In my last post I noted that what worried me, and my medical team, most about my returning to university after 25 years was how my hypotension, migraine, osteoarthritis and CFS/ME* would respond to the physicality of getting in to Uni. I also said that I had plans and solutions for everything I could imagine might go wrong, and that I would be honest about what worked and what didn’t. So here goes:
Nothing I could plan was going to be enough. I won’t go into the detail of my near-collapse on Orientation Day, but it led to me seeking out help from Equity & Disability to get between the buildings. I discovered that they had mobility scooters (for trial) and booked one for my first day of classes, a week after Orientation.
It still wasn’t enough.
I simply cannot get through a day without somewhere to lie down, multiple times a day, to stabilise my blood pressure and/or allow my migraine emergency meds to knock me sideways and do their work as I sleep. And Melbourne Uni has no support for such a need – for any student who has a medical issue, let alone a chronic one.
Now, before you leap to the same conclusion I did (that such a requirement is too much to ask), the image below shows what James Cook University arranged, last year, for a student who has the same medical profile as I do – except that she is a little better off because she can still drive, if she rests beforehand.
You can see that that is a screenshot from the ME/CFS Australia Facebook Community and, while it was the most comprehensive support reported in the thread, it was by no means the only University that provided for a chronically ill student a safe, reliable place to rest.
It’s astonishing to me but even the head project officer at Equity and Disability hunted around and confirmed that, except for a room with a single bed in it provided and paid for by the Student Union (which was occupied when I needed it), the only medical support University of Melbourne has for its thousands of students are their security guards with first aid training. If your issue is beyond their skill and/or you cannot move under your own steam, they will call an ambulance.
To call an ambulance for a chronic condition which the patient knows how to treat and requires only a safe place to lie down, is a terrible waste of Paramedic resources. Further, sitting and waiting in an ER would only exacerbate my conditions, as I would be rightly triaged as non-urgent – probably until I fainted.
And so, as I pay my spoonie dues for daring to venture out twice in as many weeks (the sheer gall!), I must face facts. Though my intellectual capacity has returned with the removal of my diseased uterus and the pain it caused, my remaining physical issues mean that I cannot attend campus. I have deferred for twelve months while I consider my options.
A UniMelb course planner did suggest that there are ways for individual students to study some subjects by distance, though not for many of my course’s subjects because they have group components. Nevertheless, studying from home does seem to be my only option but it needn’t be a lesser one. While being the only student Skyping into a tutorial would be a disadvantage, being one of many students in an online forum or video conference puts one at no disadvantage at all, so what I need is a course designed to be delivered 100% online, of which there are many!
I leave you, now, with the image I stopped to snap as I was turtling my way back to return my scooter for what I suspected would be the first and last time. It really is a beautiful campus. Thank you for all your support and watch this space!