Guest Columnist || Payal Lal
It was sunny and it was raining, which made the day even worse than it had already been. I was just outside the UHC, walking towards the Yusof Ishak House to search for an ATM.I had just been diagnosed with chickenpox and didn’t have enough cash to pay for $60 worth of medication.
As I searched for an ATM, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was passing on my infection to anyone around me. The doctor had made it clear that my condition was very contagious and had been so for the past couple of days. “Oh dear, oh dear” she exclaimed, when I told her that I live in a dorm and am an international student. I waited for her to say something more and perhaps give me a solution, but she said nothing and continued to type an email to inform the administration that I had chickenpox. I asked her “What can I do to prevent spreading the infection?”
“Just stay in your room for the next two weeks”
“What about the bathrooms?”
“Oh dear, oh dear!”
At this point, I figured that I’d have to find a solution by myself. I texted my suite mates to check if they were immune to chickenpox. Luckily, most of them were, and the one who wasn’t agreed to use the other toilet on the floor for the next few weeks. One can only wonder how the situation would have played out if I had a roommate, much like international students do living at PGP, an NUS student dorm.
When I finally found an ATM, withdrew cash, and bought my medicines, I wondered if I should walk back. I had taken a crowded NUS bus from university town to the UHC. But now that I knew I was infectious, I felt bad taking the NUS bus. I wasn’t quite sure how chickenpox was spread. The doctor had not been too clear. But I knew I was ‘highly infectious’ so I tried avoiding contact with people as much as I could.
I could feel my body temperature rising and didn’t think I had it in me to walk back in this strange weather. So I ended up taking one of the public buses instead, which was far less crowded than the NUS bus.
Things fell into place once I got back to RC4. My suite mates and friends regularly brought me meals to my room. I skyped a few of my classes, and my professors were very understanding. The building management gave me two weeks of free air con credit so that I wasn’t uncomfortable. I told my worried mother that I was more pampered here at Yale- NUS than I ever was at home.
Luckily, my chickenpox was mild and no one got infected. But I continued to wonder how things would have worked out had I not been so lucky. What if my suite mates had not been immune? It’s very possible that chickenpox would have spread like the common flu does during the peak stress week.
Moreover, chickenpox in adults can affect the brain or cause pneumonia. In such extreme cases, I would have to go back to the UHC, as the doctor at the UHC told me, potentially infecting several people on the way.
Contagious diseases come about all the time and I question our current infrastructure to battle them. Fortunately, this isn’t an unsolvable problem. Something as simple as a medical telephone service coupled with medicine delivery to the doorstep could make a tangible difference. If I didn’t have to visit the UHC and could have just been diagnosed over a phone call or video conference, fewer or no people would have come in contact with me as I made my way to see the doctor. A medicine delivery system could facilitate the delivery of medication to the doorstep in exceptional cases wherein students infected with a highly contagious disease aren’t in a position to go to the UHC .
Such a system would also play a great role in the continued availability of a doctor after having been diagnosed. From my own experience, I had several questions during the course of my illness and had to depend on my doctor in India to answer those questions, since the UHC currently does not provide a direct communication channel with doctors or nurses.
Another solution is to build more facilities and provide quarantine rooms. While I was lucky to not infect any one of my suitemates, shared spaces such as toilets make it difficult to avoid such infections and maintain strict quarantine.
Having said that, Yale-NUS does not have the infrastructure to counteract all the loopholes of NUS’ Health Care policy and it is important for the administration to take note of this concern that affects and will continue affecting our community.