Still sick!

Dear Lucy: I am an MIT student, and I have been sick for about two weeks now. I visited MIT Medical last week, and they told me that I don’t have an infection—just a virus. I got better, but for the last three days, I’ve been feeling weak at night and in the morning. When I go to bed, I cough until I fall sleep and usually get a little headache. Then, in the morning, I feel tired and get up coughing again. During the day, I am better and don’t cough as much. I was wondering if you think I should come back to MIT Medical to get checked out again, or if there is something I can do to get better faster? —I’d Better Get Better

Dear Better: Lucy is so sorry to hear that you are still feeling poorly after your visit to MIT Medical last week. But she is so glad you wrote to ask this question, which gives her the opportunity to provide some information about how to navigate the system to get the care you need, when you need it.

The first thing you need to know is that MIT Medical is always there for you if you are feeling sick or have questions about your health. Our walk-in Urgent Care hours are from 8 a.m.–8 p.m. every day (last patient check-in, 7:30 p.m.), or you can call our 24-hour helpline at 617-253-4481 any time. When you call, you can speak with a triage nurse, who will ask about your symptoms and give you advice about what to do next. Sometimes, we’ll be able to tell you how to manage your symptoms better at home. Other times, we might advise you to come to Urgent Care or make an appointment for you with an available clinician. In addition, the MIT Medical website contains a wealth of useful information on self-care for common symptoms.

“It can take time to recover from a bad virus,” says Nurse Practitioner Jan Puibello. But it also sounds like you left your visit last week without a clear plan for follow-up. Lucy knows how hard it can be to think clearly when one is not feeling well, but it’s important to end a medical visit with some understanding of next steps. Ask yourself if you know what to expect in terms of recovery time. Or what you should do if your symptoms continue or get worse. If you’re not sure, ask the clinician.

“For most common problems, we expect patients to recover within a week or ten days,” Puibello says. “If the patient isn’t feeling better by then, they should be in touch with us. They can call 617-253-4481, send a message through our patient portal, or contact their primary care provider, if they have one.” 

Of course, the “seven-to-ten-days rule” is not actually a rule, Puibello stresses, just a general guideline. And there are plenty of exceptions—“if you develop new symptoms, for example, you should contact us” she says. “Or if your current symptoms suddenly become worse or you develop a high fever, vomiting, or dizziness.”

Lucy hopes you are feeling better by now. And she hopes this information can help you and her other readers become better medical consumers. Here’s to good health—and good healthcare! —Lucy  


Back to Ask Lucy Information contained in Ask Lucy is intended solely for general educational purposes and is not intended as professional medical advice related to individual situations. Always obtain the advice of a qualified healthcare professional if you need medical diagnosis, advice, or treatment. Never disregard medical advice you have received, nor delay getting such advice, because of something you read in this column.