Editor’s Column: My Life Under Flu Quarantine

Harry Raymond

“Is anyone else freezing in here?” I looked over to my roommate. He was still wearing a pair of mesh shorts from his afternoon run and had a box fan blasting on him. Clearly, something was wrong with me.

A thermometer is usually difficult to find in a fraternity house, but the recent quarantine of another brother had put one just within reach. 102 degrees. A cough, congestion, fatigue and, now, a fever. Maybe I have the Swine Flu.

The thought of calling my mom that night did not even enter my mind. I knew better. Like any lovingly neurotic mother, she had read every article and watched every nightly news piece about “H1N1,” as she always reminded me to call it. She ended every phone call with “Have you washed your hands lately? Did you remember to say the pledge of allegiance while you were doing it [just to make the washing last long enough]? I can send you another bottle of hand sanitizer if you need it.” I already thought she could hear me sneezing 250 miles away but, if she knew I had a fever, men in Hazmat suits would be knocking down my door. The phone call to my mom could wait. Instead, I opted to sleep it off and see how I felt in the morning.

Of course, in the morning I woke up shivering in a pool of sweat. It was time to call the Student Health Center. I asked to make an appointment but the receptionist said, “I’m sorry but we are booked solid.” I responded, “But I think I have the flu.” Somehow, she was able to squeeze me in.

I sent my mom a text message as I made my way to the Health Center, telling her I might have the flu. The waiting room was quiet, except for the babble of a daytime soap opera and a sporadic chorus of coughing and snorting.

When the doctor saw me, she said, “I just talked to your mother. She wanted to know how you were doing.” The marvels of modern telecom and a relentless mother. The medical prognosis was “Flu-like symptoms.” I asked if that meant I had the Swine Flu, but the doctor explained that tests for H1N1 were unreliable. She told me I would be quarantined for at least two days. She recommended I relocate to one of the isolation rooms in Parker or in the old Phi Tau house. A Phi Tau house previously condemned for asbestos was not where I wanted to spend my next two days, so I convinced her that my room was the perfect place to isolate me from society.

I thought I would go home with some Tamiflu or some oink-ment (sorry) but instead, the doctor gave me a bottle of Tylenol. Swine flu and Tylenol? I guess it’s no big deal. She handed me a blue surgical mask and told me to put it on. A Campus Safety van was waiting outside to take me back to my room. The Campus Safety officer was not as chatty as usual. I couldn’t blame him. He didn’t have a mask.

My fever had already subsided when I returned to my room. As I sat up in my bed, e-mailing my professors, text messages started pouring in. A cousin who lives in Ecuador, sent me a text, “I hear you might have the porky.” In a matter of hours, my mom had successfully made my quarantine an international incident. Over the next two days I had soup, watched the movie Defiance, read my political science textbook and negotiated new due dates with professors. My concerned roommates kept their distance and made sure to use wet wipes on all the room remotes. By the end of my two days of solitude, I felt almost 100 percent. I was ready to emerge from isolation and re-enter society. Just in time for dollar draft night.

But what had I learned from my life in quarantine? First, prevention and good hygiene probably are good advice even when we live in places that are less than models of perfect hygiene. Second, texting your mom is not necessarily a bad idea. Third, having good friends is a big asset when you need soup and some class notes. Fourth, quick response makes sense, even if things turn out to be less than critical. Finally, and most importantly, if you have a thermometer to share with friends, make sure it is an oral one.

Contact Harry Raymond at [email protected]colgate.edu.