Need a sick day? Be ready for it

After months of late nights, nutritionally suspect meals and a lot of socializing, it's bound to happen. Whether it's a cold, the flu or an unknown bug you got from that guy down the hall, you will need to take a sick day from class, your friends and maybe even the cafeteria.

Chances are you may not have anything ready for when illness strikes, and campus store inventory is minimal, so it's best to be prepared ahead of time. Here are some tips on where to start:

First of all, everyone should have a First Aid Kit. They're available in almost every drugstore, usually costing a low of $2 up to $20 (CVS has them starting at $2, but I would recommend the $19.99 kit for all your needs) and should have bandages, antibiotic ointment, antiseptic wipes, cold or hot packs, aspirin and ibuprofen.

You can also create your own by cruising the trial-size section of your nearest drugstore or Target for small packets of bandages, ointment, aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. My favorite first-aid kits are from REI, not because they're for outdoorsy folks but because they often include antacids, insect sting wipes, antihistamine tablets for allergic reactions, elastic bandages for sprains and moleskin to treat blisters -- something you will want after walking a mile or two around campus. You might also want a trial size of cold and flu meds like Theraflu or Sudafed, just in case, and an electronic thermometer to keep an eye on any fevers. Anything over 102 degrees may need a doctor visit, according to the Mayo Clinic's First Aid guide.

While you should also keep any prescriptions or medications that you have needed in the past, you should also invest in a first-aid manual, anti-diarrhea medication, aloe vera gel, cough drops or cortisone cream for skin rashes. The guide also suggested including utensils like tweezers, a needle, scissors and safety pins. Other necessities can be created from objects around your room, such as using ice for a cold pack and a small towel soaked in hot water for a warm compress. It's also wise to keep all your medical information including insurance info, emergency phone numbers and medical consent forms, if necessary, in your kit for easy access, the Mayo Clinic also suggested. Also, talk to your parents or another student who has lived in the dorms about anything you've missed in your kit, they may be able to make good suggestions.

While you're away at college, you will have some comforts of home, at least someone will still be cooking for you in the cafeteria -- but you might not be able to make it. If you have a hotpot in your dorm room, keep a stash of ramen noodles and tea for days that you just need to stay in bed. (Still, you may need to head to the cafeteria to get much-needed vitamins and minerals, so don't stay in your room unless you really have to.)

But have you prepared everything for your sick-day kit? What about missing an important quiz or assignment? Professors are much more sympathetic to students who contact them ahead of time, so make sure to have your TA or professor's e-mail address ready to ask how you can make up the work as soon as you decide not to go to class. Don't show up to class after missing a few days, without informing the professor, and expect a make-up exam.

"If the professor knows that you're otherwise a hard worker, they cut you slack," said recent St. Mary's College graduate student Janet Hardy, who lives in Eugene, Ore. "However, this would not have worked in my undergraduate days, when the professors did not know that about me because it wasn't true."

So be prepared to work hard on your reputation before you get sick, you never know how much it will help you when you need it most.

Keeping this all in mind when you put together a sick-day kit will ensure you can take care of yourself for the first time away from home. You will also find that although illness may get you down, there will be little stress or worry when you have everything you need to combat it.
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