How to say no (or, how not to say no)

December 22, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Posted in the firm, wine | 1 Comment
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When was the last time you had an ear infection? I haven’t had one in, oh, 25 years. But I have had so many in my childhood — easily 30 or 40 (I really don’t think this is an exaggeration) — that the signs are obvious and tell-tale: sore throat, a clicking sound when I swallow, a stomach ache, drippy nose, and, of course, pain. Two nights ago I awoke at 3 a.m. (or maybe one of the children woke me…sigh) with my ear pounding, and it felt as if someone had stuffed an ear plug in it, or cotton. I couldn’t hear a thing. As you may have read if you’re keeping up with me, I’ve been sick for about two weeks. I had a cold and then it got worse and then it kind of went away and then last weekend it started coming back. Finally, though, the not-hearing thing inspired me to go to the doctor.

Instead of going into work in the morning, then, I called my primary care physician. But because I often let details fall through the cracks — such as finding a new primary care physician closer than 45 minutes away (in my defense, for 20 months of the past four years or so I’d been having regular ob visits and thus no real need for primary care appointments) — I had to trek to Cambridge. I was wearing leggings and snowboots under a puffy down parka — hair unwashed, no make up. While I was at the doctor, I got an email that a client needed a letter by 11 a.m. — a letter I had been planning to email later that afternoon, from home, when I returned from the doctor. I didn’t have time to drive all the way home, so I had to head downtown and send it from the office.

I slunk into my office in my horribly inappropriate work attire (leggings — yeesh!), and wrote the letter. All the while, my ear was clogging up more and more, and I could hear almost nothing out of my left side, which is a very strange sensation. I tied up some more loose ends and then packed up for my vacation, which is supposed to start tomorrow, figuring that I’d spend today working from home and recovering.

I hit CVS on my way home to pick up my prescription for antibiotics, and in the parking lot I received another urgent work email, inquiring about a matter I had researched more than a year ago — a tricky area of benefits law about which I know almost nothing. At the time, I’d had to reach out to a senior attorney for help. What to do?  I was shaking with fever, my ear ringing in pain — and, oh yeah, Tim was away.

I pushed off the query. I hope I did so tactfully, but of course I’m second guessing myself. It felt awful. If there was ever a time to say no, this was it. And the motto at my firm seems to be that you should turn down work if you don’t have the bandwith to do a good job.

Is it the end of the world? Probably not.  Could I have articulated myself better? Most likely.

So, anyway, once again, I find myself (and this seems to happen every year) sick at Christmas. After the doctor gasped at the sight of my ear drum, she asked if I had been getting enough rest. This is a rhetorical question. I mean, no — at least one child wakes me up at least once a night. I’m exhausted! I haven’t exercised in three months! I don’t think I’ve eaten a fruit or vegetable in at least that long! Clearly, my body hates me and is trying to tell me so.

 And, like every year when I spend Christmas somewhat sniffling and feverish , I start thinking ahead to the New Year and all the things I will change: my diet, my sleep habits, exercising regularly, and so on. 

Maybe what I also should be doing is saying no a bit more. Not to work, per se, but to the other things sidetracking me and keeping me in this seemingly permanent, semi-exhausted state, in which I spend most of the day feeling totally ineffective at everything. These things include: zoning in front of the TV too late at night, that third cup of coffee, puttering around aimlessly at bedtime instead of actually going to bed.

I’m frustrated — frustrated that I haven’t been taking better care of myself, that I am a crappy unreliable lawyer, that my ear hurts.

Luckily, it’s snowing fluffy flakes outside and tomorrow we head to New Jersey for Christmas. I just ordered petit fours from the Konditor Meister to bring with us.  All four of us will be sharing my mom’s guest room, so I imagine I won’t exactly be catching up on sleep, but I’m looking forward to a break from our schedule. I’m looking forward to the Christmas lights and my mother’s beautiful decorations. Can one drink wine on antibiotics? Probably not, but I’ll look forward to a fat glass of wine by the fire nonetheless. And then I’ll come back in January and try again.


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