David Crisp: Sick but still working—it’s the American way

Ed Kemmick makes me sick.

Well, that’s not strictly true, or at least I hope not. But it is true that practically since the day we began our new partnership at Last Best News, I have been tormented by an unrelenting cold that leaves me most days feeling like I have been beaten with a stick. And some days thinking that a beating would be an improvement.


David Crisp

It’s one of those lingering colds that manages to hit the sweet spot of misery. If I were just a little bit sicker, I could lie abed and no one could say a word against me. If I were just a little bit healthier, I could push on through it.

Instead, it’s always lingering there, giving me a few hours some days when I can imagine that it is just about gone, then roaring back to leave me melted into a soft chair.

The worst is at night, when long bouts of hacking coughs interrupt brief periods of restless sleep. Early the other morning, I dreamed that the cough had gone away, and I was lying on the couch feeling pleased and proud until a coughing attack woke me up. It took me a few seconds to remember whether I was a cougher who dreamed he wasn’t or a non-cougher who dreamed he was.

So I muddle through most days, never totally alert, waiting for my head or the next coughing fit to explode. I leave stuff lying around, then forget where, then can’t find it, then forget why I wanted it in the first place. If anybody sees my tape dispenser, let me know before it, too, becomes dispensable.

Naturally, I still have to write my column. I didn’t just spend 18 years as a weekly newspaper editor without learning that even when the show does not go on, the presses must roll.

By those standards, this cold is hardly worth mentioning. Once I got the Outpost to the printer just after spending four days in the hospital. I don’t even remember that it was particularly hard to do, either because it wasn’t or because I have somehow blocked it out.

I do remember the most miserable night ever, when I had allergies so bad my eyes were nearly swollen shut. I was editing away for hours with a wet towel dabbing every few seconds at my tearing eyes.

If you have ever wondered what happened to proofreading at newspapers, well, that’s part of it.

Once with a similar cold, I covered a Billings City Council work session and got into a coughing spasm so loud and prolonged that, even though I removed myself to an adjoining room, the city sent somebody in to see if I was going to survive. Those guys always worry about liability.

I was afraid the same thing might happen just last night, when I covered another City Council work session and the cough began coming on. But after a few unseemly blasts, Councilman Mike Yakawich took pity on me and handed me a couple of cough drops. Your government at work.

But that’s just me getting whiny, as I tend to do when I don’t feel well. After all, independent journalists like Ed and me have no cause to complain that we are the only people who can get our work done. Nobody expects the government to provide back-up editors for days when we don’t feel up to the job. We have made our beds, and now we have to lie in them, whether we can sleep or not.

Besides, America is the famous home of the sick worker. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found in 2009 that the United States was the only one of 22 developed countries that does not guarantee paid sick days or sick leave.

According to the Huffington Post, just 40 percent of private-sector service workers get paid sick time in America, and only 27 percent of workers in the leisure and hospitality sectors get paid sick time—you know, those people who serve you in hotels, restaurants and bars. Would you like another napkin?

The CEPR report estimated that some 20 million U.S. workers a year go to work sick. That could have something to do with the Centers for the Disease Control estimate that one in six Americans gets sick every year from a foodborne illness. And probably half of those people have to go to work anyway.

As usual, President Obama is trying to do what he can, knowing that no national sick leave legislation can pass Congress. Last Labor Day, he announced that federal contracts beginning next year will go only to companies that provide paid sick time.

That helps a little, but only a little. For Americans, sick time is just another one of those dream benefits, like being able to afford college or healthcare, or being able to buy a house and get enough time off to enjoy it. Maybe some people in some countries can have all of that, but not us. No weaklings welcomed here.

But pundits who wonder about the continued popularity of political outsiders like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump might stop to consider that maybe American voters aren’t sick and tired of dysfunctional government. Maybe they’re just sick.

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