Battling Mono in College

During my time at Notre Dame, there have been very few instances in which I have found myself thinking wistfully of elementary and high school. Free of parental control, the years of braces/acne, the constant conversation surrounding college options, the daily onslaught of busy work…I generally find there isn’t much to miss. 
 
That is, until I discovered one glaring exception.
 
It began slowly. One brisk fall day, I started feeling under the weather. A little more tired than usual, I tried napping more. I noticed bumps on the back of my neck. Swollen lymph nodes, I was later informed. Convinced that they were muscle knots, I texted my mom to schedule me a massage for fall break. In spite of myself, I cheered all the way to the end of the stormy Stanford game--hair soaking wet, body so cold that my nerves stopped using their limited energy to remind me of it. Feeling like a shipwreck survivor, I crawled into bed early that night and celebrated an ND football victory with a shot of Nyquil.
 
Sunday morning, I could barely move. I blundered into to the dining hall, assuring everyone that I don’t normally look like a corpse, but I had sacrificed my health out of loyalty to the Fighting Irish. At the urging of my highly concerned mother (who, in my time of need, attempted to close the distance between us by sending frequent and lengthy texts), I went to St. Liam’s. Once there, the nurse on Sunday afternoon duty proceeded to tell me that yes, I seemed to have some kind of illness--no, it probably isn’t strep--and I could come back in few days if still feeling ill. Oh, and did I want to get a flu shot while I was there?
 
No. No, I did not.
 
Negative homework was done that day. Not only did I fail to get anything done, but I seemed to have forgotten things I had already learned. The words buzzed in and out of focus on the page and no amount of coffee could keep my head off my desk. I used the remainder of my energy reservoir to get through my four hour-fifteen-minute classes on Monday, and then, exhausted, slinked into my lofted bed at 5:00 pm. 
 
A self-portrait
 
Everything that happened this week and next fades together.
 
I recall emailing professors from bed that I would be missing class, panicking that they didn’t believe me (or hated me) when they took too long to respond, and falling asleep every time I took a stab at productivity. That Wednesday I tried to go to my 9:30am English seminar and spent 30 minutes in the hallway with my head between my knees, trying desperately not to faint or puke.
 
As my mom was on the verge of hitchhiking to South Bend by this time, I promised to go to the health center again. Armed with Sprite and a cheese stick (two things you’d never see me with when well, a soda hater and lactose intolerant), I slowly dragged my gray-faced self to St. Liam's.
 
Relieved to be seen by a doctor this time, I presented the usual litany of symptoms. She took one look at me and sent me to the lab for a blood test.
 
Mono. Mono-freakin-nucleosis. Or as my friends would soon remind me, “the kissing disease.” Ha.
 
“Two to three weeks of bed rest,” she wrote on the UHS note that wielded the power to excuse me from class for the rest of that week and the next before fall break. While relieved that I had a legitimate excuse for my professors (whom, I was convinced, thought I was whiny and full of it), I knew that I couldn’t actually miss all of my classes and activities for the next three weeks in the name of “bed rest.”
 
I longed to be back in high school, when my mom could give the school a call and they’d let me stay home as long as I needed to. I would lie in my bed for weeks, sleeping, Netflixing, and receiving bowls of thoughtfully-prepared soup and crackers. My best friend would stop by my house with homework and class notes, and teachers would graciously allow me to make up missed tests at my earliest convenience. My lacrosse team would sign a giant “get well soon” card.
 
All wishful thinking. This fantasy turned to dust the minute I stepped back onto campus, a microcosm of the real world.
 
Much of these weeks are a blur. Normally a daily journaler, I looked to my journals to see if they could provide any in-the-moment details of this experience. I found a single entry, and by a single entry I mean a single, paragraph-long sentence in which I cursed the stars for keeping me from kissing boys for the next two months.
 
Questionable priorities.
 
Taking midterms with mono was an interesting experience. I probably could have postponed them, but at the time, the prospect of midterms looming over my head during fall break seemed worse than taking them with a slow-moving brain. Some turned out better than others.
 
I’ve been mono-free for about two weeks now (as confirmed by St. Liam's), but the effects are still unfolding. I missed a lot of class during that hazy month, and subsequent tests. Because I couldn’t fully rest while I was supposed to, I’m still tired much of the time. My friends still cringe at the prospect of sharing drinks with me.
 
It’s hard to be sick in college. You’re on your own as far as emailing professors, finding medical care, and figuring out how to get yourself well again. Classes and activities forge ahead while you lie in bed. I had to find a balance between following the doctor's advice and making sure I didn’t get behind in class. I had to put myself to bed when I wanted to go out with friends. I missed football games. My friends, family, and professors helped me as much as they could, but it’s admittedly difficult to stay afloat at Notre Dame when your cognitive functioning is at half-mast.
 
To those of you who are sick now, I say rest as much as possible, fuel up on Au Bon Pain soup, and trust that your professors will be understanding (turns out my fear of their contempt was unnecessary). This too shall pass. And you’ll emerge with a greater appreciation for your health, your parents, and your K-12 days.
 
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Images: 1, 2, 3, 4