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To My College Professor, From Your Student With a Chronic Illness

The most helpful emails in health
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Dear Professor,

Even before we met, you knew my name. You received a vague email from disability recourse services outlining my accommodations, which are the supports and services colleges provide for students with disabilities or illnesses. I emailed you asking you to meet. I don’t know what you were expecting when I walked into your classroom, but I probably didn’t fit the bill. I had a tube or two (depending on the day) coming out of me and tethered to a backpack.

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At some point during the first week of classes, I met with you. I tried to explain my situation to the best of my abilities, but sometimes I barely even understood it myself. I covered the basics: the tubes, the fainting and the possible hospital admissions. There were a lot of things I wanted to say but could not.

I wanted to say I hate having accommodations. In fact, I didn’t have accommodations for my first year of college, even though I probably should have. When I finally did get a letter from my doctor to get accommodations, I cried because it validated I was sick.

I wanted you to know if I ever used my accommodations, I was probably doing much worse than I let on. During my first semester with accommodations, I had four hospitalizations and one surgery. But I never once asked for an extension on an assignment or used any other accommodation — with the exception of extra absences due to the fact I was confined to a hospital bed. When I finally did ask for an extension on an assignment, I knew it wasn’t a good sign.

I wanted to tell you if you work with me, I will work just as hard and probably harder than all the other students. Yes, I might need an extension, miss class or have to leave early. Here’s the thing, though, if you give me a chance, I’ll get in all my assignments. And if you give me the time I need, I’ll give you high-quality work. I’ll talk to my classmates, get a copy of their notes and shoot you an email if I have a question.

If you are begrudging when I use accommodations, I’ll do my best not to use them. But if I don’t use my accommodations because you made me feel bad about needing them, everyone will suffer. I probably won’t hand in the best-quality work, because I was dealing with side effects from medications while writing or finishing an assignment from my bathroom floor. If I go to your class when I’m not up for it, not only will I not be able to participate in class or learn that day, I’ll also have trouble doing any work I might have been able to easily complete from bed had I not gone, because I’ll be too sick or in too much pain from pushing myself.

Chances are, by the end of our first conversation, you already made up your mind about me. You’re either impressed by the fact I’m in college and will help me keep it that way, or you think I’m just trying to use my illness as an excuse. Or maybe you think I shouldn’t be here at all.

I beg you to give me and any other student with a chronic illness a chance. Give us a chance to show you we’re good students. We’re working even harder than your average student to be here. Just work with me, and I may surprise you.


A Chronically Ill College Student

Originally published: November 22, 2015
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