Excuse yourself

It’s that season again. Indeed, there’s undoubtedly something in the air. But it’s not snow or holiday cheer – it’s germs. Bacteria. Viruses. Joy to the world, contagion has come.

Literally and figuratively, we’re facing the start of the cold season. As temperatures drop, people are huddling together indoors, increasing direct, person-to-person contact, as well as indirect (person-to-doorknob/railing/faucet/etc.) contact. We are spreading sickness faster than Internet memes. Already, there’s a bug circulating around the College. I’ve been told it starts with a sore throat and progresses to sniffles – then come the body aches, fatigue and coughing. I am not looking forward to getting it, though the prognosis doesn’t look good, as I’ve been seeing sick students all over campus.

Thus, it is for a mix of selfish (Please don’t get me sick!) and somewhat unselfish (please don’t get other people sick –  who will then get me sick) reasons that I will share a secret with you, my fellow students. Here it is: The adage “sharing is caring” does not, in fact, apply to illnesses. You are entitled to the special privilege of keeping those to yourself. This means you shouldn’t come to class sick. Not only will periodically snorting mucus back up into your nose and coughing loudly not endear you to your classmates, it will likely get them sick too, which they will not appreciate. Plus, if you’re ill, you’re probably not getting much out of class. And the more you exhaust your body by refusing to take a day to rest, the longer your illness will last.

So, if taking a sick day seems so intuitive, why do so many people still come to class ill? I think it’s a combination of reasons: being afraid of missing important information and having to go through the hassle of getting notes that may or may not cover the right things, worrying about not getting discussion credit, being scared that the professor will see it as blowing off their class (and conversely, will see your coming to class as proof of your deep commitment to learning) and not feeling sufficiently incapacitated to not go to class (after all, if you’re coughing, it proves you’re still breathing, and that’s almost the same as being completely fine). Moreover, the general culture on campus frowns upon saying you can’t do something, especially when it comes to academics. I disapprove of this “buck up” attitude, but I am not sure what can be done to change it.

Most professors are more understanding than students fear they will be. Contrary to popular belief, professors are not robots – they are as susceptible to your illness as are your classmates, they are similarly distracted by your sniffling and – this is the craziest thing – they’ve also been sick before, so they can empathize. If you e-mail your professors and tell them you’re sick and not coming to class, they should not be angry. As long as you don’t abuse the excuse to get out of turning in work (which you can do without venturing from your isolation chamber), they will likely respect you more for being considerate and responsible with regard to those around you and your own immune system. And if a professor or another student criticizes you for resting, cough on them. Clearly, they’re asking for it.

Besides encouraging biological warfare as a conflict-management strategy, in all seriousness, I would urge you to stay home should you happen to get a sore throat in the next few days. If you’re feeling particularly lousy, drop by the Health Center in lieu of going to class. You should also rest. You’ll get better faster if you do; one day home won’t destroy your chances for future employment (let’s be fair, in this economy, we’re probably screwed anyway) and your classmates will thank you. Or maybe they won’t because you won’t be in class to thank. But I’ll thank you on their behalf: Thanks for staying home. We appreciate it.


Madeline Vuong ’14 is from Austin, Texas. She lives in West College. 

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