THE “D” WORD
IBD AND COLLEGE
Going off to college is a transition time that brings joys and worries for any family. This transition can be particularly nerve-racking for parents whose child is also dealing with a chronic illness. The normal worries of what clothes to take, what classes to take and, for the parent, how to pay for it are all there. And along with these are questions of medical care.
So, for those parents going through this, I'll list my few words of advice. I asked my daughter her thoughts on what would be helpful to students with IBD going off to college. Her suggestions follow mine.
The good news is that colleges are usually accommodating to special needs, if at all possible. I visited the college. I went to the Dean's opening welcome where he thanked us, the parents, for bringing our children (and our money) to this fine institution.
I visited the dorm, met the roommate, consoled my daughter on the size of the closets or lack thereof and tramped around the campus on the usual parents' tour. Then, I made a few extra visits. I was happy to find the following:
1. You can probably request a room with a bathroom that should make life easier for a young person with IBD. Make these arrangements before you get to campus. You may need a note from your doctor for any special requests.
2. My daughter tells me the food is gross at college. That is nothing new to me. She says the same thing about my cooking. A chat with the food service at school may be helpful. They are often more than willing to accommodate a special diet. Also, you can rent a small refrigerator for the dorm room. This is handy for special diet items or vitamins or medicines that need refrigeration.
3. I visited the Health Center on campus. I asked to speak to one of the doctors and chatted with her about my daughter's condition. I inquired as to the facilities there and what they would do if their facilities didn't cover the situation.
I made sure that they knew what medication, if any, she was on and which ones she was not to take. Before I left, I made sure that my phone number and my office number were in her medical records as well as the numbers of both her doctors back home.
Naturally, I hoped that my daughter would never have to go to the Health Center, but I left feeling confident about the facility and the people there. It made me feel much better about leaving her.
If you are not able to visit the campus, a few phone calls will go far to further your peace of mind.
Even if your child stays home and attends the local college, you may need special accommodations. One young woman dealing with IBD, living at home, and taking classes at her local junior college tired easily. The college moved her class to a building right near the parking lot, and to a first floor classroom near the door, so that she could attend. I was very touched at hearing that the college would make such accommodations and at the determination of this young person.
In some ways, the physicality of it all is the easy part. The emotional side of parting and dealing with this life transition on the family is more subtle, but just as difficult. I joke that now I have my car back but that just symbolizes, really, not having her around.
That part of us that listens for them to come in at night, that follows their goings and comings, that stocks the fridge with their favorites, that makes sure they keep their doctor's appointment -- what is that part to do now?
For many of us, it is a serious question and it is part of the transition that is taking place. It's a shift for the whole family, not just the young person. Luckily, my daughter has a phone in her room, an answering machine, and e-mail. Oh, times have changed.
I notice that she can e-mail me and tell me how she feels, but it is actually hearing her voice that lets me judge how she really is. So for me, keeping in touch is important. I never complain about the phone bill. In fact, I was on the phone with her and mentioned I was writing this column. She had these recommendations for students:
1. Even if you are feeling fine when you get to campus, go talk to all of your teachers individually. Make an office appointment with them. You don't need to explain everything about your condition if you don't want to, but enough so that they understand that because of IBD you may be late to class, may have to leave in the middle of class, or may miss class.
This is important because they are usually very strict about how many classes you can miss. Ask early in the semester about ways to make up these classes. Don't wait until you miss class to talk to the teacher.
There may be another student in the class or a TA that you can arrange with to take notes for you if you are absent. Set up a system so you can call or whatever. The important thing is to set up a system.
2. Early on, make an ally at the Health Center. Stop by and talk to someone there. This person can be very helpful in telling you who on campus to talk to about any special needs you may have. If necessary, this person can send notices to teachers or help with problems that may arise.
At my school, there is an Office For Disabilities at the Health Center. I talked to someone there soon after I arrived. Do not wait until you have problems or are sick to make that first contact with the Health Center.
3. Don't feel obligated to tell people about your health, but have at least one person on campus in whom you can confide.
Dealing with IBD is a big weight on your shoulders. Having someone on campus whom you can talk to also takes the pressure off needing your parents. This person may be the "RA" (the person on your floor at the dorm who takes care of things), a teacher, friend, or roommate. It sometimes seems intimidating to tell people.
It's OK to take it in steps. But don't put it off. There is support out there. You don't have to deal with this alone.
4. Remember that IBD is just part of what you have to deal with in life, it is not who you are. Don't make it a disability but take it from the standpoint that you can deal with IBD and go to school too. Your route may be a bit more circuitous, but you'll get there just the same. Good luck to you.
I wish you all health, and happy partings.
Copyright 1996 - 2002 Arlyn Serber