October 24, 2022

MKRTCHYAN | The Cost of Being Sick

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My boyfriend called an emergency when I passed out approximately a month ago. That was the start of a very rigorous sickness that I am still feeling the effects of today. Since then, for the past month, I have been to the hospital emergency room four times. I have seen two Cornell Health doctors during my three visits. I have called Cornell Health more than 10 times (at this point, I have honestly lost my count). I have been prescribed more than four prescriptions, two of which have been antibiotics packs. I have done nine tests in total. I’ve had an X-ray. And, I have been diagnosed with two illnesses. Now, do not be alarmed, as all of these are temporary and as my doctor likes to describe this situation, I got a “nasty virus that for some reason doesn’t want to leave me.” However, regardless of how temporary the sickness might be, the response of the University course staff and faculty may leave a permanent consequence on my future. Let’s talk about what it costs us, the Cornell University students, to become sick during the busy college semester.

For the start, I have always found some of the University course policies to be weird or irrational. At the middle of the semester, right when the project team seven-week long courses start, the project team course that I am taking, INFO 1998: Digital Product Design, introduced us to the course policies that stated students could miss critique sessions only twice, regardless of whether the absences are excused or unexcused. As if I could talk to my illness and say “Hold on, buddy, not now, I have to attend this critique session.” As if we can control our family emergencies, which too, are considered excused absences. Sounds impossible, right? Then why would we be held accountable for something that is outside of our control?

All these university policies, the piled up deadlines, prelim season and the fact that the course instructors won’t accept my emails informing them of my sickness made me really anxious. Thanks to either the New York State laws or the University laws — I am not completely sure which — during one of my visits to Cornell Health, the doctor started asking questions that were not directly related to my complaints, such as how I was doing mentally. I had to admit that the sickness took a toll on me and that I needed accommodations for my academics. This said, I already knew at that point that I would not get any accommodation from the instructors themselves if I was not approved by the Student Disability Services. Hence, the doctor approved the idea of getting SDS accommodations while also prescribing more antibiotics to follow the previous ones I had taken.

The doctor was nice enough to clarify for me the instructions on how to apply for the SDS accommodations. They gave me a piece of paper with a check mark that would mean that the SDS could contact them for any additional information regarding my health and sent me to the SDS office (which was within the same building as Cornell Health) to finalize the process. Without making the story any longer, the SDS office turned my visit down.

As I returned back to my dorm and committed to following the new instructions of how to apply for SDS accommodations. For everyone who has never done this before, there is a form that you fill out and describe why you are applying. And there is a portal where you can submit any additional documentation that supports your request. I filled out the form and attached only the document that Cornell Health gave me, which would authorize Cornell Health to communicate my medical history with the SDS office. A short while later, I received a request from SDS to submit additional documentation about my sickness, as they told me that they were not authorized to get any information from Cornell Health and the document that Cornell Health had given me was not helpful. On top of the pile of documents I had to submit from both Cornell Health and the hospital, I also received a calendar to schedule a meeting with an officer to talk about my sickness, where I saw with dismay that the closest available date was in two weeks time. Now, you have to understand that sicknesses like this one may go away in two weeks, and at that point I may no longer need any accommodations. But in the meantime, I had assignments and exams piling up, which I still had to sit. Luckily, in my case, after some email and phone call exchanges, SDS released accommodations for me in three days. Thanks SDS office!

I hoped that after getting the accommodations, I would no longer have to fight for my right to be treated in the hospital or back home, without worrying about exam practice and deadlines. I was wrong. After several deadline extensions and accommodations, I was advised by the project team course staff to audit the course if I couldn’t manage to submit the next assignment. Auditing the course means dropping the credits and participating in the course without any documentation. That would also mean, for me, potentially going below the required amount of credits to be a full-time student, as I am already so behind on every single course that I am taking, potentially losing my full scholarship and even dropping out of university. Just because … I caught a virus?

Lili Mkrtchyan is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]Tea WithLily runs every other Monday this semester.