Reducing the shame of injury

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Elizabeth Leis Newman
Elizabeth Leis Newman

Right before the Miss America pageant last week, Miss Florida, Myrrhanda Jones, tore her ACL during baton practice.

Those of you who have either had ACL repair, known someone who has had it, or followed the myriad numbers of athletes who have had ACL surgery, know this is a big injury.

I should not have been surprised at the storyline that followed: Miss Florida put on a bedazzled knee brace, earned endless love on Twitter, and fought through what I imagine was a fair amount of pain to place third in the pageant, winning a $15,000 scholarship. Or as my mother said, “Well, that is probably about the amount it will take to rehab that knee.”

I have no way of knowing what Jones' doctors told her about competing — and for what it's worth, she did get to be in the shoe parade — only that it bothers me when we embrace the idea that one's value and strength come from showing up injured rather than admitting a need to rest. In my picture of an alternate universe, Jones would have said, “This is a big deal and I have to do what is right for my body. There are some things more important than a pageant,” and then a Kickstarter campaign raises the $15,000.

The ACL incident reminded me about one of my favorite quotes from the play “Angels in America,” where Roy Cohn is talking to the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg in 1985. He says:

“The worst thing about being sick in America, Ethel, is you are booted out of the parade. Americans have no use for the sick. Look at Reagan: He's so healthy, he's hardly human, he's a hundred if he's a day, he takes a slug in his chest and two days later he's out west riding ponies in his PJs. I mean, who does that? That's America. It's just no country for the infirm.”

As long-term care professionals, you have seen people who feel this way. But we play into it when we pass judgment on illness. We discuss how a nurse, administrator or direct care worker “fights” through illness to be at work, or how “brave” someone is when they have a chronic or serious condition.

To be fair, those who are getting paid by the hour may face a difficult choice financially to stay at home, especially if they fear losing their position. But we all know people who have paid sick days and health insurance and yet still drag themselves half-dead to the office. This is hubris, and I have been guilty of this myself. The only thing these people are accomplishing is contaminating the area around them with germs, putting colleagues and residents at risk, and pecking out emails through a haze of Sudafed, which could be done from a bed.

As flu season approaches, we need to remind employees that there is no shame in admitting that everyone becomes ill occasionally, and that it is far better to spend a day at home then potentially introduce an illness into a long-term care facility. And if you damage your knee, please put the baton away for a while. I promise you'll still earn fans.

Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight's. Follow her @TigerELN.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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