It's a crisp Monday morning; your agenda is interwoven with meetings, projects and the usual "catch-up" from the week past. You awake with shaking chills and muscle pains that feel like you're being pulsed by a million tiny lasers. Every time you swallow, your saliva feels like gasoline fueling an already rip-roaring fire in your throat. You have too much to complete at your office, staying home is just not an option--or is it? How do you know whether to stay or go? Though many often feel that they should fight through and go to work, there are many signs that indicate that you could be contagious--definitely a sign to stay home.
It is imperative to avoid spreading your infection and to be evaluated for treatment to accelerate your recovery. Signs that you are contagious, which should simplify your decision to not only stay home but also to seek medical care, are as follows:
Persistent productive cough with fever;
Outbreak of rash with or without fever;
Red eyes with mucus discharge that seal your eyes shut in the morning;
Severe sore throat;
Muscle pains and achy joints with any of the above symptoms;
Vomiting with or without diarrhea;
High fever, stiff neck and headache.
The spread of either a viral or bacterial infection can cause a negative trickle-down effect on the entire workplace. Realize that not only are your co-workers at risk from contracting your infection, but so are their families and loved ones, some of whom might have fragile immune systems such as the elderly and newborns. Plus, it is unlikely that your coworkers will thank you when they contract the same cold or flu! When your coworkers develop your illness, resulting in many other sick days across a department or office, productivity inevitably declines because of many sick days that could have been prevented by one or two.
There are many ways you can manage your workload while sick, especially if your coworkers or boss are willing to lend a hand and be flexible. Some strategies that will allow for productivity during this "down" time include:
1. Work via remote computer. There are many projects in day-to-day office life that could be completed from your home computer while you are in your pajamas in bed! If you can link your office computer to your home desktop or laptop, you can tackle any computer-based projects you have lined up. Another option is to have work scanned and sent to you for your home viewing and completion, allowing you to stay on top of your workload and recover at the same time.
2. Convert physical meetings to telephone or Skype consultations. Utilize technology to your advantage. Most cell phones have the ability to add in multiple callers, allowing you to set up conference calls. If you are supposed to call in to a conference line, have one of your coworkers send you the number and instructions. Ask a coworker to set up an automatic, outgoing message with your "number for the day" and your Skype information. Not only will you impress your colleagues and clients with your innovation and dedication, but you show your consideration for not spreading your infection.
3. Take work home with you. This scenario works well if your symptoms start before the next work day. Bring home that proposal that must be finished before the end of the week, and work on it in between naps. Always prepare for the worst!
4. Arrange for coverage with a trusted colleague for these unplanned emergencies. Along with letting your boss and other coworkers know that you will be at home, sick, arrange for a specific coworker to cover what they can of your workload. Let them know of any pressing work or engagements, potential problems or expected calls. This will allow a "physical" presence if one is needed in your line of work.
5. Utilize the time to work on "back-up work." This can be anything that needs to be done, but often falls by the wayside: expense reports, industry research or other tasks that you have pre-assigned yourself and have readily available. If you run your own business, this is a good day to review your budget, employee productivity and profit trends.
We cannot predict when an illness will punctuate our lives but we can certainly try to prevent such annoyances! The old adage "An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure," rings true here. There are many ways to protect your immune system and body against such infections, such as: diets high in vitamin C; minerals and antioxidants that boost your immune system; avoiding sleep deprivation, smoking and alcohol; washing your hands regularly and encouraging your workplace to have hand sanitizers strategically placed for staff use; and taking time to de-stress.
You also should have regular medical checkups to screen for any underlying diseases that can compromise your immune system. If you do find yourself sick and your primary care physician is not available at a moment's notice to evaluate you, you have other options. You can either walk in to an urgent care center or have a telemedicine consult with a physician via web or phone. There are also many walk in clinics at various pharmacies that can evaluate and treat you efficiently.
Many of us have experienced how a sick day can set you back. As professionals, parents and productive citizens, it works in our best interests to not only plan for these unforeseen sick days but incorporate prevention and maintenance of our wellness into our daily lifestyle. A healthy attitude and a positive spirit are also a basic foundation to achieving this art of health balance. We are the architects of how we choose to deal with obstacles, such as sick days, that sometimes unpredictably insert themselves into our busy lives. Conquer them; don't let them conquer you!
Farzanna Haffizulla, MD, is a speaker and expert in work/life balance. Her book, "Harmony of the Spheres," offers methods to streamline workloads, solve interpersonal workplace issues and offers practical advice on integrating work and home life. In addition, she runs the websites BusyMomMD, an informative site for modern, educated women juggling career, family and community life, and HouseCallsMD, providing a portal to better healthcare. For more information: www.housecallsMD.us or www.busymomMD.com.