It’s been a little over a year since I blathered on here about taking a day off, all the while simultaneously bemoaning and self-congratulating over my robust to do list. A year or so later here I am after having taken a few days partially off last week, staring down the barrel of some serious deadlines, and feeling like death warmed over.

Everyone should take vacation days, even if, like me, you really love your work, but what about sick days?

In the contemporary office environment people are starting to get more sensitive about calling in sick. When I worked at Wizards of the Coast there was at least one person who always came in when he was sick, and flatly refused to listen to anyone who told him he should go home. And all he was really accomplishing by being there was spreading the evil germs to the rest of us, cooped up with him in a sealed-environment office building. Human resources departments all over America are trying to stop this peculiarly American bit of  work ethic bravado. The lost productivity of one sick day for you is much easier for the company to soak up than the lost productivity of the potentially dozens of sick days you’re generating in others.

But then here we are, still struggling through an ongoing Depression, with unemployment still high, and both companies and employees feeling as though they’re hanging by a thread. If you work in Corporate America now you might actually have reason to fear that if you take one day off, show the slightest sign of weakness, or demonstrate that the organization can function (even if for only one day) without you, then your job may not be waiting for you when you come back.

But then what about me?

My only “co-workers” are my wife, two kids, and the dog. It was my wife—a pre-K teacher—who gave me the germ in the first place. My daughter is sick, too. My son seems to have avoided it, but he’s young and robust. The dog apparently doesn’t get this human-loving microbe. Working from a home office, how do I take a “sick day” any more than I take a “day off”?

Put that question together with the fact that my job isn’t terribly physically strenuous. I work from a seated position, fingers flying across a keyboard, but otherwise all but motionless. What about writing and editing can I not do if I have a cold? And that’s what I have, by the way. All the classic symptoms: stuffy nose, headache, sinuses all messed up, terrible cough, and yesterday afternoon a sneezing jag that seemed to go on for a head-spinning hour. I feel like hell, but have no reason to believe that this will kill me. I have gone to the drugstore and there I have purchased drugs. I’ve got my Tylenol Sinus Severe—the greatest pharmaceutical breakthrough of our generation—and I’m guzzling generic Robitussin by the bottleful. (Okay, not really. I’m using it as directed . . . don’t get all holier than thou on me, people. I’m sick.)

The medicine is working, in that it’s making me feel temporarily slightly less awful, but is actually curing nothing. I think I still have a couple days of feeling like crap, but the show must go on.

I’m officially a day late on a writing project that I must finish by the end of the week. I’m also behind on an editing project, and have another editing project coming in in the next couple days—oh, and four more edits stacked up behind that, and this evening is the last session of my Worldbuilding class. I’m busy, folks, and I can not afford to be sick.

But can we ever?

Just like a year ago, when I said that the scariest to do list is the one with nothing on it, I’m delighted to be busy, and it does seem as though I only get sick when I’m really busy and can least afford to be sick. That’s probably not true, right? It’s just that you notice how busy you are when you’re sick, but you’re otherwise no busier than usual.

Anyway . . .

No more even partial sick days for me this week. I’m going to have to walk it off, tamp it down, get over it, rise above it, ignore it, cough my way through it . . .

I know people who are doing the same, and are a whole lot sicker than I am.


—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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1 Response to SICK & BUSY

  1. Zuzana says:

    Awe, feel better! I know what you mean about feeling like you can’t even take a day off. But here’s the thing: If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of anyone else. Let’s stop cultivating the idea that we’re all replaceable at the drop of a hat; we all have our specific talents and skills to offer, and if other human beings (clients, employers, whoever) cannot fathom that we all need a day off once in while (or we’ll be wiped, burned, and worthless anyway), then, frankly, I’d rather not work with them. Now, take the rest of the day off, darn it! 🙂

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