I’m rarely very ill. In more than fifteen years of working, I’ve probably had no more than twenty days off sick. That’s not to say that I don’t get sick at all – it’s just that I’m likely to drag myself into work despite various aches and pains, in some kind of martyr-ish attempt to prove that I’m either Superman, or a leading contender for the two luncheon vouchers (or subscription to Anglers Monthly) on offer for the employee of the month.
Of course in reality I’m no superhero. To be around me when I’m not feeling very well is to truly know sorrow. Not my sorrow, I hasten to add – just the aching sense of misery brought on by watching the melodramatic whining of somebody who is old enough to know better. The reason I’m not ill very often is that mankind (and more to the point these days, The Special One) wouldn’t tolerate the inhuman moaning that I can muster in response to, say, a paper cut.
The strange thing is that when I feel vaguely ill, it’s almost as if I step out of my own body. Not in a ‘moving closer to the light’ kind of way, although by the groans of perceived pain coming from me, you could easily be confused into believing that I might be on the verge of death. Instead, I’m just able to hear myself complaining about my latest malady and inwardly wonder why I’m making such a fuss about nothing.
The last few days I’ve been genuinely ill, with my body performing all manner of emergency evacuation procedures in an attempt to get rid of toxins brought on by a stomach flu. The bathroom has been my near permanent home, and I was virtually nil by mouth for 36 hours. I felt pretty bad, I have to admit. But I’m sure the consistency and voraciousness of my vocalised pain was such that alarmed passers-by would have been convinced that I was having my wedding tackle sliced at with Samurai swords every five minutes.
I’ve come to the realisation that it’s not the pain that upsets me though. Instead it’s just the fact that I – and most American residents, to be fair – only get to take five days off sick per year before they cease to be paid for their time away from the office.
Don’t get me wrong, I have never once taken off five sick days in any year of my career. I could probably be given five days for every two years and still not use them up. But it’s the principle. In Britain, I always had the comfort of knowing that I could be off for four days in a row at any point without even needing a doctor’s note to explain my absence. Find yourself struck down with a four day illness in the US, and you’re suddenly taking every preventative treatment known to man in an attempt to ensure that you can afford to pay your rent.
I’m thinking about fighting for some kind of constitutional amendment enshrining the inalienable right to sickness. If the powers-that-be don’t agree, I’ll threaten to step up my moaning every time I get even slightly ill. That’ll get them on the back foot, I promise you.