Mono diagnosis at GW means a semester filled with struggle

I almost blacked out when the nurse at the Colonial Health Center told me that my $10 instant blood test was “a strong positive” for mono. It was midterms. I had five tests over the next four days and it took two people and a ginger ale to keep me from fainting off the examination table from anxiety. I was prescribed a high-strength dose of ibuprofen and a steroid for my pain, but the only thing I was given for my classes was a vague, standardized note that asked my professors to “consider my diagnosis when assessing class absence and assignment completion.” Turns out, the other unwritten symptoms of mono include low attendance, dropping grades and falling behind in every subject.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo Sydney Erhardt

My doctor’s note didn’t offer professors an explanation of my individual case, which was severe to say the least: I had a 102 degree fever, achy joints, splitting headaches, swollen lymph nodes and on top of everything, I caught a rare strain of strep throat. But my professors would never know that, nor were they required to accommodate me. Bismark State College classifies mono as a temporary medical condition so that students can qualify for services like extra allotted absences, notetakers and even special testing circumstances during the course of their illness. To alleviate additional headaches for students with mono, GW should integrate similar, low-cost policies into their Disability Support Services office so that a mono diagnosis is not a GPA death-sentence.

Although the “kissing disease” seems infamous, most people don’t actually understand mono. Mono is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. It is easy to catch and college campuses seem to be a breeding ground for the illness. It is transmitted through saliva, so anyone can be infected through a cough or sneeze, or by sharing glasses and food utensils. More than 95 percent of adults in the U.S. have been exposed to Epstein-Barr, but only 35 to 50 percent of these adolescents and young adults ages 10 to 19 develop symptoms. Symptoms like fever and sore throat usually lessen within a couple of weeks, but extreme fatigue and painful lymph nodes can last for months longer. At the bare minimum, GW’s mono note should add a short description of what mono is and the symptoms commonly associated with it so that students don’t need to educate their professors.

Cartoon by Emily Venezky

Cartoon by Emily Venezky

Missing two weeks of class feels like a lifetime. My perfect attendance record was tarnished and consequently, so were my grades. I’m taking a 7 a.m. LSPA class this year on high-intensity interval training workouts, and like the name implies, it’s intense. Despite the fact many patients with mono have enlarged spleens that could rupture unless they avoid strenuous exercise, it is University policy to fail students who miss more than six sessions of an LSPA class. I don’t plan to fail my college gym class, but it became a close possibility.

Students with mono at Drexel University don’t have to worry about dropping a class due to low attendance because their health center provides excused absence notes directly to professors for students who will be out of class for an extended period of time. Franklin and Marshall College offers the same kind of policy, and their director of health services will personally email professors with the student’s consent. GW should allow extra excused absences for students who are diagnosed with mono, especially if participating in class activities could worsen their condition.

Even in my classes with “unlimited excused absences,” I was still struggling to study for tests and quizzes with blank notebooks and no lecture notes. Very few of my professors post daily notes on Blackboard and classmates around me weren’t able to give me helpful notes. Texas A&M University’s Counseling and Career Services Office helps to prevent students from falling behind by recruiting volunteer note takers for students with temporary disabilities, which includes severe cases of mono. GW already recruits note takers, but they’re only available to students who are registered with DSS. Because this is a pre-existing service, it would be easy to include students with mono.

After 23 emails to my professors, I was able to schedule makeup tests for two of my midterms. And following a few all-nighters – which were not recommended by my doctor – I’m very proud of the B’s I earned. But perhaps if GW had an alternative-environment testing center, rescheduling would have been less of a hassle for my professors and me. At the College of St. Scholastica, the Center for Equal Access’ Testing Center can be used by students who were diagnosed with illnesses that have long-term effects, like mono. St. Scholastica’s testing center is located in their library and there’s definitely some unused space in Gelman Library that could be designated for the same purpose.

At any given time, there are 11 to 48 cases of mono for every 1,000 college students, and symptoms can linger for weeks and even months. It’s mid-November and my health is on the mend, but my grades are still recovering because GW’s support for students with mono needs to consist of more than just two sentences on a piece of paper.

Sydney Erhardt, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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