How to not miss out when you’re sick in college

Sometimes even the fiercest bobcats fall ill. Photo from PassionForPostcards

Sometimes even the fiercest bobcats fall ill. Photo from PassionForPostcards

Wednesday, May 23 2012. Despite the warm weather I lie inside, curled up and shivering. My muscles ache. I drift in and out of fever dreams. I can’t climb up to my top-bunk bed. Instead I rest on an air mattress in the middle of my Sophomore year Bromley dorm room floor. I am very, very sick.

But I can’t be sick. Because in a few days I’m supposed to leave for what was one of the most fabled party events for OU students– Memorial Day in Hilton Head.

For those of you who know nothing but semesters and have never been in college during Memorial Day, it was a tradition among OU students to mass migrate down to Hilton Head on that weekend. For a few days each year, the rowdy pilgrims commandeered a huge swath of South Carolina beach.

I did not attend the festivities the previous year. I could not miss it this time. Soon, our beloved quarters would be replaced by the strange, alien concept of “semesters” and Memorial Day weekend would be almost a month deep into summer break. I knew the tradition would be gimped by the schedule change.

I had to get better.

————

Sick days before I got to college were a blessing at times. How many of you pretended to be sick as a kid in order to score yourself a free day at home watching cartoons? At college, being sick can ruin everything. You can contaminate a dorm hallway, miss assignments, or even worse, miss a weekend. You can’t (or shouldn’t) participate in the things that give college it’s special charm.

Trying to get better is like cramming for an exam. You want to condense the healing process as much as possible. Sometimes a 24 hour cold feels like a few hours too many, not to mention a whole week laid up on an air mattress.

But missteps will cost you. Put a little too much strain on your internal systems and the bug will stick around, ruining another happy hour.

When I was sick, I did more research than I would for a final paper. I looked up superfoods, myths, rumors, shamanic roots, incantations and untested prototype medications. A few things definitely helped.

Here is the fundamental college sickness survival guide intended to get you well soon, with an emphasis on soon.

——–

Drugs

Pharmaceuticals are the little miracles in boxes we turn to at the first sign of a headache. Unfortunately, they are also the most expensive element of being sick. All manner of drugs exist to treat nearly any symptom a sickness can bring. Some are better than others.

Stick with whatever DayQuil/NyQuil style thing works for you. Remember, most medicine isn’t really doing anything besides helping you deal with being sick, and does not help you heal internally.

That being said, I have some soft spots for a few. In the case of a sore throat, I recommend Cepacol maximum strength lozenges. It’s like, the most amount of numbing you can legally buy without a prescription. Those things will numb your mouth and throat all the way down to your stomach. They are by far my favorite OTC medicine.

You want the powerful stuff. Photo from Vitacost

You want the powerful stuff. Photo from Vitacost

While medicines are drugs, most fun drugs will prolong the recovery process. Alcohol is bad. And, unfortunately, smoke is also bad. If you have a sore throat, you really should avoid smoke at all costs. I hate to say it, but I’ve had to deal with that painful truth from time to time. Plus passing the bong is a good way to make sure everyone in your stoner circle gets real sick.

If you have the means of which to consume the green stuff in a vapor or edible form, by all means. I’m sure a doctor (or police officer, I guess) would say otherwise, but you didn’t go to the doctor; you came to this column. Sometimes elevating your mood with Colorado’s newest cash crop is a great way to relieve stress, which is important…

Stress

People forget about all the havoc this little guy can wreak. Research shows that stress can weaken our immune systems. College students are beset upon by stress from classes, jobs, relationships and living situations.

In a tragically ironic way, sickness leads to more stress. Don’t get caught in terrible whirlpool of being stressed out about being stressed out. If you are really laid out in bad shape, don’t think about all of the things you are missing. Use it as an excuse to get into a videogame or distract yourself with a season of that TV show you heard about. I would recommend using this time for studying, but that’s just going to make the stress worse, right?

Drink

The first things that come to mind here should be water and orange juice. Water is the obvious go to, and I suggest you drink a ton of it, all the time. Hydration is key when you’re sick. The more pissing the better. Unless that’s a whole other medical issue.

Orange juice is more tricky than you think. “But, Vitamin C!!!” you say. Not quite. Vitamin C is important for your body, and you can’t really OD on it. But it factors mostly into preventing sickness, not curing it, although it may reduce the duration slightly. The real miracle in orange juice comes from folic acid and the other nutrients in the fruit itself. In fact, the sugar content of orange juice could be doing more harm than good.

