Spring Fever. Literally.
It's finally springtime in Boston. The flip-flops are out, the short jean skirts are now sans leggings, and for the past week, half of my students haven't shown up for class. I blame spring fever for some of it--certainly they'd rather be catching some sun on the Boston Common or strolling down Newbury Street than be in my 10am Research Writing course. But for some of them, I blame their absence on the other spring fever, the nasty chest/throat viral thing that's speading like wildfire. It made its way through the dorms, onto the public keyboards, and settled in my lungs a few days ago.
What is it about the change in seasons that makes our bodies go haywire? It's beautiful and sunny, and I am so congested my doctor didn't need a stethoscope to hear my wheezes. It's the same situation in the fall when it finally gets cold--mass infections. Most of my students get better in a few days, but with my immune deficiency disease and various lung diseases, when I catch things, I really catch them. I caught a bug on the plane during my honeymoon and it just went away a couple of weeks ago. My honeymoon was in August, mind you.
So spring fever brings to focus two dilemmas in terms of having chronic illness and having a professional life.
Number 1: How do I field the inevitable "Are you okay?" "Do you always cough like that?" questions I usually get? It's easy to explain away the symptoms when we're all sick, but I cough like that pretty much every day. I'm generally evasive since I don't want to bring in my personal life, but does skirting the issue only pique their curiousity further? Moderation is the key, I think. I can tell them I'm sick without saying the extent to which I'm sick, which is far beyond a cold--and cross fingers they're satisfied with that.
Number 2: How do I maintain a sense of empathy for students who miss class because they don't feel well? I'm not talking a severe bout of flu or having seizures or any of the other things I've heard. I'm talking about the sore throats, the headaches, the viruses they get and pass on to me. As a student, I've written papers in the ICU, I've studied for finals while hooked up to oxygen, and I've taught my own classes with an IV in my arm, carefully hidden under my sweater. So I know full well that it is possible to do work when you're sick--but is it fair to them to use that as my point of relativity? Probably not.