From the Desk of a Student with a Severe Phobia

By: Elka Wiesenberg  |  September 25, 2019

By Elka Wiesenberg, Opinion Editor

It’s 4:23 a.m., the night before the biggest test of my life, and I cannot sleep. Of course, you sympathize, you’re taking the LSATs tomorrow. You’re terrified. Well, partially. But I haven’t been sleeping well in days, and it’s not because of Logical Reasoning.

If you’ve ever taken a Subway with me, you probably know this: I have a severe rat phobia. Everyone is scared of rats, you say. Okay. Does everyone feel their heart palpitating, breathing jumping, and head and stomach getting so dizzy they might pass out from seeing a rat a block away? Didn’t think so.

You’re waiting for the Subway with me, and I can’t peel my eyes away from the track. What are you looking for? you ask. I can’t stop panicking about rats, I reply. They can’t hurt you, you reassure me, if they’re all the way down there. And what will happen if you see one?

Well, ask my friend Nina, and she’ll tell you from experience I might almost kill you by instinctively pushing you out of the way so far I almost knock you over to another track. 

My biggest nightmare coming to New York was having a rat in my apartment. I knew it happened frequently in the City; I wasn’t completely delusional. Still, if I saw a rat far away on the street or the Subway, I’d call a friend crying and take a while to calm down.

Then of course, dreams do come true. By that I mean nightmares come to life, and by that I mean…

It was just past two in the morning and I was finishing my homework (yes, English majors have a lot of work too) in my bed. I heard a scuttling, and I froze. 

It’s someone in the kitchen, I told myself. Don’t look up, don’t look up, dontlookup dontlookupdontlookup. 

Of course I looked up, just in time to see a little, but larger-than-life, creature squeeze under my door. 

I’ve never screamed like that in my life. 

I stood on my bed frozen as it ran under the other bed in my room (which thank G-d no one was in). Tears streamed down my face as a guttural scream tore instinctively from my throat. My heart jumped and jumped. My breathing was ragged.

Stay calm. Staycalm staycalm staycalmstaycalm. Call someone.

Taking out my phone, I hit the number for Beren security. 

It didn’t connect.

I tried again— nothing.

Creds to Housing right here— I called my GA, Alana Reichenberg, who wasn’t even on duty, and she immediately dashed upstairs. She offered to trap the thing with one of my bed risers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone that brave.

No, I said, it’ll kill you. I’m going to die. I’m going to die. 

Can you get out of here? she asked. I shook my head. She lifted the other bed up, and I squeezed my eyes shut.

Do you see it? I asked. She affirmed that she could. No. It was real. It was real.

It ran behind the closet, she informed me seconds later. My chance to escape, my brain told me. I bolted, making it to the kitchen before I realized I didn’t know where to go. I wasn’t in pajamas yet, but I wasn’t wearing shoes either. It was almost 2:30 a.m. 

I climbed onto a barstool.

You know if you sit, it still can’t touch you, Alana joked. I couldn’t sit. If I sat, my feet would dangle too close to the floor for comfort. 

Do you need anything? she asked.

A Xanax, I replied. 

Do you need to sleep somewhere else?

No sh*t. 

I had good friends who lived on the seventh floor, and thankfully, news hadn’t reached me about any furry guests on the eighth and ninth floors yet, so I reasoned that high up was safe.

One of my friends wasn’t there. I knew her mom was in town, and I guessed they were at the hotel (lucky!), so I crawled into her bed. My other friend, her roommate, woke up. Obviously not understanding that I’d just been through one of the most traumatic nights of my life , she gave it to me for waking her up two days before a test. Of course, this was the opposite of helpful, since now I was shaken and guilty. I felt so, so bad, but what could I do? This was my hour of need.

The RA, Zehava Seidman, woke up just to check on me— G-d bless her. I have to point that out, just to again give Housing credit where credit is truly due. 

I closed my eyes, but all I saw were rats, and my brain complemented the image with that awful scuttling sound. Needless to say (silly phrase, ‘cuz I’m saying it anyways), I did not get much sleep that night.

The next night, I had two great friends come with me into my apartment. I again took my perch on top of the bar stool, where I felt very brave for being, as they went into my room. 

Be careful, I warned them, terrified. They packed my things as I instructed them from my place of safety. I stayed in a different friend’s room that night. 

This cycle continued until I went home for the weekend— friends would pack for me, I would stay in someone’s room, and I would toss and turn all night. 

Thank G-d, thank G-d, thank G-d, I had already been planning to take my LSAT at home in Chicago. Why, you ask? Because I was so terrified of being distracted or anxious or unable to sleep if I stayed at school for the weekend.


While I was home for the weekend, two of my Stern roommates reported mouse or rat sightings (these two are substantially the same in terms of my phobia, in case you were wondering about my reaction to mice, and there have now been both in 35th Street and my room this week). One of them told a security guard, who laughed in her face. 

Now, I don’t feel safe coming back to school. An exterminator came last week after my middle-of-the-night unexpected company, didn’t find any holes in my apartment, and left. Another one came later in the week and put down glue traps, which clearly were super effective.

There are still rodents invading the place I had prepared to call home for the year. There is a gap under my door that they can come through. There are traps that, to my knowledge, have yet to catch a single culprit. I plan to play pinball between my friends’ rooms again and sleep at my cousins in Lawrence for a couple nights. Yes, I’m willing to commute an hour after all my meetings at night to avoid the Stern dorms.

I see rats everywhere. They come out, instead of water, when I drink from a bottle. They crawl between my sheets at night. They dart into my shower just before me and wait to attack. They dance below my eyelids when I close my eyes at night.

This infestation of the 35th Street Dorms needs to be Housing’s number one priority. When a student is haunted by thoughts of her own room, it’s time to not just get two exterminators a week, but to devote every working minute to taking care of this problem until it’s gone. 

I’m about to get ready for my LSAT. If only I’d gotten a better night’s sleep.