POCKET: Illness and student finances

Holly Platt-Higgins discusses the constant student dilemma: health vs. wealth

Holly Platt-Higgins


I recently spent eight days in bed; throwing one of the most spectacular pity-parties ever to be witnessed in a Cambridge hill college. Its seemed that, having been the picture of health all the way through my first year of Cambridge, Fortuna had decided my time was up and organised a meeting between myself and what my highly unsympathetic doctor had called the ‘Australian flu’. Needless to say, I was less than overjoyed at the news and, being a complete control freak, did not enjoy the prospect of surrendering myself to convalescing for an indeterminate amount of time.

In order to explain what the flu has to do with cash or Cambridge, I will have to digress to a brief story about my mother. My mother is a huge hypochondriac. Whenever she is unwell she is invariably dying of a rare strain of aggressive cancer or she has contracted a disease from a country she hasn’t been to but has evidently picked up from the Kentish countryside.

My mother called me very near to the start of term to inform me that I had to go a have a flu jab in town because she’d read something in the paper about a young girl in hospital with flu and was now deeply worried about me. Given her track record of neuroticism, I wasn’t overly concerned about her warnings against the prospect of my imminent death. Simply to appease her and stop the incessant text stream of Good Housekeeping content about various quick-and-easy broths, I told her I’d get one.

“Unfortunately, getting a flu jab would set you back £14, which, in student terms, is the equivalent of: a bottle of vodka; a packet of cigarettes and a cup of coffee”

Unfortunately, getting a flu jab would set you back £14, which, in student terms, is the equivalent of: a bottle of vodka; a packet of cigarettes and a cup of coffee; three meals in hall; getting your bike tire fixed; half a weekly shop or at least two tops from ASOS. I’ll admit, in hindsight, the decision doesn’t seem as clear-cut as it did when I was blissfully roaming around without a chest-pain or sore throat in sight; but, how was I to know what awaited me? What even are the chances of getting Australian flu?

It was partly an issue of money and also partly an issue of time. I really didn’t have an afternoon free to go to Boots and wait for a few hours for some nice lady to jab me with a needle; or at least, it really wasn’t a priority of mine. ‘Hey guys, I can’t come on the swap I’m getting a flu jab in town.’ ‘I’m really sorry my essay is late, my mum said I had to get a flu jab.’ It just really didn’t seem that legitimate.

I still can’t decide what was more painful, having the flu, or having to endure my mother’s smugness when I told her on the phone that I had in fact contracted Australian flu and yes, I did regret not taking her advice and getting the jab when she told me to.

Things only went downhill from here. Fourteen quid would have been nothing in comparison to the small fortune I had to spend on Lemsip, Benylin, cough sweets and chicken stock. You never really realise how expensive being ill is until you’re not ill at home; it’s like cheese and heating bills, you just don’t anticipate the price at which these things come.

My parents were quite keen for me to come home when it became apparent that Australian flu really was as unenjoyable as the papers had been suggesting. And, while, there was no way I could get myself out of bed, let alone across town and home, there was even less chance of me shelling out another thirty quid on account of this being-ill malarkey in order to afford the train ticket.


Mountain View

The fresher extracurricular pressure

The unfortunate truth is that my self-medicating supplies weren’t even the biggest cost of the whole debacle; the price of being unable to function for eight days of a Cambridge term is pretty extortionate. The novelty of actually still being alive wore off rather quickly when I realised I was now two essays behind, with two more lined up for the coming week and with a thoroughly neglected dissertation draft on my desk. It appeared quite clearly now that I really hadn’t weighed the cost-benefit of the flu jab particularly effectively.

While fourteen quid really did seem like big bucks at the time, fourteen days’ worth of work to be done in a week was a much, much higher price to be paying. Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is listen to your mothers, even if they’re hypochondriacs. And while you don’t have choose the 9am lecture or rowing or wholemeal bread, while in Cambridge, choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose your future. Choose life.