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You Don't Look So Good: The Sociology of Being Sick

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I hate being sick.

Yes, everyone says they hate being sick. But many people like being sick. Oh, nobody likes to be physically uncomfortable... which is why I stopped watching 2 Broke Girls. But we all know people who like the idea of being sick; they like talking about what hurts and they like the sympathy, and they like the gloomy "I-could-barely-get-out-of-bed" lifestyle.

Homophobic people sometimes talk about the "gay lifestyle." But gay people are all so different from each other. There is really no such thing, of course, as a gay lifestyle. However, there is most definitely a "feeling-sick lifestyle." And it's a choice. And it mainly consists of telling friends, family and co-workers about how sick you are, talking about how sick you were, and talking about how it feels like you're coming down with something. The "feeling sick lifestyle" also consists of comparing and contrasting your sickness to other people. Oh, and the more flamboyant sickies post stuff on their Facebook wall. "Ughh, I woke up with a sore throat." (14 likes)

While I prefer to be healthy, I support the feeling-sick lifestyle. However, I'm opposed to same-sick marriage. Sick people should never get married to each other. Sick people need a healthy spouse. That way, they have someone to complain about. Sick people never think their spouses are doing enough to make them feel better.

People have different definitions of what constitutes "sick." My grandmother, who was a trailblazer within the feeling-sick lifestyle, considered a person with any sort of health abnormality to be sick. One time, she referred to herself as "very sick" because she had a sore shoulder.

Most people, I think, define sickness as a temporary, physically uncomfortable, internal break-down of the body, due to a virus. In other words, the feeling you get watching Fox & Friends.

Sickness usually implies something that one "catches." So a football thrown to a Denver Broncos receiver does not quality as being sick. You don't catch hemorrhoids or a black eye or a serious disease.

People of the feeling-sick lifestyle like to announce their sickness, especially as it pertains to why they can't hug you. "Don't get too close to me! I don't want you to catch my cold!" It never occurs to these people that, regardless of whether or not they're sick, we don't want to hug them. You shouldn't have to announce why you won't touch someone. "Hey, it's great to see you! I'd give you a hug but I don't like you."

Catching a cold is like watching an M. Night Shyamalan movie; you never know what you're going to get... but you know it's going to suck. Sometimes your nose is stuffed up, sometimes it's runny. Sometimes you get a headache, something you get a stomachache. Sometimes you lose your voice, sometimes it's that Mel Gibson movie with the aliens. Why would water kill the aliens? That doesn't make any sense.

If they can put a man on the moon, why can't they cure the common cold? If a runny nose caused erectile dysfunction, I bet they'd have a dozen cold remedies by now. Imagine all the cold medicine commercials that would run during football games.

Colds are supposed to run their course after six or seven days. But I feel like I've had the same cold since 2008.

But I can deal with a cold. A cold doesn't stop you from your daily routine. I mean, you can always bring tissues to work. Oh, I know I'm going to be criticized for this, but my personal opinion is that "sickness" requires a high fever, anything above 99 degrees. If you don't have an abnormal temperature, then you're not really sick.

When you have a fever, you just can't get out of bed. When you have a fever, everything hurts. You lie there in weakness, unable to muster the strength to even reach for the TV remote. I suspect that the Bravo network's top demographic is people too sick to change the channel.

Once you hit a 100-degree fever, it's like being in the front row of a Phish concert. Once you pass 101 degrees, it's like being in the front row of a Phish tribute band concert. And once you pass 102 degrees, it's like... well, you get the picture. Having a high temperature is like listening to a jam band. It's just awful. (There are, of course, two exceptions: Pac Man Fever and Saturday Night Fever, which are both all kinds of awesome. Ted Nugent's Cat Scratch Fever sucks, though.)

During Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan famously played while suffering from the flu. It was a legendary performance, as Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to a victory over the Utah Jazz. By the end of the game, Jordan was collapsing from exhaustion. Of course, it was all a load of crap. Oh, Michael Jordan might've been feeling a little under the weather. But he was mostly faking it, just like he does in those Hanes underwear commercials. How do I know? Because if you really have a high temperature, and you try to play basketball, you'll immediately barf and pass out. This is not about having heart and a winning attitude. When you have a high temperature, you can't do anything. (In the interest of full disclosure, I guess I should I also mention that I'm a Knicks fan.)

