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Health

Being Sick in College: A Survival Guide

When I woke up with a sore throat last Monday, I panicked. And understandably so. Living in a pandemic world, I’m hyper aware of symptoms. A morning of sniffles, which is all too common with my seasonal allergies, throws me into a COVID-induced frenzy. Recently, I’ve found myself constantly questioning, are these my allergies, or am I sick? More often than not, I take my allergy meds and feel better in a matter of hours, putting my anxiety at ease.

This sickness didn’t feel like allergies, though. I took my temperature and was shocked when my thermometer flashed red, reading over 100 degrees. Increasingly worried, I tried to tell my roommate, only to discover that I no longer had a voice. That was when I knew: I caught the cold that’s been plaguing my hall.

Chances are that you’ve heard about this cold. And if you haven’t heard about it, you’ve certainly heard it. These past few weeks, I’ve heard symphonies of coughing and sniffling from every corner of campus. From the halls of my residence hall to the line at Norbucks, the sounds of sickness have been inescapable, so I knew it was only a matter of time until I’d get sick too.

That being said, I still found myself ill-prepared. Too focused on the mounting pile of assignments and exams that accompanies midterm season, I neglected my health. To make matters worse, this was my first time sick in college. To be blunt, having the Northwestern cold was hell. Here’s how I handled it.

 

Your First Priority: Student Health Services

When you start feeling sick, going to student health services should be a priority. As impossible as it feels to leave your bed and trek across campus, it’s best for everyone if you figure out what’s wrong with you and how to treat it. Blessed with the world’s most compassionate roommate, I didn’t even have to make my own appointment; she made one for me. Whether you call in or schedule an appointment through your health portal, making an SHS appointment is easy and straightforward. Worried about the few strep cases I’d heard about, I requested a strep test as well as a symptomatic COVID-19 test. Within a few hours, I had a negative COVID-19 and strep test, which put my mind somewhat at ease. Not only did I get confirmation that I was COVID and strep negative (my biggest concerns), but I also got valuable advice from a physician. My doctor told me to rinse with salt water to calm my sore throat, keep up my vitamin C intake, alternate between Tylenol and Motrin for my fever, and return if things got worse. Sure, I was aware of these tricks, but the reminder was appreciated.

 

Coping with the Red Symptom Tracker

For the next few days, I was confined to my dorm room. To me, this was a foreign concept; I’m the type to head out in the morning with my laptop only to return a few hours before bed. I hate studying in my dorm, so spending time there during the day was certainly an adjustment. I found comfort in alternating between working at my desk, from my bed, and in the lounge spaces around my dorm (if you’re using lounge spaces while sick, be sure to wipe down your work area before you leave). For fresh air, I also spent some time eating and studying on the picnic tables outside my dorm. Compartmentalization matters, even when you’re sick. Varying your environments will keep you sane and focused.

 

Putting Yourself First

As a college student in the middle of midterm season, sickness couldn’t have come at a worse time. Already overwhelmed by mounting coursework, I found it hard to prioritize my health needs. At times, I needed to accept that rest was more important than finishing my lab reports, and communication with my teaching assistants and professors became essential. You’re a person before you’re a student. If you can’t do all of your classwork while sick, that’s okay. Be honest with your professors and with yourself about your limits.

 

Navigating the Dining Hall

Upon getting sick, I lost my appetite. Even though I live only a floor above a dining hall, forcing myself to get a meal was, at times, a struggle. For my first day being sick, I had a red symptom tracker and couldn’t go the dining hall. Luckily, my friends brought me meals. When I was well enough to go to the dining hall on my own, I went for warm and soft foods and always picked up a cup of warm green tea on my way out. I chose to eat in my room instead of the dining hall, as to not get people sick.

In my experience eating on campus while sick, I quickly realized the criminal lack of soup on our campus. I don’t even like soup, but I found myself craving it at every meal. One night, my friend Olivia brought me a bowl of chicken noodle soup; to say this was a lifesaver would be an understatement.

Northwestern Dining: if you’re reading this, please put more soup on campus.

 

I hope none of you will have to use this guide in the near future. But if you do, I hope you feel better soon! Remember that illness is fleeting and makes us all the more appreciative of healthy days.

 

 

Preeta Kamat

Northwestern '24

Preeta is a sophomore from Rochester, Michigan studying Neuroscience and Global Health Studies in the seven year med program. When she's not working on school, you can find her on coffee runs, exploring campus with friends, baking, or watching reality TV.
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