Last week, a rather unfortunate event swallowed up my life for a few achy, cough-y, feverish days. I caught swine flu, Purell hand sanitizer be damned. Despite my every effort to protect myself from H1N1, I was hit and hit hard by the bug whose calling card, a persistent cough, still lingers as I write this column.
What did I do? I think perhaps Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described it best in her five stages of grief.
I began with denial: "Oh, it's just a cough," I thought as my temperature spiked and my joints began to ache. Maybe a trip to Health Services is in order, but only to check in.
After the diagnosis came anger. "How could this happen to me?" Then refrain of every Brown student: "I don't have time for this!"
After anger came bargaining: I'm confined to my room? Fine. Friends refuse to stand within a five-foot radius of me? Fair enough. I'll just stay in bed and get some reading done. But that was when my immune system threw its hands — and my temperature — way, way up.
Then, perhaps a low electrolyte-induced depression, and finally a dehydrated, cough-wracked acceptance.
But here's the wonderful thing about swine flu: you will get better. Your time in quarantine (Health Services urges you to remain alone in your room until you have been fever-free for 24 hours) will be lonely, physically uncomfortable and a total respite from the outside world. Take advantage of it!
For the Swined:
Take this moment to repeat after me: This is probably not my fault. When it is projected that 30 to 50 percent of the Brown population will fall ill with swine flu, there's a significant chance that no matter what you do, you will catch it. Do yourself a favor and report your illness using FluNet, stay home and get someone to buy you lots of Gatorade.
Your professors will understand. They may even thank you. Putting yourself through the misery of getting to class and your peers through the anxiety of trying to avoid you probably isn't even worth the pain. If you're able to work at home, I applaud you and your abnormally functional fever-wracked brain. If you're unable, congratulations! You're human!
Here's a challenge. Rather than cycling through the five phases I described above, why not fast-forward to "acceptance"? Stay in bed, get some rest and clear some of that sleep debt you're already accumulating too early in the semester. Who knows, maybe trying to work while sick with H1N1 increases the time it takes to recover. Will you remember anything you read with a 102 degree fever anyway?
For the Swine-free:
People wearing masks have covered their noses and mouths … but not their eyes and ears. They can hear you when you snicker, "Oh my god, swine flu!," and they can see you when you point at them. If they're out in public while suffering from symptoms, they're probably doing something that just can't wait. Must you make it even less pleasant than it already is?
Furthermore, just because you don't have H1N1 now does not mean you will remain unspoiled. You've made it through September, and for the moment the rise in cases seems to be slowing, but our friends at Health Services speculate that this might just be the first round. (At least that's what my very friendly nurse suggested, but I concede that this is hearsay.)
So treat others they way you would like to be treated. Would you want your friends to feed you Ratty takeout when you're too weak to get it yourself? Do you want a steady supply of Gatorade and Kleenex? Be a friend. Help a swined one out, and you'll be much more likely to receive help yourself in the likely event that you are poxed.
How often does one receive the opportunity to completely disconnect from reality for a few days without serious repercussions? Of course, one wishes this could be achieved without catching a highly contagious and unpleasant virus, but I would encourage you to do what I did, and take what you can get. Take your fever-filled days off. Be nice to your friends when they do the same. Make the best of a bad situation: When life gives you swine, make some bacon.
Andrea Matthews '11 has plenty of extra masks, in case anyone needs one. She can be reached at andrea_matthews (at) brown.edu