Last week I came down with a sickness bug. Without going in to too much detail, I felt like a small but very persistent gremlin had crawled into my stomach, decided to bail out its contents, and then begun to climb back out again. Quite clearly, I couldn't go in to work. I didn't even have the energy to turn the TV on. I simply lay on the bathroom floor, motionless, hoping for it all to end. It can be surprisingly comfortable, that bathroom floor, when it needs to be.
Come the morning, still motionless, I knew I needed to phone the office to let them know I wouldn't be making it in. But I was scared to tell them I was sick. Nervous.
I did phone, of course. Yet while speaking, even in my energy-starved and pathetic state, I found myself second-guessing what I was saying and how I said it. Was I giving too much detail? Did I sound ill? Did I sound TOO ill? What would a sick person say?
Lying there, wishing it would end, I was worried they would think I was skiving. Bunking off. Throwing a sickie. I didn't think they would believe I was genuinely ill.
It was difficult to comprehend at the time, and I still struggle with the concept. My employer, though strict on the protocol (you must telephone before 9.30pm on each day of absence), are very understanding, compassionate, and helpful. Far from scepticism, my call was greeted with concern and well wishes. On my return, I discovered some of my work had been covered by colleagues in my absence, and everyone asked, quite genuinely, how I was.
So what had made me feel nervous before I picked up the phone? Eventually, with a little help from Channel 4, I worked it out.
Recovering from my episode with a quiet weekend on the sofa, I came across a trailer for coverage of the Superbowl - the American sporting/entertainment behemoth which, as it turned out, finished at around 3.30am, UK time. I like sport, sometimes I quite like America, and I have always been quietly intrigued by the Superbowl spectacle. I have been known to watch a few plays before deciding, quite sensibly, to switch off at around 1am, before the start of my working day became too close - too much like a defensive end getting all up in your grill. (Football fans - I'm really, really sorry if that made no sense. I promise I'll stick to rugby in future.)
Channel 4's advertisers, of course, had spotted my main concern - that it would finish too late for me to realistically hope of watching the game - and, they probably thought, came up with a natty little solution and a catchy slogan. Happily, it also helped me to work out what had made me feel uncomfortable a few days earlier.
"You're Gonna Need a Sickie" they said.
The premise, it seems, was that a simple solution to the battle between late night vs. early start to the working day, was to cancel the working day altogether, feigning illness. A victimless crime - no problem. Why miss the Superbowl on account of having to go to work to earn your money when you can watch the game, cancel work, and still get paid? Everyone's a winner.
Except not everyone is a winner. I certainly wasn't. And I'm sure you won't be, either, next time you are ill, or there is an illness in your workplace. And certainly employers, businesses and the economy won't be the winners in the long term either.
To do that, we must examine how I came to be unwell. As it turns out, my girlfriend, from whom I contracted my lovely little bug, contracted it herself in the office. How? One of her colleagues, despite feeling clearly unwell, had battled her way to work, only to burst in and project the evidence of her illness all over the shared office bathroom. She immediately returned home, admitting defeat, but the damage had been done. From one illness thence sprung a multitude of others, as one by one her colleagues fell sick. Had she stayed home, her germs would never have made it to work.
I don't blame her for my illness, nor for my unease when calling the office. In fact, I admire her tenacity, and determination to do an honest day's work.
No, I blame the cheats and the skivers, and the mainstream media like Channel 4 who, as with the Superbowl, make light of the issue and actively condone taking a 'sickie'. Because not only do the malingerers themselves get a day's pay for nothing, costing their employers millions each year, they also make people like me, and my girlfriend's colleague, feel bad for being genuinely ill. So we battle to work, we spread our germs, and we lead to even more unproductivity, even more sick days, as our colleagues in turn contract the illnesses which we should have confined to our homes.
So please, everyone, take a sickie. Take two, or even three. When you're unwell, stay home. Don't feel bad about it. Protect your colleagues, keep your germs to yourself, and take a sickie.
Just not when Channel 4 tells you to.