I spent the weeks leading up to finals with one fervent prayer: could I not, just this once, be entirely stressed out during finals week? Could I take these tests in peace and keep them in perspective, could I please remember that they’re just tests and that they’re going to come and go?
I shared this with my boyfriend, who nodded his head in understanding. Being nineteen is just like that, he had said. There’s something about the hormones and the stress, but things will change over the next few years. Hang in there.
I’m not sure why finals week was so bad in the past, why I couldn’t seem to just get through it like a rational human. But something about the flurry of too hard exams and too close grades teetering between minus and plus signs threatening to ruin my GPA just created the perfect storm.
And so I prepared to hunker down for another end of semester typhoon: struggling under hours of studying, spending more time rolling around in bed thinking about failing all of my classes and trying to recall calculus theorems than actually sleeping, and dragging my body to the library instead of the dining hall each morning.
But then on the first dead day, the beginning of a two day hiatus in which the university gifts students a full 48 hours to study before the onslaught, I woke up with the flu. At 8 am I staggered out of bed, telling my roommate I felt a little funny, but passed it off as nerves. At 9 am, I opened my online homework and tried to study. By 11, I was shivering uncontrollably. I think I’m gunna go back to bed. I staggered back to my dorm room and slithered under a pile of blankets. I woke up a few hours later considerably worse. My head was spinning and I was sure I was running a temperature. I tried to open up my calculus textbook, but I spent five minutes staring at the page before I accepted reality: I was in no position to study. I was too weak to feel guilty- normally I would feel a twinge of embarrassment over my apparently weak work ethic. A better student would be able to study through the pain. But when my roommate returned to the room that night and told me that I just needed to tell myself I wasn’t sick, I knew this was more than just the common cold that I could power through. I slept through the next two days, waking up to take the maximum recommended daily dose of acetamenophin, falling asleep, and waking back up to throw up the aforementioned medication.
By Thursday night, I revived myself from my fugue state long enough to compose coherent emails to my professors. “I’m not well enough to take your final, how do I handle this situation?”
Their replies were overwhelmingly unsatisfactory: It turns out handling having the flu during finals week means taking finals with the flu.
So I took exams, half shaking, half coughing, sitting in the classroom until I could circle an answer for every question on the test, leaving as soon as my Scantron had fifty penciled in bubbles. I was the first to leave the room. When I made it back to my dorm, I crawled into my bed and fell into uneasy sleep.
By Monday, I made it onto my flight home to New York in some semblance of order. My symptoms had largely dissipated other than an unrelenting, hacking cough. I had taken all of my finals but one, which had been pushed off until January by a merciful professor. And with vague feelings of uneasiness about the probability of the flu having just ruined grades which I had been working hard all semester to maintain, I realized with a weird feeling of satisfaction that during this whole ordeal, I hadn’t succumbed to unsurmountable anxiety. In fact, I had felt almost none.
I spent the week in bed, sweating and crying, and I hadn’t had the energy to really care about finals. I took my exams without studying, I did what I could, and I moved forward, because it was really the only option. So here I was, sitting on a plane, waiting to finally be back home, but feeling oddly satisfied, because, after all, we don’t get to choose how God answers prayer, but He will answer, and sometimes, in the weirdest of ways, getting the flu can feel like an answered prayer.