Offbeat Academia: Worst days bring good perspective

No matter how bad your day may be, there’s always a worse case out there.

What is the worst thing that could happen to you?

Your computer crashes, sending your unfinished term paper into the abyss of information lost in PC malfunctions. Your mom comes to visit and notices a condom in your bathroom trash can. Maybe you lose a big chunk of money playing gin rummy on Thirsty Thursday.

But I bet you didn’t get poison ivy on your face! I was wearing a red, puffy, oozing beard of itchiness for most of last week. Not only was I suffering physically, but I was quite an awful sight to behold. I tried to keep my face hidden behind my bandana, but you can only do so much to hide swollen, blistering cheeks when you’re talking to your professor.

So then, I opted to just stay home. I hibernated for the weekend. At home, I could lather my face with calamine lotion and lie under the ceiling fan in my bedroom. I loaded up on Benadryl (given to me, appropriately, by Student Health Services) and dozed around, watching free movies on the Internet and eating dry cereal.

Mind you, I have a point. Although the poison ivy rash seemed like a curse from Mother Nature (I guess she didn’t want me to weed the strawberry patch), I did a lot of soul-searching, which helped me see the silver lining in this irritated, seeping cloud. There was good that could come out of this ailment.

First, but certainly not most importantly, I got a considerable amount of work done. My weekend of solitude without cable left me without much else to do, so I was actually able to scratch everything off my list, and I wasn’t doing it just to make myself feel better.

School may not be everyone’s priority – it’s not mine – but there is something to be said about catching up on work. It feels good. It’s been chasing you for a while, so when you finally get ahead, it’s significant. You might even feel exuberant enough to go out and get drunk, in which case you’ll be back where you started – but school’s not your life.

This might not be an issue for everyone, but the rash also pushed me to wash my clothes. Normally, I just use the smell test to determine what’s clean and what’s dirty. But not this time – you can’t smell the urushiol on clothes (that’s the skin irritant in the oil on the poison ivy plant). The paranoia really hit when I realized how the line separating the top of my face and the infected lower half of my face fit perfectly with the position of my bandana – it even stretched up to my ears. I decided that I must wash everything. So, anything on the floor was thrown into the washer, as it was probably something I wore within the past few days. I guess that’s one way to do your chores.

Like I said, I gained some insight from this experience as well, so it wasn’t just crossing things off my list. Maybe it was the Benadryl or the cabin fever, but being alone with an ugly rash on my face for the weekend was somewhat comforting. In other words, I grew more comfortable with myself. I could even laugh at my face when I lowered my chin to make my neck almost disappear.

Also, without company or television, I had a lot of time to think, mostly about unimportant things. But, because of their nature, they don’t usually get a lot of attention. So, instead of contemplating the world or its issues, I focused on things that don’t require much thought, like how many bricks are in the wall or how to catch our unwanted house guest, Frederick. (He’s a mouse.)

Call me stir-crazy, but I feel like I did some real growing while my face was breaking out. Anyway, it was enough of an experience to fill this column. In the future, however, I will attempt to feel and see these things without the itchiness.

Sarah Sanders can be reached at

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