• Jay Hicks

Too ill to work? It is not a Laughing Matter!


With the current environment, many of us are being told to stay home for two weeks. Depending on where you live and your occupation, you may be told to stay home from work, if you think you are ill or sick. There are other factors, but this latter situation leaves the decision to us – the individual. So how do we know if we are ill? How sick do you need to be in order to justify not going in?

We all define illness or being sick in different ways. This became apparent recently, when my wife and I went for a 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) test. Kellie and I just returned from a cruise and had visited high-risk countries in Europe. Upon arrival to the US, we were placed in a 14-day self-quarantine by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Our local community was offering a drive-through test for high-risk people. With many folks being asymptomatic and both of us having had a mild cough on the cruise and in Europe, we decided to take the test.

When going through the drive-through test site, we were given a verbal assessment. Answering the questions highlighted the fact that Kellie and I use different criteria to determine if we are sick. We were asked about the cruise and our visit to foreign countries, and then about COVID-19 symptoms. When asked about the cough, Kellie and I answered simultaneously “NO” and “YES”.

As we departed the drive-through test facility, Kellie quickly reminded me that one of CDC’s measures is temperature. She stated that temperature is a quantifiable measure. You either have a temperature or you don’t. Of course, she was right; all the other measures by the CDC were qualitative.

Being at home together under quarantine, with little else to do, the testing event spawned much conversation. Kellie defines the state of being sick or ill as having symptoms that are so debilitating, they prevent or hamper daily tasks. She currently has a cough, which she attributes to the oak trees blooming. She has a mild allergy and does not consider herself to be sick or ill. I was responding to the symptom and knew we were mildly, but persistently coughing, starting during the cruise.

Kellie’s family, like many others, usually shrugs off illness. She gargles with salt water if her throat is sore; takes an aspirin if she has a headache. Additionally, Kellie took a college course on cultures and illness. The variations and attitudes on illness, associated sensitivity, care and treatment, further solidified her thoughts on shrugging off illness.

My upbringing was very different. I grew up in a family that behaved and reacted in a manner reminiscent of a Woody Allen doctor scene. Mom would give us chicken soup and do everything motherly possible to help us quickly get over the sniffles. I say this with much love, but it was very dissimilar to Kellie’s memories.

Frankly, it took a long time to resolve and understand that our upbringing had shaped my wife and I very differently. Kellie, also being a former soldier, would often tease me should I complain about my throat or headache. My boys learned at a very early age, unless you were dying, staying home from school was not an option. Obviously, several comical memories come to mind. With our boys out on their own and personally being of relatively good health, I had not given any of this a second thought for a long time.

So…What is your approach to the qualitative responses to the COVID-19 symptoms? If you are scheduled to work, how will you determine if you are too ill to go in? Perhaps being conservative, at least during the next few weeks, may be advantageous.

By the way, we still have had no word on a positive or negative test result, and we continue to quarantine ourselves.

Remember, washy, washy, to be less contagious!

~Jay Hicks

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