UT needs to consider mono student medical emergency

Jennifer Beck

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine became very ill and displayed symptoms including fatigue, nausea, sore throat and a dangerously high, hallucination-inducing fever. After visiting a doctor, he was told he most likely had mononucleosis, or “mono.” 

He visited the Student Emergency Services website, intending to contact them about his condition, so they could inform his professors of the situation while he took the time he needed to recover. 

However, upon reaching the website, he discovered Student Emergency Services does not consider mono an emergency, and he would need to contact each individual professor himself to inform them of his condition.

His sickness ended up being a bad case of strep throat, but I can’t help but think about all the challenges he would’ve faced if he truly did have mono. The period that an individual experiences symptoms can last for many weeks, and the academic stress of trying to inform professors of the situation and stay on top of schoolwork is a large burden to bear for students in bad health.

The Student Emergency Services website has a list of illnesses and situations labeled “critical situations and/or medical or family emergencies,” and a separate list of conditions labeled “not considered emergencies.” For the latter, “related absences should be addressed directly with faculty.”

The Office of the Dean of Students, which oversees Student Emergency Services, should remove mononucleosis from the “not an emergency” category and include the illness in the “critical situations and/or medical or family emergencies” category. 

“Mononucleosis is a virus infection,” said Dr. Melinda McMichael, a physician at University Health Services. “And typically the most common symptoms of mono are extreme fatigue, often fever, headache, sore throat, sometimes some nausea, a loss of appetite and occasionally a rash.”

According to Dr. McMichael, since mono is a virus that doesn’t respond to antibiotics, mono can only be treated with lots of rest, self-care, and nutrition.

Biochemistry and Plan II sophomore Aidan Comiskey said he was diagnosed with mono on the first day of class this semester.

“It was pretty awful,” Comiskey said. “I felt generally sick — like I had the flu with a fever, body aches, and huge lymph nodes. I was also sleeping 12 plus hours a night and not feeling rested when I woke up.”

Comiskey said his fatigue made it really difficult to get work done, even after he started to feel better. He said he even thought about withdrawing from school this semester, having known others who did so. 

For students struggling with extreme fatigue and other debilitating symptoms, making sure all academic bases are covered can be overwhelming. This is where Student Emergency Services is needed.

Sara Kennedy, the director of strategic & executive communications for the Office of the Dean of Students, said the service is for “those situations where it is potentially too much to contact faculty members, as well as in cases when faculty ask for additional (verification). Sometimes a faculty member will ask for an absence verification from Student Emergency Services to verify the absence.”

This resource is great for students trying to attend to their emergencies while also managing their school lives. However, as mono is not considered a medical emergency, the burden of contacting and managing class absences falls solely on the patient. Without the support of Student Emergency Services, students experiencing mono might not be excused from class or assignments.

Like students who have been hospitalized, a student suffering from mono should not be expected to contact and coordinate academic accommodations entirely on their own during their recovery period.

 To alleviate stress and assist students who have been diagnosed with mono, the Office of the Dean of Students should classify mono as a medical emergency with Student Emergency Services. This would allow students with mono to use Student Emergency Services resources, lessening their burden and enabling them to rest and focus on their recovery.

Beck is a radio-television-film freshman from Park Ridge, Illinois.