I have a cautionary tale for students returning to school this month with all your sniffles and coughs. Last year, my roommates and I got sick. Two of us had sore throats right away, but we survived on the power of vitamin C and hot soup.
When our third roommate took ill, we figured it was the same thing, only to find out later that this was not the case. One morning she woke up with a sore throat and sure enough, little white blobs were readily apparent in her throat. I called the Cohen Student Health Center, and made an appointment for her.
Here is where the story derails — instead of being given the antibiotics that kill the bacteria, she was given allergy medication and told that the pustules I had seen that morning were nothing more than scar tissue from when she had gotten her tonsils removed. Most importantly, she was not given a strep test.
None of us were very happy with this diagnosis, but we decided to let it stand. After all, we are not medical professionals, and we trusted that the nurses and doctors at the Health Center knew what they were doing.
At any rate, we had more important things to worry about. Between our usual work load of classes and labs, we were organizing a fundraiser and making plans to visit our friends over the weekend and attend a wedding. A little sore throat wasn’t going to get in our way.
Except it wasn’t a little sore throat. It became difficult for her to hold down even soup and hot tea, and by Friday she was in the hospital. We unpacked our overnight bags and called the friends that we were visiting. There would be no visiting our friends and no wedding. We needed to make sure that our roommate was going to be alive by the end of the weekend.
Call me over-dramatic, but a lot of things in college can kill you. Binge drinking, recreational drug use, suicide and reckless driving are a few of the things that first come to mind when you mention college students dying. Even random acts of violence come to mind before dying of strep – and you can, if you get rheumatic fever from the streptococcus bacteria.
This is why it is so important to have a functioning health center on college campuses.
Students are not likely to look for help in a timely manner on their own, if it isn’t readily available. Most of us don’t have cars, or don’t understand the bus system well enough or simply don’t have health insurance that works outside of our home states. Health centers can’t treat everything, but they should be adequately supplied and staffed so that they can treat small things and prevent bigger things from happening.
But the flippancy with which the students are treated at the Cohen Student Health Center is appalling. Everyone, it seems, has a story about the health center misdiagnosing this or that — your bug bite might have been caused by diabetes, and your stomach flu is most definitely a sinus infection.
What kills me is that the rapid strep test used at the hospital costs less than $20. For less than $20, my roommate would not have had a huge hospital bill, wouldn’t have missed a week of classes and would not have missed the wedding.
I understand that healthcare professionals feel burdened by patients that are often less than patient and who do not show their appreciation as well as they probably could. But patronizing your patients is no way to earn their respect.