October of sophomore year, I got bronchitis. I remember sitting in an examination room at Yale Health, watching the doctor write a prescription for antibiotics.
“Really,” I said. “Bronchitis.”
“Really,” she said. “Take one of these every day.”
When I think back on that moment, a part of me still can’t take it seriously. Sure, bronchitis sounds terrible — an inflammation of the lungs, a step below pneumonia — but I didn’t feel any different. A dry throat in the morning. A nagging cough at night. I wasn’t spitting up blood, or tossing with a fever. I could still walk to the top of Science Hill without passing out. I had a cold, just a slight cold, and there was always something going around in the dorms anyway. I would be better soon, whenever that was.
It had been two weeks, though.
Two weeks of hacking into my shirt-sleeve, two weeks of almost-choking on mucus, two weeks of lying awake at night, something wet and thick lodged in the back of my throat. My mother worried for me. My friends worried for me. Even my Mandarin teacher worried for me. She pulled me aside after class one time, asked me if I should see someone. Even now, it’s hard to reconcile this discrepancy in my head. The part of me that said, “I’m fine,” and the facts that said so, so clearly, “I’m not fine at all.”
I suppose most of it is because of shame. I should be busy at Yale. Running from one classroom to the next. Running from one meeting to another. Running to the laboratory, running to clinic, running here and there and all around campus — the nights are so long. I’m sitting in my room or in the buttery, and there are so many pages to read and so many problem sets to work through, and there’s that resume I haven’t updated in three months, and I should really start on that article for this week’s newspaper and haven’t you ever thought about how people who graduate from here, they’ve founded their own start-ups or won Nobel Prizes or even become president of the United States —
I don’t have time to be sick. I don’t have time to rest or recover or stop working, even if it’s just to catch my breath. If I do, I can’t be productive.
If I do, I can’t be a real Yalie.
For the longest time, I believed that pushing through was just a part of college and a part of growing up. As kids, we can have our sick days, lie in our beds and have our parents heat us up some soup, tuck our blankets tighter around our shoulders. But as adults? Responsible, capable, self-sufficient adults? We no longer have access to that luxury; we no longer have the right to be “babied.” Life doesn’t wait for us anymore: there will always be shuttles to catch, lectures to listen to and exams to face.
I’ve come to realize that I’ve been a bit childish. It’s true, we can’t always expect other people to hold us up, but there’s a difference between true accountability and blind stubbornness. I think we need to make our doctor appointment when we need to. I think we need to take care of ourselves when we need to.
It’s October again, and I’m sick again. Runny nose, sore throat, the cough that keeps me up sometimes at night. I still have papers to read and essays to write — the extracurriculars, too, they’re waiting — but for now:
I’ll pull on an old shirt and old sweatpants, slip my feet into warm slippers. I’ll have a cup of medicinal tea in my hand, Netflix open on my laptop. I’ll get back to working soon, but first I’d like to take a break.