9 Ways to Survive in College With a Serious Health Problem

Three days in to my first week of college, I suffered a concussion and a fractured skull during cheer practice. As far as concussions go, mine was not too serious, until I fell a couple days later and suffered a second blow to the head. I had to be transported from my dorm room to the hospital in an ambulance, and while it turned out I was okay, my concussion had become severe and I had to be closely monitored. While this was probably the worst first week of college in history, it gave me valuable insight into what happens when your health takes a turn for the worst as a college student. Here are some of the most important tips I’ve gathered from my experience. Whether you’re currently dealing with major health issues or reading this as a precaution, these will help you if you find yourself in a tricky medical situation.


1. Take advantage of the health center. 

If you think something serious is going on, seek medical attention. If you've already seen a doctor, you will probably still need to follow up with a physician throughout your recovery. The health center is completely free for visits like this, and they encourage everyone to visit, even if it’s for something small. The doctors there will help you and provide an excuse note if you'll be missing class. It's also a convenient place to pick up whatever medications you've been prescribed.

2. Keep any and all documents you receive from the doctor, emergency room, athletic trainer, etc.

Put them all in one folder and bring them to every medical appointment. These are important to hang on to. You may find that you’ll have to visit different doctors and different health facilities, so having that information on hand eliminates the potential for miscommunication and insures that you'll receive proper care.

3. Let your R.A. and roommate know what’s going on.

Keeping them in the loop is useful, especially if you need to go to the hospital. They know exactly what to do when someone on their floor is experiencing health issues. Whether it’s checking up on you every once in a while to see if you need anything or contacting emergency medical personnel to take you to the emergency room, your R.A. will be there to help you.

4. Prioritize your health over everything, even school.

If you’re told not to go to class, don't go. Your doctor knows how important your education is, so if they say you shouldn't be going to class, don't take it lightly. I was instructed not to attend classes for several days and not to do schoolwork since attempting to do so would aggravate my symptoms and potentially delay my recovery time. I brushed it off and tried to go anyway. That was a huge mistake, not only because I nearly fainted on my way there, but because I was too disoriented to pay attention during the lecture anyway. If your doctor tells you not to attend classes, it’s because it would be better for your health to stay home. Just listen to them and follow whatever other instructions they give you.

5. You have to notify your professors.

It is important to tell them about your condition and keep them updated on when you’ll be missing class. Personally, I was terrified of having to tell my professors that I’d be absent just days after they had gone over their strict attendance policy during syllabus week. I was surprised to find that every single one of my professors was understanding and willing to work with me so I wouldn’t fall behind.

6. If you believe you may qualify for accommodations for any disabilities related to your health condition, visit the DASS website.

This might be a long shot, since you must be able to prove that your health issue is debilitating in some way for them to agree to step in. For example, they won’t agree to provide accommodations for someone suffering from a minor concussion, but since mine was severe, I was able to get extended time on tests for two months so that I could still keep my grades up as I healed. Again, they won’t step in unless it’s serious, but if you think you might need any accommodations, you might as well try. You’ll also need all your medical documents for this.

7. If you haven’t done so already, download a delivery service app.

Favor is my personal preference, but Uber Eats or Postmates are also great options. These are for more than just food- you can have over-the-counter medicine and other things you need delivered right to your door. You will discover that it is quite difficult to go to the store every time you need something when you’re suffering from a serious medical condition. I had just about everything I needed delivered because I just couldn’t get around myself.

8. Parties can wait.

It will feel like you're missing out on a lot of fun by staying home, but if you're not well, going out is a very bad idea. Often your doctor will specifically tell you that you should avoid drinking during your recovery, but even if they don't, it's better to avoid it for a while. This is especially true if you're on any medications for your condition. If you decide to drink, make sure you check the warning label on your medication to see if you can consume alcohol while taking it. Even if you have not been specifically told not to drink, there are about a million things that can go wrong if you do. I can't emphasize enough that you should not be going out and drinking while you're not in good health.

9. Most importantly, find a good support system.

Having friends who are there for you makes all the difference when you’re not in good health. I’m not just talking about fun people to party with, I mean a solid group of friends who you trust and who would go out of their way to help you if you truly needed it. I was lucky – my cheerleading team had bonded over the summer during camp so before I even stepped on campus for the first week of school, I had what felt like a family. My coach sat with me for five hours in the hospital and girls on the team consistently brought me dinner to make sure I was eating. Everyone made sure I knew they were there for me and I had an incredible amount of help and support. I’m not sure whether I would’ve been able to recover as quickly as I did without such close friends to count on.

If you don’t have good friends in college yet, don’t worry. Finding friends who will help you is not as hard as you think. Someone I had met two days before I was injured went out of his way to pick me up from the emergency room at two o’clock in the morning, and another person a few dorms down from me brought me groceries and Tylenol because I couldn’t get them myself. It’s all about finding kind-hearted people you get along with- even if you aren’t close with them yet, they’ll be your most important asset during the healing process.

Part of the reason I chose SMU was because of how much the university cares about their students, and how much their students genuinely care about each other. It can be scary to have health issues arise when you’re in college and far from your family, but don’t worry. Even if you can’t take care of yourself, this campus is full of people who you can count on to help you heal.