Monday, July 9, 2012

When is Medical Intervention Appropriate?

Last quarter for me was ridiculously free of student flakes. I had two recurring students who caused brief flashes of rage, but otherwise, it was peaceful. Compared to other quarters, this was bordering on Nirvana... well, not quite, but at least it was like lounging in Purgatory.

The only two hiccups I had were with students I will call Jordan and Riley, both thoroughly pleasant students who have serious health problems.

Due to being morbidly obese, Jordan does not fit in any of the desks in our assigned classroom. Moreover, the only available classroom with free-standing chairs and desks was on the third floor of a building with no elevator. Jordan could not climb up three floors without having heart palpitations, so we stayed in our assigned room and Jordan wedged herself into an armchair that she had brought and left in the classroom (I have no idea if she was dropping off furniture in each classroom where she had classes). She reminded me of a child in a self-imposed timeout.

The other student, Riley, is the opposite of Jordan. Riley is scarily thin, to the degree that she has grown peach fuzz on her body and also has heart palpitations from climbing up stairs. Riley is emancipated from her parents, a battle she readily brags about when anyone asks what her parents do. As a result of this, she claims her life has become much better and that she loves her new-found independence. But her independence seems to come at a serious price.

Social problems of isolation and self consciousness aside, both of these students clearly need medical intervention. In our department meetings, we have talked about these two students (they are majors) because we are concerned about their overall well being. Since our department is small (we only have about 35 majors), we get to know our students fairly well over four years at this SLAC. As far as anyone (including classmates and roommates of these individuals) knows, they are not seeking medical care.

Due to the sensitive nature of both of their health problems, no one thinks it appropriate to approach either of these students to recommend seeking additional medical care and/or counseling over the summer. The Counseling Center has been consulted and also claims that counselors cannot intervene unless the students actually do something that merits attention (that 'something' being attempting suicide in a more direct manner). I am not sure how long Jordan and Riley will likely be able to continue functioning in college, and the quality of life each is living is clearly being affected. It breaks my heart to think that if we do not intervene, they will likely live a short life.

If one's life is at risk, we have wondered: is it appropriate for an academic department to say, in some way or another: "We cannot allow you to continue at this school until you get your health together"? It feels like this might be the only intervention they receive, but it is clearly an overstepping of boundaries and would receive no support from Administration. Moreover, would doing that cut the students off from the only support system (in the form of being majors and belonging to the department) that the students already have?

Have any of you had experiences with students with eating disorders who seem to need intervention? HELP!

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