Most social difficulties in life should be solved with simple politeness and consideration. One of the most basic ways we function together as a society is by caring about each other, working together as families and communities. As we slide into cold and flu season, it’s time to remind everyone that it’s most polite and sociable to keep yourself and your family home when you’re sick with something contagious.
It’s been a long-standing point of confusion for me that so many people go out in public when sick. I don’t mean allergies or a sinus infection, or something you’ve seen a doctor about and it’s clearly non-contagious. I’m referring to the people who come into their crowded office with a recent fever or vomiting.
Stop it. Sharing might be caring, but no one wants your stomach bug. I’m also baffled by the people who dose their children up on Tylenol or Motrin to bring down a fever, then send them off to school or group activities. You’re spreading sickness, with no way to control how many other people you’ll infect or how seriously it could affect them.
I understand it’s hard to miss work. It’s complicated lining up childcare, especially childcare that can handle sick little ones. It’s no fun missing out on fun events, family celebrations, or special days. Sickness comes at inconvenient times, at least in my experience, and often worsens over evenings and weekends.
But as hard as it is for you to deal with the fallout of being sick if you avoid staying home while ill it just passes the illness on to other families and forces them to make the same hard decisions and struggle to balance their lives.
Dragging yourself or your children out when you’re unwell isn’t a heroic service to the community but the exact opposite. It’s inconsiderate. It’s also possibly part of the reason your family got sick in the first place—other families with illnesses not staying home.
Talking about this issue recently with friends, we discussed a very serious side of going in public with illnesses that can be mild for most people: inadvertently infecting a family with an at-risk member. An inconvenience for many people can quickly become a tragedy for a family with a loved one undergoing chemo, or with an organ transplant, or a limited immune system. Suddenly that bothersome fever is no longer just an annoyance, but a scary and dangerous situation.
So many of us live with loved ones who are valuable and immensely important parts of our families and can’t weather colds and flu as well as others. Keeping sickness out of our homes, as much as possible, is an important way we show our love for them.
My feelings about keeping your germs at home aren’t new. I’m not unsympathetic to how long it can take for illness to work its way through families with multiple children, either. I have four kids, and when they were younger many times one got sick and passed it to the next, and we missed more than a week of normal life. I understand it’s hard. I’m not minimizing that.
But what I am asking is that we start considering each other. My first responsibility is absolutely to my family. I expect you to take care of your family as your first priority, too. And staying home when sick is part of taking care of your own family.
We all heal best with rest and time to recuperate. None of us get better quicker from illnesses of any sort by going out in public, going to school, or sitting through a workday. Pushing through illness doesn’t help us in the short or long term, and it doesn’t teach our kids any great lessons about care for their bodies or communities.
It’s not a benefit to the world to venture out when you’re sick. Stay home. Keep your feverish kids home. Have some really nice soup. But don’t come out and share your germs, because the rest of your community doesn’t need them.
Sharing your contagious illness with the rest of the world really isn’t doing any of us any favors, and it’s not helping those in your own home, either. Consider those around you who are more vulnerable, and just stay home. Get well.
And then come back out. The world will be there waiting for you.