Being sick in college sucks. Alright, being sick anytime sucks, but you remember the time in like elementary school when you used to hope beyond hope for a sick day? This was the time when you did not just want to pretend to be sick — parents tend to see right through that when they whip out the thermometer anyway — but you wanted to have just enough of a temperature for them to relent with a heavy, almost ironic sigh, “I guess you can stay home today.”
Then, your mom takes the day off from work. “The kid’s sick,” she tells them, provoking a symphony of “aw” on the other end of the line. You’re too naive to realize that it’s a sick day for her, too. With her presence, you have Gatorade on demand — your choice of flavors. (No, of course not the yellow one. Who drinks the yellow one?) You watch the “Land Before Time” series, entries one through five. You watch daytime soaps, but, confused by the steady, lugubrious and flow of melodrama, soon switch over to NickToons. It’s a strangely spent day, without the quick recovery and afternoon of playful frolicking you’d expected — but there’s still a degree of enjoyment to the whole thing.
Now, years later — without the sympathy your “rumbly stomach” used to elicit — you’re left completely to your own devices. Make yourself chicken noodle soup? Preposterous. You don’t even own chicken noodle soup, or crackers, Gatorade or ginger ale — all the wonderful, magical nutrients that used to pack your family’s pantry. It seems more like a treasure trove, in retrospect, than you’d ever imagined. Instead, you look in your own refrigerator, and all you find is a half-eaten package of Kraft singles and leftover chili. You have the sneaking suspicion that, if you weren’t sick already, these would more than easily do the trick.
Not to mention, everybody who hears you’re sick has some opinion on the matter, as if your illness turns them into WebMD incarnate. “Get some rest.” “Get some exercise.” “Stay hydrated,” they’ll tell you, to the point where the mere sight of Gatorade makes you more nauseous than you were before.
There’s the obvious compulsion to get work done as well. Unlike in fourth grade, you’re not missing hand-turkeys and multiplication drills. Instead, it’s presentations, quizzes and notes for that class in which you just got a ‘C’ on the midterm. There’s always the assumption that, sure, you’re not feeling great, Bub, but there’s shit needs doing. But your mind’s more scrambled than the immune system-boosting shake you, unsuccessfully, tried to make a few hours earlier.
Instead of focusing, your mind feverishly races from one topic to another: What’s on TV? Why is it called “All My Children?” Are the characters all cousins? Where do ducks come from? Ke$ha songs are like crack cocaine. (I can’t remember why.) Where do ducks go in the winter? Someone’s asked me that before. I should eat Ramen. I should shower. I should shower in Ramen.
And you know you should eventually head to the Student Health Center. Your immune system has obviously failed, once again, at its primary purpose. Reinforcements are needed. But the idea goes against every self-reliant bone in your body. You’re an adult now. Plus, you’re pretty lazy. You’re here. It’s there. The distance seems insurmountable.
But you get there, burst through the frosted glass doors with a sniffle, and low and behold: it’s everything you dreamed of. The place is filled with tissues — not scattered with used ones like your dorm room, but boxes upon boxes of fluffy, moisturizing tissues. They hear your symptoms and the nurse toward the back sincerely says, “Aw.”
After a quick diagnosis — just a virus, they say — you’re led to a room in the back with an adjustable bed and red woolen blankets that recall those at your grandmother’s house the memory is completed by a sort of inviting musty smell.
“Here’s some pills, honey. They might make you a little drowsy, so why don’t you just rest here a bit. I’ll go get you a ginger ale to take them.” You snuggle in to the blanket and you notice “The Land Before Time” resting in a bin near the roll-away TV. You think about popping it in, but you’re overtaken by sleep before you even get the chance.
__Kevin Mooney is a Flat Hat Confusion Corner columnist. He’s turned his alcohol funds into medication funds for the weekend.__