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Sometimes in a fictional story, a character will pretend to be sick (otherwise known as malingering). Most often, this is to avoid something unpleasant at school or work, such as a test, visit from management, or similar inconvenience. Some just do it to get a day off. This is often accompanied by completely overblown "symptoms", often exaggerated further by the character holding a thermometer up to a light bulb to fake a temperature.

In comedy, this almost never works, with the ruse either being readily discovered or backfiring on the character. A backfire might be whatever they were trying to avoid being moved to a day not covered by their ploy; it's also common for the character to end up missing out on something fun.

See Munchausen Syndrome for the more serious, even pathological version.

Compare Obfuscating Disability, Hypochondria. Contrast Working Through the Cold.

Examples of Playing Sick include:


Anime & Manga

  • In Inuyasha, Kagome's absences from school to go time-traveling in Feudal Japan are attributed to increasingly bizarre illnesses that still somehow manage to fool her friends. Maybe she should try for some smarter friends....
  • In an episode of the manga of Ichigo Mashimaro, Chika really is sick, and is being cared for by her big sister. Miu pretends to be sick, as well, to gain attention. (Though by the end of the episode, Miu actually gets sick, probably due to prolonged exposure to an airborne illness, and is taken to the doctor.)
  • Konata of Lucky Star often makes up different excuses to skip school, including playing sick.
    • So much so, that when she actually does get sick, she gets hit with accusations of Crying Wolf.
  • The series Paranoia Agent is made of this trope. Lil' Slugger is essentially a means of feigning injury in order to shirk personal responsibilities.
  • Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch had one of these happen in the early episodes, where the main girl's friends ditch her so she could go on a date, and one of them played sick. When suspected after insisting the main character to go, she just said she was just pushing herself.


Comics

  • Subverted in a Calvin and Hobbes strip. Calvin won't get up because he's too sick to go to school. His mother says it's Saturday; he doesn't have to fake being sick. Calvin stays in bed muttering about not feeling well. Cue final scene of his frantic mother dashing to the phone to call a doctor.
  • This is done in a Dilbert strip where Dogbert describes sick days as "Vacation days with sound effects", and depicts Dilbert with a makeshift slingshot made out of kitchen furniture loaded with a chicken calling his boss and saying "Don't be surprised if I cough and you hear my lungs hit the refrigerator".


Films

  • A deleted chapter from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory features Mr. Wonka showing the children an invention called Spotty Powder which you put over your cereal in the morning like sugar. You then eat the sugar and get spots on your face, so that when your mother sees you across the table, she'll think you're ill and send you to bed. Perfect for the day you have exams (as Charlie declares).
  • This is, of course, the entire impetus to the plot of Ferris Bueller's Day Off...
  • The film A Gift for Heidi has her friend Clara faking she still has her stomach ache from yesterday (after eating too much ice cream). However, she's doing it so that her chaperone has someone he can care for, for once in his life.
  • In the movie ET: The Extra Terrestrial Elliott very convincingly pretends to be sick (even warming the thermometer using a light bulb) so he can be alone with his new alien friend.
  • Billy Madison tries this when not wanting to go to school while in third grade. Billy's maid would let him shave her armpits before forcing himself to get up and go to school.


Literature

  • In Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Dying Detective, Dr. Watson discovers that Sherlock Holmes is bedridden with an exotic foreign disease. Holmes is faking it in order to tease a confession out of the evil genius who tried to infect him with said exotic foreign disease. He made a very thorough job of it, though: he starved himself for three days.
  • In Diane Duane's Deep Wizardry, Dairine does this for her sister's benefit.
  • One story from the Doctor Who 2007 Storybook has a boy putting his head next to a radiator to fake that he has a fever so that he can get sent to bed early and later sneak out to help the Doctor.
  • From Harry Potter: Fred and George Weasley's "Skiving Snackboxes". One end of the candy will make you graphically ill (nausea/vomiting, nosebleeds, rashes, etc.); upon being excused from your class, you eat the other half, which restores you to perfect health.
  • The Shel Silverstein poem "Sick" consists of Peggy Ann McKay listing symptoms of her illness -- from a sliver to a 108 degree fever to a shrunken brain -- keeping her from going to school until she realizes it's Saturday, when she miraculously recovers.
  • Papillon makes this into an artform. Hospitals have less security then the Penal Colony and a hospital stay can buy time to make better arrangements for labor assignments or plan escapes. They find many ways to feign illness; for example planting lice, eating spoiled food, or intentionally causing injuries. If that fails, bribe a doctor.


