March 28, 2019

KIM | Your Health or That Lecture?

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In the calm and quiet lecture halls and auditoriums, coughing fits exploded in 10-minute intervals. The sneezing and sniffles drowned out the professor’s voice. The unscrewing of water bottle caps echoed in my ears. Crumpled tissues overflowed the dorm trash bins. And before I knew it, I, too, was becoming a musician in this symphony.

With the sudden surge of unpredictable, fluctuating weather, ranging from snowy 52’s one day to sunny 35’s on another, the chorus of achoos and ahems has crescendoed to a whole new volume. Combined with the peak allergy season of puffy eyes and runny noses, the sickness swept through the student population at a rapid, unstoppable speed. And I’m not surprised in the slightest.

Waking up one morning with an immense headache, body chills and stuffy nose, we lay in bed, feeling conflicted and indecisive. We’re kept captive by a contagious disease on what would’ve been a regular, sunny morning. Now what? Our professors tell us to stay in bed to prevent the spread of disease. But some students, myself included, tend to feel panicked by the thought of missed lectures, in-class quizzes, homework deadlines and those desperately-needed iClicker questions. And what about upcoming prelims or essay deadlines?

We’re expected to skip classes without nearly being compensated enough. Yes, alternative prelim dates and extended deadlines are typically offered. But even after an arduous recovery, the missed work just accumulates into a giant mass similar to the mass of unfolded laundry piled up on any open surface. Essentially, the workload is still there — just more overwhelming than before.

Cornell Health provides medicine, but students might be too ill or too busy with campus life to go to the health facility. Financial hardships could also strain access. Stress management or behavioral changes aren’t widely considered to be potential supplemental solutions. What would normally be a brief inconvenience manifests itself as an undesired, prolonged disadvantage —  a real nightmare made a reality by being in college.

It’s not even just the workload stress and lack of support and compensation for the sick, but it’s the mere environment of college that puts students at a much higher risk. In a high-intensity academic environment, we struggle with prioritizing health and well-being over letter grades and due dates. With academic stress at a peak for many during this prelim season, we become hungry, sleepy zombies. Weak and vulnerable, this stress doesn’t subside but rather becomes a parasite feeding off of our frail, ill bodies and mentalities.

Even physically, we’re constantly sharing the same space, physically interacting with surfaces and objects surely crawling with ancient but evolved microbes from the 20th century. We touch the same doorknobs and sink faucets. We touch the same rusty chairs and tables. We’re concentrated in the same physical spaces, mere feet away from droplets of the hungry influenza virus.

Now, we’ve come full circle. The disease spreads by individuals’ choices, the institution and faculty’s responses to these choices and the context that dictates our interpersonal interactions, whether that be direct or indirect. All of these factors influence one another in a simple but complicated triad. So what do we target to prevent auditoriums from becoming a germaphobe’s hell?

I don’t have the answer, but the best we can do, as students, is to rest and take care of ourselves — recognizing that we’re only human. We may have assignments stacking up and prelims creepily crawling near, but the faster we recover, the faster we can tackle those tasks! The educational system itself may be merciless, but we’ll be giving our well-being the care it deserves. We shouldn’t have to feel guilty and anxious when we choose to look after our health.

But also, while it’s vital to put your body and mind at ease during the flu, it’s equally necessary to give yourself a sigh of relief anytime, sick or healthy. It’s a simple preventive measure that can be taken to remain functional. Whether it means throwing on your favorite sweatshirt, resting your head on your closed laptop for fifteen minutes, or stepping outside for some fresh air, you can be happy and healthy.

With this coming spring break, take this valuable opportunity to rejuvenate and breathe. But also, while you’re at it, get vaccinated.

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