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Living in a dorm has its perks, of course--no looking for parking spaces at eight a.m., lots of people to talk to, parties just upstairs so you can get entirely smashed and not have to go through the ordeal of going home afterward, not having to clean the bathroom, and being able to roll out of bed and go to class in your pajamas if you damn well want to. But, as we all know, the dorm also has some terrible points--it's crowded, so loud you can't study, full of obnoxious people, smells funny, and, last but not least, is the breeding ground for a little something known as dorm illness.

See, dorms, while certainly designed to hold as many people as possible, are not planned to keep these people healthy. You may have noticed, for example, that most dorm rooms have a radiator along the wall, right under the window, and that this radiator is extremely difficult to wrangle into giving off any sort of acceptable temperature. In my experience, the room is always too hot. You have to deal with this by opening the window. This is not so bad until about November. So then you have a combination of too-hot and too-cold air either belching or shrieking into your room at any given time. Depending on the layout of the room, and how crowded everything is, your bed may easily be right up against the window/radiator combination, leaving you, while sleeping, extremely susceptible to sharp changes in temperature. You may even get snowed on, if you're lucky.

Everyone in the dorm is in this circumstance, and there can be any number of people in the dorm. You are all crowded against each other every day in the hallways and bathrooms. The ventilation systems in the dorms are not exactly adequate, either. So once someone in a dorm gets sick, at least their roommate will get sick. Each of them will go down the hall, to lunch, to class, to wherever. They will cough discreetly and blow their nose in the corner, hold up their head with one hand so they can take notes with the other. They will stare at their dinner with a cottony taste in their mouths, and decide to just have some tea instead. Then they will go home and go to bed with a bottle of Nyquil. Their friends, significant others, neighbors, professors, and classmates will be down within a week.

Dorm illness tends to happen in waves, generally two waves per semester (I have no idea how this works in the quarter system). The first wave starts around the beginning of October, when you first start to hear bitching about midterms. Everyone is digging in for the first real, serious work of the year, starting to feel actual academic pressure, and outside it is constantly getting colder. So the stress rate goes up. People stay up later and later, panicking over an exam the next day. They eat ramen in their rooms instead of going to the cafeteria. They run outside to class, late, realizing too late they should have brought their coat. They study in groups of stressed, hurried people, one of whom is sniffing already, or has a sick boyfriend. They strain their immune systems to the limit, and past it, and then it breaks and they're down for the week in bed.

Of course, people recover, with newly fortified immune systems, and the first week of November is cheerful and relieved. There are probably only a few people left sick, those whose immune systems held up for the longest time, and they're almost through--they are well enough to come to class in an annoyed fashion, bearing packets of kleenex and cups of scalding coffee. They complain about being sick instead of just lying in bed, unable to move; this is a sure sign of recovery. But they still have germs to pass off, and they are in class, coughing, and so those who were sick at the beginning of the cycle are about to re-catch a slightly different strain of the same illness. Just in time for finals!

While not often really debilitating, dorm illness is very irritating. If you are on campus at all, you can't escape it--everyone is sick sick sick all the time, and you are always sitting just two seats down, three behind them in line. And since everyone pushes themselves so hard, the minor flu can escalate to a major problem. During my freshman year, for example, there was a very nasty strain of both bronchitis and strep throat going around. No class was more than half full. While this is a rare occurrence, it can happen.

So be sure to take care of yourself, or, if it's too late already (and it may be--my whole house all came down with colds yesterday and this morning), get your roommate or friends to bring you medicine and soup. Do not go to class unless absolutely necessary. Seriously, call your profs and get the hell in bed.

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