There are so many possible degrees. In the United States, at any given moment, the temperature might be 3 degrees. Or it might be 95 degrees. Hence, you wouldn't think a couple of degrees difference in body temperature would make much of a difference. But it does. People come in all different shapes and sizes. And yet we're all, when healthy, 98.6 degrees. Although it's possible that Dick Cheney's temperature might be a little lower.

When I hear the word "sick", three thoughts pop into my mind: thermometers, throwing up and staying home from school when you're a kid. These things, along with Teddy Roosevelt, make up the Mount Rushmore of being sick.

Thermometers are the "lie detectors" of sickness. Sometimes you even lie to yourself. Am I sick? I think I might be sick. I'm not sure if I feel good. But if the thermometer reads 98.6, then you're like, "Oh, okay. I guess I'm fine."

When I was in elementary school, and I wasn't feeling well in the morning, my mother would take my temperature. If I had a fever, then I would miss school that day. I never did the "put the thermometer under the lamp" trick. I was worried that the thermometer would get too hot. I wanted to miss school; I didn't want to be rushed to the hospital. However, while the thermometer was in mouth, and my mom was out of the room, I'd punch myself in the arm. I figured maybe the pain would cause the temperature to go up. I never said I was a particularly smart child.

There are different ways to take one's temperature with a thermometer. I put the thermometer under my tongue for a minute. That works just fine. I've heard that some people gage their temperature by putting the thermometer under their arm. It doesn't seem like that would give you an accurate reading. Some people prefer rectal thermometers. There are so many other options. Why would you choose to put a thermometer in your butt? Whoever invented the rectal thermometer is the same person, I suspect, who invented nipple clamps.

Vomiting gets a bad rap. But when you're sick, and you're burning up, throwing up is the best medicine. The vomiting part itself isn't pleasant. But as soon as it's over, you feel so much better.

These days, I rarely get so sick that I have to throw up. But when I do, it usually involves crawling to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and then lying on the cold floor, occasionally mustering the strength to lift my face over the toilet bowl, thinking, "Okay, this is it, I'm gonna throw up now." And then sometimes I do. And sometimes I don't... and I go back to lying on the hard tiles. When I'm lying on the bathroom floor at three in the morning, too weak to crawl back to bed, and moaning is the only thing that makes me feel better... that's when I think too myself, "Eh, this is still better than being in a bar during karaoke night."

When you're a child, being sick is all about staying home from school. Kids don't get sick on Saturday. That's like buying a VHS copy of Paranormal Activity. Not only does it suck, but you can't even enjoy it... I mean, assuming you don't have a VCR anymore.

Although, years ago, staying home from school was different than it is today. Not that long ago, children didn't have 600 different channels and DVDs and DVR and Hulu and Netflix and trophies for participating. When I was young, we only had TV and just a few channels. And Sesame Street was over by the afternoon. So there was a long period between 12:00 and 3:00 in which there was nothing to watch but soap operas. Ughh. Have you ever watched a daytime soap opera? The quality of writing lies somewhere between hardcore pornography and Ashton Kutcher's Twitter feed.

Conventional wisdom is that you're supposed to feed a cold and starve a fever. Or maybe it's starve a cold and feed a fever. Or maybe it's spank a cold and arm wrestle a fever. Or stick boiled melon slices in your ear. Whatever. It's all just crap advice. None of it really works. The only thing that really makes your sickness go away is time... and gargling Listerine every half-hour. (That's what my father tells me to do when I'm sick. He is convinced this works.)

But no amount of actual reality will stop people from dispensing sick tips. People write about their sickness on Facebook, and then other people offer tips on how to feel better. Either that or people offer their expert diagnosis. "You woke up with a fever? My aunt also woke up this morning with a fever. She has strep throat. That's probably what you have, too." That's why I refuse to go to the doctor. Instead, I just sent him a friend request.

Do you want to know the difference between your real friends and random people you just happen to know? Write about your sickness on Facebook. You will receive many comments. Most of those people will either offer their diagnosis, or they'll offer their sympathy and they'll wish you well. These people are not your friends. Your friends are the ones who write "WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP YOU?"

And take some aspirin and stop complaining, you big baby!