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Getting Sick Deliberately

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"I try to give myself a disease on a regular basis so that I can build up an immunity to it. As I always say 'A disease a day keeps the doctor away'."

A character may sometimes attempt to get themselves sick deliberately in fiction. When this occurs, it's usually for a couple of reasons:

  • To get themselves out of something that they don't want to do e.g school or work or war.
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  • To build up a resistance to a disease, which would make it an example of Acquired Poison Immunity.
  • Alternatively, they will sometimes try to get sick so that they can get attention.

This may drive the plot of a Sick Episode and Chickenpox Episode. It may also backfire on the person if the virus proves to be dangerous. Alternatively, they may be forced to go anyway, leading to them having to work through the sickness. Can lead to a Contamination Situation depending on the circumstances. Can be used to invoke Out Sick. Sometimes the character who gets sick on purpose finds out the hard way that being sick is not fun. This can also backfire if the character doesn't realize how long it takes to get sick after exposure to an illness, prompting them to miss out on something they actually wanted to do because they thought they'd get sick and recover sooner.

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See Playing Sick for when a person merely pretends to be sick to get out of an obligation. Contrast with Münchausen Syndrome. See also Self-Poisoning Gambit and Deliberate Injury Gambit.

Truth in Television: There have been examples of scientists deliberately infecting themselves with a disease. This is usually so that they can try antibiotics on themselves or to otherwise prove a theory that they suspect is in play.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • One Doraemon strip have Nobisuke Nobi having a terrible cold during one autumn morning but insists on going to work because of an important business meeting, resulting in Doraemon bringing out the gadget-of-the-week, the Sickness-Transferring Phone, which allows a sickly person to swap their illness with a healthy one. Nobita volunteers to get sick in his father's place, with intentions of spreading the disease to either one of his bullies, but ultimately couldn't get himself to do so when Gian - Nobita's usual bully and intended target - actually expresses concern over Nobita for once. Doraemon and Nobita (borderline delirious because of his fever) eventually runs into one of their neighbors who's strolling around bare-chested and in shorts despite the cold weather - it turns out, said neighbor was trying to get sick on purpose in order to get himself close to a nurse he had a crush on, so Nobita transfers his fever to the neighbor instead.
  • Wanting to be doted on, Kanna attempts this in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid Kanna's Daily Life, after Saikawa gets sick and she helps take care of her. It doesn't work because Kanna's dragon biology prevents all illnesses.
  • In Nichijou, Yuuko is already getting over a cold and discovers that she has an exam tomorrow, after missing three days of school. She tries to give herself another cold to buy time by sitting in a tub full of ice water. It doesn't work.
  • No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!: In chapter 25, Tomoki gets sick with a cold, stirring jealousy in Tomoko. She decides to spend time in his room under the guise of nursing him so she can catch his cold and skip her school week. Unfortunately, Tomoko only starts getting sick right before the weekend, as she didn't consider how long it takes to catch a cold. This story was adapted into the third episode of the anime.

    Asian Animation 
  • In Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: Joys of Seasons episode 96, everyone in the Green Green Grassland starts catching the flu, causing them to be placed into quarantine and resulting in Wolffy being separated from his wife Wolnie. To reunite with her, Wolffy tries jumping into an infected river, eating Paddi (who had visited the quarantine zone earlier), and making his own virus to get himself sick. The third one works and gets him quarantined, but that's after Wolnie has already recovered and left it, meaning they're still separated.

    Comic Books 
  • Futurama: The strip "Night of the Automated Dead" has Bender infect himself with a robo-cold so that he can get sick days off work. However, his attempts fail even after being fully exposed so he files a complaint with Planet Express. As it turns, the virus has started to mutate within him, turning it into a virus that creates Robotic Undead.

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live Action 
  • The Gauntlet has Detective Shockley be sent to Las Vegas to retrieve a witness from the city jail. The witness is Gus Mally, who knows that she has been marked for murder, so she put cigarette ashes in her coffee to make herself too sick to travel. Shockley sees right through her ruse and allows her a few hours to recover before hauling her tail back to Phoenix, Arizona.

