August 2014, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack healthy cells and tissue—particularly perfectly healthy joints. The treatment options all suppress the immune system. The definition is fairly basic, but the symptoms are numerous: chronic pain, swelling of the joints, anemia, fever and rashes.
August 2015, I began attending the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In January of this year, I came down with strep throat. A sickness my body had a difficult time fighting off because of my suppressed immune system. I was in the emergency room by the second week of classes, and I celebrated my very first college spring break by being admitted to the hospital with an arthritic flare, anxiety and depression.
The day classes started, Jan. 6, I headed off to class, determined to have a normal semester. By dinner time, I had a fever and a rash and could barely swallow. I spent the night crying on and off the phone with my mother, who got me an appointment at a family clinic in Kearney. I went in wearing my pajamas and told the doctor that I was sure I had strep throat. The nurse swabbed my throat while the doctor looked at my rash. 20 minutes later, I had an official diagnosis of strep and a prescription to pick up from Target.
After picking up my antibiotics and a lot of pudding, juice and apple sauce, I called my grandmother from the parking lot and asked her to drive me home. At about 50 minutes away, she was my closest relative.
The next few months were the most difficult time of my life.
Just one person exposing me and my weakened immune system to streptococcus was enough to trigger a flare that lasted almost an entire year. I was almost completely nonfunctional. My grades dropped significantly, and I spent every day in bed. I lost 30 pounds because I couldn’t walk to the din-ing hall, even though the dorm I lived in was the closest to it.
The days I dared venture out of my dorm to try and attend class, I unfailingly vomited up stomach acid somewhere on the way. I was forced to move back home and transfer schools. It was without a doubt the absolute worst time of my life.
I lost my body, my social life and my dream school all because I got strep throat.
It is precisely for this reason, for me and all the other immunocompromised students, that I urge everyone to keep their vaccinations up to date and stay home if ill. While the average person may be able to fight infections, they can put people at great risk just by spreading a cold. The only thing stopping immunosuppressed individuals like myself from ending up in the hospital with the flu is the care and consideration of others.
In dorm and classroom environments, germs thrive and hop from person to person, and just the most basic steps taught in kindergarten can greatly reduce the spread of infection.
Shower regularly, keep your shots up to date, wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and disinfect frequently touched surfaces often. Doing so could quite possibly save a life.