The first time you get sick at college
And you thought you were an adult
You think you’re on your own the first day of college. You piled all your stuff into your dorm, watched your parents drive away and feigned a few tears, but you took to the independent life like a fish to water. You are young. You have the wisdom of high school behind you. You are invincible.
And then you catch the plague.
You didn’t think it could happen to you. Sure, the person you share approximately 30 square feet of space with has been hacking up their respiratory tract for the past two weeks and refuses to take antibiotics, your diet consists of Rubinoff and dining hall pizza, and the most physical activity you’ve done in the past month has been walking in the freezing cold to and from Frat row, but come on, you’re healthy as a horse!
Getting sick at college is the first time you realize what it means to be on your own. The day you realize that you and your decisions are the only thing between letting a cold actually kill you and making it to midterms is the day you become an adult.
No one is going to make you soup, no one is going to bring you to the doctor, the sick college student lives and dies by their own devices.
You try and remember what happened the last time you were sick at home. Your mom brought you to the doctor, right? Right! Okay. So, the first logical step in your journey back to health is…
Call Mom or Dad. Explain that it’s not serious, just a stuffy nose, a dry cough, and attempt to hide the fact that your will to live is being drained from your body through your sinuses. Your parent or guardian reminds you that your school has a health services clinic, tells you you’re doing too much, and threatens to bring you home. You resolve to never let them see your weakness ever again.
Next, you schlep over to UHS. It’s 1,000 miles from your dorm, and you get lost twice (as you have yet to realize that they offer a shuttle service). You shuffle in and are handed a clipboard full of paperwork, riddled with health questions about your own body that you realize don’t even know the answer to. Have you been vaccinated for HPV? Do you have any allergies to medication? Do you have two feet?
You call your parent again. You turn in the completed paperwork, and the desk assistant offers you a seat in the waiting room with 30 other germ-infested undergrads.
And then you wait.
By the time someone calls your name, several wars have been fought and ended, you have a long, Gandalf-esque beard, and you’re slipping slowly into madness. Unsure of the date and time, you hobble into the office.
There, you find a doctor, and I use the term loosely. It is someone in scrubs or a coat who has the ability to prescribe you medicine. After several minutes of asking you your symptoms they tell you that you have mono. You don’t have mono. They will then say you have chronic underboob, or some horrible thing you’ve barely heard of. You don’t.
You realize this person in scrubs is the human incarnate of WebMD. They prescribe you codeine cough medicine, which the university pharmacy throws at your head. You sell most of the stuff to your friends.
You’ve accepted your death.
Wait. Maybe you’re starting to feel better. Yes. You’ve only sneezed twice in the past hour. You’ve done it! You’re healed! You have the invincibility of youth on your side! You can TOTALLY go out tonight!
You are wrong.
This isn’t a hangover. This isn’t a cold. This is a demon that has infected every orifice, organ, and pore of the sack of meat you used to call a body. Just as you begin to see a warm, bright light in the corner of your vision, your roommate appears.
She is alive. She is no longer sick. But how? She hovers over your corpse, her glowing health mocking you. You think she’s going to say a prayer and pull the covers over your face, but instead, she offers the warmest council you’ve ever heard:
“Dude. Just go to the minute clinic already.”
You have a sinus infection. You have tonsillitis. You have an upper-respiratory infection. You have bronchitis. You have a real, actual infection, that is curable by actual antibiotics, which they ACTUALLY prescribe you.
You go home, completely bewildered, and fall asleep for six days.
You awaken on the seventh day able to breathe through your nose and eat solid food. You carry a spray can of Lysol with you to class and wipe every doorknob you touch. You do not touch railings. You do not touch your own face. If someone coughs next to you, you consider having them burned at the stake or recommend that they quarantine themselves for the remainder of their disease.
Because dammit, you lived. You survived being sick at college. You now know what it means to truly be on your own, taking care of yourself at the most basic level: physical health. You resolve to take care of the sanctuary that is your body, by eating healthy, exercising, and taking it easy on the weekends from now on.
Well, at least until the next weekend rolls around.