    Literature 
  • In Andy Griffiths' Just Series, Andy doesn't want to be in the school play of Romeo and Juliet since he's being cast as Romeo and his best (male) friend Danny is being cast as Juliet. At one point, he deliberately gives himself a stomach bug to get out of acting in the play, but he recovers in time.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: In "Old School", when the students hear that they can be sent home from Hardscrabble Farms early if they're sick, they try to think of ways to make themselves ill. Melinda eats a lot of the chef's awful stew to give herself indigestion and she gets to go home. Julian eats an entire stick of deodorant and he also gets to go home, though by the time his mother comes to pick him up, he seems to have gotten better.
  • Dirty Bertie: The book Germs has Bertie's sister falling ill with chickenpox, which leads to Bertie attempting to give himself chickenpox so that he doesn't have to go to school. He is eventually able to catch it... during the weekend, which defeats the purpose of getting it that way.
  • The Great Brain: In the first book, JD purposely sneaks into a friend's house in order to get infected with measles. He knows doing so will make his mother force both of his brothers to allow themselves to be infected off of him. He plans to get better first and then make fun of them for being sick as revenge for all the times they got sick first and then did the same to him with previous diseases.
  • Holes: Life at the Camp Green Lake juvenile detention centre is so terrible that some of the children deliberately get bitten by rattlesnakes or stung by scorpions so they can be evacuated to the hospital.
  • My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish: In the first book, Tom attempts this trope when he's about to eat a green egg to get food poisoning so that he won't have to leave Frankie home alone at the hands of Mark. However, Mark grabs the egg and eats it (though he doesn't get sick).
  • Defied in the school story "A Shocking Affair" by P. G. Wodehouse. High-School Hustler Bradshaw bets the narrator that he won't be around to sit the dreaded end-of-term Greek examination. The narrator takes the bet, but stipulates that Bradshaw isn't allowed to use Playing Sick or real illness — he had previously been known to make himself ill in similar situations.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Brittas Empire: According to "A Walk On The Wildside", Colin has been giving himself diseases such as Anthrax in a bid to build up immunity to those diseases.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In "Killed By Death", Buffy deliberately infects herself with the flu in order to kill the Monster of the Week, as it is only visible to someone who is running a high fever.
  • On the Friends episode "The One with Joey's New Girlfriend", Phoebe, who has a cold and a hoarse voice, thinks her new singing voice is sexy. When she accidentally gets better, she tries to catch another cold, first from Monica, then from Gunther, so she can get her "sexy phlegm" back.
  • H₂O: Just Add Water: In "Under the Weather", a rainstorm traps the girls at Emma's house, which fears them as touching water will trigger their mermaid transformations; to avoid revealing their secret, they use their mermaid powers to magically make themselves deliberately ill.
  • Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: "Sick Days" is about a flu epidemic at school. Moze doesn't want to do an oral report for class, so she tries to get sick so the nurse will send her home early. She drinks from sick kids' juice bottles, uses their chapstick, and even kisses a sick Coconut Head, but remains healthy throughout the day. She has to give the speech, but it ends up being easy... because all the other kids in her class got sent home sick.
  • The Outer Limits (1963) episode "A Feasibility Study" and its 1997 remake from the revival series use a Heroic Sacrifice version of this trope. In both versions, a human neighbourhood is abducted by an alien species who are considering using humans as a Slave Race. If the current "experiment" succeeds, the aliens will enslave all humanity. The abductees foil the plot by willingly infecting themselves with the same disease, demonstrating that humans would choose death over enslavement, thus saving all of Earth.
  • Red Dwarf: In "Gunmen of the Apocalypse", Kryten gives himself the Armageddon virus (which has locked Starbug on a collision course with a lava moon) so that he can analyse it and provide an antidote to it. Unfortunately, he has trouble dealing with it, necessitating the rest of the crew to plug themselves into the AR machines and go into his dreams to help him.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: The Doctor gets tired of dealing with the crew complaining of trivial illnesses so he programs himself to suffer from flu-like symptoms for a limited amount of time to show everyone how easy it is to handle being sick. To teach him a real lesson, Kes secretly programs the symptoms to last longer than they were supposed to. This turns the Doctor into a whiny Manchild.
  • Supergirl (2015): When we first meet Lex Luthor, he's suffering from cancer, supposedly the result of kryptonite radiation poisoning, and the only thing that can potentially cure him is his estranged sister Lena's research into Harun-El, which she grudgingly agrees to let him help with. As it turns out, though, he actually gave himself cancer on purpose by walking into a radiation chamber in order to manipulate Lena into letting him work with her, as he needs access to her research for his own purposes.
  • In one Young Sheldon episode, Sheldon fakes being ill so he doesn't have to attend school the day mandatory swimming tests happen. After a while, he feels so guilty for lying to his mother that he decides to visit a sick neighbor and make his lie true. He catches the illness, but not until after he's confessed and returned to school.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000: Cultists of Nurgle welcome diseases, parasites, and other infections into their bodies, seeing them as gifts from their loving god.

    Video Games 
  • Divinity: Original Sin II: One inmate in the Driftwood prison tried to poison himself just enough that he'd fall sick and be transferred out for treatment. His ghost admits that he misjudged the dosage.
  • Grossology: Defied; Ralph Alloverem says that you should never force yourself to vomit because it'll cause several complications, such as tooth decay and throat pain.
  • Pokémon: The items Flame Orb and Toxic Orb inflict status conditions on its holder. A Pokémon with the ability Guts will ignore Burn's attack stat drop and raise it instead but is still susceptible to Poison and Burn damage. Pokémon with the Poison Heal ability will regenerate HP instead of have it drained by Toxic Poisoning. Pokémon who are inflicted with a status condition can also use it to prevent a different more crippling ailment from being inflicted on it which is utilized by Magic Guard ability holders, who will only take damage from a direct attack.

