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I Got the Swine Flu MAG
Sirens tormented my ears as I lay on a stretcher in an ambulance with a blue mask over my face. On my fifth day at Princeton University's Summer Workshop in Mathematics, I began to feel very sick, with a high temperature, muscle aches, runny nose, teary eyes, and a hideous cough.
During an after-hours screening of “Across the Universe” with my new friends, I was headed to my dorm room to grab a pair of sweatpants when I ran into one of the residential advisors. I told her about my symptoms, and she nervously paused, then contacted other faculty. In the blink of an eye, I was on a stretcher being rushed to the emergency room.
Everyone in the ambulance wore masks except for one brave soul, “Emily,” a famous mathematician and Princeton professor, who held my hand and reassured me. “I'm not going to wear a mask because I know you don't have swine flu,” she said.
In the waiting room, Emily and I discussed math. We talked about group theory regarding a Rubik's Cube, chaos theory, and the mathematics behind the card game SET. My swine flu test came back negative.
For the next few days, I was quarantined in my dorm room. Emily stayed with me, and other faculty cautiously brought gift baskets and treats. Emily gave me some math books and introduced me to her online course, which I had almost completed by the end of the week. I was unable to finish my group project with the other girls from the program, so Emily gave me a new one to keep me busy.
On my next visit to the doctor, he said, “Your flu test is positive. There are many types of influenza … It is possible that you have H1N1 – the swine flu.” When I left the doctor's office that day I was required to wear a blue mask at all times. From the moment I donned my new attire, I sensed that everyone was looking at me differently. My residential advisor kept several yards away and immediately cleaned her entire room and wardrobe.
One of my RAs told me, “I believe that if you have a positive influence on someone who is healing, then karma will take care of you.” She was right. Emily, who had stayed with me for the past few nights without a mask, never contracted the rapidly spreading pandemic.
When Princeton kindly asked me to stay at a nearby hotel with a parent before I could fly, Emily came to visit and taught me about her discovery of wavelet theory and its application to the widely used JPEG 2000.
I learned a lot from my week in a blue mask. Away from my friends from Atlanta who think I am crazy for loving math, I discovered the strength of my passion. Though sick, I wanted to learn more in the hospital, quarantined in my room, and in the hotel at the end of my stay.
I also learned how extremely judgmental people can be. The minute I stretched the mask over my face, I was treated differently. I adopted a sort of quiet confidence for the rest of the week, as I successfully completed my project and Emily's online course.
Disability, skin color, ethnicity: we must look past these negligible differences. Lift the boundaries, pour your heart into all that you do, and fight for what you want.