Wednesday, May 7, 2014

You were sick with what?

Charlie was in my office, pretty much in tears. He had failed Underwater Basket Weaving three times, and we won't let people who fail three times continue, no matter how much they cry or how much money they offer.

But he had an excuse. He had just gotten out of the hospital before he took the last exam. I was offered the hospital report in order to see that it was true. On the release form it stated:

Treatment for Tuberculosis. No longer infectious.

WTF? Charlie, I saw you in class every week. I heard you coughing. Wazzup?

"Oh, I was in and picked up some sort of an infection. But they gave me medicine and I'm fine now, even if I had quite a cough. But I had to go to the hospital for a checkup, the University Medical Center said, even though it was just before finals. I was exhausted by all the tests they ran and couldn't concentrate on my studies."

I managed to get him out of my office and felt the drastic need to shower in disinfectant. Who knew that this kid was on TBC medication and let him still attend classes? Put him on sick leave, refund his tuition, but don't let him breathe on everyone else! On the other hand, maybe I should have sent him to Evil Administration Office for a cough or three....

-- Suzy from Square State 


  1. Tuberculosis treatment takes at least six months. During this time, the patient may only be contagious for two weeks or so (or never, if the tuberculosis is latent). Because the student was coughing, chances are he was ill at that time. By the time the University Medical Center wanted him to get a checkup (and later on when you saw the student), you had already been exposed to the infection (or not really, if you were never close enough) and most likely were not anymore since the student had been treated. Therefore, the University Medical Center did not protect you while the student was ill but created extra problems by advising the student to go to the hospital just before finals. I can understand why they advised/mandated a checkup: they wouldn't want to be in the position of explaining why a potentially contagious person was allowed to return to class without documentation proving that he was not contagious.

  2. Eek! I'm not as knowledgeable as Monica (apparently) is, but I'm aware that not only is TB still out there, a lot of it is now drug-resistant. I'd be alarmed, too (and probably inclined to ask some pointed questions of the university medical officials myself). On the other hand, I have the impression that hospitals, public health services, et al. usually take this problem pretty seriously, and alert people who need to be alerted. I've never received a warning that I, personally, was potentially exposed, but I'm pretty sure that I've seen at least one general notice saying that there had been a case on campus and that those who needed to receive more specific information had, and I know that similar situations occur with some regularity, with appropriate warnings, in the local public schools.

    Still, between the spread of drug-resistant TB, the spread of various once-exotic diseases via international travel (which our students and faculty do plenty of, for both personal and business reasons), and the general rise of antibiotic resistance in all kinds of microbes, I occasionally find myself worrying that situations in pre-20th-century lit. that my students blithely dismiss as being things that only happened in the past may once again become familiar.

    Of course, there's also a part of me that thinks that a few months in a TB sanitarium sounds sort of restful. Except that (1) I'm not sure that TB sanitariums exist anymore, (2) I'm aware that having a potentially-fatal disease is, in fact, far from restful, and (3) I'd probably find myself teaching online while recuperating anyway.

  3. I'd guess that fate is telling this student that "Underwater Basket Weaving" is not to be his career.

    1. I'm reminded of something I either heard or read a long time ago: "Failure is nature's way of telling you to quit."

    2. I can see the point. If "Underwater Basket Weaving" was his true vocation, he probably wouldn't have needed to take the course three times. However, he may be able to argue that he was finally going to make it and ultimately failed because of illness or, even worse, for having attempted to soldier on and pass the course now instead of getting a medical withdrawal and starting over some other time. If, by any chance, he was already likely to fail by the time he fell ill or obtained documentation of his illness, that doesn't necessarily mean that he wouldn't have been able to withdraw on medical grounds and get a fourth chance.

    3. Probably the TB on top of failing 3 times was the ultimate "clue by four."

  4. Oh, I grew up in countries with TB, and TB "germs" are all around us, just like the common cold ones and yet we don't have epidemics of TB anymore, so no cause for alarm... unless this student coughed on you. Then... well...