October 29, 2009

Don’t sneeze on me…

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Health at 5:45 am by dinaheng

I’ve been on eight planes, flying cross country to somewhere, in the last three weeks, and on every plane, there were passengers coughing and sneezing up a storm. I count myself lucky that I didn’t have to sit next to any of them.

With swine flu being declared a national emergency, it’s time for people who are clearly sick to stay home and concentrate on getting well. But many people don’t.dinah-eng-21

If I had to guess, I’d say it’s partly because we live in a society that expects you to go to work — no matter how badly you feel — to earn your paycheck, especially in this economy. Never mind that spreading your germs around at work just makes everyone else sick.

Companies try to avoid encouraging employees to take sick days like the plague. If one person’s out, someone else has to take up the slack, and in these days of hiring freezes, that someone is likely to be higher up the office ladder than in the past.

In fact, the higher up you are, the more likely you’ll go home when you’re sick… and work from home. Just so that no one questions whether your job is really necessary in the next round of layoffs.

It’s not that businesses don’t care if people get sick. Hand sanitizers are popping up everywhere you go — at the cash register in grocery stores, in restaurant restrooms, at airport check-in counters. It would just be nice if managers ordered sick employees to go home, and didn’t penalize them for doing so.

“I know if I go home, my desk will be piled with things that didn’t get done, and I’ll be even further behind when I come back,” one friend said, recently. “It’s just not worth taking a sick day.”

I understand what she means. When you’re self-employed, like I am, there are no sick days. If I don’t work, I don’t earn any income. So I do everything I can to stay healthy. At the first sign of a cold, I get extra sleep, dose up with Vitamin C, and quit work earlier in the day.  It usually doesn’t take more than a day or two to feel normal again.

While I have some sympathy for those who feel like they have to go in to work when they’re ill, I have no empathy for those who go to public events because they’re thinking more of their own needs than others.

I went to a lecture and screening not long ago that was standing room only for sci-fi fans, who packed the special event to hear from some of their favorite writers. Behind me, and two seats over, sat a man who coughed through the first 20 minutes of the lecture. The poor fellow who sat in front of him couldn’t stand it, so finally got up and left. At least we weren’t on an airplane.

The way human physiology works, it’s inevitable that there will be times that we catch other people’s germs.

Some suggestions…

* If you’re going to sneeze, bend your elbow, and sneeze into the crook of your arm. If you go to shake someone’s hand, you won’t pass along as many germs.

* The proper way to wash your hands is to wet your hands with warm water, apply soap, lather, and rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to scrub all surfaces, up to your wrists and between your fingers, before rinsing and drying off.

* If you’re working in an office or workplace where many hands touch common surfaces, wipe those areas down with disinfectant wipes.

* And if you actually get sick, do everyone a favor, and STAY HOME.

 

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