Freshmen find many new health challenges

COLUMBIA, S.C. — As a college freshman, you need to learn a pastiche of new things — auto maintenance; sleeping through your roommate’s snoring; water imagery in 19th-century English poetry.

But the most important skill? Taking care of your health.

Most likely, you will get sick during your first semester. The factors working against you — stress, late hours, cafeteria food, and the Petri dish of dorm living — are a recipe for malaise. Your mom won’t be there with her cold washcloth and TV tray, so recovery (and prevention) are up to you.

“We get a lot of upper-respiratory problems and gastrointestinal illnesses,” said Cicely Jenkins, who’s been the director of nursing at the University of South Carolina for 18 years. “The season’s changing, and in the residence halls, one person gets something and it spreads.”

She added that mononucleosis — an infection that can keep its host out of commission for weeks — is another fairly common reason for visits to the health center.

There isn’t much you can do about mono except try not to give it to anyone else (don’t kiss or share eating utensils) while you’re waiting for it to clear up.

Intramural sports account for many student injuries, so the university offers an orthopedic clinic twice a week and a sports medicine clinic once a week.

For many freshmen, this fall will be their first time handling chronic health conditions alone. Benedict College head nurse Patricia Powell said that “quite a few” of Benedict’s 2,800 students have chronic medical problems such as high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes.

“Some of them have a hard time managing,” she said. “We do case management — we have them come back and visit us, give them handouts to read and schedule doctor’s appointments.”