Epidemiology 101

 By Matt Lawson

Last week I was sick with an unfortunately lingering cold. It just so happened that I’d stocked up on clearance-priced generic cold medicine the weekend before, so at least I was armed. I hadn’t had Alka Seltzer-type cold medicine since college. It’s cheap and it works as long as you keep taking it every three hours. I know I’ve alluded to the illnesses of college life before, but now that the fall semester’s in full sway and cold and flu season’s coming up, I’d like to brief the new class of college freshmen on what to expect.

Back when you were wide-eyed high school graduates eagerly waiting the excitement of collegiate life, you were probably warned about meningitis and its tendency to spread in college dorms. You may have been vaccinated for it. Good for you. Now you’ve got that one out of the way, your body is open to all of the other dorm-bred contagions. You may think to yourself, “But my dorm’s not dirty.” Let’s assume that the building’s staff does its best to keep clean. I don’t doubt that colleges do their part to keep the dorms as disease-free as possible. They want parents to know that their little ones are getting the most for their money.

However, there’s only so much that the staff can do. They can’t make your roommate shower regularly. They won’t go through your mini-fridge and throw away the fuzzy black spaghetti you’ve forgotten about. They could crank the thermostat down so you don’t go from hypothermic outdoor temperatures to the raging sub-Saharan heat indoors, but that doesn’t create the problems so much as it just doesn’t help them. Besides, you learn to live in extreme temperatures pretty easily. It’s when you go home for winter break and find yourself yelling to your parents that their 70-degree house is inhospitable that it really becomes a problem.

Along with the expanding awareness of the world and evolving self-knowledge that comes with higher education, you will experience a variety of new physical symptoms. A Technicolor parade of all kinds of substances will come out of your body that you never knew you were capable of producing. Become familiar with words like “bile” and “gastroenteritis” and “Giardia”. Do not over-Google your symptoms because the search engine will end up diagnosing you with cholera or that old Oregon Trail favorite, dysentery. This will just give you another disease called cyberchondria that is already a threat to society without claiming you as another victim.

I recommend just going with the (greenish) flow. Of course, take medicine and go to the infirmary and all of that. Always wear sandals in the shower. You do have your studies to think about. Keep in mind, though, that this is the time you can legally experience Kafka-esque dreams, delirium-fueled night wanderings, and philosophical breakthroughs, along with the complete dissipation of time and space. Let them fuel your creative fires. As an added bonus, you will earn the sympathy of others. Professors will understand if you can’t attend class due to staph poisoning. Your children still will want you to chauffeur them to the mall after you just coughed up a lung in front of them. (I may not have children myself, but I have been on their end of the situation).

Being sick in college has its temporary cost, but it will make you a stronger person inside and out. In the end, that’s the essence of a good education.

 Matt Lawson…er, “Matt Martin” is the editor of Hennen’s print publication.  When he isn’t editing stories or doing layout, he can be found chugging brews with his bros…er, family.  Honest.