Now that the flu season has begun, many students will experience the inconveniences that come with the influenza virus. While symptoms such as sneezing and sniffling are a nuisance, it could be much worse. Being at college — far away from your own bed and Mom’s chicken soup — is difficult with the flu, but close to impossible with a more serious illness like mononucleosis.
With conditions more severe than the common cold, a visit to University Health Services, commonly called “DUH,” may be inevitable. But many students are mixed in their appraisal of UHS’s handling of their treatment, with some criticizing the center for misdiagnosis of their condition, among other complaints.
Director of University Health Services Paul Genecin said UHS does its best to respond appropriately to students’ health needs.
“We think the care that we provide students is exemplary,” Genecin said. “However, we are human.”
The Monday morning after last Halloween, Nicole Nole ’06 woke up feeling sick. After missing a few classes, she went to UHS for help, where she waited over four hours for a doctor. Nole said the doctor told her she was suffering from strep throat and sent her home with medicine. But when the medicine was unsuccessful, she said she returned to UHS, but the doctor then told her the sickness was “just in her head.”
Nole returned a third time. By then, she said, she was so ill that the nurses at UHS put her in a wheelchair and then administered a blood test and a mono test. She found out she had mono the day before Thanksgiving.
“It was almost like they didn’t care fully — they just wanted to diagnose me and get me out,” Nole said. “I guess I was just part of the shuffle at DUH.”
This past October, Brian Kendig ’05 had a similar experience when he went to UHS with a spiking fever. As he checked in, Kendig said he gave the doctor his allergy information — including his allergy to codeine, a common ingredient in many medications. Kendig said he insisted on spending the night in in-patient care despite the doctor’s resistance.
The next night, Kendig said he was considering staying overnight again, but then his mother called from his home in California to talk to his doctor. During the conversation, Kendig said the doctor told his mother he planned to give Kendig cough syrup with codeine to help him sleep better. At that, Kendig said he got “nervous” and left.
He said his mother continued to call doctors at home, who recommended a chest X-ray and a blood test immediately. When he suggested these tests to his doctor at UHS, however, the doctor said his sickness was “probably viral” and recommended that he “just wait it out,” Kendig said.
Four days later, a doctor from California called the UHS doctor to persuade him to give the blood test and the chest X-ray. The tests revealed that Kendig had had bacterial pneumonia for the past six days.
After UHS reached a correct diagnosis, Kendig said, he received antibiotics from the doctor and began to feel better within 18 hours.
“I definitely won’t be going to see that doctor again at DUH,” Kendig said. “I hope that my experience is not typical of the many doctors at DUH.”
In-patient, out pleased
Molly Swartz ’06, who suffered from mono her freshman year, acknowledged some deficiencies in treatment, but gave a very positive assessment of her UHS experience. Swartz said she began feeling sick about a week before Parents’ Weekend. After missing a week of classes, she visited UHS where she was given a test for strep throat and sent home.
But when her mother came for Parents’ Weekend, the two of them returned to UHS together. Once there, Swartz said it was her mother who suggested a mono screen as well as an IV for the dehydrated Swartz.
“I feel like at student medicine they can sometimes underestimate the seriousness of the affliction,” Swartz said.
Swartz was then taken to the in-patient unit, where she stayed for five days. She praised the unit as being quiet and comfortable, and also appreciated the nurses, who are on call 24 hours a day.
“Once you get up there, everything’s awesome,” Swartz said. “I can’t speak highly enough of the in-patient unit.”
Gaurav Sajjanhar ’06 also stayed in UHS’s in-patient unit for mono. Sajjanhar said he began feeling sick in the middle of first semester his freshman year. After sleeping through two weeks of classes, his throat began to hurt. A member of the Duke’s Men, Sajjanhar said he was concerned about his voice, so he went to UHS.
Sajjanhar said he was taken upstairs to the in-patient unit immediately and ended up spending five days in the infirmary, sharing a room with a fellow Duke’s Men member.
“It wasn’t a bad experience,” Sajjanhar said. “What was bad was being sick.”
Vicki Eisler, patient representative for member services, said UHS is equipped to hear back from patients, but added that they receive very few calls with complaints from students.
“We are happy to get feedback,” Eisler said.
Eisler said she does not know why more students do not call member services — guessing that students do not have the time, or they do not know that the service exists.
Though some students, like Kendig, said they were hesitant to return to UHS, others have come back for treatment.
While Christina Meyer ’06 said she was displeased with how UHS responded to her mono last year, she said she returned to UHS this year with a fever and was satisfied.
“I definitely had a more positive experience this time,” Meyer said.
Sajjanhar, who has been to UHS frequently since his stay in in-patient care, said as he gained experience with the center, he found it much better.
“I’ve actually found [UHS] really useful,” Sajjanhar said. “Once you get to know the system it’s a lot easier.”
Meera Shankar ’05, who visited UHS for a concussion the summer after freshman year, said she attributed any of UHS’s faults to its being such a large organization.
“I feel like every university health service has a huge responsibility of accommodating the needs of so many people,” Shankar said. “It’s a big job, and each university, including Yale, does what it can.”