Putting it in a fancy glass does not make it healthier. Photo from wallpaperzzz.com

Putting it in a fancy glass does not make it healthier. Photo from wallpaperzzz.com

If you want to go for the sweet nectar, get a good brand of fresh squeezed and check the nutrition facts to make sure it has a variety of vitamins and nutrients. Also, the more pulp the better. Or better yet, eat fresh oranges to make sure that you get all of the nutritional benefits. The good stuff in oranges comes from all of the white connective tissue and pulp itself, not just the juice inside.

I’m a big fan of an interesting little medicinal cocktail made of green tea, ginger, honey and lemon. It is by far the best thing to drink besides water. It’s especially useful if you’re suffering from a sore throat or some inflammation. Green tea has all manner of health benefits, including anti-bacterial properties. Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory, even better than Tylenol or Advil at reducing inflammation according to some research. Fresh lemon works like fresh orange, boosting the health content of the tea. Honey mainly functions as a better sweetener than sugar or syrups, although it does have antioxidant qualities.

Now, a note about other “drinks.”

Alcohol is just going to hamper your body’s ability to deal. Again, I hate to say it. If you need to drink, I’d say avoid Natty and quantities of beer. I definitely have talked myself into believing that screwdrivers (orange juice and vodka) or greyhounds (grapefruit juice and vodka) among other things were permissible because of the juices’ redeeming qualities. But that was stupid.

Whiskey, though, has been used as a folk remedy for coughs and sore throats, among other things. One time I had a sore throat before work and stopped in at The Union for a Maker’s Mark on the rocks and can say quite confidently that it did its job. Add it to the super green tea that I described above and I think a little bourbon is permissible.

Exactly. It isn't medicine, but it totally is. Photo from Maker's Mark Distillery Inc.

Exactly. It isn’t medicine, but it totally is. Photo from Maker’s Mark Distillery Inc.

Also, if you have malaria (I don’t know how that would happen) it’s a great time to enjoy some gin and tonics. Quinine, baby!

Food

Sometimes you have that type of sick where your favorite foods sound terrible. Maybe you can’t keep anything down. If you don’t violently vomit up solid food instantly, you really need to keep yourself fed. Eating is one of the first activities to go when we get sick, but it can help a massive amount.

Any action can feel like a monumental task when you’re sick, so cooking may be unappealing. Fast food isn’t known for it’s health benefits, but there are some good quick choices. I recommend Wendy’s chili. It’s inexpensive, available and one of the better things you can get at a fast food place. It’s loaded up with what you need to get better and you don’t even have to make it or do any dishes. Eat it and get back on the air mattress. If you’re in the dorms still, hit up the soup at your dining hall of choice, even if you have to drag yourself there. It’s essentially unlimited so get loaded up on chicken and noodles.

Side note: For those who are courting someone who has recently fallen ill, this is a good time to provide comfort by bringing soup or some failsafe comfort dish. Trust me, it goes a long way.

Motivation

I made it to Hilton Head for Memorial Day weekend 2012. I attribute my success to fresh orange juice and Wendy’s chili and a certain special someone who brought me soup.  Most of this research occurred in the week before the trip. It was scarier than any exam. I couldn’t imagine what the car ride down could be like, shivering, aching and drifting in and out of 100 plus degree delirium. It was either get better or stay behind.

That weekend was as crazy as the legends foretold. All manner of substances (not discussed in the drugs section here) and strange alcoholic concoctions were enjoyed by a body that was well on its way to 100%. It doesn’t take a big weekend trip looming like that to wish you were healthy in college. Every night can be a party night here. OU is too much fun and no one wants to feel like they’re missing out.

I hope these words will lead you healthily to your next liquor pitcher or slice night. Stay hydrated.

————

Check out these resources that I utilized when sick. Use them for your own get-better-soon struggles:

Bangor Daily News– “Orange juice as cold medicine and more nutrition myths”

New York Times Well Blog– “Really? Constant stress makes you sick”

Lifehack– “11 Benefits of green tea that you didn’t know about”

How Stuff Works– “Ginger better than drugs for pain?”

WebMD– “Medicinal uses of honey”

Livestrong– “Home remedies for a cold using whiskey”

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