Live Action TV

  • On an episode of The Adventures of Pete and Pete, younger Pete fakes food poisoning by pudding to get out of school for a day, and breaks cardinal rule number one, "Don't leave the house", in the second season finale of The Adventures of Pete and Pete. (Yes, it's the one where he sticks President ["Martin Van Buren up his nose"].)
  • On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kennedy fakes being sick to get out of going on a vision quest with the other slayers, giving her a chance to take Willow out on a date.
  • In one episode in El Chavo Del Ocho, a character played this, and used her (supposed) very contagious illness to scare all her neighbors. It ended with all the cast sick... except for El Chavo, who wanted most to get the illness so he could enjoy of hospital attention and regular income of food.
  • Subverted in The Secret World of Alex Mack: the titular heroine uses her powers to raise the level of mercury in the thermometer -- but accidentally takes it too far, breaking the thermometer, and is sent to school.
  • In one episode of CSI New York, most of the police officers of New York City call in sick. They're striking due to not being paid.
    • This is known as the "Blue Flu". Police unions use this tactic because police officers are not legally allowed to go on strike.
    • Also occurred in one episode of Barney Miller.
  • In the Seinfeld episode "The Scofflaw", Jerry learns that his friend Gary Fogel (played by Jon Lovitz) had only pretended to have cancer in order to, according to Jerry, "get some free hair" (Jerry had bought him a hair club membership).
    • This comes back to bite him, in a later episode Jerry mentions he crashed his car and killed himself while adjusting the hair piece in the rear view mirror.
  • Rachel has done this a couple of times on Friends, for example when she had kissed her co-worker and thought it would be awkward to see him.
  • In one episode of The Golden Girls, Sophia really is injured and must stay in a wheelchair, so Dorothy hires a nurse to look after her mother. The nurse takes excellent care of Sophia but makes life miserable for the other three housemates, who want to fire her. Sophia fakes being injured long after she recovers in order to go on being pampered by the nurse, noting that the way she treats the other three characters is 'just a bonus'.
  • ROY does this in one episode when he finds all of his friends have come down with an illness, but he can't because he is a cartoon (although he does get ill later in the episode). He then discovers his sister Becky isn't ill either and uses that as blackmail against her.
  • In an episode of Lizzie McGuire, Matt tries to pull this, but his mom sees through the act from the start. Rather than send him off to school anyway, she cheerfully proceeds to make Matt miserable by feeding him borscht and sweating out his "fever" by swaddling him in a wool blanket with the heater on.
  • In Unnatural History, Henry does this to get out of the school when it is under lockdown due to a mysterious disease to get the cure from the medical repository.
  • DJ did this in an early episode of Full House in an attempt to get Stacy Q's autograph. It almost worked, but Joey and baby sister Michelle just happened to show up at the mall as DJ and Kimmy were leaving. Of course, Michelle discovered them and led Joey over, thus blowing DJ's cover and embarrassing her at the same time.
  • On Doogie Howser, M.D. 's Christmas Episode, Doogie fakes an illness while at the hospital (where he’s worked for 36 hours straight), to go home on Christmas Eve and attend a party with his girlfriend, Wanda. Being a teenage kid, as well as a doctor, he was able to get away with this quite well…but he later feels guilty and decides to return to work.
  • Played for drama on Home Improvement. Jill is enjoying finishing her classes and getting some time off when her dad calls wanting to visit. Believing he wouldn't accept a simple "no, I'd like some time to myself" (which her mom later agrees would be the case), she fakes a cough and warns him away. Soon after, Dad has a heart attack and passes away, burdening Jill with the guilt that she not only passed up a last chance to see him, but that the last things she said to him were lies.
    • A more comedic example involves her oldest son trying to do this, going so far as to put the thermometer into a cup full of hot coffee briefly before placing said thermometer into his mouth. It doesn't work.
  • Played with by Sándor and Tamas on Schloss Einstein: Alexander figures out pretty quickly that Tamas isn't really sick, but lets him skip class anyway; and whenever anyone comes into the room, one of them has to hide depending on who it is (either someone from the Schloss Einstein staff who thinks Tamas is Sándor, or Sándor's father, who knows that Sándor is Sándor).
    • Somewhat hilariously, they are found out in the very next episode, when Sándor's father shows up unexpectedly and sees Tamas being called "Sándor" by everyone.
  • Basil Fawlty once pretended to faint when he forgot a name while making introductions.
  • Sirens had a mother call 999 because he had a slight cough. Stuart was less than impressed and immediately singled out the cause of his cough was a dislike of Rugby. Oh and then he insulated that the 12-year-old was gay.
  • Combined with Crying Wolf on an episode of Community. Leonard's comrade Richard continually says, "Where am I? What year is this?" and the rest of the seniors laugh at this genius ploy of getting out of trouble. This leads to a Tear Jerker moment towards the end when Pierce and the others discover Richard is actually suffering from dementia, and may or may not have been previously faking.
    • Jeff does this to get out of helping Annie move, telling the group that he's at the hospital when he's actually shopping for clothes at the mall. The saleslady, without being prompted, asks for his insurance card and the name of his primary care physician to help the ruse.
  • From Reba, two of said titular character's kids each try to use this trick once. They both fail.
  • In "Valentine's Day III" on The Middle, Axl, stumped for an assignment where he has to give a speech about a life-changing moment, makes a video where Brick fakes being terminally ill.
  • On The Brady Bunch, Cindy forges a letter to Joe Namath pretending to be a terminally ill Bobby in the hope that Namath will give him his autograph. However, when Broadway Joe decides to visit the house and comfort him, Bobby has to fake it.
    • In an earlier episode, Peter fakes being sick to get out of going to a birthday party so he can avoid a girl who keeps chasing him. Mike and Carol figure him out and say if he's too sick to go to the party, he's too sick to play in his baseball game that weekend.
  • In the Modern Family episode "Virgin Territory", Cameron fakes an injury while at brunch in the Dunphys' house so, when everyone's out, he can search it for a Tupperware bowl Claire insists she's returned to him.
  • Junior in The Sopranos : He feigns dementia to avoid criminal prosecution. Invoked and then twisted as Junior is really going senile.
  • In an episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun, the aliens get the idea of calling in sick. As usual, they think they are total geniuses and that no human has ever thought of this:

