Falling sick is something we consciously avoid, dressing in layers when it’s cold out, washing our hands religiously, changing our towels and bed sheets, adding more vitamin C to our diets. But whether or not we come down with a cold isn’t really up to us. Sometimes the people we live with get us sick despite our best effort to stay healthy.
During my freshman and sophomore years, I lived with the same group of guys, one of whom was a classmate from high school and long time friend, the others chosen for the two of us at random by Pitt’s housing lottery, in Brackenridge Hall. Our freshman year was a golden age, feeding us a rich supply of anecdotes that we still retell today; so golden that none of us hesitated to hit the “redo” button when it came time to select roommates for the next academic year. But not everything in this age was golden, purely fun. The truth is that, while we were having the time of our lives, we were neglecting a lot around our apartment. Dishes were never washed, remaining in the sink for months while grime built up so thickly that we had to throw them all out eventually. Trash piled up in the common area, wherever there was no furniture. (We actually referred to these unkempt dumps as “trash corners”). And we wondered why we were always sick…
One of my roommates, the socialite who was always out around campus, attending his fraternity’s events, long-boarding, hitting the gym, flirting with girls in his program and having no luck, only stayed in when he was running a fever. He would move his mattress into the common area, so as not to infect the other guy who shared his bedroom, and smear Vick’s Vapor Rub on his chest; this was his method of self-medication, his road back to good health. The rub didn’t seem to have any positive effect on him; it only had the adverse effect of making the apartment stink of menthol.
When I lay in bed after a long day of classes, I would hear him coughing, forceful and wet, in his quarantine cell, where we should’ve been watching TV. I would hear him pulling tissues from a box and heaving something awful into them before throwing them into one of our “trash corners.” These yellowed paper balls would remain with the other trash until spring, by which time we had built up the energy to clean; all winter, we feared that if we touched the evidence of his sickness, we too would be infected. These were long winters, and each of us got sick eventually, missed classes, filled tissue boxes with our own fluids, neglected to take care of the mess we’d made in the process.
If there’s a moral to this noxious memory, it’s to be responsible. When you’re living with other people, what’s wrong with you becomes wrong with them. We’re busy people. Being sick takes away from us something that we cannot afford to lose, time. So take care of yourself. Drink your Emergen-C in bulk. Take your Airborne, Nyquil, whatever. And please, please, throw out your used tissues.
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