Sometimes there’s no easy answer: Are you sick enough to stay home?

11/12/2013 12:00 AM

11/12/2013 6:19 PM

“Are you really

too sick to go to school?”

It’s a silly question, right? The answer is pretty much always “yes,” yet we must ask. We must also accept a very fuzzy margin of error, a vast strip of gray where there’s no clear right or wrong. On some days, we send a miserable child to school. Others, we keep a child home, and soon realize we’ve allowed them to play hooky.

My son played hooky this week. Or maybe he didn’t. But he probably did. He awoke early, got out of bed on his own, and plopped on the couch where he lay moaning.

“Mom, it hurts.”

“Are you going to barf?” I asked.

“No, I don’t think so, but it really hurts. I think I should stay home.” His face was pale, and he curled on the sofa. I emailed the school to let them know I was keeping him home.

Vomiting is a clear-cut limit. Out of common sense and courtesy, compassion for the child and anyone they might come in contact with, and really, a responsibility to all mankind, vomiting kids (and adults) should stay home. Duh.

It’s still a hard decision, especially if no throwing up has actually taken place yet. There’s a chain of trustworthiness at stake. Mine and my kid’s.

If I keep the kid home, I spend the day asking myself a list of questions. As a parent, did I accurately read the symptoms? Is my child fibbing to get out of a math quiz? Is the stomach ache from a bug — or is it anxiety? Do I let them watch a movie? Or would that be rewarding them for faking sickness? Or are they really so sick that television would be a good escape from their misery? Did I make the right decision?

Or if I usher my sniveling child out the door, another list comes into play. Are they infecting other kids, spreading misery? Will they go to the nurse’s office with a temperature? Is my poor child absolutely miserable and thinking I don’t care? Did I push them so I wouldn’t miss work? A deadline? A lunch date? Did I make the right decision?

This week, I kept him home. All day, I scrutinized. “How do you feel? Where do you feel bad? How bad? Tell me on a scale of one to 10. Okay, scale of one to five now. Does it hurt now? Now? Why are you talking? Should I take you to school now? Can you go to school? Do you still feel bad?”

Many times, you just don’t know if you made the right decision — this follows you through to adulthood. I’ve called in sick to work when I was probably fine. I’ve gone to work miserable, then felt guilty when a coworker got my exact symptoms.

It’s an inexact decision with unclear indicators and ambiguous consequences. There’s no germ trailing service, no way to pin responsibility on the culprit who spread it.

I’d pretty much determined that my son stayed home well last week. Maybe he had allergies, and perhaps his previous night’s cheeseburger went down kicking, but he seemed OK. That is, until he went into his room and cleaned it. Suddenly I knew something, though I’ll never know what, was definitely off-kilter that day.

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