12—the number of days I haven’t been able to eat anything solid.
4—the number of times I have been to Student Health last week.
There are many reasons I miss home, but being sick tops the list. For the past two weeks, my body has been on a rollercoaster of emotional and physical plunges. My diet has been reduced to broth and Gatorade, and, like clockwork, my day usually ends after dinner when the pain commences.
“It’s just a stomach bug from food,” the doctors told me. All I can do is wait. I will soon be able to eat and work and run and dance like I used to.
Lies. All lies.
I have been living with a monster inside of me for the past two weeks. Every time I eat anything remotely tasteful, I feed this growing monster and it rejoices by producing painful orchestras of celebrations inside of me.
With exams, quizzes and assignments due every single day of the week, I began to think that I was mistaking pain for stress. Certainly the doctors made me believe that it was all mental. That maybe I didn’t want to admit that my plate was a little full, and I was a little overwhelmed. That ‘going to bed early’ was because I was sick and not because I was slacking.
I am certain that I had some sort of gastrointestinal pain. But I also admit that this pain was exacerbated by other factors. My body was screaming what I was too scared to vocalize, but it’s in this vulnerability that one grows. There is no perfect student. It’s okay to fall down and fall behind. It’s okay to admit weaknesses and limits, and it’s okay to disappear from this ordered-disordered world. It’s okay to surrender. Duke can take the backseat for a while.
I’m not saying school is not important. I am, after all, a Duke student and I would be a hypocrite in denying education’s rewards. But, as students, we need to take a step back and evaluate what we’ve learned and how we’re learning it. Are we able to hold a conversation about our first semester’s courses? How many months does it take before those lectures become faint memories? Duke academic life is scripted into a predictable storyline. Sure, we can regurgitate formulas, theories, mechanisms and definitions better than most people I know. But that’s not what our classrooms are for. That’s why we have Wikipedia. Surely, our Duke education is more valuable than the education we were able to access for free years ago.
And it is. Rather, it can be.
Duke affords us an experience to gain intellectual, personal and social capital. To take what we learn in the classroom and transform it into meaningful projects that impact others in a meaningful way. To implement programs in communities that need it the most. To realize that the world we live in isn’t the same world that others experience. And that most of those people have different needs and want us to be asking deeper questions behind those theories and formulas we memorize. A Duke education is for more than us.
And let’s be real. We’re all guilty of falling into the GPA trap. Who cares how well we did? It’s the curve that matters, right? Far too early in my Duke experience, I was introduced to the mentality that the number of hours in Perkins translates into success, but the hard truth is that transcripts can only take us so far. It’s your life experiences—your failures and successes and your relationship with the people along the journey—that will long outlast your GPA and will have the greatest impact on your post-graduate opportunities.
After all, it was my friends—not my professors—who came with me to the ER that night.
Being sick at Duke isn’t a case of bad fortune. Being sick at Duke is a glorious reminder to slow down. It’s a reminder to invest and reinvest in other learning sources, a.k.a. people and experiences. It’s a reminder to listen to the monster that’s dwelling inside of you and taking advantage of the damaging effects of student life. Duke Students, in an environment that tells you the sky’s the limit, it’s okay to remind ourselves we don’t need to be pushing this limit 24/7.
So, after my first ER experience, I decided to fill out my own prescription. I got in bed, opened Scandal and forgot about Duke for a while. Forgot about the tests, assignments and deadlines hinging in the horizon. Forgot that grades mattered and forgot that classes existed. As soon as I forgot about the transient elements of my Duke experience, I remembered that I am the doctor of my own body.
Leena El-Sadek is a Trinity junior. This is her final column of the semester. Send Leena a message on Twitter @lelsadek15.