 Sally: Taking a sick day when you're not really sick? It sounds like a crime to me.

Dick: It's not a crime... it's the crime of the century!


Music

 I think I'll call my boss and I'm

gonna hack and cough and wheeze

swear I've got some strange disease

what's that little twerp gonna say?


Video Games

  • In Fallout 3, claiming to be sick is one of the dialogue options before taking the G.O.A.T. exam. However, your father is the Vault doctor, too and very quickly shuts down the attempt with a light mocking. If you chose this dialogue option, another character comments on you trying the old "I'm sick" routine.
    • Mocked by Liam Neeson, and check one more off the list.


Web Comics


Western Animation

  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Jimmy Neutron once gave his friends special patches that mimicked illness, allowing them to skip school. Unfortunately, the patches got absorbed and made them really sick, forcing Jimmy to pull a Fantastic Voyage to develop a cure (hence the episode's title, "Journey to the Center of Carl").
  • In Arthur's Chicken Pox, younger sister D.W. pretends to have come down with the titular sickness. It works until the spots come off in the bath.
    • Another episode has D.W. faking she has lost her voice so that everyone spoils her. Arthur overhears her talking and has to get help from his friends to make her come with the truth.
  • One Care Bears cartoon has two characters drawing spots onto themselves to fake that they have spots. However, when they wash the spots off and declare they're better, the parents declare that the illness is getting worse!
  • The Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy episode "Cry Ed", although Eddy is pretending to be severely injured instead of sick, and trying to get attention and pity from the other kids rather than out of school.
  • In an episode of The Emperors New School, Kuzco did it after learning that the Royal Treasury would provide funds to look after him (in luxury) if he was ill
  • One episode of The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack has Flapjack pretending to be struck dumb by a curse so that Captain K'nuckles will take him to a carnival.
    • And another has K'nuckles pretending to be dead so Flapjack will leave him alone.
  • The My Little Pony Tales episode "Too Sick to Notice".
    • And attempted in the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Family Appreciation Day" by Apple Bloom. It doesn't work. Granny Smith, having raised first her own children as well as Apple Bloom's older siblings before her, sees right through it.
    • Fluttershy does it in "Hurricane Fluttershy" to avoid tornado duty, painting spots on her face and making rather obviously fake sneezes. Rainbow Dash isn't fooled, dumping water on her and washing away the spots.
  • Pepper Ann had an episode where she fakes she has a fever (by putting the thermometer in a cup of coffee) so that she can have a day off school.
  • One episode of Rugrats has Angelica faking having a broken leg to get out of chores, and so she can more easily boss the adults around. It works when there is a mix up with the X-Rays at the Hospital.
    • Angelica does this again in the spin-off All Grown Up in which she starts quoting lines of a deranged character from a soap opera so she can stay in the hospital longer.
  • In The Simpsons Bart does this a few times, in one case pretending to have Tourettes Syndrome (later changed to rabies via Executive Meddling) and various other symptoms while Grandpa warns him against playing the "boy who cried wolf". Eventually he's attacked by an actual wolf that's escaped from Krusty's show and isn't believed.
    • In another episode, Bart eats a jagged O from a box of Krusty-Os and develops agonizing stomach pains. No one believes him except Lisa, though he is eventually taken to the hospital.
