To the Professor Who Doesn't Understand Why I Need Accommodations for My Invisible Illness


You probably don’t quite remember the first week of classes because it seems like a distant memory by now. I was the student who came up to you after class and handed you a sheet of paper from the Health Center explaining that due to various health problems, I may need some accommodations during the semester. I remember you glanced at the paper, looked at me and then back at the paper. You then placed it in your bag and said, “Thank you,” and all I wanted to know was what was going through your mind.

You probably don’t even remember me giving you that paper because I may not seem like the typical student who needs accommodations. Although some of my symptoms are visible, my illness is invisible to the naked eye and deep down inside, my body is slowly burning from the inside out. Not once this semester have I needed to use any of my accommodations. In fact, I have only used them once in the two years I have been here.

It was last semester when I needed to be admitted to the hospital for a ketamine infusion. This is the only treatment that has ever worked in the five years of having complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). I requested to take my finals a week early. Yes you read that right, a week early! It certainly added on the stress when most students take advantage of the extension but all I wanted was to not be in as much pain. At the end of that week I was worn out and spent five days in the hospital for treatment to get my nerves to calm down.

The only other two times I needed accommodations were when I had an appendectomy and my cholecystectomy. Missing classes and taking exams at a later date were the only accommodations I used but these are given to any student that receives an emergency surgery. With CRPS, surgery is not easy; it is 10 times more painful and it always causes a flare and I have a longer down time but I somehow managed to force myself to go back to school within five days of both operations.

So as we head into the final weeks of school and start finals, please remember this: It is a stressful time for everyone. Not only do I have your final to worry about, I have five other ones plus a project and a few essays.  I am also in a bad place with my health at the moment. I have so much on my plate and I am starting to wonder how I will ever get it all done. Just know that while most students are pulling all-nighters in the library trying to cram before the huge exam, I am also pulling an all-nighter, not because I want to, but because the CRPS puts me in too much pain for me to sleep. I will still get ready for the day when my alarm goes off at 7 a.m. and I will show up to class and take that final with no complaints. I am also spending any free time I have while at a doctor’s appointment or at physical therapy reading over my notes and studying. I spend valuable time driving back and forth to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh which is about a two and a half hour drive from my college that I wish I could use as studying time. I am under an enormous amount of stress and my body in unable to handle stress properly.

girl wearing hospital gown in hospital bed
Nora in the hospital

So even though I try and never use my accommodations, please try and be accommodating. I don’t like to admit that I cannot keep up and that I need help. Remember that your final is not the only one I am taking and I have to spend my time studying for everything else, too. I would say I do pretty well in my classes considering everything else going on in my life right now and I want you to see it so you can understand. This is how hard I am willing to work and I hope you are able to work with me.

So when I come and sit down at my desk for my 8 a.m. final on a Monday and I look absolutely exhausted, just remember I probably only managed to get an hour or two of sleep and that I spent most of my time studying while I was at a medical appointment. Not everything is how it appears on the outside and there are often a million other things going on in my life.

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