In The Dumps With The Mumps

On April 26, 2013, I woke up, and I just knew. Maybe it was that the right side of my face felt a little warmer than usual. Maybe it was that I had some trouble moving my jaw or that I couldn’t open my mouth all the way. I didn’t even need to look in the mirror—I just knew.

I had the mumps.

After confirming that my head was halfway to morphing into the shape of a football, I skipped my morning shower routine and made a beeline straight for University Health Services (UHS).

A few minutes in the waiting room and one WebMD-fueled research spiral later, and I was more confident in my self-diagnosis than ever (and less confident in my decision not to be pre-med than ever).

I stated my case to UHS. This has to be the mumps, I insisted. A month ago, I had visited a friend at the University of Richmond, where there had been a mumps outbreak. My symptoms fell a day or two outside the typical incubation period if I had contracted it at Richmond, but what else could have explained why I looked the way I looked?

I was vaccinated against the mumps, so they said it was probably just an infection or a virus.

I was unconvinced by these diagnoses, but I only had one option. I could take some ibuprofen, but I still had to go to Philosophy of the Person II, which was starting in 15 minutes.

I begrudgingly left UHS, went to class, and bided my time. They would take some blood work, run some tests, and get back to me in the next couple of days.

A few days later I heard back—the results showed that I did not have the mumps.

Another day or two passed, however, and I woke up and the other side of my jaw had begun to swell. Hood turned up, baseball cap and sunglasses on, I once again sprinted from my dorm on College Road to UHS with the reluctant hope that my suspicions would be confirmed.

At this point, the doctors seemed slightly less confident in their original diagnosis. They would run some more tests and get back to me sooner or later.

A few days later, I received a call. I needed to drop everything and get to UHS immediately. Several other students had come in with the same symptoms as me. I would need to be quarantined as I was likely contagious. What was I contagious with?
Oh, it was probably the mumps.

There might have been a certain solace in knowing that I was not crazy—that when everyone else was wrong, I was the one who was right. I was vindicated, certainly, but this solace would not bring down the swelling; it would not help me against the impending doom of finals; and it would not excuse my absence from philosophy.

You’ve probably heard stories exactly like mine (okay, maybe not exactly like mine) at least once or twice. One student receiving another’s lab results. No excused absences from class. Students not being prescribed the antibiotics that they just know will cure their cold. The complaints abound in freshman and senior residence halls alike.

How can a department whose job is literally to care for the student body be the subject of so much negative criticism and vitriol? If something is broken, it should be fixed.

I needed to get to the bottom of why UHS wasn’t being fixed, so I went straight to the source, and I found out that UHS might not be broken after all. Maybe some of the student body’s complaints weren’t that legitimate, and maybe the ones that were legitimate were overshadowing all of the success that UHS has every year.

“When you have 27,000 visits, there are going to be a few people that are not happy,” said Thomas Nary, director of UHS. “If someone’s not happy, they’re more vociferous.”

Twenty-seven thousand visits seems like a lot. This number put the issue into perspective for me.

I also realized that I was guilty of being an unhappy, vociferous student. Rather than going to UHS to complain about how I was unsatisfied with the way my case of the mumps was handled, I took the least productive route possible—I sat around and complained to my friends. While wallowing in my own swollen self-pity, I had asked myself (and anyone who would stand within five feet of me), “How could UHS not realize it was the mumps? Weren’t all the signs there?”

Well, since then, I have had a revelation. This uncommon, random disease had not been seen in years—it would have been great if the professionals could have caught it, but it is completely understandable that they did not.

I wish I had done more and let UHS know that I had an issue with how my case was handled, and next time I will. Although there is no formal process for submitting feedback—complaints, concerns, or compliments—to UHS online (and I really think there should be), we have email addresses, and UHS is readily available at [email protected]. Let them know what the problem is. On Main Campus, you’re probably never more than a 15-minute walk from UHS, so stop by and voice your concerns if you have them.

Despite whatever negative experiences students may have had with UHS, we need to work together to make sure our issues are addressed. Its staff is there for us. They take care of us when we drink too much, give us flu shots, and make sure we don’t die. They deserve our respect and our help, just as we deserve to be able to voice our concerns and complaints in a constructive way.

Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Editor

About Mike Pescuma 5 Articles
Michael Pescuma is a staff Opinions columnist for The Heights. He is a member of the Class of 2015 and is majoring in political science with a minor in Management & Leadership. He began writing for The Heights in September 2014.