At the end of my first day of college classes, I found myself at Student Health Services. Having had strep throat before, I felt fairly confident that my sore throat was an indicator, but unfortunately Student Health didn't have rapid tests. They told me they could schedule me for a throat culture the next morning, but it was the beginning of Labor Day weekend and I probably wouldn’t get results back for almost a week.
That evening, my symptoms began to intensify, and I found myself googling walk-in Urgent Care centers in the surrounding area. It was then that I realized there is no how-to guide when you get sick for the first time. So, now that flu season is upon us, I decided to make one myself:
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people are used to having their parents or family take care of them when they’re sick, and having to do it all alone is not fun! After mentioning to a few of the people in my hall that I wasn’t feeling good, I received several offers to bring me food, tissues, cough drops, or classwork I had missed. People here want to support each other! When I felt too sick to walk to the dining hall, I knew that I could place a mobile order at one of our on campus retail dining locations and have a friend pick it up for me. Although I was miserably sick for the first several days, I was also incredibly grateful for the network of support I had built after only a week on campus.
2. Lean on the resources that are available to you. I've compiled a list of helpful tools below (all in one place so you don’t have to comb through the various websites!). There are other resources that may come in handy, but these are the main ones that I've found useful.
Student Health Services, located in Dascomb, usually has walk-in appointments available. They also have free masks and covid tests, if needed. Although they couldn’t get me a rapid test for strep, they put together a care package for me which included a disposable thermometer, tissues, decongestant, and covid tests. Their number is (440) 775-8180, and they are open 8:30 to 4:30 on weekdays, with extended hours on Thursdays until 7pm.
Campus Safety, also in Dascomb, has a free service that can transport you to and from the emergency room at any time (even at 7am on Labor Day)! If you are too sick to leave your room, they can come and pick you up. Campus Safety is available 24/7 and has two separate phone numbers, one for normal calls: (440) 775-8444 and one for emergencies: (440) 775-8911. Once you’ve been discharged from the hospital, you can call again and they will bring you back to your dorm.
Student Support and Outreach, located in Wilder 105, is also an excellent resource. If you need any support with recovery and transitioning back into classes, they have many tools to help facilitate that. The office can also connect you with other offices and resources on campus, if need be. Open 8:30 to 4:30 on weekdays, their number is (440) 775-8462.
Mercy Health Walk-In and ER are located just past the Hales Annex at 200 West Lorain Street. Although Mercy has a certain *reputation* among the student body, I will say that they got me in and out of the walk-in within half an hour with everything I needed. I also ended up in the ER several days later, and the staff there were incredibly friendly and helpful. If you do need to visit Mercy, I would recommend bringing a friend! Going to the hospital can be kind of scary and overwhelming, and it’s nice to have someone to talk to and distract you.
3. Wear a mask. Even though it can be isolating, try to avoid hanging out with other students without a mask. Sickness can go around really quickly on campus, and I encourage you to do everything in your power to stop the spread. As someone who was living in a single when I got sick the first time, I felt lonely at times, but I found it helpful to call my friends and family and try to get outside when I could. The fomo is super real, but you have to remember that you will recover and it will be ok! Missing a couple days of events will not cost you your social life in the long run.
4. Try to rest and relax as much as possible. Stressing about missed coursework will only make you feel worse. If you feel well enough to email your professors and explain what’s going on, that will help, but if not take your time and reach out when you can. Profs will be understanding!
5. Stay hydrated and get lots of sleep. This one is probably pretty intuitive, but I found it more challenging than I expected. Although most dorms have quiet hours, I would recommend bringing a good pair of noise-canceling earbuds, and maybe some melatonin if you struggle with insomnia. Especially early on in the semester, people can get very loud in the common rooms and hallways as they're getting to know each other. In terms of hydration, I personally recommend the tangerine-flavored EmergenC packets, but you should find what works best for you. If you have a specific juice or electrolyte beverage that you enjoy, see if you can bring some with you when you move in. It never hurts to be prepared.
While I won’t say that getting sick in your first month (or semester) of college is inevitable, it is fairly likely. Most students have to travel quite a bit to get here, and it’s common for strep or the common cold to go around after breaks. This year, covid cases were also pretty high in the first few weeks, so I would recommend bringing some masks and rapid tests with you if you can. Other than that, try to buy anything you might need for getting sick ahead of time. You won’t want to walk 20 minutes to CVS for cold medicine if you’re feeling crappy.
So there you have it: my personal guide to navigating your first college illness. I hope you find it useful (or that you don’t need it in the first place). Stay healthy!