The struggles of getting severely ill as a full-time student
It started with a cough – nothing out of the ordinary for someone with allergies and asthma. I brushed it off; I was not about to let a tickle in my throat foil my Saturday night plans.
By Sunday morning, coughing gave way to a pounding headache, chest pains and wheezing.
On Monday morning, I knew something was very wrong. I planned to make an appointment with Student Health Services as soon as they opened at 9 a.m. But by 8 a.m. I was gasping for air. I tried to calm myself down, but I could not catch my breath. I took my inhaler, but it had no effect.
I was in the midst of the worst asthma attack of my life.
My girlfriend rushed me to the hospital, where the doctors gave me a breathing treatment that finally opened up my lungs. They tested me for the flu, strep throat and pneumonia and gave me a chest x-ray. After several hours of tests and chest rattling coughs, I had my diagnosis: acute bronchitis.
I was surprised; I have had bronchitis before and while it was certainly unpleasant, it was never this bad. I expected the doctors to say I had the flu because I had not felt that sick since I had the swine flu in 2009.
The doctors sent me home with a prescription for a steroid to reduce the inflammation in my lungs and instructions to rest at home for the rest of the week, or until my coughing and wheezing subsided.
I spent the next few days sleeping as much as possible, which was difficult because the coughing constantly woke me up. During my limited waking hours, I attempted to glance at readings and PowerPoint slides from missed lectures in an effort to stay somewhat caught up with my studies, but found myself getting dizzy and gasping for air, making my attempts at staying on top of schoolwork sporadic and ineffective.
Ultimately, I decided it was best to worry about school when I was feeling better and focused what little energy I had on resting. Nevertheless, it was difficult to ignore that constant nagging voice in the back of my head reminding me I have tests and papers coming up. I gave my professors medical documentation and arranged extensions on my assignments, but it felt wrong somehow to be laying around doing nothing when the semester is in full swing.
I think as full-time students, we have it so drilled into our heads that we have to be constantly busy, constantly striving for success, that we end up feeling guilty for taking a step back to take care of ourselves – even if you’re very sick and that step back is incredibly justified.
What I learned from getting acute bronchitis in the middle of the second semester of my junior year of college is that self-care is always necessary and important, no matter how busy you are, and no matter how high your goals and expectations for yourself are. I have a tendency to run on caffeine, convenient junk food and minimal sleep in an effort to maintain a high GPA.
Unfortunately, I think this lifestyle is the norm for many college students. However, it is neither healthy nor maintainable and will almost surely leave you sick and/or burnt out by the end of the semester.
Bronchitis has served as a kick in the butt to remind me to do the things my mom used to tell me when I was a kid: drink more water, get plenty of sleep, eat my fruits and vegetables and take time for myself when I need it. It may sound simple, but I think it is very easy to let your wellbeing fall to the wayside amidst the craziness that is college life. And in some ways, I think being so busy that you don’t have time to eat, drink or sleep is almost glamorized and strived for. This is not just a college mindset; it pervades American culture. We work ourselves to the point of exhaustion and anything less is seen as a failure.
But here’s the thing: having high expectations for yourself and practicing self-care are not mutually exclusive. You can find time to be a successful student and still get a decent amount of sleep and nutritious food in your system. Take it from me: staying up late and living off of Starbucks lattes and sour patch kids will not make you a better student.
It might just land you in the emergency room.
Maddy Fowler is the assistant news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org