THE TEN PHASES OF THE PENN PLAGUE
(1) The First Cough
It started out with a cough, how did it end up like this? Healthy people cough all of the time. Nothing to see here. You think, the air is a little dry today. The newscaster said something about the pollen levels, didn’t they? You don’t even want to think about the s–word. You pop a cough drop and think: this is fine. Everything's fine.
(2) Deny, Deny, Deny
The little cough has turned into little coughs. There they are, repetitive and prohibitive to flirty conversation. And your throat hurts, but you haven’t had a drink of any water in an hour or so. And your nose is a bit runny, but the breeze is really chilly today. You’re not s***. You’re not.
(3) Let The Blame Game Begin
You’re fucking sick. You’ve made peace with that now, but not with whoever the hell gave it to you. Who is responsible? Who do I need to sue? How do you sue someone anyway? Was it the poor soul who wheezed on the back of your neck in the heat of one of their more aggressive mid–class coughing fits? Your roommate, who is undoubtedly passing disease to you and all of your belongings? The un–quarantined person you aren’t confident that you can recognize in a lineup, whose tongue you had in your mouth at that party last week? Someone needs to come forward. Will the real Sick Shady please stand up?
(4) Am I Dying?
This is it. You have reached the peak of sickness. The chills and sweats are a delightfully debilitating combination. Your wheezy coughs make you feel as though you need to be hooked up to an Iron Lung. You’ve blown out your hopes and dreams through your sad, abused nose into an equally sad and abused Kleenex. The pain that you feel as you swallow makes you say, “I didn’t really like eating or drinking anyway.” The only thing getting you through is the sweet, dark embrace of sleep.
(5) To Go To Class, Or Not Go To Class
You have to drag yourself from your blankets to reach the bathroom two doors down, so is it worth hauling ass to your 100 person lecture across campus? There are worse days to miss, probably. This is only a blip on your attendance record. Hey, maybe there ISN'T any attendance record, anyway. It's just your private little secret—between you, your overflowing–with–tissues trash can, your confetti of cough drop wrappers, and your puddle of tears.
(6) “Mom! Calm down!”
All it takes is one unintelligible mumble of “I’m sick” for your dear mother to periodically call, text, FaceTime, telegram, and carrier–pigeon you asking if you've been to SHS, if the soup in the dining hall is as good as hers, and if you’ve checked for any color in your soggy tissues (you have and it’s downright obscene). But after a while, she insists that a more concerning matter is the nearing possibility of cold medicine dependency, bombarding you with articles about the dangers of OTC drug habits and DayQuil’s addictive properties.
(7) Walk of Shame... To Student Health
Is it a bad cold? The flu? Tonsillitis? Strep? And goddamnit, what if it’s mono? You thought that you left mono epidemics behind in high school, and maybe you did, because at this point there's no way to discern why your body is collapsing. Well, maybe one way: the Student Health Service center. You sit in the office, coughing so much that you’re asked to wear a face mask, and the best thing you come home with is a care package with an anal thermometer and honey packets. For which you paid $20.
(8) Call Me Contagion
The dial pad to scan into your building. The “I haven’t seen you in so long” hugs. The doorknobs. The sheets of classwork you turn in. Every shirt sleeve that you have worn in the past week. You’re thinking about all of the places you’ve smeared your germs on. There is something empowering about it, really. If I’m sick, everyone will be sick. They will have to suffer with me. It’s a noble sacrifice.
(9) Google Search: Do Alcohol, Mucinex, Nasal Spray, and NyQuil Mix?
Being sick has come between you and a lot of things, like comfort and the will to live, but one thing it will not come in between is you and tequila shots. You painstakingly read the labels on the pile of pills, syrups, and sprays that has been holding your failing body together for alcohol restrictions, and check WebMD articles about cold medicine overdose as a precaution. You give yourself a C- health grade rating and a free pass for the night. The sweaty, strobe–lit dance floors and 2 a.m. Allegro missed you, and you missed them too.
(10) Healthy? Never Heard of Her.
Weeks have passed and your sickness has subsided, but you aren’t a glimmering pillar of health by any means. No, you’ve only reached the point in which your sporadic, mid–lecture coughs have matured from being obscenely distracting to mildly irritating. Your nose’s signature dribble is no more, and you have determined that the rougher, lower tone of your voice is a little sexy, and no longer worthy of an anti–cigarette advert. To be quite honest with yourself, being 100% is but a distant memory, and this lower standard of health is all that you will care to expect from now on.