My alarm goes off. I sit up and my head is spinning. I reach for my alarm and miss it the first two times. I finally get it to switch off, lie back down, and assess the situation. I’m drenched in sweat. My head is pounding. My throat is really sore; it hurts to swallow. I feel too cold and too hot at the same time. Memories of my dreams start to trickle back: flying donuts, green skies, canoeing on a chocolate river. I start to put the pieces together.
Yep. I’m sick. Now what?
STAGE ONE: DENIAL
I can’t be sick; I have far too much to do today. The solution is simple: I’ll stop being sick. Mind over matter, as they say. I stumble down the steps of my bunk bed, fumble my way through my morning routine, and head to the library. I set to work as best I can; I find it hard to focus but I struggle on. I have dinner plans but I’m feeling a bit too nauseous to enjoy myself. I already bought tickets to see a show, so there will be no backing out now. I can’t wait for it to be over so I can go home and sleep. As soon as I return home, my head hits the pillow and I’m out like a light. It’s a night of tossing and turning and fitful waking moments. Matter: 1, Mind: 0.
STAGE TWO: DESPAIR
When I groggily come to—I didn’t set an alarm for today—I’m unsurprised to find that I feel even worse than yesterday. I stay in bed for another hour or so, despairing at the fact that I have to start getting ready for class. I descend the bunk bed stairs slowly, aches and pains burdening my every step, and stumble miserably into the kitchen. I make myself some toast but lose my appetite after one bite. I lie on the couch and enter my symptoms into Google.
I build a cocoon for myself out of blankets and pillows and remain there for hours. My missed class will be a problem for Future Emma. Around 8pm, I grudgingly shuffle back into my room, blankets and pillows trailing behind me. I promptly fall asleep, despairing at the idea of a day wasted and worrying about all I will have to compensate for tomorrow.
STAGE THREE: ACCEPTANCE
After yet another restless night—this time courtesy of stinging red blisters that have reared their ugly heads on my extremities—I awake early with my alarm and go straight to the clinic. I leave with antihistamines. It turns out I have contracted some sort of viral-chickenpox-for-adults-hellish-nightmare. I have been told to rest and drink lots of liquids. I follow the doctor’s orders, alternating between napping and doing easy readings. One of my classes has an audiobook, which makes things a lot easier and less taxing. I do all the work I can, without pushing myself too far. I make the appropriate excuses to my professors and make arrangements for getting my notes and keeping up with assignments. It’s a pretty miserable day, but at least I’m getting on with it.
If you’re wondering how things turned out, it took me a little over a week to start recovering. Oh boy! Things got a lot worse before they got better! I’m lucky enough to have family nearby, so when things started to get really bad, they came to get me. I had to visit two more doctors, get some more prescriptions filled, and get a doctor’s note. I was ultimately instructed to stay off school for a week. That’s right, folks, I missed a week of classes! I’m still alive though; I’m quite stressed, but I’m alive and recovering.
If you’re not lucky enough to have family close-by to help you out (a.k.a. Do everything for you while you lie on the couch moaning), the university has services for you! You can book an appointment at the UofT clinic, located on the second floor of the Koffler Centre. Last year, they helped me get glass out of my foot (A reverse-Cinderella situation, one might say). UTSU explains the details of UofT health coverage better than I ever could here. Additional information for part-time students is available here and for grad students here. Useful info on the various health services offered through UofT and the preferred network for services in Toronto not affiliated with the university is available here. Keep in mind that if your illness is severely impacting your schoolwork, communication is key. Keeping your course instructors informed means that they will be able to understand the situation and help you develop a game plan for getting back on track. You can also contact your college registrar with any questions or concerns you might have.
Getting sick is the worst, especially when you’re a university student and every day brings with it a new deadline and a new chance to fall behind. I have learned that it’s much better to get back to 100% as quickly as possible rather than push yourself to get to 50% and make yourself sicker in the process. That being said, I found it better for my mental state when I was doing at least a few productive things whenever I could manage to. The key is to be as productive as you can without impeding your body’s healing process. Yes, I’m frantically playing catch-up now that I’m feeling better, but I can handle that. What I can’t handle is feeling ill and miserable for any longer than is absolutely necessary.