There are just no sick days in research

Staying in bed isn’t always an option in research

It’s a strange phenomenon of researchers that we feel this weird desire to work. I’ve been struck down by the lurgy this week but was driven out of bed, hurling my mucous-laden tissues aside, with noble cry of “I have to go to the lab!” as though somehow the world would stop turning if I didn’t.

And so, dosed high on all over-the-counter cold and flu tablets that I could find, I went in. And I wasn’t alone.

It’s been a bad season for colds and many people at work have been struck down. The lab is full of coughs and sneezes.

“Go home!” I tell everyone and they tell me.

“Yes, I’ll just do this one thing…” comes the inevitable reply. Where upon they end up putting in a hard day’s work and knocking off late.

Wouldn’t it be better if all of us with colds did spend the day at home? Probably.

It would certainly stop the trauma of carefully weighing out a polysaccharide sample. And then sneezing. Or the potential sample contamination of coughing all over the freshly poured petri dishes. Not to mention the potential contamination of colleagues.

But science stops for no one. A short stint in the lab can keep microbes alive, keep fermentations on track and keep instruments collecting data.

The threat of getting behind far or, worse, having to redo something far outweighs the biohazard threat we become as we enter the lab with a cold. At least we of the cold-ridden think it does. The lack of rational thought should be added to the list of symptoms.

So tonight I will crash to bed early and tomorrow I will head again to the lab to do ‘one more thing’, which might include making cold and flu medication that actually works. We can only hope.

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