Image from Stocksnap.

Image from Stocksnap.

Before college, you’ve never really feared getting sick because your parents or guardians are around to help you out. I was the same. But then we got what my town collectively refers to as “fresher flu”, and by the second week of lectures in first semester I had caught the dreaded communal cold – and I had no idea how to take care of myself except lie in bed and feel sorry for myself.

But, since I’ve gone through that three times in the past year, I can assure you that not everything is lost and you won’t die! So allow me to share what works and what you can do when you’ve caught a nasty cold. Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor and neither am I a doctor-in-training, so take my advice with a grain of salt unless your own doctor tells you that what I’m saying isn’t a load of bull.

“So how do I avoid getting sick in the first place?”

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure, and when it comes to your health this is definitely the case. It’s vital to try and include some good portions of veggies in your diet and if you want to, to take a multivitamin every day if you don’t have access or funds to a wide variety of healthy food every week. Many university student health clinics will provide the flu shot yearly for a reduced price or for free, if you’re lucky, to get that extra line of defense against the seasonal flu. Even if you can’t do all of this, it’s totally okay: I’ve had many unhealthy meals (read: lived on ramen for a few weeks) and haven’t really taken my multivitamin every day since becoming a student. It’s all about trying to establish a healthy pattern first.

“Okay, I think I’m starting to get sick.”

Recognize the first signs of getting sick! Do you have a sore throat that won’t go away? Do you constantly feel tired? Is your body sore/aching/feels weak? Then, my friend, you may be coming down with a cold. If you’re getting the flu, you’ll experience most or all of these symptoms and you might also have headaches, chills, coughing and a high fever. Please do everyone, most of all yourself, a favor and stay away from your lectures until you feel 100% better. I’ve seen too many people pitch up to lectures feeling ill because they don’t want to miss work, but they end up making themselves more ill and spread the flu to tens, maybe hundreds, of other students. Don’t be that guy/girl. If it’s something you really cannot afford to miss, email your lecturer or seek help from your university’s administration team about how to extend assignment due dates.

If you’re in relatively good long-term health and have no complications, your cold or flu could take anytime between 24 hours and one week to go away. Monitor how you feel day by day: if it keeps getting worse and nothing you try makes you feel better, you might need to swing by the hospital. Most people are able to recover from their colds/flus in good time, though.

“I’m lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. Help.” 

First of all: don’t stress too much. Stressing prolongs the healing process and you’ll end up feeling too tired to even do anything at all. So stack your pillows up, put your textbooks away and chill out. Do things that don’t put too much strain on you or require you to do heavy exercise, such as reading a novel, listening to music or gaming (three of my favorite activities to do while sick).

Notify someone close by that you are ill and will be out of action for a few days – this person might be able to bring you food if you can’t get any, maybe grab the work that you missed, and most importantly keep track of you when you feel too sick to be able to do that yourself.

If you can get your hands on some, make yourself a cup of lemon-honey-ginger tea and sip on it. If you can’t get to some of that, get someone to buy you a bottle of a carbonated drink, like Coke, or an energy drink like Gatorade to keep your energy up and help your throat out if it’s really sore. Carbonated drinks and energy drinks aren’t really that great for you when sick, though, so always, always have a big bottle of water attached to you wherever you go to stay hydrated. If you have a stomach flu, make sure you can reach the bathroom in no time or keep a container/bucket next to you.

If cheap remedies aren’t working for your pain tolerance then maybe you need to resort to the power of pharmaceuticals: Tylenol, Aspirin or Nurofen. All dorms, student health centers and college campuses will have a first aid kit onsite and will have at least Tylenol if you can’t afford to buy any and are desperate. Remember to take note of the recommended doses for ANY medication you take, which is usually indicated on the packaging by “X amount of medication in Y time”, although dosages vary in every person and should be clarified with an actual doctor. If you’ve accidentally overdosed, call your buddy and ask them to take you to an emergency doctor or ER – taking too many pain meds may do some significant damage to your liver.

“Okay, sweet, but it’s been a week and I’m still sick AF.”

If you’re still feeling like total crap after all this, then you need to see a doctor. You know, ASAP.

My final words of advice to you if you get sick: sleep as much as you need to, and try to eat three good meals a day with some snacks in between if you regain your appetite. Also help try not to spread your cold by coughing or sneezing into your elbow (not your hands!) and try to get an air flow in your room so that you breathe in fresh air instead of the stinky virus-riddled air all day and night. You’ll be back to your natural self in no time, and the cold or flu will just feel like a distant memory.

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the author

Nkhaya is a Psychology student who's still a little bit unsure about how to go about being an adult (even though she flew halfway across the world for her dream school). She has an unhealthy devotion to anything with chocolate in it, and loves to write in her spare time. When she's not busy studying, writing or marathon-watching series on Netflix, you'll find her on Twitter or Instagram (@nkhayapm).

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