It was Oct. 9, the Wednesday that kicked off fall break. I felt a sudden pang in my head. My head felt cloudy during my first two classes of the day, but I didn’t think anything of it until later. A searing headache was then paired with a clogged nose. I needed to relax. There was no doubt that I was getting sick, but I was just happy it was happening during fall break.
I woke up the next morning but could not stay awake, and ended up sleeping until I woke up at 4 p.m.—too late to schedule an appointment at Student Health Service. So, I scheduled one for the following day at 9 a.m. It was early, but I would suck it up. I had not felt this bad in a while, and with my throat beginning to hurt, I thought I had strep. At the very least.
Upon hearing about my symptoms, my mom had Hillel drop off some soup for me. I was never a big fan of soup, but I would suck it up for the sake of the trusted Jewish “penicillin.” However, because I slept in so late that day, by the time I went to the mailbox to get the soup, it was frozen, making the soup all the more unappetizing. I still ended up eating it maybe three days later.
On that Friday morning, I headed to SHS. A brutal cough had made its way onto the list of symptoms that I shared with the nurse practitioner, alongside the throat pain, headache, fatigue, sneezing, and congestion. After checking my throat, ears, nasal passages, and breathing, he determined that I probably had a viral infection. Or as he called it: “just a bad cold.” I had had a cold earlier in the semester, but I was hoping I would be able to cure this painful illness with some sort of antibiotics. I even requested a strep test, but it came back negative. I would just have to wait this one out.
After taking Sudafed for as long as I could without my body building a resistance to it, and finishing a whole bottle of Robitussin, I started to feel a bit better. My throat wasn't bothering me so much during the day, and I was able to breathe a bit easier out of my nose. Around a week later, I went to get my flu shot at Houston Hall, and the nurse practitioner who had helped me ended up being the one who gave me my flu shot. “I am really starting to feel better!” I said. I was so naive. Or maybe I just jinxed it.
Now, it's Nov. 3, almost one whole month after first feeling symptoms on that dreaded Wednesday back in October, and I'm still coughing and sneezing away. Before I go to bed and when I wake up, my throat laughs at me for thinking I could get away with lying down horizontally, and I cough again, again, and again. In class, every once in awhile, I cough, and in that moment, feel like I’m the only one who's sick, even though someone new usually coughs two seconds later. Sometimes I pride myself on not being part of the chorus of coughs that I hear in my various lectures.
Wow, I wasn’t the one coughing this time—*cough cough* Never mind.
Other than the interruptions I'm guaranteed to cause in class, and the two–second gaps in professors’ lectures that my coughing causes, I am constantly saying a few things on a loop to people: “Don’t worry, I’m not contagious.” “Oh my God, I’m literally dying.” “Do you have a tissue?”
My symptoms come and go at random times. Sometimes my cough is bad, sometimes my nose closes up, and sometimes my throat gets scratchy. It’s really a shot in the dark.
I long for the day when I can raise my hand in class and answer a question without croaking or apologizing for my voice being hoarse. I'm not a freshman, so I don’t have the freshman plague, but this is always a great conversation starter with the freshmen I know. I may as well still live in the Quad.
This may just be a Penn Plague, but whatever it is, it isn’t fun. So to all those studying bio, pre–med, or nursing, to Penn’s top–notch hospital, top–notch medical school, and top–notch research centers, just let me know when you find a cure for the common cold.
My cold isn't special: half the students at Penn always feel a low–grade sickness just around the corner. But it is a nice reminder that with every cough and sneeze, we're not alone.