Cough drops and workshops: being sick at cherubs

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Samantha Meade (far left) lunches at 1835 Hinman with a tall glass of Emergen-C and friends Ella Brockway, Avni Prasad and Jessie Millman. Photo by Paige Fishman.

I used nine tissues at my first instructor meeting. My eyes felt heavy and my nose was clogged. All 11 faces in my group were staring at me, mixtures of pity and disgust. We were only four days into the program, the time when everyone was making friends, and I was the germy girl.

This was my biggest fear. I wasn’t nervous about meeting 79 new people. I wasn’t afraid of being homesick. No, I was worried about just getting sick.

There’s something about being sick in a foreign place that is always really hard for me. Without the comforts of my own bed and family, I fear that my mere cold will spiral downward and restrict me from being my usual bubbly self.

But when I blew my nose for the ninth time during that group meeting, all of my soon-to-be friends didn’t shift away from me. Instead, we all laughed together at the elephant-like noise my nose made in the tissue.

The next day, I was still struggling with my nerves. I managed to play off my cold in my instructor meeting like it wasn’t a big deal, but I was still overwhelmed with making new friends without spreading “the plague.” How do I act approachable while fighting congestion and a cough? I pictured walking up to a group of kids and letting out one of my piercing sneezes and watching them run away in fear.

But I put all of those worries aside after our morning class and got the courage to just talk to people like I normally do. Trying to mask my exhaustion, I worked up a conversation with a group of girls. We bonded over hobbies, mutual friends and, more importantly, fruit. This one conversation brought us to a juice place, Peeled, in Evanston. I ordered some concoction with several vitamins, immune boosters and spices — anything that would help my cold.

Ten minutes into laughing and bonding over our love of fresh fruits, I completely forgot that I was sick. It was as if forgetting about my cold actually worked better than any medicine or cough drop could. It was the excitement of meeting new people that ultimately overpowered my congestion.

As my cold dwindled, I made my closest friends with the help of my illness. Whether I was eating at 1835 Hinman or in town, I would whip out grapefruit Emergen-C packets. On field trips, I stocked up on a bag of cough drops. During lectures, my backpack was stuffed with packs of Kleenexes.

By focusing on the program, my huge fear of being sick didn’t seem like a big deal. In the past when I didn’t feel well while away, I would let sickness ruin my day. I would exhaust myself by worrying about being sick and wouldn’t even give myself a chance to beat the cold.

As a cherub, I realized that feeling run down didn’t have to mean that I wasn’t going to have fun. By embracing my cold, I not only felt better but I also bonded with incredible people who are now my closest friends.