As I sat down at my new desk and tidied my wobbling stack of pencils, I thought I had it all figured out. My parents had just driven away with tears in their eyes, but I was doing just fine: dresses in the closet, rug on the floor, and purple power PICC in my right arm.
I was finally a student at the University of Michigan and it was time for my life to begin.
I mean, sure, I had just been discharged from the hospital two days earlier despite advice from my doctor to stay, but I had friends to make and dreams to chase.
Looking back, I realize that putting college before my cystic fibrosis wasn't the first thing I had all wrong. Why did I bring so many dresses to school -- did I really think I'd be wearing anything other than black leggings and sweatshirts? Why (as I was fully aware of my “adorable” tendency to spill apple juice and pasta sauce) was my rug white? And for the love of all things beautiful, why did I bring so many pencils to school? Note taking? That's what a laptop is for, not that mine was ever charged.
Chronic illness aside, college is an amusement park of mistakes. The great thing about it, though, is that everyone around you is riding the same rides.
Hearing about my freshman year experiences with CF won't keep you from messing up, and that's the way it should be -- “oops” is the best teacher. But in situations where being a full-time student could put the state of your oxygenation at risk, here are a few tips from someone who's been there.
- Early classes? Not a good idea.
When you have cystic fibrosis, sleep is one of the best things you can do for your body, and despite what society likes to make you think, sleeping in doesn't make you a lazy person. Schedule classes that start later in the morning (or afternoon, even) and allow your body more time to fight infection while you sleep. With more time to get ready, it'll also be easier to stay on top of your morning treatments.
- An all-nighter will last longer than one night.
Remember that thing I said about sleep? I can't tell you how many times I procrastinated writing a paper, stayed up all night to write it, and spent the next week with fevers and chest pains. Do your best to keep up with schoolwork and avoid losing sleep. Your lungs (and your GPA) will thank you.
- Showing up really is half the battle.
In grade school, my mommy dropped me off ten feet away from the front doors; now, my campus is 3,245 acres wide, and I've found that the trek to class can be difficult. Some days, even though I felt healthy enough to sit through a class, there was no way I could physically get to it. Many schools have shuttles for injured students and students with disabilities. Either way, don't beat yourself up about having a body that doesn't always listen to you. It's not your fault.
- It's Exercise, not extracise. (Was that funny? No? No.)
The day I came to college was the day I stopped dancing competitively and playing soccer, and since then, my baseline lung function has seriously dropped. The fact that you probably won't gain the freshman fifteen (thanks, dysfunctional pancreas!) doesn't mean that you don't have to exercise. Try intramural sports or going on daily walks, and just keep moving.
- The dining hall is your best friend.
It's your nutritionist's dream: all-you-can-eat chicken breasts and soft serve ice cream. Make her proud. Stuff your face.
- Get a Gamecube for your dorm room.
When all of your friends are hanging out and having fun, the last thing you'll want to do is leave to sit alone and inhale your mucus thinner. Having an inexpensive TV with “Super Smash Bros.” capabilities means that your squad will be more than comfortable chilling in your dorm. And trust me, no one will care if you throw on your Vest while dominating Donkey Kong.
- Accept the germs you cannot change.
People surround you constantly in college. It really is unavoidable, and you'll notice that even your healthiest friends will get sick more often than they used to. Carry hand sanitizer with you everywhere and repeat after me: “I tried.”
- You'll become even more addicted to the internet.
Now, you live on your own, and unfortunately, the healthcare world sees you as a goony teenager who doesn't know what they're talking about. Save yourself the trouble of explaining your awesomeness to the phone clerk and use your clinic's online patient portal. With one click, you can schedule an appointment, renew a prescription, and request medical advice. (Don't tell your professor I said this, but if you need to, you can even check your lab work in class! It's so easy.)
- Call your mom.
She gave birth to a baby with a scary disease, and to her, you're still that baby. Tell her you're doing okay so she can sleep tonight. Seriously, she has work tomorrow.
- Know that you are one spectacular human.
It takes a lot of guts to go to college with cystic fibrosis, and for that, I give you kudos. You are not allowing the course of your life to be decided by your genotype, and that's a more impressive feat than anyone could ever see from the outside. You're doing good, kid.