When you spend as much time indoors as an MIT student during a Massachusetts winter, cabin fever isn’t the only ailment that’s likely to break down your immune system’s barricades. Just the other week, several staffers at The Tech, including me, were beset by some of the nasty bugs that have been floating around campus as of late.
I distinctly remember sitting in the back room of the office during a break between classes, when Managing Editor David Templeton walked in and informed me that 1) there had been a rash of illnesses around the office, and that 2) the Xbox controller in my hands was the only thing that had not yet been Lysol-ed into slippery, alpine-scented submission. With the characteristic bravado that any still-feeling-well college student shows when faced with impending infection, I scoffed, gave my hands the “bachelor dishwasher” treatment of a scalding hot water rinse, and went home.
Late that night, I mistook the peculiar sensation in my belly — it was wheezing sadly, like a 70-year-old lifelong smoker or Amy Winehouse — for hunger, which motivated me to dig up some old ramen, halfheartedly boil it, and scarf it down as a midnight snack. As the biologically savvy among you may have realized at this point, that didn’t help my state as much as I’d hoped. After it sank in that what I thought was hunger wasn’t, I spent the next several hours alternating between delirious fetal pseudo-sleep and zombie-like shambling down the hall, my willpower and my digestive system dancing face to toilet seat in a horrific plague-ridden tango of contagion (con-tango-ion?). I’ll spare you what’s left of the gruesome details, save for the hard-learned lesson that cheap ramen tastes no better the second time around.
The next morning, I half-awoke, half-rose from the grave to find myself still-nauseated and somewhat lethargic, the telltale hallmarks of the stomach flu that had, as my e-mail inbox informed me, similarly taken several other Tech staffers into its clutches. Let me be the first to declare that of all the words to describe me when ill, “stoic” is not one that typically comes to mind. I am not the kind of person who muscles through sickness by sheer determination and trudges to work or class, especially when I live as far from campus as I do. I am the kind of person who sends out a dorm list e-mail groveling for someone to pick up anti-gastroenteritis groceries for me. Even though Macgregor Convenience is almost obscenely close to Next House, it may as well have been located in Miami Beach by way of Albuquerque, the way I was feeling.
To the credit of my dormitory, I had a first response to my initial request for aid within 10 minutes and perhaps a dozen within the next few hours (many from complete strangers), plus two personal visits from intrepid friends who dared to venture into the quarantined zone. Lucky for me, too — my initial attempts to get some Sprite to fulfill my need for non-caffeinated clear fluids saw me on my knees, as if in pathetic prayer to the soda machine gods, feebly prodding the unresponsive slot with dollar bill after dollar bill. After that didn’t work, I opted to lie on the carpet for a while before mustering the strength to crawl to the lobby to try the other machines. (My bills didn’t work there, either. I eventually had to dip into my supply of laundry quarters.) After a couple days of non-exertion and sipping ginger ale, I’d mostly recovered in time to go to class on Tuesday the way I was supposed to. As for the subsequent parade of respiratory and dermatological symptoms resulting from my weakened immune system, well...that’s something of a story in progress.