Editor’s Column: Disaster Center

Staying healthy at college is an enormous challenge, one which most of us fail at some point or another. And while flu stories can be pretty entertaining, and pig jokes abound on Facebook, the truth is there is a lot more to sickness than the flu. Unfortunately, I’m not sure college health services realize this. There is so much hype throughout the media and on Colgate’s campus about “staying healthy.” I appreciate these efforts, I really do. I think it’s great that hand sanitizer is everywhere, and that there are posters displaying proper coughing and sneezing etiquette. However, our school’s health services – along with many other universities nationwide – seem to be so designed, oriented and focused on the flu, that attention to other illness is neglected.

First, this seems to be quite irrational, considering that treatment for the flu is 99 percent personal. Simply telling patients over the phone, “You have flu-like symptoms, take Tylenol, don’t leave your room and get some rest” is an adequate response. There really is nothing more the health center can do for the flu, except for maybe verifying that you do indeed have the flu and are not just paranoid. Either way, unless your flu is so bad that you have to bypass health services and go straight for the hospital, flu treatment is all on you.

What worries me is the lack of either desire or ability to cure students of other illness. I know the people at the health center are all very nice and caring, but my experiences there have all been less than satisfactory, and I know of many other students who have had similar ordeals. For one, my bronchitis appears in a pattern so reliable that the Maya could have predicted the diagnosis a couple thousand years ago along with the cosmic movements (that one’s for you, Aveni). I have had it every other year since I was 13. I’m no doctor, but I know when I have bronchitis. So when I had that deep, hacking cough for three weeks, peaking during finals week last year and the health center insisted (despite my passionate protests) that I had developed asthma, I knew something was up. Don’t ask me how I made it through finals; I have no idea. But when that glorious moment of Christmas break arrived, and I walked into my doctor’s office at home, it took no more than 30 seconds for me to cough and him to hand over the prescription for antibiotics. And, just last week, a friend of mine was prescribed a medicine that she is highly allergic to, which is clearly stated on her medical records.

I realize that accidents happen and no doctor or clinic is perfect by any stretch. But of all the places good health service is critical: this is it. We are at a university where untreated illnesses, like bronchitis or mono, can and do spread like wildfire, not to mention the difficulty of keeping up in class when your sickness lasts longer than the three days of the flu. We are in a small town where other options aren’t available. And the majority of our students are far enough from home that they cannot reasonably access their personal doctors.

Now, I can’t really make serious judgments on our health center here. It definitely seems that they are understaffed, to which anyone who has tried to make an appointment can attest, and I have no idea if they are underfunded, but it’s quite possible considering the ongoing budget cuts. So, more funding for more staff could help. But from a student’s perspective, it seems as though no one cares about your illness, unless it’s the flu. At least, that’s how it seems to the numerous students I know who aren’t given any more help than they could give themselves. Maybe the frequency of this problem is due to a lack of awareness. I know I never went back and told the health center they were wrong about me. Also, with the amount of focus on the flu, perhaps administration has overlooked the insufficient recognition and treatment of other illnesses on the campus. So, maybe this was just me venting because I’m afraid of getting anything other than the three-day flu here. Or perhaps I’m addressing a relatively serious problem that goes unnoticed by everyone but students, and something can be done about it now. I hope it’s the second.

Contact Gillian Scherz at [email protected].