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Kirby: Feeling sick or are you faking it?

By Robert Kirby

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Jan 28 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Jan 29 2014 05:49 pm

On Monday, my daughter called me from work. Would I go to the elementary school and see if my granddaughter was really at death’s door with the flu?

I went. Unless there are visible symptoms such as a missing leg or running sores, I can’t tell if a kid is really sick. However, I’m an expert at diagnosing "pretendonitis."

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Feigning illness began in the Garden of Eden, when Adam first said he didn’t feel well enough to go to work and Eve claimed to have a headache every night. God fixed both of them. Or so the story goes.

If you’re really sick, not going to work or school makes perfect sense. You won’t do your job well. Worse, you might pass along whatever you have to others. This is hardly fair because the only thing they did to get sick was show up healthy next to you.

Pretending to be sick is a whole other matter. You don’t want to go to school or work. You want to go skiing, sleep in or just stay home and watch TV.

Note: Sometimes you just want the attention and pity. If so, there’s something really wrong with you. The entire point of pretending to be sick is to avoid attention.

Claiming to be ill typically involves convincing someone who knows you all too well — parent, spouse, employer — that something is wrong when it isn’t. Rarely does this work as well as you hoped.

Case in point: my parents. By the time I got to high school, I was considered healthy enough to go unless my liver fell out onto the floor in front of them.

My mom once sent me to school after I blew out my knee in a motorcycle accident. But given how often I had pretended to be sick and wasn’t, I can’t really fault her.

It was harder to fool the old man. He was a cop and therefore emotionally unable to believe anything anyone said. That went double for me. If I said I was sick, he automatically believed I just wanted to cut school and go hang out with friends.


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Me: "I can’t go to school today."

Him: "OK, but I’m handcuffing you to the water heater again."

I first contracted pretendonitis in elementary school. Desperate to avoid a test, I rubbed water on my face, held my breath until I was purple, and pretended to have a fever.

It worked. I got to stay home, eat Popsicles and watch cartoons. "Huckleberry Hound" instead of multiplication. That was well worth lying for.

Eventually I overdid it. Mom began insisting on taking my temperature. She would come in to the bedroom and stick a glass thermometer in my mouth. I had to get creative.

Did you know that a dog’s body temperature is naturally higher than a human’s? Yeah, I figured that out by fifth grade. Don’t ask.

Another note: Be careful. If your mom doesn’t believe the thermometer, she’s going to want to stick it back in your mouth.

I dabbled once in adult laxatives. That was bad. Making yourself sick in order to pretend to be sick is self-defeating.

Just as there are a lot of ways to pretend to be sick, there are a lot of ways to find out if someone is really sick. I got fired once when my boss came by to check on me after I called in sick.

The hardest person to fool was my wife. After we bought our first home, it didn’t matter if I said I had yellow fever, the bloody flux or black death. We still had to pay the mortgage.

I picked my granddaughter up at school. It turned out that she was really sick. I took her back to our place, where I watched cartoons with her all day instead of going to work.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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