Not My Cross to Bear

2009 October 1

[Editor's note: Please welcome this delightful guest post from kidd redd, co-founder of Paramore|Redd Online Marketing, writer, wiseacre and former director of sawdust management for Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey.]

I received an email recently from a friend here in Nashville, who works at a significantly-sized healthcare company. I paste:

“Our CEO sent out a company-wide e-mail saying every employee had to get a flu shot or if for religious reasons we didn’t want to, we’ll have to wear a mask. If we choose not to comply he’s considering that our resignation.”

Say what?

In the midst of the media powervomit and alleged angst about healthcare reform in America – beyond the pissed-off placard slogans and “should Obama be killed?” poll – comes an opportunity to try a little reasoned discourse on a healthcare matter we can all wrap our hankies around. Since most of the government, medical and insurance language surrounding healthcare is impenetrable to even well-read folks, a discussion about the flu, fever and getting poked with a syringe is comforting, in an ass-backwards kind of way. So let’s talk about it.

I’ll withhold my two cents on it until the end (or you can just skip to it here), while we haul this out into the sunlight and take a look at it.

While we all agree that coming into the plant or office (or anywhere you’re breathing my air, buddy) and spreading communicable, bad mojo¬† is irresponsible, we also all do it. Notwithstanding our temptation to take a day off and watch another Mackenzie Phillips story on tabloid TV, all of us go to work sick. Maybe it’s because of some deadline, maybe it’s because we think, “Oh, it’s just the sniffles,” or maybe we used up our sick days being really sick from too many Hendrick’s martinis – but we’ve all done it. The more thoughtful of us say: “Don’t come too close – *sniffle, hack* – I think I’m dying and I don’t want you to get it,” but there we are, scaring the crap out of our co-workers, sneezing into monitor screens and using the company bathroom.

So let’s stipulate that it’s the responsible thing. Get a flu shot, so you can avoid using sick days, infecting your co-workers (ever notice the asshole who you’d love to imagine hacking his or her vocal chords out never gets sick – only your friends?), and do your part to keep the company ship churning on its merry way.

Fine. On the other side of the gurney, consider: what about all the other irresponsible health choices folks make that affect the company? Like the aforementioned martinis, going out to smoke in 12-degree weather, and eating heaven-knows-what-and-not-exercising until you wheeze on the way to the vending machine? You’re making my health insurance more expensive, mon frere, and the first ittybitty cold virus that flits by is going to kick the daylights out of you. We have a presentation tomorrow! I may have the flu, but I run 15 miles a week, eat tree bark, and I’m healthy as a Budweiser Clysdale the other 51 weeks a year.

From a practical standpoint, there’s also this. Flu shots are a crapshoot. That’s because they only inoculate you against about three strains of flu, which they guess at months in advance. It’s even money that they miss, because flu viruses like to stay alive, just like you. So they mutate faster than teenagers.

And now, the last, obvious point. This healthcare company is pretty much forcing its folks to get pricked.

Boo. It ain’t right. Even if your religion has an injunction against modern medicine, who wants to walk around wearing a mask all day? You think coming back from the bathroom with toilet paper stuck on your heel is embarrassing, try looking like you’re from the cast of Lawrence of Arabia all day. If Bill’s retro Vargas girl calendar is making this a hostile work environment, making Susan wear her religion on her face is even worse. Hey, would you like a really big cross to go with that?

This is America, baby. We invented Vick’s Vapo-Rub, acetaminophen, and sour mash whisky. We work. We don’t tell people what to do with their bodies. We take our sniffles with the sweet. Good to see you, Lenny. Stay the hell away from me and go back to work. Love ya, here’s some Kleenex.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. 2009 October 1

    While I agree that mandating flu shots may be a bit draconian, I think it’s a little irresponsible to poo-poo flu shots as a mere palliative comfort. The reality is that the flu does infect and kill many people every year in a few key at-risk demographics (mostly babies and old people), and each year’s vaccine formulation isn’t perfect, but it does have a measure of success.

    The flu is unlikely to be a serious problem for me, a relatively healthy 30-year old, but what about my coworkers with newborn babies or older relatives? They might not share or appreciate my cavalier attitude..

    Not to mention the added healthcare costs from antibiotic treatments of secondary complications as a flu virus sweeps through a population.

    Mandating flu shots might not be the right thing to do, but that doesn’t mean getting one isn’t still the responsible thing to do.

    One upside is that, for better or worse, the modern workplace is much more forgiving of working from home, making such dilemmas increasingly archaic..

  2. 2009 October 1

    First of all…that’s kinda silly considering it would be hard to prove that I didn’t get a shot. What would I have to do to prove it? Bring a note from the nurse? Second of all…flu pandemonium (aka wearing a mask to work) hardly seems like it would help the workplace. Would this hold up in court? Being fired for NOT wearing a mask? Makes me wonder…

    I’ve never gotten a flu shot. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are useless, but I know several people who have gotten them and still got the flu. I work for a company who supplies pandemic flu preparedness kits (masks, hand sanitizer etc) but in all honesty I’m not sure a mask would do much better than a shot. Both seem a little futile with the when people won’t even wash their hands after using the bathroom. My suggestion? Wash your hands….use sanitizer…clean your keyboards….and if someone comes in with the sniffles, politely tell them to steer clear of your work area.

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