The Middlebury Epidemic

By Guest Contributor

Winter term is wonderful for so many reasons: more fun with friends, homework for only one class and ample time to plan elaborately themed parties, make a kickass broomball team or construct an igloo outside your dorm. These are the parts of winter term that we like to remember — the memories that give us those warm fuzzy feelings about college. However, there’s a darker, more sinister side to winter term that we conveniently forget. It strikes in the first two weeks, silently and painfully creeping its way through every nook and cranny on campus. It keeps people up at night, makes them scared to leave their dorms or enter the crowded dining hall. All we can do is sit by and watch, crossing our fingers that our immune system will hold its ground as our community turns into a scene from the movie Contagion. Trade your skis and hot cocoa for tissues and chicken noodle soup. The Middlebury epidemic has struck again.

Of my four years on campus, I have seen three of these unfortunate events. First, it was the swine flu. During its wrath, one-third of my freshman dorm was quarantined. My good friend and hallmate was left to wallow in an oppressively hot room with a broken heater that was stuck on high. She couldn’t come out and facilities couldn’t go in — an uncomfortable experience for everyone. There were rumors that a building was going to transform into an infirmary. While that never came to fruition, the swine flu was a solid introduction to the Middlebury epidemic’s potential.

Next came gastro. Swift departures from class, pale faces and crowded bathrooms — gastro is a fresh memory for many of us. Last J-term was as much about vomit and diarrhea as it was about, well, J-term. With everyone eating in the same dining halls and living in close quarters, gastro’s epic proportions were hardly a surprise.

This year, it is the flu. Only one week into winter term and it had already reared its ugly head. Half of my friends are out of commission. Events have been cancelled. The health center’s supply of flu vaccines is a hot commodity. We wash our hands more than usual, keep our water bottles close by and are grateful for the extra hours of sleep winter term affords. But we cannot get away from the inevitable reality that when you live with 2,400 friends — eating the same food, hugging, maybe kissing — things are bound to get messy. For many of us, that will mean getting sick.

If you happen to fall victim to this year’s small-scale epidemic, follow the usual protocol: drink plenty of liquids, sleep as much as you can, monitor your temperature, take it easy and limit your contact with others. The health center is there if you need it. Shamelessly ask for favors from your friends and use Hulu for all it is worth. The flu is uncomfortable and it is gross, and there is little you can do to avoid that reality.

While there are plenty of very valid reasons to dread the Middlebury epidemic’s arrival, it would be disingenuous for me to pretend that I hate all of it. I could certainly do without the fever, chills, headache, congestion and contagious friends. But in a strange way, it is during these most miserable times that we come together. There’s something profound about sharing a dismal experience with another person. We stockpile oranges for emergency consumption, bring ibuprofen and Gatorade to our friends’ bedside and make bets about who will drop next. Especially during my first year at Middlebury, it was the swine flu that brought me closer to my new friends than any Bunker dance party. Every year around this time, I get a refresher course in the positive effects the Middlebury epidemic has on our little community. The silver lining may not be apparent at first, but it is certainly there.

The flu hasn’t reached me yet this year. I am treating every moderately scratchy throat as a sign of its imminent arrival. I wake up and assess how my body feels. I eat oranges like it’s my job. I’m ready to take it on if I must. And though I am hoping to be spared from this bout of the Middlebury epidemic, I know that, regardless of my immune system’s heartiness, we will all get through it, together, one more time.

Written by ADDIE CUNNIFF ’13 of Tucson, Ariz.