SwatMD: a Guide to Common Swarthmore Ailments

*Disclaimer: This article is in no way meant to make light of our current situation. Any COVID symptoms or exposure should be treated seriously and reported immediately. We want all those in our community to be as safe and healthy as possible.

Despite the 70° weather this past week, there’s no denying that winter is just around the corner. It’s about this time of year when the hypochondriacs among us start reaching for their thermometers and googling symptoms. And thanks to these …✨unprecedented✨ circumstances, the lurking specter of illness is shaping up to haunt us even more relentlessly this October. But a word of warning, all you hypervigilant valetudinarians— before your fingers unduly jerk toward the ‘yes’ on your Daily Symptom Tracker, take a moment to consider if what you’re feeling might be a consequence not of the virus, but of the daily trials faced by Swarthmore students since time immemorial. Don’t pack your Go Bag just yet — here is some advice on how to distinguish between serious concerns and standard Swattie sufferings. 

You wake up before your morning class inexplicably drenched in sweat — and you weren’t even dreaming about failing to find an empty classroom in Sci Center on a Sunday night. You slog toward the bathroom and are greeted by a fresh wave of heat in the hallway. In your half-conscious state, you wonder whether you’ve awoken in some sort of nightmarish sauna rather than a Swarthmore dorm room. By the time you join the Zoom for your 8 A.M. lab, your hair is plastered to your face, you’ve stripped down to a tank top you used to reserve for PubNite, and you’re impulsively reaching for your thermometer thinking there can be no other explanation for your condition than a serious fever. But wait — before you take any drastic measures, you might want to ask your dorm-mates if they’ve been experiencing the same overheated conditions. 70° weather plus heat pumping generously is a much less distressing explanation for these symptoms. If worst comes to worst and nature forces your hand, ten minutes in the McCabe third icebox will quickly suck the last drops of extraneous heat from your burning skin.  

On an idyllic Saturday night you make your way towards the steps on Magill walk, five teetering Sharples takeout containers in hand. You’re silently congratulating yourself for not dropping and smushing your Oreo cupcake on the trek, but your pride soon turns to concern when you take a bite of your tofu and you realize you can’t even remember what the sauce was supposed to be. Is it the lemony tofu?  Tofu piccata? Italian tofu? Your taste buds reach and reach for an answer, but to no avail. You’re drawing a complete gustatory blank. Even worse, you reach for a boiled vegetable with your fork and realize you’re not sure what it is. Is it even a vegetable at all? The dimming light outside doesn’t help your detection skills and a nagging voice in the back of your head begins to whisper that you’re experiencing symptomatic loss of taste. To make matters worse, as you struggle through your philosophy readings hours later, you’re greeted with a roiling in your stomach. It becomes more and more clear that what you’re experiencing isn’t just existential nausea, but rather acute stomach problems. You reach for your trusty TUMS to ease the discomfort, but you can’t help wondering whether this upset stomach and your tofu tasting troubles have viral implications. But before you spiral into worry, take a deep breath. For those who have been on campus before, think back on times in past semesters when your stomach struggled with the transition back to college cuisine. For those who are new to campus, ask any seasoned Sharples-goer and you’ll probably be met with a chorus of stories detailed enough to make you wish you’d never asked.

You’ve been huddling under your blanket wearing at least three sweatshirts for hours. You can feel your heart rate slowing to a dangerous low, and your fingers and toes have gone purple. You’ve finally succumbed to doing homework in your bed, curled in a tight knot to maintain what meager body heat you have left. Comforter up to your chin, your teeth chatter as you try to write your essay with stiff, numb hands. While this bitter, inescapable cold may feel like the onset of fever chills, there is an alternative explanation to what you’re feeling: they have not yet turned the heat on in AP and DK. Try stepping outside — the wall of warm air that will surround you when you walk out one of AP’s many, many, many doors will secure you in the knowledge that you’re suffering not from illness, but from faulty electrical systems.

You walk out into the crisp autumn air. Armed with three of Hope’s homemade cookies, you decide to make your way up to Science Center to plough through some problem sets before tomorrow. You start your journey with light footsteps, enjoying the colorful leaves and the birds singing overhead. But within a minute your pace is slowing rapidly. Your lunch feels heavy in your hands as you struggle to keep moving. You fight for every breath, and your legs scream in pain as you haul yourself ever forward, forward. You no longer hear the birds or see the trees. You focus on the path ahead: one agonizing footstep at a time. The weight of your Poli Sci readings in your backpack pulls you down and you strain against it, wishing you had become a CS major instead. Surely you must be nearing the end. But the hill stretches out in front of you, mocking you in its unfeeling steepness. When you finally reach level ground, you’re forced to pause a minute to recover. Your heart is pounding in your ears and your legs throb from the exertion. As you struggle for air, worry seizes you. Are your muscle aches and shortness of breath the first signs that Mary Lyon is in your future? Not just yet. Rest assured that this is a perfectly natural reaction to the feat of strength you just performed. Generation upon generation of Swarthmore students have similarly been pushed to their physical limit ascending the very same hill. Here, there is no advice to offer: your climb up the ladder of learning will inevitably be accompanied by actual climbs up the steep incline leading to Parrish. But take comfort in the knowledge that your friends, classmates, and peers will all, at some point, wheeze their way up to the academic buildings as you just did. 

A combination of Zoom headaches, exam stress, and chronic sleep deprivation will leave anyone feeling less than their best. Whether you’re facing battles like the ones described above, or any of the numerous other, unmentioned challenges that life and Swarthmore will throw your way, remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel (or a Sci muffin at the end of the hill, if you will). 

*We understand and wish to acknowledge that our dining staff work daily to provide us with our meals. We appreciate their dedication and all of the hard work they do (as well as the delicious food they make and serve). Digestive hiccups may be par for the course anywhere, but who knows where we’d be without the delicious oreo cupcakes and Caribbean bar we know and love.  We also recognize that fall is an incredibly tricky time to heat and cool. We appreciate the responsiveness of maintenance and our RCCs in light of all of the requests for temperature adjustments in the dorms. As our former director of maintenance once said, it truly is the season of discontent.  

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