Staff Writer Matthew Gay consulted fellow Bwoggers for advice on what to do when you are inevitably sick at school.

A couple of weeks ago, I was so sick with mono that I had to go home to Texas because I couldn’t take care of myself at Columbia. This was the absolute worst-case scenario, and it could have been avoided had I been better prepared and had a better support system in place. I offer this as a comprehensive guide for being sick at school, but if you take nothing else from this article hear this: BE PREPARED. Whatever this looks like for you, make sure you are prepared for the absolute worst because it very well might happen.

What does being prepared look like? Many things. Mainly, having supplies like medicine and food, knowing your options in terms of treatment, and having a support system of friends in place to bring you food and medicine if you need it. 

Before you move in, you should have an arsenal of medicine for all potential types of illness, and if you have any special prescriptions, make sure you have a reliable pharmacy to fill them at. The Duane Reade at 112th and Broadway usually has a pretty good stock of over-the-counter medicines, but their pharmacy is very slow and not very reliable. Several Bwoggers recommend the Hartley pharmacy (1219 Amsterdam) for a more friendly and seamless experience when it comes to getting your prescriptions. 

In terms of assembling a “sick kit,” buy more than you think you need and then buy even more. The last thing you want to do is have to brave the streets or the subway when you’re sick just because you ran out of medicine. Here is a list of recommendations, but please observe any allergies you may have to the following medications. And, once again, this is just a hypothetical checklist. Just get what you need!

  1. Basic ibuprofen and/or acetaminophen: Tylenol, Advil, Aleve, Aspirin, etc.
  2. Cough, congestion, sore throat, etc.: Mucinex, Delsym, cough drops, Chloraseptic throat spray, Afrin nasal spray
  3. General allergies: Flonase, Zyrtec, Allegra, Benadryl
  4. Stomach problem relief: Tums, Pepto Bismol, Imodium
  5. Migraine: Excedrin
  6. Vitamin C: Emergen-C
  7. First Aid: Band-aids, Neosporin
  8. Miscellaneous: Vicks Vapor Rub, a personal humidifier/steamer, an EpiPen (if applicable), an ice pack, a heating pad, melatonin, tissues, a thermometer

Always have essential medications with you! You never know when a migraine or stomach problems might strike, and it’s always good to be prepared!

Food and drink recommendations:

  1. Ginger ale
  2. Tea with honey and lemon
  3. Ice cream
  4. Oatmeal 
  5. Canned soup 
  6. Ramen 
  7. Gatorade/Vitamin Water
  8. Cranberry juice

And this probably goes without saying, but definitely have some emergency funds saved up to help cover medical bills, transportation, DoorDash, or any other expenses you might have while you’re sick. 

Always have someone that can take care of you, especially if you live in a corridor single! Being sick is much easier with a roommate or suitemates who can take care of you, so if you have a corridor single make sure you have a neighbor or friend that can bring you food and water if you’re not well enough to make it down to the dining hall. Seeing a friendly face can make you feel so much better, even if it’s just for a minute. Part of what contributed to my horrific experience with mono was that I didn’t see another person who wasn’t a doctor for 10 days. Mask up and have your friends visit you just to chat for a bit, and look out for your friends! It’s so important! 

Also, do not go to class if you’re feeling sick. Contact your advisor to vouch for you if you need to get more excused absences or assignments pushed back, and of course, stay in as constant communication as you are able with your professors. If you go somewhere where a doctor can provide you with a note excusing you from class, ask them to block out more days than you think you need just in case your condition worsens or if you need to take more time for yourself to feel better! If you absolutely need to, definitely consider medically withdrawing from the semester or dropping one or more classes. 

So where can you go when you’re sick and want medical treatment? Unfortunately, there are a lot of options and none of them are great. For Barnard students, PCHS is a good option (and they have free saltines and Gatorade), but for Columbia students, Columbia Health (located in John Jay) is very hit or miss. It can be impossible to get an appointment or even have someone answer the phone, but if you have an emergency and need to get treated immediately, they will fit you in. I have been to the Northwell Health Urgent Care on 103rd several times and if you can make an appointment or go early in the morning, I would recommend it. They have a very nice waiting room and they take Aetna insurance if you’re insured through Columbia. They can test for strep, COVID, flu, and mono and will prescribe any medications pertaining to those. Just make sure you have a reliable pharmacy (to reiterate, a lot of Columbia students recommend Hartley Pharmacy). And if you feel that a doctor isn’t treating you or is minimizing your symptoms, definitely get a second opinion!

If you have an absolute emergency, call CUEMS. They will come to your room and take you in an ambulance to Mt. Sinai Morningside for no fee! They are super kind and helpful and made me feel very safe and taken care of. If you do need to go to the emergency room, here is what I would bring:

  1. A change of clothes
  2. Comfortable shoes
  3. A huge water bottle
  4. Snacks 
  5. Any homework (if you feel well enough!)
  6. A portable charger
  7. Headphones 
  8. Glasses or contacts
  9. Deodorant, toothbrush, etc. 
  10. Any necessary insurance or payment documents

This might seem extreme, but you never know how long you might have to wait to get treatment! And, of course, keep in contact with friends if you need anything else. 

My number one piece of advice is to (if you are able) go home. If you live in the Northeast this is definitely easier, but I flew back to Texas and it was the best decision to have my parents take care of me and be in my own bed. My only regret is not leaving sooner!

List of relevant phone numbers:

CUEMS: (212) 854-5555

Columbia Health Medical Services: (212) 854-7426

PCHS: (212) 854-2091

Hartley Pharmacy: (212) 749-8480

Northwell GoHealth Urgent Care at 103rd and Broadway: (718) 619-8261

Header via Bwarchives

Editor’s note: This article was updated on April 19, 2023, at 1:35 pm to reflect the correct phone number for Columbia Health Medical Services.