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The freshmen flu: A story of sniffles

The temperature is dropping. The leaves are changing colors. The flannel and gray sweatpants combo have arrived. It is sweater weather if you will. As of Sept. 22, at 9:04 p.m. EDT, fall has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere and at Notre Dame too. You might be tempted to think that the most important development of late is that you can wear cute “autumn-themed” clothes or that it is finally socially acceptable to indulge in pumpkin-spice beverages. But I draw your attention to the elephant in the room, an elephant which we room-dwellers neglect to acknowledge. With the arrival of sweaters and lattes comes the notorious “freshmen flu,” a ubiquitous ailment of varying severity that targets especially first-years but has been observed to affect others.

The “flu,” if it can even be aptly compared to influenza, begins with a sore, scratchy throat that progresses into a dry cough. Once the dry cough settles in, the other symptoms appear like sinus congestion and fatigue. The characteristic mucous-filled cough is the final and most prominent symptom. Such is the common illness progression that I and most likely you endured. Some experience a minor degree of these symptoms, while other more unfortunate others suffer worse. 

Take care not to turn the blind eye to the things you witness every day in class. You see the few extra empty chairs in the back of class. You notice the tissues and cough drops competing for pocket space with your phone and wallet. You hear the not–so silent silence of exam rooms. Sniffles. Sneezes. Hacks. Throat–clearings — whatever noise that makes. It is obvious that the “freshmen flu” plagues the students of Notre Dame. 

How then are we students to stop the spread of so widespread a disease? I offer a few hypothetical solutions. Be absent from class and recover in your dorm. In theory, this sounds perfectly reasonable. Except, you would sacrificing valuable class and studying time amid exam season, a dubious wager that has direct effect on sometimes 25% of your semester grade. Cross that one out. Purchase medicine from the Huddle Mart conveniently placed in LaFortune. The only issue is that the desired cold/flu medicines are often out-of-stock, snatched up by the other infirmed. And if you are fortunate enough to get your hands on meager sized bottle of Dayquil, the Huddle Mart happily receives a generous $12.99 increase in revenue in exchange for your health. I am still cross about that transaction. Forget it. 

On top of these logistical impracticalities, I have noticed a few subtle stigmas with respect to the “freshmen flu.” In class, it seems almost undignified to cough or sniffle too loudly as it might draw unwarranted attention or disapproval. And no, suppressing your cough to a barely audible volume does not mean that your neighbor did not hear it, even if they did not look up. There is an overbearing silence in common study areas like Remick Family Hall or the Reading Room in Hesburgh Library where I fear to make a noise, let alone sniffle. I fear the day when someone accosts me for such a despicable crime. With respect to getting up from your seat in class, I sense a similar stigma. My neighbor might think, “Wow, is he really getting up to blow his nose. How disrespectful?” Perhaps this is a sign my social anxiety is getting the better of me. However, I cannot read someone else’s mind, and thus I am reserved to these types of sentiments. It remains that the consensus is to stay put for the 50 or 75 minutes and suppress the sniffles and stifle the coughs, even if it means mildly distracting others.

At this point, the “freshmen flu” seems to be more of a plague than a common cold. In contemplating this idea, I attempted to conjure up something good that can come from illness. I once thought rather optimistically that perhaps the “freshmen flu” is indicative of Notre Dame’s dedication to a diverse student population, of whom hail from all corners of the world. Subsequently, I wondered if the tour guides tell prospective students and families of the hundreds of ailments that find their origin in the hundreds of hometowns. Probably not. Yes, it is fantastic that geographically diverse students live at Notre Dame, but how does that cure my cough? It does not. 

And so, I offer this final reflection. Consider the reason for why a majority of Notre Dame is sick. I concede that there exists a specific virus that causes the “freshmen flu,” but I challenge that there is more at play. Given the change in seasons and weather, one’s exposure to sunlight, vitamin D, is dramatically reduced. With respect to classes, exam season is here, and everyone likewise must devote more and more time to studying or doing work. It is no longer “Syllabus Week.” We now must engage in serious work, leaving our silliness for another day. Late nights of studying, all-nighters and copious amounts of caffeine are tried and true practices to ensure preparation for assessments. However, these tactics invariably have adverse effects on one’s sleep schedule and by extension, health. 

Perhaps, the “freshmen flu” is good in the sense that it unites us as a community in a moment of reflection to consider how we have been treating our bodies. Maybe it is that our poor time budgeting and neglect of self-care are finally catching up to us. Poor eating habits, lack of exercise or self-isolation, all of which are common, are, nevertheless, harmful to one’s mental and bodily health. Perhaps, we need to allocate more time to self-care, whether that manifests as engaging in an extracurricular passion, buying a delicious dessert or snack or even just sleeping. Take care not to forget those simple pleasures of life, which have an uncanny ability to keep you sane amid the craziness of academic life.

Find times to treat your health like wealth, even if it means washing your Dayquil cough syrup down with a pumpkin spice latte.

Jonah Tran is a first-year at Notre Dame double majoring in Finance and Economics and minoring in Classics. Although fully embracing the notorious title of a “Menbroza,” he prides himself on being an Educated Young Southern Gentleman. You can contact Jonah by email at jtran5@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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