To Skip or Not To Skip?



That is the question.

Courtesy of Caroline Gentile
Courtesy of Caroline Gentile

That’s how I would probably have described my health last Saturday night. As I lay shivering in my bed with a 104 degree fever, chest and head congested, throat on fire, I wondered how I would ever be able to get any of my work done the next day, or if I would be able to even move by Monday. In short, I felt really crappy. But I also felt trapped.

You see, whenever I got sick at home, I could take a break. I could stay in bed all day, not go to school, have my mom around to make me soup and give me drugs and cold compresses. I could actually focus on getting better, and the process didn’t take very long because of that.

But that night I realized that there’s no way to simply take a break from college. I live here. I can’t just go home to my parents and heal. I have lectures, labs, and seminars to attend, and problem sets with unforgiving deadlines. Somehow within my already crazy schedule, I would have to find time to get better.

When Monday came around, I still had no desire to leave my bed. Now, the question that had been on my mind all weekend was finally staring me in the face: Do I skip class? Hmm. Well, since the thought of sitting in the Science Center for seven straight hours was enough to nauseate me when nausea wasn’t even one of my original symptoms, the obvious answer seemed to be yes. I also didn’t want to be “that kid” who put aside public safety for my own personal gains by infecting all of my peers just so I wouldn’t fall one day behind.

But at the same time, I couldn’t just take the day off. Definitely not an option. Maybe just one class? I considered this. If I missed my first lecture, I would have no idea how to do my problem set. If I missed my Expos class, I would be at risk of failing out of the Expos program. I hadn’t been able to get to UHS because I’d been feeling so crappy. If I missed my lab, I would definitely fail out of a class that I needed to take for both my pre-med and concentration requirements. And if I missed my freshman seminar, I would be disrespectful to the professor. After all, we only meet once a week, and missing out on just one class is the equivalent of taking the week off. So no, I couldn’t even skip one single class. I ended up going to all of them, and feeling completely miserable in the process. But I didn’t fail out of any classes, and I knew how to do my problem set.
Looking back, though, was it worth it? It’s been a week, and I’m still not feeling better. I never took a break. Taking a break never felt like an option for me.

Which brings up a new question: is the environment at Harvard conducive to taking breaks when we need them?
I think it’s safe to say that any Harvard student would answer that question with a resounding no. After all, the typical Harvard student thrives in their busy-ness. We bear our mountains of homework and extracurricular activities — how little time we have to do anything — with pride. But sometimes, our health demands that we gives our bodies a break, and I think too often Harvard students are unwilling to do that, even when they feel like they’ve been run over by a fleet of Mack trucks.

Harvard may be a cutthroat place at times, but I don’t think any of us would want to bestow upon our peers or professors the same sickness that is making us so miserable. But that’s exactly what we do when we go to class sick. It seems obvious — everyone knows that germs spread — but I didn’t fully realize that my sick self could be the agent of spreading illness (and misery) just by going to class. A few days after my first day of attending class sick, I noticed my peers exhibiting some of the symptoms I had. Not only was I not feeling any better, but I had also made a lot of people feel much, much worse.

So next time I get sick at school (hopefully never, ever, again, since it was so much fun this time around), I’ll stay in my bed. At the time, it’ll seem impossible, given all of the lectures and labs and office hours I could be attending instead. In the long run, though, it will be for the better. Any material I miss, I could look up on the course iSite. Any meeting or lab that simply can’t be missed, can be, as long as I precede my absence with an email explaining the situation. Nothing speeds up healing like rest, and nothing slows it down like trying to push through — and infecting everyone else in the process.

Caroline Gentile ’17 (cgentile@college) is speedily recovering in her quarantined dorm room.