Too Well to Attend: Steve Berry’s tips for making your fake sick day believable


Steve Berry | From the September 2009 Issue | Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?"

Articulating that name without a facial expression or emotion will bring a smile to anyone with a pulse. Ferris Bueller_s Day Off epitomizes our need to plan and take the occasional unscheduled day of leisure away from "the Man."

I_m proud to say I_ve never tried hard to cheat my employer out of an obligatory day of work. What I mean is that I never had to try. It_s never been a morally problematic issue for me. I always knew I was going to be in EMS for the long haul, and if I needed a mental health day to recharge my batteries, then by George, I took it. No second guessing. No guilt. No remorseƒexcept in knowing I had one less paid sick day in the bank.

I_m surprised, however, at how bad some of my co-workers are at calling in "sick." They make the rest of us professionals look badƒand when caught in a lie, they squeal out their guilt like fluless swine. Jeez, is there no honor? estimates that 27% of bosses have fired employees for dialing in sick when they weren_t and suggest employees have their ducks in a row. I can_t believe I used that stupid saying, but there_s an art to making that callƒespecially when you get in the habit of calling in sick so often that management habeen forced to hire a part-time employee just to fill in your shifts.

First, you have to plan your date(s) of illness. I say illness, because faking an injury, especially extremity and back injuries, can lead to a mandatory physical exam. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays work best for calling off. Sometimes calling in ahead of time for more than one sick day but then showing up only after one day_s illness shows you_re a trooper and may even win you points with management. The dumbest thing you can do is make your efforts to find coverage for your shift public and then calling in sick after failing to do soƒholidays in particular.

Unfortunately, our line of work doesn_t allow one to leave messages while calling in ill. No matter what the hour of day, we hear a live voice with our relay dispatcher, which brings me to my next point of putting your illness and symptoms to voice. Eliminate all background noise. Screaming fans at a ballgame or rock concert may give your supervisor pause to question your sincerity.

Of course your symptoms have to match your illness. Keep _em short and sweet. Remember, your supervisor is a professional medical ambulance driver. Show no energy. Have dramatic pauses. Clear your voice and cough often to demonstrate transmittable capabilities. Accentuate this by muffling your voice while explaining you_re wearing a surgical mask.

Most importantly, adjust your behavior during the shift before you call in sick. "Man, do I feel tired. Is it hot in here or what? Boy, do my joints ache. Hand me a 4 by 4 dressing, would ya? It_s for the blood that keeps pouring out of my eye sockets." If you and a friend who work the same shift want to take the day off together, tell everyone at work the day before that you_re both going to try out this new restaurant right after you get off shift. Then simultaneously call in with food poisoning. Oh, and let your symptoms linger even after you return to work. Again, this shows your supervisor you_re a sacrificial stand-up kind of guy or gal.

As for calling in a mental health day, be careful. This can lead to unwarranted mandatory psych evals, especially if you say things like, "I_ve had this sudden urge to clean and load all my personal weapons last night. Maybe it would be better if I called in sick. What do you think?" If all else fails, get a "too sick to toil or strive" note from one of your friendly ED docs. Just make sure it_s not your physician adviser.

Lastly, on your "sick" day, do not put yourself any place where a roving ambulance may see you. And if you_re skiing on a bright sunny day, well, don_t come in on your next shift with a raccoon goggle face.

When dealing with the emotional trauma of EMS work on a daily basis, it_s easy to lose the positive perspectives on life. Hopefully, your managerial team gets it and embraces your need for self-care, thereby negating your need to conjure up excuses to revitalize your vocational spirit. If not, don_t forget the sunscreen, dude. The powder is awesome!

Until next time, cough, wheeze, sniff, snort!

Steve Berryhas been a paramedic for the past 25 years in the southern Colorado region. He_s the author of the cartoon book series I_m Not An Ambulance Driver and invites you to join him and others of the EMS community to ride in the 2009 National EMS Memorial Bike Ride ( Visit his Web site to purchase his books or CDs.

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: Health And Safety, Provider Wellness and Safety, Steve Berry, Jems Lighter Side

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Steve Berryhas been a paramedic for the past 25 years in the southern Colorado region. He's the author of the cartoon book series I'm Not An Ambulance Driver. Visit his Web site at to purchase his books or CDs.


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