The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Germs, sniffles and chill -- oh my!

I am responsible. I stood in a two-hour line to get the shots that should protect me from illness. Every morning I take my vitamins. I try to get enough sleep each night. By all accounts I should be in perfect health, and yet in the past week I've gone through five boxes of tissues and have been forced to speak in the oh-so-sultry rasp of one with an inordinate amount of phlegm coating her throat. In true American fashion, I blame others for my condition.

For the past few weeks people have been walking around Grounds sniffling and coughing, just spreading their insidious germs. I suppose it was only a matter of time before my apartment became infected. One by one my roommates started to complain of sore throats and runny noses. Like a good friend, and one dedicated to the eradication of the common cold, I lavished sympathy on my fallen companions. I gave them tissues, microwaved them dinner and served them hot chocolate in large, brightly colored mugs. My diligence paid off and after a couple days, my friends were once again able to sleep without the aid of NyQuil.

One week later, my throat began to ache and I couldn't go three seconds without needing a tissue. Communal living had reared its ugly head and I too was stricken with a cold, but not with your run-of-the mill little sniffly cold. Oh no, I had been blessed with a mutant strain 10 times more violent than that my roommates had faced.

On the second night of my illness, as I was curled up under my comforter and a thermal blanket in my flannel pajamas, shivering and wishing that death would come quickly, my roommate approached me with a pitying look.

"Are you feeling any better?" she inquired.

In response, I hacked up a portion of my lung.

"Sorry."

I finally managed to get enough air to speak.

She tried to hide her disgust with a little smile.

"Listen, do you mind if I open the window in here?," she said. "You know, circulate some air so we don't become a breeding ground for germs. I have a midterm in three days and I cannot get sick."

"Sure, you can open the window," I volunteered through chattering teeth.

Twenty minutes later as I watched myself breath and the cold sent me into convulsions, I asked her if she wasn't a little bit chilly.

"Isn't your coat good to 20 below?" she asked by way of reply.

It was then that I had an epiphany: College is the worst place in the world to be sick. While people are sorry that you're not feeling well, they treat you like a leper because contracting an illness is something they simply cannot afford to do.

The next morning as I walked up the steps behind Lambeth it became quite obvious to me that I was unable to breath. I could literally hear all the liquid in my chest as I attempted to inhale. Noticing my struggle, my friend Kelly slowed her pace.

"You sound really horrible," she informed me. "You should definitely get yourself checked out."

I nodded in agreement and managed to croak, "I think I'm dying."

"You're not dying," Kelly assured me. "You just have a cold. Me, I don't ever get sick. I don't believe in it."

"Huh?"

"I will myself to stay healthy. Infirmity begins in the head you know. Sickness is, like, psychosomatic."

I tried to remember when I'd made the decision to allow my body to be infiltrated with disease, but my thoughts were interrupted by another bought of coughing that made my stomach cramp up. During the rest of the walk to Grounds I continually dabbed at my nose with a tissue while she made many exhortations advocating a mind over body approach to health. By the time I arrived at Cabell, my tears were only partially due to the wind and my illness.

In class I proved that John Donne was wrong when he claimed that "no man is an island."

If you're valiantly fighting a nasty cold, you are indeed alarmingly alone. Even my friends sat a few chairs away from me. At lunch people were visibly concerned to be eating within 10 feet of me. Never mind the fact that I always covered my mouth when I coughed and washed my hands 30 or so times a day. Doesn't anyone remember that it's good to be compassionate, I wondered? Aren't people always saying that while those who are sick have a disease, they are not a disease themselves?

Dejected, alone and exceedingly uncomfortable, I made my way home that afternoon and promptly called my mother.

"Mommy," I whispered as she picked up the phone.

"Katie, honey, you don't sound good," she told me.

"I'm sick," I sniffed.

"Oh, I'm so sorry that you're not feeling well." My mother was using her most soothing voice.

Figuring I'd won her pity, I began to whine.

"I feel so horrible, and I have so much work to do, and I wish I was at home," I said.

My mother made sympathetic noises and I continued.

"If I was at home I could lie on the sofa wrapped in a blanket in front of the TV and you would bring me soup and when Daddy came home he'd pat my head," I said.

I waited for my mother to tell me that she wished I was at home too, so that she could pamper and take care of me until I was feeling better.

I heard a buzzer go off in the background.

"Listen honey," my mother told me briskly, "I hope you feel better soon, but I've got to run and get dinner out of the oven so I can leave and get to my meeting by 6:30. Bye."

She hung up before I had a chance to cry about how badly my throat hurt or to complain about my inability to sleep. With the dial tone ringing in my ear, it became painfully obvious that I was on my own when it came to combating my affliction.

I spent the next few days in isolation. Just me, my NyQuil, a huge box of Puffs Plus with Aloe, and my stuffed animals. It was touch and go at times, but I made it through the weekend and emerged Monday triumphant. I met Kelly and we headed to class.

"I don't feel so good," she said, blowing her nose and giving a little cough.

I raised my eyebrows and considered asking how she had allowed herself to become sick, but decided against it because that would require my getting within five feet of her, and that was a risk I simply could not take.

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