I'm sick. No, really I'm sick, I've got a throat so swollen I can eat only porridge with some well cooked apple and I can only talk in whispers. It is probably laryngitis, glandular fever, foot and mouth, or all four. And it's certainly not a mere, common cold as of course, in this country we are expected to take lemsip superstrenghth and put in an 18 hour day if all we have is a cold.
So when I call my manager this morning, to do the phoning-in-sick bit, self-consciously dropping the tone of my voice to a low croak, I have to make sure not to use the "C"-word. Which is crazy really because since I'm now working through an agency, they are not paying me to spend the day at home in my jim-jams. And in fact it would be much more of a case of my short-changing them, if I crawled into work, infected all the permanent staff and only to give them 60-per cent performance. Readers would be directed to the wrong books, whole classes of children would be uninspired as I lack-lusterly showed them round on their first visit to a library, teenage hooligans would snigger as I sniffled my usually blood-curdling threats, admonishing them to desist from shouting, fighting and swearing.
And yet why do I feel guilty? This seems to be a psychological rather than ethical question. I can't help but feel a kind of shame that I'm writing this rather than lying in bed with a hot water bottle, ice-pack and thermometer between my blue-tinged lips. A berating voice in my head pronounces, "if you're well enough to be on your computer, your well enough to go to work." And I guess it's OK to read a novel, but if I start studying a difficult book for my philosophy degree course, is that tantamount to fraud. Would the same apply to watching a DVD of an early Bergman film as opposed to a daytime soap I wonder.
I guess the guilt has a social and economic purpose much like the ritual humiliation imposed on anyone who has the audacity to claim unemployment benefits. It makes sure that you can't enjoy your (however brief) period of leisure so much that you begin to think you might just get used to it. On the other hand, just as this treatment of the unemployed ensures that their self-esteem drops to a level when it's hard for them to find work, the prohibition on accepting the need for blameless rest and recuperation ensures that we take far longer to recover from illness.