Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Rheum and Roomies: Starting College

My lovely roommate Laura and I on 
the Mississippi for a riverboat cruise.
       I'm starting my second week at Tulane University, and needless to say I am absolutely in love with it. How could I not be? New Orleans is the best ever, and I really enjoyed spending the weekend in the city, living it up at Southern Decadence. Of course, it's a big transitional time, but I would say that it has been very smooth so far. My roommate and suitemates are wonderful, I'm not feeling homesick, and I just really love life here.

     I was unsure for a long time whether going far away for college was the right thing to do. All of my close friends were headed to our local state school; they can see their families (including pets!) whenever they want. But while my mom was helping me pack a few days before we flew down to Louisiana, she said, "I'm really proud of you. Going far away is hard, especially when all of your friends are staying, and I think it's really brave." In the midst of all of my anxious uncertainty, her simple, earnest words meant the world to me. I picked what was for me the more difficult option and it has completely paid off. I'm doing something new and exciting, and I have four years to explore what I would argue is the best city in the world and what is inarguably the craziest, most unique city in the United States. I no longer feel unsure. I feel bold, confused by the street car system, unexpectedly cold, and lost whenever I end up on Canal Street, but I don't feel unsure.

     Of course, a new school comes with new accommodations to be requested and new people to get to know. These conversations have been popping up all over the place. I explained my syringe situation to my roommate so that my weekly Orencia injections wouldn't lead her to think I was shooting heroin, and today I met with the disability center to line up everything for my classes. I have already made some connections with other people living with autoimmune illnesses (what can I say, we sick people seem to have a knack for finding one another) and I've made tons of healthy friends, too. The pharmacy has most of my prescriptions, the allergist sent my serum, and I have a New Orleans rheumatologist in place. This week I am setting up meetings with all of my professors to ensure that they will not freak out when I need to type notes or wear a bulky gray knee brace. Because let's be real, it wouldn't be the first time.

      I also met with a physician at the student health center, just to go over some of my chronic conditions, review my allergy shot schedule, and have a baseline in case anything gets out of control. They will primarily be handling my asthma, which has been pretty tricky since my arrival. I will probably end up back there sometime this week or the next to have a spirometry and nebulizer test-thing done so that we can play with the dosage of my preventive medication and possibly tack on a few new strategies, but I feel very grateful that my asthma is the problem rather than my arthritis.

     When I went in for my initial appointment, a very personable and kind nurse sat with me in the exam room until the doctor arrived. "Are you on any medications?" she asked, with no background information on my health. I said that I was and explained my Orencia injections to her as she typed it into the computer. She seemed very impressed with my ability to give myself my own injections, and I felt a small beam of pride for being able to do so. After she inputted the correct dosage, she stood to hand me a clipboard of forms and leave.

     "Woah," I said, a little surprised, "I was just getting started." We laughed as I continued to ramble off medications until we finally got through my mental list. She typed it all in without a glimmer of pity on her face, which was much appreciated. "Okay, now we're done," I promised her. We talked for a few minutes about my arthritis and how that played into the rest of my health. Which brings me to my point, which is that nurses are basically the best people ever. Appreciate them. High-five them. Laugh with them.

     I'm hoping and expecting that overall, college will be conducive to my health. I think spending less time in class will allow me to have more control over my fatigue, and I am enjoying the freedom I have over how I use my time. I'm trying to be conscious of carving out time to rest and not over-committing myself. I'm saving up spoons (spoon theory) for fun activities like ballroom dancing, shopping trips, and New Orleans outings. I have no idea how much rheumatoid arthritis will affect me throughout the next four years, but I do know that I'm going to have a ton of fun.

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