The sick role is the culturally shaped performative aspect of being sick. Basically, your culture teaches you how you are supposed to act when you are sick, and you do it in part because that is what you have learned and think you should behave. Talcott Parson's concept of the sick role is rather widely accepted, though it has also been contested and redefined by things like chronic and mental illness more recently.
**And now is when you remember that I really am an anthropology geek at heart.**
Don't worry, I'm going to relate this all back to my life now though...
This past Thursday, Mayzie all of a sudden came down with a fever. I immediately put her on the couch and started to cater to her every desire. I did so unconsciously, but then also geekily realized that I was teaching her the sick role by doing this. Yes, I like to apply social science theory in my daily life. So what? **sarcasm** The fever hit hard and she had to miss school on Friday.
Here we are on said couch cuddling and probably watching yet another episode of Trotro.
Mayzie had to miss her cousin's birthday party Friday night, but thankfully was better by Saturday morning to attend a superhero birthday bash at the Children's Museum the next day. We three girls had a great time at the birthday party, and then I left to go get some work done (as I do most weekends). By the time I got home on Saturday evening, Annika was running a fever of 102.3.
Today, Annika has fully adopted the sick role on our couch as you can note here in her fetal position. Doesn't she look like such an angel?
This is the thing about the sick role: I feel it my duty as their mother to teach it to them. I want them to know how important it is to take the time to feel better when you are feeling sick. I want them to behave in culturally appropriate ways as American girls. Do I know and understand other cultures' sick roles? As an anthropologist, I should certainly hope so. But do I need to implement them in the life of my family? Certainly not. Not all professional knowledge needs to be applied in my personal life right?
As a complete aside, I MUST note here two of my favorite German sick role observations.
1. If you are ill or getting ill or think that you might at some point in the near future become ill, you must ALWAYS cover your neck. I cannot tell you how many Germans advised me to put on a scarf when I was feeling a tad bit under the weather. I found it comical. Do we do that too?
2. Go immediately to the Apotheke (pharmacy) and get yourself some preventative medicine. We don't really do this in the US, but I actually like this policy quite a bit. Most Germans, upon feeling the first hint of sickness, will head to the Apotheke and get some vitamins and/or tonics to ward off sickness. I've certainly adopted this policy of vitamins at the beginning of sickness, though our preventative medicine here in the US leaves MUCH to be desired.
Let me return to childhood sick roles and my girls. I was astounded at Mayzie's ability to completely recognize that her sick role was a way to be treated completely differently. At first she would ask for things demurely, as if not sure that she would actually get them. By the end of the day, she was demanding things without even a hint of please. She hasn't quite mastered the art of remaining submissively demanding yet, but she could certainly learn from her sister who insists on giving me the Puss-in-Boots eyes all day long at every request.
Fingers crossed that Annika is feeling better this morning. I would hate to mar her perfect attendance record for a silly little virus that produces a fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, and nothing else. Here's hoping I'll still get my 3 hours of work in today, regardless of if I have to tend to a sick girl.