Usually, 8 a.m. classes are already particularly rough on Monday mornings, but today is different. Not only do you wake up to a shrieking alarm clock, but you’ve also got a sore throat to go along with it. You sit up, whimper at the throbbing in your head, and then realize that your left nostril has lost capability. You crawl back under the covers, burying your face in a pillow, hoping your mom will magically appear with some hot tea and a note excusing you from classes for the day. But sadly, you’re in college now. No one is going to bring you any tea.
When we were younger, having a cold was a sort of vacation. If you whined enough from the moment you woke up or, even better, had the sniffles the night before, your parents would usually let you take a day off. You would wrap up in your Snuggie on the couch and catch up on “Maury,” or take the lazy route and indulge in some NyQuil at 1 p.m. and snooze until the homemade chicken soup was ready.
In college, life with even a simple cold is a nightmare. First of all, missing more than three days of classes is pretty much out of the question unless you have some rare form of swine flu. Second, you may think you’re blessed with loving roommates, but unless there are some motherly nursing majors hanging around, chances are they will do anything they can to quarantine you until you are past the contagious stages of whatever you have contracted. If you are lucky, they like you enough to slide some soup from the dining hall into the room before fleeing to a safe zone.
After a phone call with your mom — which was probably a mistake because now she’s worried that you’re dying — you take her advice and decide to make the long trek to the NYU Student Health Center. And now comes the truly scary part of the whole debacle — you have to call to make your own appointment. Oh no, you think, I’m an adult. Do I have student health insurance or not? What time am I free? Shouldn’t I know the answers to these questions? Who let me come to college?
Covering up as much of your pale, sickly face as possible, praying you don’t run into that cute guy from the third floor in the elevator, you head out. It’s cold, it’s noisy and you almost get run over by a cab while blowing your nose. Finally, you get to the health center and the doctor tells you what you already know — orange juice, rest and excessive hand washing.
The main reason why new college students feel so overwhelmed upon falling ill is simple — we haven’t yet learned to take care of ourselves. If most of us can’t even find our pants in the morning, how can we be expected to apply hand sanitizer liberally after every subway ride? As time goes on, hopefully we’ll learn that, yes, we do need more than four hours of sleep a night, and no, six fun-sized Snickers bars do not count as meals. Just how much time it will take to come to this realization, however, is debatable.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Dec. 5 print edition. Nina Golshan is a staff columnist. Email her at email@example.com.