    Webcomics 
  • In part 87 of minus., minus makes herself sick after learning that when her friend was sick she spent the whole day in bed watching movies - she regrets her decision after throwing up.

    Web Originals 
  • In Crappy Pictures, one blog post features the blogger taking her four-year-old son to the doctor's. When she mentions that if he touches anything, he may get sick and therefore need to take medicine, the boy licks the arm of the chair, hoping to get sick because he likes medicine. However, it doesn't work and he's fine.
  • Unraveled: In "Calculate your pet's HP with my 100% legitimate formula," Polygon won't let Brian take a three-year leave of absence to stay home and scientifically observe his cat, so Brian eats bad bodega sushi to take a sick day.

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius: The episode "Journey to the Center of Carl" has Jimmy invent the Neutronic Sick Patch to make him and his friends sick enough to miss school, but remove when their parents aren't looking so they can have fun. Unfortunately, the sick patches dissolve into their skin, prompting Jimmy and Sheen to shrink themselves down and travel inside Carl's body to extract mitochondria from the virus and make a vaccine.
  • The Cramp Twins: In "Sick Daze", Wayne deliberately makes himself catch a cold to skip school the next day.
  • In Dennis the Menace (UK), the episode "Couldn't Catch a Cold" has Dennis try this, but fail. He wants to catch a cold so he can stay home from school, first trying to catch it from his father, then (after remembering his grandma claim that colds can be caught from being cold or wet) by walking in the rain in summer clothes, swimming, and sleeping with fans on. None of these attempts work, and when he does catch a cold (likely from his father), the school had planned a beach trip.
  • Family Guy: In "Total Recall", after Lois finds Peter's sick voice to be incredibly sexy, Peter tries to get sick by licking Lindsey Lohan's fork at a restaurant.
  • Johnny Test: In "Johnnyitis", Johnny consumes an isotope to poison himself so that he won't have to take a test that he neglected to study for. However, this backfires when it's revealed that if he's not cured within four hours, he'll explode and die.
  • Maryoku Yummy: In "Hiccles", there's an outbreak of "hiccles" (which are very much like hiccups). Ooka is not happy that she has to help out around town, so she goes outside and starts shouting for hiccles to affect her, to no avail. By the end of the episode, she finally gets them...right after everyone else has recovered, no less. She's even run out of Frizzle Boos (the cure), much to her disappointment.
  • The Mighty B!: In "Apoxalypse Now", Bessie tries to catch chicken pox so that she can get the Chickenpox Patch. She ends up unknowingly infecting Ben and finds out too late that since she already had chickenpox in the past, she's immune to it now. She is then forced to take care of Ben for roping him into her scheme.
  • The Simpsons: The episode "Marge In Chains'' revolves around an outbreak of Osaka Flu. Bart's temperature is checked by Marge and is informed that he is alright enough for school. He immediately sends signals to his immune system to catch the disease, which leads to this exchange in Bart's stomach:
    Antibody: (in Squeaky Voiced Teen's voice) Sarge, we keep getting orders to let the virus win.
    Sergeant: Hmm. Must be a school day. Lay down your arms!
    (the antibodies immediately fold flat in front of the virus, who starts absorbing them)
    Virus: (with Snake's voice) All right! Let's make some pus!
  • In one episode of 6teen, in order to get out of exams, Jude tried to catch a cold on purpose by sticking his head in a freezer.
  • South Park: In "Medicinal Fried Chicken", Randy deliberately tries to get cancer so that he can legally purchase medicinal marijuana by sitting in a sun for a long time, smoking, and getting x-rays. He then finds out that radiation can cause testicular cancer, so he puts his privates in the microwave. By the next morning, his balls have swelled up enormously and he can finally get some pot.
  • Total DramaRama: In "Germ Factory", Duncan and the kids decide to get the stomach flu after Leshawna is out sick so that they don't have to go to school. They find out too late that having the stomach flu is pure hell.
  • T.U.F.F. Puppy: In "Law and Odor", the Stink Bug gathers up everything stinky in Petropolis to create a giant stink bomb called the Air Unfreshener, which he plans to use to make all of Petropolis too stinky to bear. Dudley is unable to stop him due to having a super-sensitive nose. Meanwhile, Keswick is revealed to have gotten sick from licking a handrail at a hospital, rendering him unable to smell anything. When Dudley finds out, he gets Keswick to make him sick so he can't smell anything and will be able to foil the Stink Bug's plan.

    Real Life 
  • The Marquis de Montespan, less than thrilled that his wife had been chosen to be Louis XIV's mistress, is said to have deliberately gotten himself infected with an STD in the hopes of passing it to his wife and then the king.
  • The first form of inoculation, developed by Edward Jenner, was to deliberately infect the patient with a case of cowpox, which conferred immunity to the far more serious smallpox due to the close genetic relationship between the two viruses. Jenner was not the first to realize that this could be done, but he was the first to prove that it could be done on a large scale, essentially the first clinical trial.

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