Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Traveling While Ill

Having to cancel my trip to NYC last week has really made me think about how one positive outcome from the pandemic is that we typically do not travel or (if possible) go into the office when we were sick. Prior to covid, I would have had to be REALLY sick, like have a high fever, to not go into work. Working from home was not widely accepted back then so you came to work, even if that meant spreading germs to your co-workers. These days, I stay home if I am sick because what is the benefit of being in the office if I am going to risk spreading my germs?

It made me think of a series of conferences that I spoke at in the fall of 2012. I had to present at 3 different bank conferences in the state of Pennsylvania. I think I was healthy for the first one, but had gotten sick by the time the 2nd one rolled around. But I still went because what else was I going to do? I remember I was absolutely miserable. To prepare for the conference and create my presentation, I had to read long and detailed laws on how banks had to change the way they funded themselves. That is not a typical thing that I present on in my job, but it's what they wanted us to talk about. So that meant that it was not easy to transfer that knowledge to someone else. 

So I slogged through a 1.5 hour presentation (which is also longer than typical for me - usually I present for a max of 50 minutes!). After the conference, I remember that one of the conference organizers reached out a couple of days later to see if I was doing ok because it was clear I was not well. I was losing my voice and coughing a ton. I was supposed to present at one more conference, and my health had declined further in the days leading up to the conference. I had a fever and just felt like death. I remember talking to my mom on the phone about how ill I was and she flat out told me I could not do this business trip. I tried to argue and say I could. But sometimes, even when you are 31 years old, you need your mom to tell you what to do. So I contacted my boss, told him I could not do this final conference, and wrote up detailed notes for a colleague so he could present my section. 

I went back and read some post from that time period. Like this post titled, I Survived. You guys, I was on 18 flights in 7 weeks! Back then I was traveling a ton for work. Besides all that work travel, I was in a wedding in St. Louis and ran a marathon in Des Moines. What in the actual world! It's kind of eerie to read that "I survived" post because I mention that I was asked to move to Charlotte on a trip that month for the 3rd time that year. Little did I know I'd find out 3 months later that I would have to move to Charlotte to keep my job... (It's also funny to read this post about getting back to dating - which I posted the week I went on my first (blind) date with Phil! Sometimes I wonder why I keep blogging when so many of my former blogging friends have stopped, but when I read old posts like these, it reminds me that my older self will appreciate all the things my current self is capturing on my blog.)

It's also worth noting that I can vividly recall getting what I now know was my first RA flare in November - so a month after I was super sick, traveling all over the place, and running a ton in preparation for a marathon. I know the flare happened in November because I traveled the day of the 2012 election. I remember voting that morning, getting on a flight, talking to Phil (who I had been dating for about a month at that point) about the election results that night in my hotel and then waking up the following morning with a hand that was so swollen and painful. I wouldn't find out I had rheumatoid arthritis until the following summer when I kept getting all these flares and was in so much pain that I felt like a decrepit octogenarian when I got out of bed each morning, couldn't get my suitcase in/out of over head bins, couldn't carry my suitcase upstairs at my parents, etc. Is it a coincidence that I started to see signs of RA shortly after putting my body through so much in a short period of time? Stress and autoimmune disorders are very closely linked. No one knows for sure why autoimmune diseases can lurk in your body and then rear their ugly head all of a sudden, but my rheumatologist thinks being under major stress is a significant factor in when your disease presents itself. 

But I'm getting off track here! I would not want to go through another pandemic like we experienced, but at least it taught adults that you DON'T GO TO WORK OR TRAVEL WHEN ILL. I got zero push-back when I canceled my trip. People pretty much said - thank you for not coming, please take care of yourself, we will see you next month. 

But why did it take a pandemic for our thoughts about working and traveling while ill to change? It's common sense. Why, as adults, were we going about our days even when we are very ill - particularly those of us who can do our jobs from home? Perhaps this is not the case in every workplace, but it was certainly the case in my industry where people are high strung performers and the expectations placed on you are high. It was almost a badge of honor to come to work when you felt awful. Like, 'look at me and how hard I am working and how dedicated I am since I am coming in even though I look like death warmed over!' 

What do you think? Has your perspective on working or traveling while ill changed? 


Elisabeth said...

I've never traveled for work, but I can relate on other levels. I really appreciate how I really feel like I can say "No" to things now when I'm feeling sick in a way that used to make me feel guilty.
Like: hosting playdates when I'm rundown, having in-person meetings when what I really need to do is stay at home and work from bed, etc.

The flip side to this, with young kids, has been the confusion of how to manage long-term sniffles/basic coughs. This has been HARD with school. Things are more flexible, now, but sometimes my kids get a drippy nose for WEEKS. Before, I never gave it a thought if they didn't have a fever and were in good spirits...they went to school! But the guilt I've felt sending my kids after they've recovered from a cold bug can sometimes be so confusing to muddle through. The first year of COVID we all stayed SO healthy, but last winter there were more things circulating and some weeks it felt like someone was home every day with low-level symptoms (though testing negative for COVID).

Also, I'm so sorry 2012 Lisa had to go through so much! That travel schedule sounds insane and completely unsustainable. I'm so sorry you have to manage all the tough symptoms of RA and I know the medication lowers your immunity which must be very, very frustrating (especially in this season of life when young kids bring SO much home from childcare) - but I appreciated getting more background into your diagnosis and really do wish you so much health in the years to come...and I'm really, really glad you didn't have to battle through sickness on a trip to NYC. Silver linings of the pandemic indeed.

