Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sickness and Health

One of the things on my mind recently has been health. I had a terrible cold two weeks ago and had to miss Monday’s class. I am the first person in the cohort to get this sick, and there was a huge discussion about it in my absence. While I know for an undergrad, missing one class is not usually an international incident it still gets me thinking.

In college attendance is a tricky thing. In high school, attendance is clearly mandatory but in college its often not. There may be participation points associated with being present, or the class is structured in such a way that presence is necessary. But I think a lot of first year students are totally baffled by the idea that they are actually paying to be in class, but no one can force you to attend.

However, illness is a big issue, especially with the paranoia surrounding H1N1. When I was sick, I would blow my nose in public, and get a combination looks of fear and sympathy from people. When I had to go to the store to buy soup and cold medicine, the cashier assumed it was for someone else sick in my home, and I let her believe that, because I didn’t want her to treat me differently. In fact, I actually think she thought I had a sick child at home, but that is maybe beyond the point, while it does feed into my earlier musings about assumptions.

But what are we telling/doing for sick students? The OSU health center website suggests that an ill student living in a residence hall should leave and go home until they are well, if possible. While I understand that the majority of OSU students are from the state of Oregon, I wonder how many are within comfortable distance to go home to their parent’s house if they are ill? And if you are more than maybe 20 minutes away, would you really want to drive? Or even travel? While I understand that residence halls are incubation for sick students this seems unreasonable.

Another interesting thing that has come to my attention is the biology department’s policy about missing lab. Beginning this year, no makeup labs are allowed: unless the student is sick. This raises an interesting problem. Clearly if a student is seriously ill and needs to rest, we don’t want them in class. If they are this sick, we also probably don’t want their germs in class either. However, this leaves us with a trust system. A cold is not something you need a doctors note for, but how do we determine if students are really “sick enough” to miss lab? We just have to trust student’s judgment, I suppose. But there is an element of mistrust surrounding this issue still for some reason.

All this talking about illness has me thinking about an incident my freshman year of college. Someone in my residence hall had scarlet fever, which is something I thought people only got in “Little House on the Prairie.” At the same time, I was sick in my dorm room bed for a few days with just a regular garden variety fever and missed class. And a miscommunication with a friend led to my entire math class thinking I also had scarlet fever. The culmination of this was my RA knocking on my door and telling me she was the worst RA ever for not knowing one of her residents had scarlet fever. This was the first I had heard of it. And I was effectively Typhoid Mary for a few days until it got around that I had never in fact had scarlet fever. Now it’s a funny anecdote that comes up with my college friends from time to time, “Hey, Char, remember when the whole school thought you had scarlet fever?” But really it is a representation of the negatives effects assumptions about illness can have on people.

So how should a campus respond to sickness? Overreacting clearly is not helpful, but keeping students informed and healthy is important, and necessary. Yet striking the right balance between the two is difficult. My big sister is teaching in Bulgaria currently and the school she teaches at is closed for a week because of the number of H1N1 cases in Sofia. So I do understand that this flu season is clearly not a laughing matter, yet people are also overreacting. I’m not sure what I think the administration at OSU should be doing to keep people calm and informed. I’m just not sure its happening currently.

1 comment:

The MoM said...

I was really impressed with the response that WSU had early in the semester when they had a high incidence of flu symptoms. They provided students with a flu kit. (I think it contained tylenol and cough drops and I know it contained a thermometer.) Students were given instructions to go back to bed and stay out of class until they had 24 ours with no fever (on no fever reducing meds.)
Later I read that H1N1 might be contagious longer than the classic 24 hours with no fever timeline, but at least directions were clear and students had access to some way of determining if they had a fever.
When I raise kids in my next life... all of them will be sent into the world with their own personal thermometer!