December 7, 2021

SMITH | Sick

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“I’m sorry professor, I’m sick and can’t make it to the exam” is pretty much the college equivalent of “my dog ate my homework.” Today my professor cracked a joke about the number of students who were mysteriously and suddenly “sick” the day of the final. I laughed through my stuffy nose. 

Sickness is one of the many afflictions that may strike a student and it doesn’t get a lot of sympathy. My first year, I caught the flu and developed a fever so bad it landed me in an ambulance on the way to Cayuga Med. All I remember was being grateful it happened on a Saturday, and that I was back in class the following Monday. This lack of sympathy stems from the fact that almost every student is in some stage of sickness right now, be it the “I think I’m starting to get sick” phase or the “I think I might finally be better now” phase. Mental health is a whole other can of worms. 

As a senior, I remember Cornell before COVID, and I have to say that this dismissal of symptoms and culture of pushing through to attend lectures was just as common then. . The only added layer is that a flu or a cold doesn’t even seem to “count” as being sick anymore since “It’s not COVID, I got the test back.” To the professor joking about students being mysteriously ill, I’ve had a sore throat and nosebleeds for a week that I’ve been ignoring because I’ve had two negative COVID tests. I spent the other night lying in bed awake because my sinus pressure simply would not allow me to breathe enough to sleep. There are a mess of factors  contributing to this culture. 

First,of course, is the acknowledgement that there is no room in the syllabus to be sick. If I missed a lecture every time I felt sick, I’d lose participation points, fall behind in lecture. . .  all the usual suspects. Cornell is hard to handle at your peak physical health, let alone when you feel under the weather. The overarching competitive nature makes it so that if one person could tough through that cold, you can too.

The overarching theme of my late-night congested musing was that I, like many, have no boundaries when it comes to school. My weekends are just as filled with school as my weekdays. My Thanksgiving break was spent working on several projects. If it’s midnight and I get a school-related email, I reply to it. If a group wants to meet to discuss a project at 10 p.m., I agree to it. It only seems fair that being sick also isn’t enough of a reason to say no to Cornell. There are no sick days. For a second it seemed COVID would legitimize sickness, or at least force us to take it more seriously, but as I mentioned before, it almost feels like any illness other than COVID has taken even more of a backseat.  I am — for lack of a better term — sick of it. 

Unfortunately, it was around this time that the NyQuil kicked in and cut my pondering short. I don’t have any perfect answers, and we’re about to enter the most boundary-less time of them all in a Cornell semester. All I can wish upon you is good luck, good health and good wishes that maybe we can all start respecting the health of others and ourselves more. 

Emma Smith is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. They can be reached at [email protected]. Emmpathy appears every other Wednesday this semester.