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by Cherie T. Buisson, DVM, CHPV
Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarian
Originally published on DrAndyRoark.com

I once ate an entire cheesecake by myself. Not at one sitting……ok, yeah it was in one sitting other than the fact that I got up twice to get myself a slice and then said something REALLY unacceptable and then ate the rest right out of the pie tin. I was a freshman in college and sick. I was craving comfort food and feeling sorry for myself. All I had was cheesecake with canned cherry topping. It was as delicious and awful as it sounds.

I could say “it sounded like a good idea at the time”, but it didn’t. It seemed like a horrible idea fraught with consequences, but I did it anyway. I also won a bet once that involved eating an incredible amount of cheeseburgers and fries at a local joint famous for their giant portions. Obviously, food and I have a weird relationship.

I (and we as veterinary professionals) have a similar relationship with stress. There seems to be some kind of contest to see how miserable we can make ourselves, and then we tell everyone who will listen what idiotic thing we did to stress ourselves out.

Recently, I participated in an online discussion about calling in sick to work. While most people in the discussion encouraged the poster to call in sick rather than take her diseased carcass to the office, there were a significant number of comments along these lines:

  • I vomited every day through 9 months of pregnancy and never called in sick
  • I worked with explosive diarrhea and only finished an hour behind schedule
  • I was so dehydrated that I collapsed at the end of the day and had to go to the hospital for IV fluids
  • I ran a 103F fever and did surgery

I will freely admit that I have gone to work sick out of fear of disappointing or inconveniencing people, but even I have limits. I don’t work with fever, diarrhea or vomiting or if I am taking medications that might compromise my judgment (if I wouldn’t take it and drive, then I don’t work).

Calling in sick is a generous choice when you are contagious or too sick to practice excellent medicine. An owner or manager who requires very ill employees to stay at home is wise. Working shorthanded isn’t always necessary. Look into relief technicians and veterinarians who can be called if someone needs to be out sick. Discourage the “maybe if I show up looking/sounding like hell they’ll send me home” strategy (they have to touch doorknobs on the way in, after all).

Keep in mind that if a sick person stays at work, you’re liable to have a sick person for weeks as the bug gleefully infects your staff one by one. Above all, if you have to work short-handed, ease up the schedule so you don’t drive everyone crazy and risk harm to your patients.

There’s no need to swallow the stress cheesecake whole. Take a minute and realize that if you got hit by a bus, you would not be coming to work AND the world wouldn’t end. Even if you had to cancel an entire day’s worth of patients, you would likely be ok. The health and sanity of your team needs to be a priority.