It's the end of week 4, and so far I've heard about
- One student's diagnosis with stage 2 cervical cancer and the surgery to remove her cervix;
- Another student's aunt's brain tumor, and the surgery to remove it;
- Another's HIV test scare;
- Another's cramps, and how they kept her from participating in class discussion.
And it's not just in person. Here's an excerpt from a recent student e-mail:
I was the girl that had the busted eardrum. Anyways, I just got back from the emergency room because my ear started bleeding out again. I'm concerning you with this because I have to go to the ENT's (Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctors) tomorrow at 9:30am, so they can figure out what the next step is to do with this because this isn't supposed to happen. I was there last Friday for it and they gave me the antibiotics and ear drops to heal the infection in my eardrum and behind it, because when my eardrum actually busted they didn't catch it at Student Health. So, by the time I made it to the ENT's after that the first time my eardrum had already healed, BUT with the infection still in my eardrum and behind it. Therefore, I _might_ miss your class tomorrow.
Why, oh why, can't students use that specificity of detail in their papers?
And just this morning, a student came to drop off her paper and to let me know that she wouldn't be in class because she's got bronchitis. Suddenly she started taking off her jacket and rolling up her sleeve, saying, "Look where they put the IV! Why would they use that vein?"
Now, I'm used to hearing such things occasionally throughout a semester. And I know that some students worry that if they don't tell you the gory details of their illness, you may not believe they were actually sick. But this semester, I've heard something like this literally Every. Single. Day.
Here's my theory about what's going on: gray hair.
I'm not ashamed to admit that I've been coloring my hair for years. Last summer I decided to try to grow the color out, partly because it was starting to feel dishonest, partly because it was damaging my hair, and partly because I was just curious as to how much gray there was. It seemed like a good time to do it, since I wasn't teaching in the fall, and wouldn't have an audience for the really awkward two-tone phase.
So, this is the first time I've ever been in the classroom as a gray-haired, middle-aged woman, who's visibly the age of my students' mothers. I honestly think that this sudden surge of confessional stuff, especially around health issues, is due to the fact that I look like I care. Or like I have to care, because I'm the right age, the right sex, the right hair shade.
I'm half tempted to dye it again just to stem the tide of TMI.
But then I might miss the occasional gem, like the student who told me that she'd missed class because she'd been taking Nyquil for a cold and didn't know that it would make her sleepy. She just couldn't figure out why she was so tired all the time until someone explained to her that, well, you're only supposed to take Nyquil at night.