Sunday, January 8, 2012

Immunity, Illness, and University Class Attendance

Last night I babysat the children of my surgeon.  he did a routine check of the incision site and gnereal area where my spleen used to be. He said that everything has healed very well. Loss of a spleen often results in a weakened immune system. Sometimes other aspucts of one's natural immune powers  compensate; sometimes they don't. For now, my surgeon says, the best thing to do is to take a basic multivitamin spllement daily, in addition to a weekly Vitamnin B-12 shot, which I hate, and then just watch and wait.  Hitting my system with heavy immunoglobins could impair my body's ability to do what it already knows how to do.

My surgeon reminded me to stay away from sick people n general. If a person in one of my classes is hacking and coughing away, or otherwise looks ill, I should sit as far from the person as possible. My surgeon gave me two notes, to be used only in emergencies, such as  any case where I enter a moderate to small classroom and more than three people are obviously polluting it with sick germs. In such cases, I'm to give one of the notes to my professor and to leave. If it's during a test, I'm to ask if I may sit outside the door to take my exam. If it's just a lecture, the hope is that my instructor will give me the missed notes, or I can get them from another student. I take clear and thorough notes and try to be quick to offer them to others when needed so that others will feel obligated to reciprocate if  I need their notes.

Fortunately, my university is in an area with a mild climate, so the very worst of the flu season does not hit us in a big way. Still, when exists a large student population, most of whom live either in dorms or in crowded apartments, and many of whom consider alcohol one of the four basic food groups, illness is going to come up and it will be passed around. My goal is to make it through the winter without pneumonia or even croup. I get croup with a bad cold or flu. often pneumonia accompanies it. I live in a mild climate area, but, as we know, being cold does not cause one to get a cold or any other illness for the most part. (A thorough chill can lower resistance, perhaps, but being cold and catching a cold are two different things entirely.)

Some of my fellow students will get sick on occasion. some will come to class sick, because if they use up all the days that it's reasonable to skip class for the days when they're hung over, they're forced to come to school when they have bona fide illnesses. This may be a more pronounced tendency at a recognized party school that's also a somewhat prestigious academic institution, but the same thing happens even at school where relatively few alcohol-related parties happen. In some cases it may be just that students stay up too late watching movies and socializing even without the involvement of alcohol or other mood-altering substances,  then feel too tired to go to class the next day. Evidence for this is that there is a higher rate of absenteeism and of sick students in the classroom in classes beginning before 10:00 a.m. than at any other time of day. A student misses the maximum number of class periods he or she can miss by simply rendering himself or herself hungover or otherwise too exhausted to get out of bed. Then when the stuent has a bon fide illness, even if the professor doesn't  keep track of attendance, a student with any sense of reality knows when he or she has missed all the class sessions he or she can miss without jeopardizing his or her grade.

Last quarter one of my doctors sent notes to each of my professors informing them that they had an immunosuppressed student or students(no names were given) in one or more of their courses, and that they should refer any student who appeared ill to the health center and require clearance before allowing the ill student back in class. Some teachers followed the policy; when I developed mono, before I knew I was sick, the professor noticed and sent for the health center personnel to take me to their facility. Others ignored it, or maybe they thought unless a person was rolling on the floor in a full-blown tonic-clonic (grand mal)seizure, the illness wasn't serious enough for the policy to apply. In other cases still, the professor read the note  aloud to each of his or her classes, causing students to look around at classmates and try to decide if the immunosuppressed student was among them.  Even the professors who did this seemed to be looking aaround for the person who was so "special" as to dare to affect the attendance of others. (The professors usually feel that all students, healthy or not,  should be in class if they're not barfing at the moment, but should be seated as far from the professor as possible. Their exceptions to this rule would be TB or SARS.) Tthere would be a lot of pointing and a great deal of denying. Then they'd take a look at me and be silent. They probably think I'm a cancer patient; they just can't figure out why I have so much hair.

The surgeon says he's going to send out letters to my professors this quarter because while the doctors are still trying to decide how to effectively deal with my state of immunity, whatever it may be, it's all the more important than ever that obviously  sick people not be sharing their germs with me.  I think I will give him a fake class schedule, as I'm not certain his plan really accomplishes anything other than making me the object of scrutiny when, at 5' 1" and 84 pounds, I already receive more scrutiny than anyone my age would want. Why subject myself to the scrutiny of my peers for little or no gain?  Sick people in classes, teaching classes, cooking our food at restaurants, or taking care of us at hospitals, are a fact of life. Life will not stop while a person with an infectious disease recovers. I can ultimately decide upon a career that exposes me to a minimal numbetr of sick people and can alter my lifestyle to avoid those in theatres, restaurants, and churches if i find it necessary (Monsignor, the reason I haven't been in church for six months is because my doctor told me to stay away. Seriously.)

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