Just over three weeks ago, I found myself lying on a bench in the middle of the woods at youth group camp, crying. Burning, screaming pain like I’ve never felt before was running up my left leg into my back – I thought I was dying. It turns out I had herniated a disk in my lower back that had lodged itself into the bundle of nerves that activate the left leg. Three days later, a neurosurgeon removed the disk and, aside from short-term nerve damage limiting my ability to walk unassisted, my life returned to a semblance of normal.

As someone deeply committed to health, the entire experience was somewhat jarring. I had spent the past week crediting the developing lower back pain to a pulled muscle or, more likely, to sleeping on crappy camp beds. I had ignored my body’s way of telling me there was a problem – with semi-disastrous results – and it got me thinking.

No one plans on getting sick or injured in college. Whether you find yourself married to a box of Kleenex, addicted to Advil Cold/Sinus or a personal friend of the ice machine after what was supposed to be a simple night of movies and popcorn, every past and current college student can attest to the fact that the college environment breeds illness, injury and disease.

From simple colds and drunkenly acquired bruises to more serious medical concerns such as strep throat, meningitis, mono and clear injuries, no college student will graduate unscathed. However, there is a fine line between a simple cold and pneumonia, and it is part of our responsibility to ourselves as we take that important step into semi-adulthood to learn about our minds and bodies so that we can make educated decisions about our health. Like an aura before a seizure, learn your warning signs. Know that for you, a simple cold starts with a sore throat or a headache that’s a little unusual, and notice the ankle that doesn’t quite seem to be healing correctly. Remember that you paid a mandatory health fee to University Health Service and that you can access medical care on campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the entire academic year by either calling the Medical Emergency Response Team at x13 or contacting UHS at x5-2662.

There is also a University Counseling Center professional on-call every hour of every day who can be reached in an emergency at x5-3113.

I’m not advocating reckless use of University Medical Services – sometimes a stubbed toe simply is a stubbed toe – but I am saying that we, as students, need to take personal responsibility for our health and safety, make good choices, advocate for our rights and utilize the medical system when and as appropriate.

Know what’s normal for you, and more importantly, what’s not – and take an active role in ensuring a healthy year.

Newman works in the Health Promotion Office of the University Health Service and can be reached at jnewman@campustimes.org.

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