It’s considered normal for most teenagers to procrastinate – put off that English essay, do your entire City Project the night before it’s due, study for your math test during X-band. And while teachers and parents would argue that this is probably ill-advised, it’s worth considering that going to the extreme in the other direction has its own perils.
Last year, instead of procrastinating with my school work, I procrastinated with my health. Throughout the year, I had a chronic low level headache, but I lived with it because it wasn’t debilitating and I had more important things to focus on: the SATs, APs and my GPA. Then, in mid-April, things intensified: I started to see blue spots clouding my vision; I collapsed from the pain; I described feeling like tiny screws were being driven into my brain. I had to lie in my room after school with the lights off and no noise to get a little bit of relief.
But at the same time, I was writing essays, studying for tests, and attending classes.
By late May, my face had become swollen to the point that I couldn’t open my mouth to eat or speak. And yet I still went to school, despite my parents, teachers and friends telling me to go to the hospital. This is because, as irrational as it was, I was terrified that missing just one day of school would cause me to fail all of my tests, and then all of my classes. I would then flunk out of Masters and not get into college.
Finally, on the last day of school, I couldn’t take the pain anymore, and left early to go to the ER.
They discovered that I had a septic abscess in one of my back molars, which had resulted from a minor dental procedure in the previous summer and would have to have surgery. I couldn’t speak because my jaw was so swollen, but I remember frantically typing into Google Translate, “I can’t have surgery. I have the SAT tomorrow.” My Dad agreed that I should take the SAT and we argued back and forth with the doctor about the importance of the test.
“Can she leave to take the test and come back tomorrow evening?” my Dad asked. It wasn’t until the doctor said I might die if I did that, that we stopped arguing.
I was rushed to another hospital in an ambulance, had my surgery, and was there for a week. Unfortunately, I lost a tooth (but it’s in the back so don’t worry), which wouldn’t have happened if I had come in earlier, when the headaches began. I also missed the SAT.
This isn’t the first time I’ve let my obsession with academics come before my health. That same year, I broke my foot and refused to go to the ER until I had finished all of my homework and was sure I could go to school the next day. In my sophomore year, I sprained my neck when I fell on the stairs in Morris Hall, rushing from one extracurricular to the next, and didn’t tell my parents until I couldn’t walk a few days later.
Since my experience last June, I can’t say I’m totally reformed – that would be a lie – but I’ve made baby steps in the right direction. For example, in February, I missed a free period to go to the dentist!
I’ve learned that it’s important not to allow a single-minded obsession, whether it’s your GPA, SAT, sports, theatre, etc., to monopolize your thoughts to the point that you lose all perspective. So, next time you have a fever, or you’re just really overwhelmed, trust that your teachers will be understanding, and that missing one day of school for an emergency is not going to be the domino that topples your carefully constructed academic career.
I’m Nora Fellas and that was my Senior Speech.