The amazing speed at which the flu completely derailed my life

Turns out midterms and a high fever don’t mix well


When I was in elementary school, there was something almost magical about getting sick. Instead of thinking rationally, I saw every fever and cough as a glorious opportunity to miss school — bestowed upon me by some angel of viral infection. Sure, I was occasionally too sick to really enjoy my time off, but to my six-year-old brain, almost any discomfort was worth it. After all, at the time, the entire scope of my existence essentially consisted of school, home and Toys "R" Us, and hierarchically, “school” dwelt at the bottom of that list.

Then, sometime around seventh grade, a terrible thing happened.

Grades started to matter.

Almost overnight, the prospect of getting sick was stripped of anything positive. School suddenly became a gnashing menagerie of tests and procrastination, and the blessing of relaxing sick days turned into a curse of late work and falling behind. Thankfully, around this time, my post-puberty immune system kicked in, and I started to see myself as invincible to illness. Even when I came down with something, I’d always force myself to push through it. Time off was for the weak. In fact, I eventually stopped bothering to read notices about outbreaks amongst the student body, because germs have always seemed like someone else’s problem.

Then, I got the flu in the middle of midterms.

I knew from the moment I woke up that something was off. I often start my mornings with a dry throat, but that morning the dryness was so intense it essentially caused my brain to liquesce down into a singular primal instinct to find and ingest fresh water. I lurched out of bed and already too feverish to properly coordinate my legs, collapsed on the ground in a fit of coughing. My roommate looked at me with concern.

“Uh … are you okay?”

“I just need … some water,” I said through gasping coughs.

“I’m pretty sure you’re sick.”

“What? No, everything’s fine. I have a midterm tomorrow. I can’t be sick.”

I was demonstrably wrong. The once pure deity of sickness had returned as a repulsive demon of muscle aches and nausea. Even after water, nothing felt better. Still in denial, I tried to stumble my way to the first class of the day. After just a few steps, my fever grew to be bad enough to convince me that I was going to evaporate into a gaseous form. I ignored it. Taking time off was for the weak. Downing an Advil, I forced my cramping legs to carry me to Monroe Hall.

After an hour of coughing in an isolated corner so as not to infect anyone and while getting weird looks from those passing by, I stumbled back to my dorm and crawled into bed. Lying in an aching heap, I realized that my brain had absorbed absolutely none of the lecture I just listened to. I rolled over in bed and looked at my clock. 11:50 a.m. It was over. I lost.

The flu had completely derailed my life in less than three hours.

One meeting later, I found my worst fears confirmed. Not only did I have the flu, but I also needed to reschedule two midterms and an essay while still keeping up with work from missed classes. Self-pity set in hard. I felt as if all my dreams were tumbling away from me in a tragic avalanche. How could my body turn on me like this? I hadn’t gotten sick in years, why now? It was a lot to process.

College is often said to be about finding your strengths, but I’d argue it’s equally important to find your kryptonite. Through my experiences here at the University, I’ve learned a lot about my limits when it comes to all-nighters, procrastination and — thanks to last week — sickness. After the glory days of elementary school, sick days have passed me by, the idea of taking time off has been something I’ve fought against.

Just a few days of rest later, however, I was feeling better. Much better. Better than before I got the flu. After sleeping irregularly for almost a month, actually taking time off to rest prepared me better for my midterms than I could have hoped for. Even now, a complete recovery, I’m trying to take a few more breaks. I might have gone into college thinking I could endure whatever sickness came my way, but the amazing speed at which the flu completely shut down my life demonstrated that I’m far from invincible. And when you’re too exhausted to move, there’s nothing wrong with a little break.

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