Fever, Fatigue and Freshman Year: Surviving Sickness Away from Home

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It’s just like the movies–students unloading their luggage out of cars, parents waving their final goodbyes, and with all of the new and exciting activity taking place all around you, you’re more than thrilled to dive right into freshman year feet first. But, there’s one thing that the movies failed to show. Something no one ever warned you about, and it’s probably something you never even really thought about for yourself: getting sick away from home. It wasn’t something I envisioned when I pictured myself going away to college, at least not until the July before my freshman year of college.

It all started with some basic UTI symptoms, and yes, it was a nuisance, but it was also something I’ve dealt with several times before so I wasn’t too concerned. Ladies, if you’ve ever experienced a UTI, you know the struggle. Unfortunately, there was no improvement after a few days of antibiotics. Cue the uneasy feeling. This had never happened before. While many of my high school friends spent their Fourth of July celebrating at the downtown harbor, I was stuck laying on my couch in complete misery with crippling kidney pain and strong abdominal pressure.

“You’ll be okay in the morning,” I told myself while pressing a pillow against my stomach. The antibiotics should kick in soon. Wrong. My health continued spiraling downhill. When I spiked a fever the next morning, my mom, a nurse practitioner, guessed I might have a kidney infection. That Monday was spent in the emergency room getting numerous tests done, all of which came back clear. No infection.

The doctors definitely thought I was crazy. One of the nurses even shrugged it off by suggesting I might just be dehydrated. As a cross-country runner for three years during the warm seasons, I knew dehydration when I felt it: This was not dehydration.

After seeing three different doctors over the course of two months, I finally got a real diagnosis. My antibiotics weren’t treating me because I had no bacterial infection anywhere in my body. Score one for the doctors in the emergency room. I did, however, have something called viral cystitis, which is basically just a fancy name for a painful virus of the bladder. Since it was a virus, this explained why it couldn’t be seen on any tests. This virus could cause painful symptoms for up to three months in rare cases.

It was great to have answers, but even with a diagnosis, I was still in pain knowing medication couldn’t make it go away. But, I still had to plan for college and leaving home for the first time. Watching all of my friends get so excited to leave while I was sick sucked. As much as I wanted to celebrate with them, the virus was always in the back of my mind like a ball and chain around my ankle. The thought was just always there regardless of how hard I tried to ignore it.

Then, I started fighting back. I’d let this illness control my entire summer, and I wasn’t about to let it control my first semester too.

One of my former cross-country teammates once told me about her battle with a stomach disorder that was diagnosed during her first semester of freshman year. In one way, it comforted me to know I wasn’t going through this alone, but at the same time it worried me to know that this affected her first semester in such a negative way. I didn’t want that to happen to me. Truth is that sickness is sometimes inevitable. It can happen anywhere and anytime, no matter how healthy you may be.

Although this experience was long and painful, it reminded me that college life isn’t always the picture perfect version you see in the movies. Being sick away from home for the first time can be really scary, but at least you’re not alone. Personally, I’ve learned that the best way to cope with sickness at college is to stay positive. I keep my mentality strong even when I feel physically weak, and I keep pushing forward, refusing to let any sickness hold me back from enjoying my college experience to the fullest.

Erin is a broadcast journalism major at the University of Maryland. She enjoys acrylic painting, playing piano, and long-distance running. Erin also enjoys skiing and snowboarding in her hometown of Buffalo, New York.

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