirm that we’re an impatient bunch about being under the weather.

Thinking out loud here, I wonder how much of this is because of an endemic workaholism in our country. We can’t be seen as weak; we must push through our minor ailments. Or are we so influenced by the drug companies and their commercials that we believe we can use their product and just head right back to work (which, even if you feel well-enough, seems like a civic irresponsibility as you spread the infection — especially if you work food service like I did in the aforementioned scenario)? And how seldom it is we see sick people on TV or in film. I can think of only one episode of Home Improvement where illness was included in the storyline. (Adding: A show in the third season of Gilmore Girls also depicts Lorelai with a cold.)

I remember a news spot a couple years ago talking about how many people felt they couldn’t take time off for being sick. They couldn’t afford it. Should employers give more grace in this respect? Should workers save up money to cover times when they can’t work? Should consumers be more patient for things or plan ahead more, understanding that business owners get sick too? And so do, well, actors, and spies, and actors who play spies.

Or am I just a wimp? Should I just go to work despite my cold and fever or whatnot, even if it means I’m spreading it to other people and prolonging my own agony?


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

6 Responses to Patience, long-suffering, persistence

  1. Paul S. says:

    I sliced two fingers about a month and a half ago and had to get seven stitches. I could have gone to work (landscaping) well enough and done my work well. Instead I took the entire week off. Why risk infection, or pulling the stitches out of place accidentally?

    It’s not just that we are workaholics (which is true for many) but that we are kinds of manicheans. We surprisingly have little to no regard for our bodies; we are mechanically minded. It is no noble thing to work like a brute animal in spite of the fact that one has come down with something. That’s just stupid. One needs to rest up – and I dare say, even take some pleasure in it.

  2. Tim J. says:

    I happen to be fighting off a rhinovirus right now, but I’m doing better than I thought I would at this point. This is the first illness of any kind that I’ve had for at least a year and a half.

    A couple of years before was bad, though. I got a whopper of an upper respiratory infection, which eventually went to my ear and was so bad it ended up perforating my eardrum (lots of pain). Then, I was hit with terrifying vertigo (as the infection hit my inner ear) that took weeks to subside. Altogether, I was seriously sick for a couple of months. Luckily I was self-employed at the time, or I’m sure I would have lost whatever job I might have had.

    Personal days at my current job are accrued slowly, so taking paid time off can seem like a pretty serious decision. Taking unpaid time off is even worse, because you know that it will show up in your next check.

    So, yes, people at my job regularly come in with horrible coughs, etc…

  3. pNielsen says:

    Vertigo. Is. Awful.

    Had a seemingly random experience with that in our second year of marriage. Woke up feeling fine, made breakfast but within 15 minutes started to get dizzy. Finally puked once or twice and fell asleep on the floor in the fetal position. I woke up two hours later and felt, relatively fine. Had moderate episodes for the following year but dealt with them. Early last year started have similar dizziness in front of the computer. Some trips to the chiropractor fixed that, though have no idea what the freaky event six years ago was all about.

    Good thoughts Paul. I’d elaborate but I’m still sick and ready for a break :p You taught me a new word: manicheans!

  4. Sarah says:

    I have no problem taking time off for being ill, but very much resent those who come to work/school feeling miserable. I’ll inevitably get sick and miss a week. I don’t understand this feeling of “being brave” or “strong” by coming to work sick as a dog. You are right that Americans have little regard for our bodies.

  5. Sarah says:

    Paul- my leg went numb for nearly a year last year. I have no idea why, but no doctor seemed concerned. It is amazing what wonders a chiropractor can do 🙂 I need to make an appointment, my hips are killing me!

  6. Pingback: Why I root for the little guy « The Aesthetic Elevator

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