I’ve spent more than half of the last week, taking up residence on the couch watching movies and old episodes of TV series (Frasier and The West Wing, if you’re curious). I wasn’t depressed, but I also wasn’t myself. I was — what most of the world would call — sick. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time being sick, so I suppose it was kind of a ‘gift’ to get to experience what it was like to be sick again. There were some definite takeaways from being sick (that I didn’t remember from previous times I’d been sick).
Most of the time, when people are sick, they try to “push through” their illness. “Oh, I”m fine.” “I’ll be ok.” “Don’t worry about me.” Given the current state of the economy and the current unemployment rate staying above 8% for the first time since the early ’90s, it’s not altogether surprising that people would try to push through their illness. Nobody wants to lose their job – much less, because they were sick. But have we considered the possibility that one might lose their job because they are working when they’re sick?
In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine ten years ago, researchers came to the conclusion that, “In sicker hospitalized patients, performance on seven Piagetian tasks of judgment was similar to that among children younger than 10 years of age.” Not that I don’t think 10-year olds are smart, but do you really want the 10-year old version of yourself trying to do your job? Probably not.
Another interesting study on this topic comes from research in Fibromyalgia, which is often associated with chronic fatigue syndrome. Researchers attempted to see if there were cognitive disorders within Fibromylagia. They used standardized neuropsychological tests and were able to conclude:
Compared with the Spanish population for age, sex and educational level, FM [Fibromyalgia] patients showed high frequency of cognitive dysfunction which could be included as mild cognitive disorders according to the WHO [World Health Organization] (1992).
Like I said earlier, I don’t remember the last time I was sick, but this time, I noticed a definitive decrease in my cognitive function. It was kind of like feeling drunk, but without the euphoria that most people associate with drunkenness. My partner would ask me simple questions and I couldn’t think up a response. It was a very sobering experience. In doing the background research for this post, I was surprised to not find more articles about impaired cognitive functioning when sick. Maybe it’s something that researchers aren’t interested in. I suspect, it’s more a function of funding. Which corporation would want to do research on this?
Some advocate shifting the workweek from 5 days to 4, and some have even provided research that this is to our benefit. While I am an advocate of the reduction of work, not in this way. I don’t think we should be working less days and more hours in those days. I think we should be working fewer hours. I’ll elaborate on this more when I address labor in my series on public policy in America. Suffice to say, the harder we work ourselves, the more likely we are to breakdown. Humans are not machines, but we can use this analogy to understand the point. Eventually, from wear and tear, a machine is bound to breakdown (just as a human is, especially when it is overworked). If you use a machine when it instead needs to be mended, there could be irreparable damage. The same goes for a human. When one is sick, and one works, there could be irreparable damage.