The Year When Everyone Actually Was Sick

The Atlantic

At some point every year someone will say to you, "It seems like everyone's sick, huh?" It's like saying "everyone's dating these days" or "everyone's quitting their jobs." It's a feeling based on one or two instances or anecdotes in our own lives stretched into universality for conversational effect. Except! Right now, everyone really is sick, aren't they? Walking around town is like the "before" part of a DayQuil commercial. Sniffling and sneezing and coughing and hacking. It's everywhere. This is the year when everyone actually was sick.

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This widespread common illness has become such an epidemic — whether it be an irritating cold or a serious flu — that it's becoming a trend. It's not yet been New York Times-certified, so don't go gabbing about it at your dinner parties quite yet, but occasional trend-spotter The Wall Street Journal has written a piece on this year's illness, and that has to count for something. Sure, OK, their piece is about how people are faking the flu to get out of work and other obligations, but the fakery only works if everyone else really is sick. So almost everyone is sick.

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It's become trendy, if not terribly glamorous, to complain about being sick — "Ugh, my nose has been running for a week" — or to grumble about trying not to be sick. We've had more "I couldn't find a flu shot" conversations in the past two weeks than we've talked to our parents. It is the big social story right now, all this phlegm and mucus and other charming stuff. Hurricane Sandy "survival" stories were all the rage in November, now it's all about how sick you are and how many days of work you've missed. It's created a little culture that's made the WSJ story possible. Who is going to say "I don't believe you have the flu" these days? It's the new dead grandmother. An utterly unimpeachable excuse. (Unless someone's grandma died three times, then it's OK to ask if they're lying or if their grandmother was open about her sexuality and very ahead of her time.)

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Of course it's not the most fun trend in the world. I've been sick for what feels like a million years (in truth it's more like a week) and lemme tell ya, it's been ugly. But there is a strange camaraderie, a nod of "Uh huh, me too" with another of the walking ill, that has created a small sense community. You non-sickies just wouldn't get it. Until you get it. (Get it?) Though, really, you don't want it. If you can just fake sick and get off work, as the WSJ asserts is the case, you're better off just doing that. Here are some tips on how to pull off the fakery from a suffering insider:

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1. Make sure you go to the office the day before your planned call-out looking a little disheveled and sniffling. People will think you're brave and dedicated for coming in, and they'll also want you to skip work the next day so they don't get sick.

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2. Most people would tell you to avoid social media all day on your fake-sick day off, but come on, who does that even when they're sick? Especially when they're sick, even. No, you should take some Instagram pictures or something. Try to muster a fake sick look if you're into selfies, or just take a photo of some tissues on the table. Or, wait, hm, that might look like you're doing something else. Maybe go with cold and sinus medicine instead. Be sure to add that "sick :(" caption! That's what really sells it. 

3. As has been advised before, you maybe should take two days off to really drive home the idea that your story is legit. This wasn't some lark to have a day off in the middle of the week. You are really laid-up with something bad. Make sure to make a noble gesture to your boss — something like saying, "I feel like I should come in, I hate calling out" — and they'll think you're so brave and devoted and will insist that you stay home and get better, bless your poor heart.

4. Should a friend from work dare try to check up on you and bring you soup or something, first think about whether it's possible this person has a crush on you, and if they do, do you have a crush on them — what could be better than a day off involving a surprising hookup followed by chicken soup?? Once you've figured that out, splash some water on your face and muss up your hair and put on a bathrobe and maybe strew some empty tea packets on the coffee table. You need to set the scene properly. Do not let them see the glass of wine you just poured. The whole thing will go up in flames if they see that. (Unless it seems that sexytimes are going to happen with this coworker; then by all means break out the glass, break out two glasses. "Being sick is the only thing I'm gonna fake today, lover." [Don't say that. They will leave.])

5. Though of course your natural reaction when someone else at the office calls out sick the next week will be annoyed suspicion, what a lying liar, you have to act sympathetic. Remember: You were just where they "are." Give them tips on how to treat their cold or flu and say "Yeah, that was me last week. It's the worst." In some ways, it's the most important acting job of the whole charade. It's the end of the long con, one that ensures you can credibly pull the whole scheme again in a couple months. Just in time for allergy season.

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