October 18, 2018

KIM | Disease-Free and Carefree

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One day it’s sunny, with a moderate temperature of low-70s, welcoming bared arms and flip-flop tans. The next day, it’s storming, forcing me to dig into boxes and suitcases for winter clothes and my favorite socks. And sometimes, these opposing atmospheres collide within the same day, leaving me with unpleasantly squishy shoes, a flimsy, inverted umbrella, and a runny nose.

Suffering from these unpredictable weather fluctuations, I could just feel the flu trying to pry and sneak past my immune system security unnoticed. It’s that time of year again. Last winter was a frightening and tragic time for epidemiologists, parents, students and children. The flu ripped through populations, leaving hoarse coughs, dry throats, high fevers and body chills in its path of destruction. Having been a victim of this virus, I can distinctly remember laying in a hospital bed gasping for air for hours on end, scrunched in distortion and panic. The recovery period was equally unpleasant, filled with nausea, numbing ache and intense disorientation.

I was vaccinated for the flu, and yet the virus was able to breach the system. I relied on this vaccine to prevent exactly what had happened, and evidently, it didn’t work. But, I realized it was foolish of me to solely rely on a vaccine to completely shield me from the nasty influenza. Vaccines aren’t necessarily ‘terminators of disease.’ Rather, I consider them to be hopeful prevention measures that keep diseases from entering the population in the first place.

The flu itself was one of high severity, but a factor that significantly impacted its advancement was academic stress. The flu coupled with a whole year’s worth of cooped up stress could only result in a panic attack and a sudden elevation in symptoms. Having pushed my nagging concerns and worries to the back of my mind behind the academic priorities I set for myself, I never thought to release and alleviate this accumulating dark mass. I forgot how it felt to care for myself or even acknowledge my own efforts. I started to become the ‘student’ identity entirely, giving up my own ‘personal’ identity.

So ultimately, with the fall of my physical barrier of strength also came down the frail internal backbone that had me barely on my feet. But in the end, I was thrown into a fresh start. With my immune system stronger than ever and with heightened awareness to stress and pessimism, I’ve become motivated to center my everyday life on the values that mean everything to me, and that includes an appreciation of good health and getting vaccinated.

Yes, the vaccine didn’t save me that one time, but again, vaccines can’t be 100 percent perfect and guaranteed. They might not always be spot on, especially with the alarming rate of genetic mutations in pathogens, but they have shown tremendous positive effects over the years in preventing illnesses entirely or even subduing the severity of disease symptoms. In fact, approximately 5.6 million illnesses, 2.6 million medical visits and 85,000 hospitalizations have been prevented by vaccines just within the 2016-2017 influenza season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines work. And while microscopic pathogens can take down the formidable giants known as mankind with such ease, the least we can do is get our annual flu vaccines to effectively battle our invisible enemies together.

As students, and faculty, we’re especially vulnerable to infectious diseases due to a large amount of high-contact interactions in our day to day lives, as well as considerable levels of stress, whether it be school/work-related or personal reasons. Even though we’re a more susceptible victim of disease, we don’t do enough. According to a report published by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) in 2016, only about 46 percent of undergraduates get vaccinated even though 70 percent of students believe the importance of vaccines. Some students firmly believe that they are healthy and find flu shots unnecessary and others refuse to believe in the effects of flu vaccines. Basically, we start to lose grasp of why we need to get vaccinated when we start to think it’s not an urgent issue that’s worth our current concern.

I’m no vaccine expert myself, but I do know that supplying your immune system with more data is the best you can do for your own sake, even if you think you’re truly thriving. These next few months before winter break provide us with a chance to strengthen our defenses and ultimately protect our future selves from severe devastation.

In addition to getting vaccinated, protecting your own inner sense of wellbeing is equally as important as boosting our immunity against the physical factors. As simple as a flu shot, this can be accomplished through a 15-minute study break spending time doing something you love, whether it be doodling in the corner of your paper or whipping out your phone and telling your parents you love them. Little things in your daily life can leave such a tremendous impact on your mentality and physical strength.

This heroic deed dedicated to the preservation of your own beloved health and safety comes in the form of a 5-minute flu vaccine. You can get a flu vaccine right on campus and for no charge. The lines are long and arduous, which are indeed overwhelming and discouraging when you first walk in. But if you can wait in the ramen line in Trillium, then you can wait to get your flu shot.

Alexia Kim is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. She can be reached at alexiakim@cornellsun.com. Who, What, Where, Why? appears every other Fridaty this semester.