  • In one episode of Strawberry Shortcake, Strawberry finds a fairy with a hurt wing and offers to take care of her until her wing heals. The fairy takes advantage of Strawberry's hospitality and all the attention her friends dote on her, pretending she can't fly even after her wing has healed.
  • Tom and Jerry did a variation in which Jerry painted spots on Tom to make him believe he had measles. Tom eventually finds out and goes after Jerry, only to find that now Jerry had the measles for real.
  • Code Lyoko does this in countless episodes. "Mrs. Hertz? I don't feel good, I have to go to the infirmary." "Me too!" "And I'll escort them!" Cue running off to Lyoko. With three or four students doing this all at the same time, and it's the same ones every time, you wonder why the teachers don't see through it.
    • The teachers and principal start getting fed up with this in the last Season and aren't fooled as often, so it becomes harder for the heroes to pretend being sick.
    • Keep in mind that most of these visits never happened.
  • South Park: Stan and Kyle give one another ludicrously overblown maladies (date rape psychosis and cancer, respectively) in Towelie, telling their mothers that they're too busy nursing one another to bother with baseball practice or school.
  • An old Popeye cartoon has him and Bluto feigning illness to get into a hospital and be treated by nurse Olive. As they try to outdo each other and start fighting, Olive sees through their ruse. A later WWII cartoon has the two in the US Navy; Bluto fakes illness to get out of working. Popeye sees through it and proceeds to teach him a lesson.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender had an entire city pretend that they were sick with Pentapox in order to let the citizens flee the occupied city. This mysterious disease was actually just hickies from a Purple Pentapus.
    • Katara also fed Appa a bunch of bright purple berries to make it seem like he was sick, so they would have to stay for longer so that she could be the Painted Lady.
  • One episode of Recess had the main characters pretend to be sick in order to be sent home from a boring school day (every other student is out with a real illness). Unfortunately, Gretchen mixes up the symptoms, so instead of an illness that would mandate being sent home, the nurse thinks that they've contracted some horrible disease that leads to them being quarantined by public health officials.


Real Life

  • China's Wei General Sima Yi pulled this trick (along with his sons, too) so that he could plot a coup in secret without anyone being suspicious. This is also written in the novel The Romance Of Three Kingdoms.
    • Cao Cao did this as well. Not to say, they both faked to have some kind of neurological disorder in front of people; Sima pretended to have what we call Alzheimer's now, and Cao pretended he had stroke-- when he was a teenager.
    • Lu Meng also used a fake illness to put Guan Yu off his guard.
  • In ancient Rome, an epileptic fit was one of the omens considered dire enough to put an end to any public assembly where a fit was seen. The sufficiently cynical would see this as a useful political ploy.
  • In her childhood, actress Toni Collette once faked a burst appendix so she could miss school. Her acting was so convincing that she ended up having it removed.
  • There's a modern trick called the Munchausen by Internet syndrome, where people lie about their own healths, pretending to be seriously/deathly ill to garner sympathy. A list of some infamous cases are here
  • Trying the light bulb thing is an easy way to generate a real-life subversion; choose the light unwisely and the mercury in the thermometer can expand so forcefully it breaks the thermometer.
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