Nicole said...

This is super relevant and interesting, Lisa. I used to travel for work - not as often as you, but relatively regularly. I would always, always, always get sick afterwards. Sometimes it was from the plane, sometimes it would be from a conference, sometimes it would just be because I was run down. I really believe in yin/ yang, and if you have too much yang in your life, your body FORCES you to yin, via getting sick. I think it's your body's way of saying "THAT'S TOO MUCH STRESS SO NOW YOU'RE GOING TO BE DOWN FOR THE COUNT." There is just so much literature on how stress affects our physical health. My husband was diagnosed with sarcoidosis in 2018, and not surprisingly, it was during one of the most stressful work periods in his life.

Speaking of him, he had a strategy meeting in Edmonton a few weeks ago; he was going to drive up with a colleague and be in a room with like 40 people for a couple of days. He came down with a cold just before and in the past, he would have just gone. Now though, he didn't, and everyone THANKED him for not going while sick.

At the beginning of the pandemic, a friend who used to live in Hong Kong told me that in Asia, there is cultural pressure to never go in public when sick, or if you absolutely had to, to wear a mask. It's just not done, to go to work while ill. I wondered if North America would adopt that viewpoint post-pandemic, and I think to some extent it has. But who knows what will happen, if we will revert to pre-pandemic feelings about travel.

NGS said...

I don't want to talk about people traveling/working when sick because I know people do it and I know it's because there's such limited time off at more jobs. It's deeply upsetting.

What I want to talk about it having a deep archive on a blog and how wonderful it is. I can go back and read entries I wrote about my first few dates with my husband and it's so funny to read back at what I was thinking and feeling! And it's all our early dating, engagement, wedding stuff. It's all there and it's so wonderful. There were years when no one read or commented on my blog, but I kept plugging away because it was my personal space and I'm so glad I kept it up because even if no one ever reads those entries but me, they are special to me!

Suzanne said...

Such a thoughtful and thought provoking post. I admit that I was always of the mind that work came first, even if you were really sick. That's kind of how my parents were when I was growing up (my dad missed ONE DAY of work due to illness in 47 years; it helped that he didn't get sick very often but STILL). Work was the priority. But I've been fortunate in that I've worked from home for most of my career, and when I did work in the office, it had a very lenient work-from-home policy that I was able to take advantage of.

Now that we've lived during the time of Covid, I do think I would more readily stay home (or work from home) if I felt sick. I remember one of my colleagues coming into the office and just hacking and coughing and it was so gross and distracting -- I wonder if that person feels more able to stay home now?!

San said...


Jeanie said...

This is a fascinating and thoughtful post, Lisa. I agree -- I remember going to work very sick, especially during pledge periods or when there were deadlines -- back when I was working. It wasn't smart for anyone. Of course, we didn't have all the online working options we do now but nonetheless, not smart! I'm so glad that's not even an issue for me anymore!

Katie said...

Wow, 2012 Lisa went through a lot! I am in awe at that kind of schedule, and not in a "wow I want it for myself" kind of way.

I am very pleased that you now have more power to say no to things when you're not well enough.

I haven't ever travelled for work much, and since England is so small, even the travel I do do involves just a drive of a few hours. I do have some friends who have husbands who travel internationally often for work, and I have to say it isn't a lifestyle I would want.

Anonymous said...

I remember those days and that time period! I’m so sporadic with my posting but blogging is still how I process out thoughts! I remember how much you traveled in that season! I too would push myself until I could physically push no more! If you didn’t show up people “raised eyebrows” and you felt like you had to explain yourself and justify being sick. My body has completely shut down on me when I’ve hit my limit and then I have no choice but to stop. I’m thankful that now we have the option to WFH!!!!

Stephany said...

18 flights in 7 weeks is ASTONISHING. I remember a time at work when I was crying in the bathroom because I felt so sick (just a common cold) and was so tired from being sick, but had so much work to do and couldn't just leave. This was my own doing - I know my boss would have been fine with me leaving, but in those days, WFH was so limited and I had deadlines to meet, and I felt like I didn't have any other option. I am very glad things have changed now! While it sucks that it took a global pandemic to change the way we work/do stuff when we're ill, there is a silver lining that it has shifted the way we think about illness.

Shoshanah said...

I know this wasn’t the point of this post, but reading your posts always makes me want to get back to blogging more regularly. There’s definitely aspects I’ve missed and do get a bit on Instagram, but also miss so much of regularly blogging too.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

I absolutely agree. I hated that I as a freaking professional had no paid sick days or vacation days at one of my TEACHING JOBS. I worked with small children. I would call out sick (when i was very sick) and GET FLACK FOR IT. It's hard to cover for you... I could barely stay home with my BABY when she was sick because I DID NOT GET PAID. But I was paying for her to NOT attend daycare. Allllll bull crappy. And I fought for better benefits at that job and I will never forget when I was getting a stipend for them not offering me insurance because they could do that for like a year or two before they HAD to offer it to me and my boss and superintendent were not happy that I was asking for more. The more of paid sick days to TEACH SMALL CHILDREN.