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Chicken Soup on Speed Dial (and Other Ways to Help Your Sick College Student)

Marlene Kern Fischer


I can still recall when my oldest son called from college to tell us he had the flu. He was a freshman at a university in St. Louis — a two-hour plane ride from our home in New York.

This happened over a decade ago, yet I remember panicking when he told me how sick he was. I asked him if he wanted me to come to St. Louis, but he said that by the time I got there he would probably be feeling better. He'd caught the flu from his roommate, who was already improving. His roommate’s parents lived within driving distance and had taken the roommate to a hotel to recuperate. I was more than a little jealous they were able to do that.

Getting sick at college is inevitable. My kids had a pretty good track record of staying healthy when they lived at home, but college residence halls are petri dishes of germs. In addition, I knew my son was probably not taking the best care of himself.

Every parent in the universe wants to be with their child when they are unwell. But for most of us, it’s just not possible.

I was used to giving my boy a lot of TLC when he was sick, and it drove me to tears not to be there for him. So I did the next best thing I could think of: called a local deli (Kohn’s Kosher) and had them deliver chicken soup. A lot of chicken soup. Then I called again to ask them to deliver juice and an assortment of other foods, including vegetables (which I was fairly certain my son hadn’t eaten since he moved to campus).

The next time my son caught a bug, just a month or two later, I had the deli on speed dial and the owner knew me. He was surprised to hear my son was sick again so soon and already knew where he’d be sending the food. Over the next few years he would hear from me from time to time but not nearly as much as he did that first year.

By the time my middle and youngest sons went off to school, I was a seasoned pro and knew to pack pretty much every over-the-counter medication in existence. In fact, their dorm rooms were like small pharmacies. When my middle son called to tell me he had a bad cold I immediately sprang into action. Once again, it didn’t take me long to learn where the nearest chicken soup purveyor was and I sent him enough food to last a few days. I’ve discovered that some schools have a chicken soup service available on campus and will deliver to sick students. (I’m guessing a mom thought that one up.)

It’s not just communicable illnesses that can befall our college kids. My oldest son needed an ingrown toenail attended to at one point, and sophomore year my middle son broke his wrist playing intramural sports, requiring us to locate an orthopedist quickly. Luckily we knew people in the area who were able to make recommendations, and with the advent of online parent’s groups at many of these colleges, I see that they have become a wonderful resource for getting names of local doctors, physical therapists and the like.

Unfortunately, in my middle son’s case, the local orthopedist was quick to recommend surgery. Not willing to make that decision long distance, I had him come home to see our trusted orthopedist, who had repaired an assortment of broken bones for my sons. Our orthopedist assured my son — and me — that, although the break was bad, it would heal without surgical intervention (which it did). I learned through that incident that our kids may not be experienced enough to navigate the world of healthcare on their own and do occasionally need more than loving assurances.

When my kids came home for Thanksgiving, I made sure they got flu shots, and when they went in for their annual physicals, I had them double-check that they were up to date on all vaccinations. I constantly reminded them to get enough sleep, eat healthily and try not to party too much. I'm certain much of my motherly advice fell on deaf ears. However, if even a small percent of what I told them made it into long-term memory, it was worth my effort.

So, when (not if) you get a call from your college student and they say they’re not feeling well, take a deep breath. Although you may not be able to comfort them in person, even phone TLC and advice can help them feel better. The two of you will figure it out and get through their illness or injury just as you always have: together.

Follow Marlene on Facebook, and read more of her wonderful stories on her CollegiateParent author page and her blog, Thoughts from Aisle Four.
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    Marlene Kern Fischer is a wife, mother of three sons, food shopper extraordinaire, blogger and essay editor. She attended Brandeis University, from which she graduated cum laude with a degree in English Literature. A founding contributor and advisor at CollegiateParent, her work has also been featured on Huffington Post, Grown and Flown, Parent and Co., Kveller, Her View From Home, the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop, MockMom, Better After 50, Beyond Your Blog and The SITS Girls. You can read more of Marlene's work on her site, "Thoughts From Aisle Four."

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