The Time I Was Home Sick From School
If I learned anything from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it’s how to fake an illness.
Now, with parents that are a doctor and a nurse, feigning illness is an Oscar-worthy endeavor. The key is to stick with vague, but possibly serious symptoms. Not so serious that you end up on a trip to the hospital, but dire enough to keep you out of the classroom. The other requirement is that the symptoms be undetectable by standard measures. If your faux fever can be broken merely by a hand to the forehead, you have a problem. The illness must be self-reported, and accompanied by some heavy-handed moping and groaning.
Here are my steps to the perfect faked illness:
- Begin your symptoms the night before. Seriously, I cannot emphasize this enough, especially in households where both parents work. If you are feeling under the weather a full 12 hours early, barely poke at your dinner, and retire to bed at around 8 pm, this gives your parents the opportunity to discuss the plan for the next day. They will decide IN ADVANCE who will be the one to stay home, and how to handle all the pertinent details. This is key since parents will HATE to think about this stuff at 6 am before school. Without proper preparation, chances are they’ll shove you on the bus just because, logistically, it’s too difficult to figure out. You don’t need to go nuts with the symptoms the night before; just act listless, and complain that you “feel funny” and “not so good.”
- Wake up early. And I mean real early. When you are truly sick, you won’t be able to sleep much, so wake up at 5 am or even earlier. I was lucky since my dad would be up at this unholy hour anyway, and would therefore witness my sad stumble into the kitchen.
- Don’t brush your hair or your teeth, or even rub your eyes. You want to look as disheveled and miserable as possible.
- Make sure you don’t have any tests, exams, presentations, or major projects due that day. I know it’s tempting to want to skip out on ALL of these, but in my case, mentioning one of these deadlines would give your sick day the kiss of death. I was a pretty good student, and my parents would prop me up in a desk Weekend at Bernie’s-style just so I could keep my grades up. Pick a day when there’s nothing but seven hours of boring lectures ahead of you.
- If your parents still seem resistant, pull out one of the nondescript symptoms I’ll list below. The sudden onset of any one these will make any caretaker think twice about sending you outside the house.
- When your parents grant you the coveted day off, don’t act too excited. Act merely relieved, and nod your head slowly and deliberately, as if it takes a Herculean effort for you to make even that tiny movement. SELL THE SICKNESS.
- Shuffle off to bed, and be prepared to be feeling “much better” upon waking several hours later. If you’re lucky, whichever parent has stayed home will have bought you some ice cream while you were sleeping.
Now, for any of this to work, you have to pick the right symptoms. Ferris recommended licking your palms to give you those uncomfortably clammy hands. I had a few tried and true methods that you can attempt if you are feeling rather theatrical.
- Feign dizziness: This worked particularly well for me since I actually suffered through a rash of fainting spells when I was around 13 years old. Once puberty hit, it turned out I needed a fairly constant intake of sugar to keep myself from keeling over. After hitting my head really hard one time, and another incident where I actually stopped breathing, my parents took fainting seriously. Therefore by describing the symptoms of a swoon, I could immediately ratchet up the parental anxiety. For those interested in this method, here they are: light-headedness, shortness of breath, blackness creeping around the edges of your vision, vertigo, disorientation, etc. Actually collapsing is only necessary in extreme circumstances, and your ruse might be discovered if you can’t make your face go pale at will. If you do actually fall over, remember that your extremities will tingle upon waking after a “real” faint.
- Feign a migraine: A migraine differs from a regular headache in that it is unbelievably painful, and tends to have hallmarks absent from a normal one. I knew the symptoms intimately since I used to suffer from them regularly, and they would instantly trigger my mom’s sympathy since she got migraines as well. To fake one of these, perform the following: squint one eye (a migraine tends to center on one side of your head near the temple), feign extreme sensitivity to light and sound, refuse to read anything (it hurts too much), and complain of nausea. If you are unlucky enough to have medical professionals as parents, they might try and inject you with Imitrex. Do not let this happen! Trust me, it’s not worth it.
- Feign a fever: This is the most risky symptom to pull off, as well as the most difficult. A skittish parent might spirit you off to the doctor, so use with caution. The way I did this was to drink something warm (NOT hot!) maybe 10-15 minutes before I anticipated having my temperature taken orally. Choose too hot of a beverage, and your reading will be off the charts, and you’ll be caught. Drink something too cool or wait too long, and you won’t have a fever at all, and you’ll be at school before you know it. I would also heat my forehead using hot water or just sitting by a space heater until I couldn’t stand it anymore. It’s extremely difficult to get the temperature right, so you might want to purchase a thermometer of your own that you can use to do a few test drives first. This is graduate-level fake illness, people. If you have a parent who measures your temperature via the armpit or even (ugh) rectally, you’re on your own.
Some students will recommend you do something crazy like fake vomiting by pouring vegetable soup into a toilet and making sure your parents see it before you flush. Any savvy adult will see through this, unless you manage you puree a good portion of the soup first and add some appropriate food coloring. Even then, it’s a tough sell since the sound of real retching is pretty unmistakable. I knew a kid who once tried to stay home by feigning an inflamed appendix, which landed his ass in the emergency room. Not wise.
But choose carefully, and give just the right acting touch, and you can be like me. I stayed home so often the school sent a letter home warning that if I failed to show up another day, I would have to repeat the grade. If I can do that with a doctor and nurse at home, so can you.
However, I wasn’t always so lucky. I remember one time I was actually sick in class, and I was sent home by the school nurse. My mom came to pick me up, and once home, she took a good look at me, spun me around, then drove me right back to school. I had to walk back into the classroom, near tears and completely miserable with a (real) migraine. “My mom said I wasn’t sick enough,” I feebly explained.
So keep in mind the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, but don’t be afraid to take off an extra day here and there. Think of it as a mental health day, and enjoy the extra sleep.
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