Medicine

Advil relieves headaches, unless everyone at work takes it, which raises the bar for taking sick days, thus creating another headache

PTO, or paid time off, is a progress trap created by the invention of personal palliatives such as Advil and DayQuil. These medicines were supposed to make life easier, but since everybody takes them, everybody is expected to show up to work all the time. Before the existence of these elixirs, you just had to white-knuckle through the day or stay home. Now, unless you are god-awfully sick or bed-ridden, you can find enough palliatives at the convenience store to help you sit at your desk and simulate a fully-engaged worker. Coffee doesn't make you more alert; It just jitters you into seeming awake. Advil doesn't stop you from being sick; rather it masks ill feelings. Sick people show up to work just to save their PTO, likely infecting co-workers and thus feeding the cycle.

There's now a trend for companies to bundle sick and vacation days into a bank of hours that represents a general, "Don't show up to work because you don't feel like it"-day. To Europeans, PTO would seem absurd, but Americans see it differently. To some, it's a godsend because it gives them control over vacation time. For them, it rewards healthy and sturdy workers who "earn" buckets of vacation they can use all at once. In theory, PTO offers flexibility benefits, but it is an invention with rotten origins. Managers just want "good" employees with perfect attendance who reach their limit of accumulated PTO and then stop earning hours. When these so-called "rock stars" leave after three years, management can cut them a check for the PTO balance which they can vaguely pretend is severance.

While it's hard to say if Advil makes us weaker since strength versus weakness is often a false dichotomy in these matters, a fairer analogy is that of a treadmill: The more we make things easier for ourselves as individuals, the standard of difficulty for us as a group rises along with it. Advil relieves headaches, unless everyone at work takes it, which raises the bar for taking sick days, thus creating another headache.

Psychosomatic Lurch

If there were no cure for headaches, we might not suffer them as much. When we reach for painkillers, the order of events seems like it goes from vexation to question to answer. We feel tense, then we ask, "What can be done about this?" to which the response is, "Use this." But the existence of a possible answer draws the question out of us, and in tandem the knowledge of the vexation.

For example, a mother is driving her son to school and notices he is quiet. She asks, "What's wrong?" to which he replies, "My head hurts." (In the past, he might have said, "My tummy hurts," or "I don't feel good.") Suddenly a Children's Tylenol appears in his mouth, which creates an entry for "headache" in his database of fixable things.

Perhaps even the question, "What's wrong?" wouldn't have been asked a couple of generations earlier because parents didn't have video games and pills in their panacea toolbox.