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When Are You Too Sick to Lawyer?

By Ruth Carter

‘Tis the season for Christmas decorations to be out way too early. You can smell pumpkin-spice everywhere you go — unless you’re too stuffed up to smell anything, because it’s also the start of cold and flu season. (Insert sarcastic cheering here.)

Lawyers are notorious for working long hours, not taking care of themselves, and going to the office even when they’re sick. So I reached out to a friend, Dr. Terry Simpson, to get some accurate information on how to survive the cold and flu season.

What are the telltale signs that you’re too sick to be in the office and should stay home?

Dr. Terry Simpson (TS): If you have a fever of 101 degrees, nausea and feel as if you need to rest — stay home. If you don’t have a fever but you’re sneezing and filled with snot, stay home. Listen to your body. If you are coughing a lot, stay home.

Be kind; don’t infect other people.

How much work can you do without interfering with the healing process?

Some of us want to get some work done, even when we’re in our jammies and feeling like crap. Will you get better faster if you lay on the couch and watch funny movies between naps instead of working on email?

TS: You will heal better with rest than with work. Plus, you won’t work efficiently when you are ill. Take the time and let your body heal.

Ruth: So, it’s like being a kid again — we get to lay on the couch and watch “The Price Is Right.”

What symptoms are red flags that you need to see a doctor?

TS: If your temperature is 101 or more, call your doctor. Don’t be like me — I had a temp of 103 for a few days before I ended up in the ICU.

How do you know that you’re not contagious anymore? A lot of people go to work, sniffling and coughing, claiming they’re “not contagious.”

TS: If you are coughing or sneezing, you are contagious. And the little masks won’t help you or anyone. Think of a mouse going through the archway in St. Louis — that is like a virus going through the microscopic openings of the mask. Stay home and rest. Don’t infect the office.

Ruth: Wait a sec. When I had the flu in high school, I felt better in a week, but I kept coughing for two more weeks after that. My doctor said that was par for the course for the flu that year. Was I contagious that whole time?

TS: You were.

Ruth: Oops. Sorry to anyone I inadvertently infected.

If you “have to” come to the office, or worse, go to court, how can you avoid infecting everyone else?

TS: If you have to go to work, sneeze or cough in a cloth hankie. Use a lot of anti-bacterial wipes and soap.

Ruth: I’ll add that cloth handkerchiefs look more elegant than a pocket pack of tissue, and they’re better for the environment. 

Conversely, what can the rest of us do to avoid getting sick when Sicky McSickerson comes to the office?

TS: I would recommend burning them alive. But since we can’t do that, avoid them — know that when they cough or sneeze it will be in the room for an hour. Get them cloth hankies and anti-bacterial wipes and isolate them away from people — or keep the door closed.

Ruth: I’ve already given myself permission to work from home if sick co-workers are in the office.

Aren’t some people more susceptible to getting sick?

So even if you think you can “power through” and work while sick, you may be bringing your germs around people with compromised immune systems.

TS: Some people do have medications that make them more prone to illness than others. Those who have had transplants, those who are on things like Humera or Enbril. But even the strongest person who works out and eats lots of carrots will be no match for a virus. Since most of us don’t know what other people’s medical history is, it is best to stay home.

Don’t forget, the people who survived the “Spanish” flu that afflicted about a quarter of America’s population simply stayed home and let everyone else get sick and pass it around.

Any other words of wisdom for staying healthy this cold and flu season?

TS: Get a flu shot and make sure you’re up to date on all vaccines. Many don’t think they need it, but they do. One important one is the tetanus and pertussis vaccination. You need it every 10 years and it is often forgotten. It’s pretty easy for adults to get pertussis, and while it is miserable for us, it can be deadly for a newborn. You don’t even need direct contact with the baby. Just being in the vicinity, like on a plane, is enough to spread it. So, keeping up with vaccinations is critical to your health and public health.

Speaking of airplanes, if you’re going to be traveling for the holidays, check if you need extra vaccines based on where you’re going. For example, I was traveling to the Philippines and they have had a horrific measles outbreak. Even though I had measles as a kid, the immunity isn’t lifelong. Among other shots I got before I left, they updated my MMR.

Thank you, Dr. Simpson, for giving us useful information to avoid getting sick, or spreading it around.

Good Luck This Cold and Flu Season

I have an impulse to tell my office manager to order cloth hankies for everyone and to schedule an office field trip to the local pharmacy where they do flu shots and tetanus/pertussis shots to make sure everyone’s protected.

If you get one of these bugs, please stay home. If not for yourself, do it for your officemates.

Also, I hope you take a few minutes to check out Dr. Terry Simpson’s podcast and his weekly newsletter, especially if you’re interested in the scientific and sociological aspects of food. He’s a culinary medicine expert and weight loss surgeon in the Phoenix area, focused on teaching people to cook and eat delicious food. His approach focuses on sensible eating where you don’t feel deprived.

Not only is Terry a knowledgeable and dedicated doctor, he’s a wonderful friend. We are each other’s go-to person when we have a “quick question” in the other’s arena.

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Ruth Carter Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter — lawyer, writer and professional speaker — is Of Counsel with Venjuris, focusing on intellectual property, business, internet and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, Ruth is the author of “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” Ruth blogs at and

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