Thursday, October 21, 2010

You Actually HAVE Sick Days?

My husband stopped by Walgreens two days ago on his way home from work. He survived the long hours at work yesterday and today by engulfing endless amounts of strong decongestants and ibuprofen.

Last night, I decided it was time for a talk.
Me: "How many sick days do you get at work?"
Husband: "I've just taken one - remember that day I was throwing up?" (He literally was, but I was still surprised that he had actually taken the day off.)
Me: "Yes, but how many sick days are you allowed to take off?"
Husband: "I think eleven or something per year."
Me, (after my initial shock wears a bit): "Then, why don't you take a day off tomorrow?"
Husband: "Because, it is my responsibility."
Me (carefully): "But, aren't you also possibly making the patients sick?"
Husband: "No, I wear a mask all day long."
Pause, then snoring.
He went to bed early because he felt so awful, and he needed to be to work early the next morning, at 5:45 a.m.

A recent article spurred my initial question to my husband. The thought that he possibly had sick days during medical residency had never even occurred to me. The same system that has convinced him to never take a day off when sick, (unless he is literally DY-ing), has somehow also convinced me that my husband would not have "sick days" - like any other normal working person. I had never thought to ask this question before. I assumed that if he took a day off, it was like taking a day off of school.

I was surprised that my husband is allotted a number of days to miss when he is sick. I was even more surprised to find out that he knows about these sick days, and never plans to actually take one (again), unless, apparently, he is either DY-ing or actually throwing up.

I was kind of annoyed, to put it lightly.

Then, I re-read the article. And suddenly, I caught another small glimpse into the mind of a doctor. The author, a physician, of the article, The Doctor Is In (but Shouldn't Be), explained: "self-sacrifice is proof of their dedication and professionalism," not to mention, "one individual's absence can inflict tremendous stress upon others," so, "being present, it seems anyway, causes fewer problems than being absent." I have heard these same arguments, except for the first one, numerous times in the past. But, the first explanation is the most interesting to me - and the most fitting. My husband said to me: "It is my responsibility." Could this be his way of proving his dedication and professionalism?


But, it is not unique to my husband, it is a huge problem with physicians and other health care workers. The article refers to authors of a recent report from a study conducted at UCSF. The authors recommended changes in policy that provide "unrestricted paid leave and mandatory time off for sick health care workers, as well as increased redundancy in clinician staffing." The author of the article concludes with quoting another physician who participated in the study : "We need to create a culture where patient safety is more important than making the ultimate sacrifice or maximizing efficiency." They further argued: "in the health care setting what is important is that the decision to continue working while sick contradicts a core ethical principle of medicine: primum non nocere, or "First, do no harm."

Something to think about, anyway.

1 comment:

Mare said...

This applies to all healthcare workers exactly. Techs, Nurses, Doctors. I work in a hospital. Currently a tech in nursing school and none of us call in unless absolutely necessary. (Vomiting or dying.) We feel guilty to the patients and our coworkers if we call in.