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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Sick of the health center

Published: April 1, 2011
Section: Opinions

Winter is usually the season associated with sickness, a time when sub-zero weather leads to runny noses and aching heads. Yet, this year, just as the days were beginning to get longer and the green grass was beginning to appear from beneath the layers of white snow, another slew of illness hit. As if trying to keep up with the climbing temperature outdoors, my own temperature was climbing steadily as well. As a result of this, instead of frolicking on the grass with the rest of Brandeis, celebrating the world’s first day of warmth, I sat shivering in my Snuggie with a steaming mug of tea. The situation was unfortunate, but not unbearable.

A few days passed, but although the temperature outside rapidly dropped back down (apparently spring wasn’t actually here to stay), mine teeter-tottered above the norm. As the week wore on I felt progressively worse: My whole body ached, I was chronically exhausted and my throat became increasingly sore. I knew that a few of my fellow Village residents had recently been diagnosed with strep throat (and a few with mono), so, I did what any Brandeis student in my predicament would do: I went to the Health Center to find out what was wrong.

My first visit to the Health Center was on a rainy Wednesday morning. I told the woman at the front desk why I was there and very politely asked if I could have my temperature read and a throat culture taken. She handed me some paperwork to complete and asked me to “please wait for the next available nurse”—which I did. After a few minutes of waiting, a nurse appeared. Apparently that morning I did not actually have a fever, but that didn’t change how I felt. This was news to the nurse, who firmly believed that no fever meant no illness. She took my vitals, reassured me they were in order and attempted to send me on my merry way. After 15 minutes of irritated banter, I finally convinced her to at least take a throat culture (it seemed a blood test for mono was out of the question). She told me the results would come in two days and until then I should just take the recommended dose of painkillers and stay hydrated.

Friday afternoon hit without any follow-up from the center, but also without any improvement in my health. If anything I felt worse. When I called to inquire about my results, I was told they were negative but if I didn’t feel better by Monday I could come back and see a doctor. She reminded me to keep up the painkillers and water. So I popped three more Advil and laid back in bed—where I remained for the majority of the weekend—getting progressively worse as time wore on. By Sunday, I couldn’t stay awake for more than a few hours at a time. Talking induced extreme pain and swallowing was out of the question. Obviously the prescribed Advil and water treatment wasn’t doing the trick. Worried, I called the Health Center once again only to be informed that the doctor was not in Sunday but I could make an appointment for the next day. According to my calendar I already had an appointment for the next day, but apparently I was the only party who had bothered to pencil it in.

This time the Health Center’s thermometer registered my fever and the doctor was quick to take the necessary tests. She told me to increase my intake of painkillers, rotating between Advil and Tylenol so as not to overdose on either, and that we would meet again on Wednesday once the results came in.

Thus, an entire week after my first attempt at seeking medical attention, I re-entered the Health Center discouraged and sick as ever. The blood test, I came to learn, was negative. But this time, the doctor finally acknowledged that whatever the tests said, I was obviously sick and should receive immediate attention. A few persuasive phone-calls later and I had an appointment with a local throat specialist. “You’re lucky”, the nurse who had secured me an appointment told me as she hung up the phone, “it usually takes about three weeks to see this doctor.” An hour later the Brandeis Police pulled up in front of the medical center to provide me with transportation to the off-campus office. Funny how all of a sudden I was sick enough to warrant such special attention …

In the end, it turned out my illness was an un-diagnosable problem with my right tonsil, a problem which could have easily been detected even without the throat doctor’s special tools and high-tech probes. In fact, her very first reaction just upon glancing at my swollen tonsil was, “Wow, this does not look good at all.” Shocked that I had not already been given any antibiotics, she prescribed me a typical 10-day dose of Amoxicillin, effective immediately upon arriving back to campus. The effect was nearly instantaneous. Two pills, and a few hours later I crawled into bed, feeling almost human for the first time in more than 10 days.

Had I received the medical attention I clearly needed the very first time I visited the Health Center, an entire week spent in excruciating pain could have easily been prevented. Had I received the medical attention I clearly needed from the start, an entire week spent in bed could have been put to productive use. An upstanding university like Brandeis should be able to provide the necessary attention to its students when they are in need.