The Freshman 15: Flu Season Edition

Not only is October known for its cooler temperatures and the emergence of Halloween decorations, but it is also recognized for something far more sinister: the flu season. Whether you actually have the flu or just a mild cold, the fall seems to be a popular time for students to get sick. For some, this means just a day out of class, but for others, it could mean much more.

In fact, in my freshman year, I spent my fall semester with the flu, two ear infections and mono. In spite of the fact that I spent more time in the health center than I would have liked, I still managed to earn a straight A’s and bounce back from the difficulties of that first semester. This month, I would like to offer my own advice for each of you during the flu season (although I will not endorse or defame flu shots — those are entirely your decision!), both preventative measures you can take and ways you can still succeed in spite of missed classes.

The Freshman 15: Flu Season Edition

1. Take your vitamins.
In other words, be proactive about your health. Whether that means taking your Vitamin C’s or eating a balanced diet, make sure you aren’t living the unhealthy college lifestyle. If you aren’t getting the nutrients you need, you will be more susceptible to those illnesses out there.

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2. Stock up on over-the-counter/non-prescription medications before you get sick.
Chances are, you don’t wait to buy pain relievers until after you get a headache… so why wouldn’t you keep cold medicines around just in case? Nobody wants to drag themselves to the pharmacy when sick; rather, they want to rest as much as possible until all symptoms go away. By keeping the basics in your dorm for colds and sore throats, you are saving yourself a step in case you actually get sick. Trust me — you will thank yourself later.

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3. Wash your hands.
This may sound obvious enough, but so many people forget to wash up after visiting a public place. Germs can be spread quite easily throughout the library, the gym and other high-traffic locations on campus, and it never hurts to wash your hands after you leave.

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4. Know where you can access comfort foods at a moment’s notice.
It seems that no matter what sickness I have, I always feel better with a bowl of wonton soup.  Luckily for me, the nearest Chinese take-out restaurant was just across the street from campus, where I lived for the first two years of my college career. Having that simple comfort always helped me whenever I felt under the weather, and I encourage others to figure out their own personal comforts to help them when sick.

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5. Don’t underestimate the power of sleep.
As college students, so many of us sacrifice sleep in favor of friends and homework. Rarely do we get the suggested 8+ hours per night, especially during the week, and this in turn takes a massive toll on our bodies. Restructuring your schedule and priorities a bit so that you can escape a nocturnal lifestyle will significantly benefit you and your overall health. Not only is it one of the best preventative measures against getting sick, but it is also one of the best healing methods of those who do get sick.

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6. Have a homework buddy in each class.
At the beginning of the semester, it is a good idea to exchange numbers with a reliable classmate, so that if you do get sick and have to miss class, your new friend will be able to tell you what you missed in class and pass along any important notes. In turn, you can do the same for him or her. Having someone you can rely on in each class will take off some of the stress of taking a necessary sick day, and will help keep you up to speed in the academic arena.

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7. Go to the Health Center when necessary.
At many universities, the school health center is free for student use, with only a few additional (yet seriously reduced) charges for lab tests and injections. If you are feeling at all under the weather, GO. The doctors, physician assistants and nurses are there for you, and will be happy to make sure you are in good health. Since I first enrolled in college, I have been to the university health center at least a dozen times, and most of the people I have encountered there were extremely kind and accommodating. As someone who doesn’t like to complain about illness, I found that visiting the health center was valuable because I didn’t have to silently suffer with a fever anymore.

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8. Be your own advocate.
Because your parents won’t be with you for your medical appointments at school, you have to stand up for yourself. Ask all of the questions you need to ask, and if a doctor is pushing you away from an anti-viral or antibiotic you really think is going to help you, then speak up. You should play a role in your own recovery.

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9. Obtain any necessary documentation from your doctor.
Whether you visit the health center or a regular physician, be sure to get a doctor’s note that you can provide for your professors if any of them are wary of your absence. Having this in writing will allow you to avoid a whole lot of hassle when you do return to classes.

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10. Have some comfort from your youth on hand.
Ever since I was a year old, I have been a huge fan of Beauty and the Beast. I can probably recite every line, and have watched that movie through nearly every illness, after every surgery and through every rough patch for 20 years of my life. Because of that, turning on Beauty and the Beast when I’m sick (even now!) always makes me feel a little bit better. It doesn’t matter if I fell asleep halfway through or could barely concentrate on the movie; just having this element of my childhood brought me peace. Find your Beauty and the Beast, whether it is a movie, stuffed animal, song or anything else. Identify the thing that has always cheered you up, and welcome it into your recovery process.

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11. Keep an open line of communication with your professors.
If your doctor diagnosed you with the flu and advises you to avoid other people for a week, then you will need to contact each of your professors as soon as you get home from the doctor. Let them know that you expect to miss class for x number of days because of this illness, ask them if there is anything you can do while you are out and then see what they say. Some will be more sympathetic than others, but it is better to let them know early on that you will be missing classes than to tell them after the fact.

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12. Ask for help when necessary.
If your friends are willing to bring you thermometers, medicine or food, then by all means, say yes. There will be opportunities for you to return that favor, but don’t overextend yourself when you’re sick. If you have the energy to focus on something, then try to focus on your school work and allow others to help you when they are willing.

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13. Attend office hours with your professor after the fact.
After missing class material, it is a good idea to meet with your professor one-on-one to get caught up or for a better explanation of the chapter you’ve been reading to catch up. Just the fact that you’re taking the time to meet with your professor will show him or her that you really do care about the class and that you are invested in succeeding in it. It will also bring you up to speed.

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14. Focus on grades before socializing.
When you are finally feeling better, it will be tempting to return to normal activities with your friends, but first and foremost you need to make sure that you are caught up on your homework and studying. Social events and hanging out should come later, once you feel confident that you are prepared to return to class.

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15. Don’t push yourself too hard, but don’t take advantage of time off.
It can be tempting to say, “Hey, I’m not going to class today,” and then stay out of class as long as you feel like it. Listen to your body, but if you’re merely tired and you are trying to get an extra nap in the day by missing a class, think again. Most professors will understand if you’re genuinely sick, but if every college student stayed home from class each time they felt a little tired, then classrooms would be practically empty all the time. Of course, if you are more of a germ liability than anything else, or you have lost your voice to postnasal drip, or you are running a fever, stay home… Just know where to find the balance along the way. 🙂

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My questions for readers:

– What do you do to stay healthy throughout the semester?
– What tips do you have for students who miss class because of illness?
– What other college-related topics would you like to read about? 

2 thoughts on “The Freshman 15: Flu Season Edition

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