You wake up feeling as if you just spent the night doing shots on a band's tour bus. But as you consider calling in sick, you remember the stack of papers on your desk and the parade of appointment reminders set to pop up on your iPhone all day.
You can't afford to be sick. No, you are simply too important. It's just allergies, you tell yourself, adding another tissue to the pile on your nightstand.
But there are times when going to work ill poses a risk not only to your health but to that of your co-workers.
You're soon likely to suffer from another disease: Everyone-in-the-office-is-now-sick-and-they-blame-it-on-you-itis.
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And that's something you definitely don't want to catch.
So we've prescribed this quiz to help you know when you're too sick to go to work.
I sit up in bed and ...
A: Bed? I've been sitting in my bathroom all night reading crumpled issues of People magazine and screaming in pain louder than Lindsay Lohan screams at the paparazzi.
B: As I try to walk to my dresser, I trip over the throw-up bucket.
C: I nearly squash the cat as I stumble around. Is the room spinning, or is it just me?
D: Call in the kids. Did a truck pass through the house while I was sleeping? Because I'm sure I've been hit by one. Everything hurts — my chest, my sinuses, my head and joints I've never paid attention to until they started feeling like they were pumped full of wet cement.
If you answered yes to any of the above, pick up the phone to call your boss and say you won't be coming in. All of these things are bad news. If you have chronic vomiting or diarrhea, you should stay at home until you're episode-free for 24 hours, says Dr. Frank Scifo, director of primary care development and urgent care medical services at St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, Conn.
And a sure-fire way to know that something is more than a cold, he says, is if you have clustered symptoms such as upper respiratory problems and a headache along with that general hit-by-a-truck feeling.
Waking up lightheaded or dizzy also can be a concern, says Dr. Ron Stram, an emergency-medicine specialist and medical director for The Center for Integrative Health and Healing in Delmar, N.Y. It can be a sign of dehydration, and you should get rest and plenty of fluids.
"You tend to be more adrenaline-driven when you're at work," he says. "So if you at all have a low-hydration status, once that adrenaline kicks in, we relatively frequently see people who go to work when they don't feel well, and they end up in the emergency room because they've passed out."
I have chills. I think I'll pull out the old thermometer. It says ...
D: I can't read it. Darn thing melted.
C and D. Experts recommend that you stay away from work for a temperature 100.5 degrees or higher. And be sure to be fever-free for 24 hours — without the help of fever reducers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen — before returning to work, Dr. Scifo says.
My doctor gave me an antibiotic today, so I should be good to go back to work right after I swallow it, right?
A: Are you serious?
B: Really? You think the place can't run without you?
C: Seriously, come on. Bill who sits at the desk next to you, is barely surviving as it is, and Susan has a houseful of kids to tend to at home. They catch enough stuff at school and day care.
D: It's typically safe to return to work about 48 hours after you begin the antibiotic.
The answer is D. "That's enough time for the antibiotic to have killed off enough of the bacteria, so even though you may have secretions, it's sterile," Stram says.
Geez, I've had this "cold" for ...
A: Three days
B: Six days now
C: Since the first Bush was president
D: I was born this way
"If your cold or flu lasts more than five days, and you're having further coughing or the cough is worse, or any signs of shortness of breath, those could be signs of early pneumonia. People don't want to miss work, but come in when they now have pneumonia," Stram says. "If the cold or the flu that you think you have is still hanging on for more than five days, then see your doctor."