Home Alone: The First Time I Got Sick in College

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When I moved away to college, I looked forward to the benefits that came with living on my own. I lived in an apartment, so getting home at late hours was no longer a problem. I could plan my own diet and have people over whenever I liked. Best part? Doing my own laundry meant I’d never lose a sock again. As far as I knew, there wasn’t a downside to finally gaining independence…until the night of October 8.

At 4 a.m. on that unfortunate day, I woke up to excruciating pain on the right side of my stomach, as if someone were slowly twisting a sharp knife inside my gut, making me shiver and struggle for the oxygen I always took for granted. Whenever I stayed still for a few minutes, the pain faded and I could breathe again. I tried falling asleep, but even the smallest twitch reminded me of the ongoing pain, and that it wasn’t going away anytime soon. This kept happening, until I finally took to the Internet to find out what was wrong with me.

I thought a quick online search might clarify the situation, but it only heightened my anxiety. The number one hit for “right abdominal pain” on Google is none other than appendicitis, an issue that not only requires surgical intervention, but could be fatal if left untreated. Menstrual cramps were another possibility, but given that I’m a post-pubescent male, I found the odds of that very unlikely.

In a panic, I picked up the phone to call my parents, and that’s when cruelest of realities hit me: They live 300 miles away, and couldn’t do anything to help me. It came to me that in the wee hours of the morning, hearing my frantic voice over the phone telling them WebMD diagnosed me with appendicitis would just scare them into driving six hours in the dark wearing pajamas.

No, I thought, I’m on my own for this one.

It took all the strength in me to stand upright and reach for the nearest pair of pants, which I slipped on with the patience and delicacy of a mother wrapping a blanket around her newborn baby. The chilly Gainesville breeze raised the hair on my arms as I walked out of my apartment. I clutched onto the cold railing on the staircase and slid down the steps, regretting whatever stupid reason I gave to choose a second floor apartment.

As I reached the bottom of the staircase, I thought back to my days as a distance runner in high school. A big part of running involves convincing your body to give more than it has, exhaust your fuel, forget about the pain and keep moving forward. With this mentality, I set out to cover the grueling 30 feet that stood between the bottom of the stairs and my car, an open walkway with no railing to keep me up. The English major in me thought of the irony of having nothing there to support me and chuckled, but the athlete understood how important it was to make it the whole way without collapsing.

Step by step, almost dragging my feet, I made it to the car with my mind and body as sore as they had ever been after running on the track. With an awkward motion, I sidled into the driver’s seat, and allowed myself one moment to catch my breath before taking off.

All I remember from the drive to the hospital is the parade of lights and shadows that rolled through my windshield. Once I got to the ER, things moved quickly. A few good nurses asked what was wrong, took my vital signs, ran a couple of tests and gave me pain meds strong enough to knock me out for a couple of hours.

When I regained consciousness, the doctor stood over me and reassured that my pain stemmed from kidney stones, a much less serious issue than WebMD’s diagnosis. As I expressed my relief and told him about my traumatic experience, he couldn’t help but hold back a smile as he pointed out the one thing that I, in my panicked state, could’ve done to help myself.

“Kid, next time just call an ambulance,” he said.

Frank is a Junior English and Communications student at the University of Florida. You might find him sipping java in the back corner of your local coffee shop, while he pretends to be doing something important.

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