My “Save Ferris” moment came courtesy of WKBN’s award-winning anchor Stan Boney.
If you’re unfamiliar with the reference, you probably haven’t watched “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” It’s the quintessential ‘80s teen comedy chock full of memorable scenes.
From Bueller’s lip-syncing parade performances of Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schoen” and The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout,” to principal Ed Rooney’s fight to bring the school-skipping Bueller to justice, to Ben Stein’s brief performance as a monotone economics teacher — 35 years later and I still hear references to those iconic scenes.
By far, one of my favorite shticks is the escalation of Bueller’s fake illness — his reason for missing school. He has nearly everyone fooled. It’s called the “Save Ferris” moment. His unassuming schoolmates wrongly assume Bueller is dying of some terrible disease (although no one knows what it is) and thus embark on a campaign to save his life.
“Umm, he’s sick. My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with this girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night,” says a random classmate to the teacher taking attendance. “I guess it’s pretty serious.”
Bueller has masterfully invented this moment, a simple reason for skipping school that has grown out of control. He could care less. “It’s pretty tough coming up with new illnesses,” he explains. “It’s pretty childish, but so is high school.”
The “Save Ferris” concept worked so well that it weaved its way into our popular lexicon. For example, a moderately successful ska band from the 90s adopted Save Ferris as their moniker (check out their cover of Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen”). It spawned a tourism debate about whether or not to reprint “Save Ferris” on the same water tower from the film. You can even buy a “Save Ferris” T-shirt on Amazon.
I thought about Bueller’s “Save Ferris” moment a lot when Stan called me a few weeks ago. Unlike Ferris, I was really sick. But like the gag, I felt silly — maybe even a little embarrassed — for even getting sick in the first place. But why?
Like some Americans, I traveled to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family. Like some Americans, I returned home with COVID. Now, I’m not the type to make assumptions about when and where and how I contracted it. But those particular pieces of information were only important for contact tracing (which I did).
I was angry and probably a little irrational, too. “So much for being fully vaccinated,” I often lamented.
The week following Thanksgiving was the worst. Anyone who’s fought a non-hospitalized bout with COVID will tell you that the fevers, chills, congestion, sore throat and breathing difficulties in the beginning drain every ounce of energy.
Still, in those first few days, I wasn’t 100% sure I actually had COVID. The official test results didn’t come until a few days later. By then I was convinced I had it based on one very specific symptom: the loss of smell. When showering with some particularly strong-smelling body wash, it hit me: “Umm, I can’t smell this. Uh oh.”
A week later, I probably still wasn’t up for taking work calls, but I didn’t care. I was sick of being sick. I wanted to feel normal. I looked like crap and I sounded worse. Stan called and we talked about something completely unrelated to COVID. He could hear it in my voice. “Are you OK? You sound sick,” he asked.
“Yeah. I’m still dealing with COVID.”
“Oh no. Feel better man,” he replied. I don’t know Stan that well, but I know him well enough to know he was concerned. Of course, I wasn’t that sick at this point. At least not nearly as sick as the week before. A full week-plus into COVID and I had turned a corner. I was beginning to wonder if I even really knew how to be sick anymore. Like really sick. Do any of us know how to be sick anymore, or has COVID messed that up, too?
About an hour later, Stan texted: “Can I interview you about getting COVID? We’ve gotten away from telling the stories about people who have it.”
I hesitated, but he texted me again two hours later with the same request.
“Sounds good,” I replied. “Heads up: I don’t look real great. LOL!”
When it aired, the story was about me getting COVID. “Ugh, so what?” I thought. “I’m not even that sick.” My wife and kids watched and teased me for the next few days about it, in part because of my reaction. I could handle the ribbing from my family, but I didn’t know how to deal with what came next. Texts, emails and social media posts started rolling in from friends and colleagues.
“Are you OK?” or “Do you need anything?”
“This is like that ‘Save Ferris’ thing,” I told my wife. “And Bueller was 100% faking it.” I reminded her about the scene, and that I was embarrassed by the outpouring of support.
“Why not just be sick and accept the get-well wishes for what they are?” she said. “Just be sick and let people take care of you and care about you.”
She was right. I should have remembered how to be sick, to receive messages of care from friends, to accept advice and offers of support and to spend time healing and resting.
See, COVID has tricked us into thinking, “Meh, it’s just a cold.” We can go to work and school and parties and live our lives each year with colds. What the reaction I received from friends and the advice I got from my wife and others taught me is that I need to remember how to be sick. I need to stay in bed, stay hydrated, check my temperature and pulse oxygen levels, and let others care for me.
And, yes, I need to spend considerably more time on self-care.
Of course, Stan’s story wasn’t about me. It was never meant to be, even if that’s how it was framed (and how my family and I viewed it). It was more about the uptick in COVID cases Stan and others were seeing.
“Within just a few hours today I heard of three people I knew with COVID,” he texted me later that day. His concern was valid, of course, and he saw a need to use my case to bring attention to the surge.
Still, would I have been flattered if my social media friends and readers of Mahoning Matters suddenly launched a “Save Adam” campaign? Of course! In all seriousness, the only person who could save Adam in that moment was Adam. And that’s what I did. I’m feeling better, and even if it feels strange and unusual, I’m going to lean into self-care and take a little more time for myself.
My first step? Getting my hands on a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California for a joy ride around the streets of Youngstown.
— Adam Earnheardt is professor of communication at YSU and executive director of the Youngstown Press Club. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.
This story was originally published December 27, 2021 4:00 AM.