Students need on-call nurse

When illness hits, it’s not usually a big deal for me or most of the people I know. You lie low for a few days, drink fluids, and e-mail your professors about missing class or assignments. But occasionally, it looks a little different. What happens when you get unusual or severe symptoms that you don’t know how to treat? What if it’s in the middle of the night?

Whenever I was at home, the answer was simple: Call the advice nurse at your primary doctor’s office. If it’s not a big deal, they’ll tell you what to do; if it sounds serious, they’ll tell you to go to the emergency room.

At RPI, my primary doctor’s office, like most students’, is the Health Center. During the day, they’re very useful; I’ve gotten a lot of help and answers to questions there.

But recently, when my husband had nausea and frightening chills at 4 am, I was at a loss. How should I treat him? Should I even try to treat him, or just take him to the ER? I checked the Health Center’s website to see if I they had an advice nurse. In the Frequently Asked Questions, I found “What should I do if I get sick in the middle of the night?” Here’s their answer:

“Samaritan Hospital is two blocks from campus and has a 24-hour Emergency Department. If you cannot wait until the Student Health Center opens in the morning, you may seek emergency care there.” They further add that “most insurance plans do not cover Emergency Department visits if the problem is not a true emergency.”

First off, I already didn’t know if it could wait for the morning or not, just that it was scary. And since I couldn’t ask anyone what to do, I was just supposed to take my husband to the emergency room and hope it was serious enough for insurance to cover it.

As it turns out, he was just running a fever, possibly from a flu. They gave him fluids and Tylenol, we paid our $50 co-pay, and the insurance company paid hundreds of dollars more for the rest of it.

While I’m glad it was covered, it was still a needless expense for all. Fluids and Tylenol shouldn’t cost more than $5 for anyone unless they’re in a really serious condition. And if I’d been able to make a phone call, we wouldn’t have been at the hospital until 7:30 am and missed the rest of the next day making up the sleep.

My point is this: An advice nurse would have saved us and, I’m sure, many other people a lot of trouble. People without cars probably have it much worse: They may not need an ambulance, but no one wants to walk in the horrible cold that Troy often presents.

I know money is tight for the school, but what about for the rest of us? We don’t have money to spend on illnesses that could be cared for at home. If the people at the Health Center are “committed to helping Rensselaer’s students take charge of their own health care,” as their website states, they should staff an advice nurse so students can do just that.