Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Contagion

Led Zeppelin--"Sick Again" (mp3)

I tried my damnedest not to get sick for Spring Break. It didn't work. I'd already been sick all of winter break and came off of last year's winter break with pneumonia, so I was paranoid and determined. My combination of strategies:

1. I built up my immune system with Emergen-C, this daily multi-vitamin/mineral dosage that dissolved in a glass of water each breakfast and felt like I was drinking a shield.
2. I became a handwashing fiend, especially knowing that there were a variety of illnesses going around school, some pretty nasty plus the late-arriving flu.
3. Most amazingly, I eschewed all public food. The pretzel jar in my office, no thanks. The snacks I brought for advisees on Thursdays, no, you all go ahead.
4. And, I didn't overdo it. I went into winter break exhausted; I had worked through all exhaustion with a good week and a half or so before this break. No stress. No crises. No big challenges. The slowest time period since before Christmas. And well-rested.



What I didn't count on was myself.

No one knows where we pick up something like the flu, but we certainly all like to speculate. We like to be able to zero in on the exact person who gave it to us, maybe to tack on a little blame, but more likely to give some logic to why we find ourselves sick. As if it were that easy, that preventable.

As the sick person who has been infecting the rest of the world for the past five days, not with any intention or malice, I am here to tell you that it is nothing more than luck that keeps you from getting sick, unless your personal habits are so fastidious as to have people recommending you for a side role in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest or your immune system is stoked as high as my dad's because you eat the way he eats. And other things. Which I doubt.

Because otherwise you cannot account for the invisible me who has come and gone before you and whom you consequently don't think about, except in rare establishments that remind you. I am the guy with the high fever and, therefore, highly contagious flu who used the pen before you at the motel desk, who handed change to the cheerful woman at Chick-Fil-A's drive-thru, who used the gas nozzle before you or the door to the water and juice in the convenience store. I am the guy who was in the bathroom, the guy who screwed and unscrewed the Heinz ketchup bottle in the restaurant, whose fingers may or may not have touched the lemons sitting there for iced tea, the guy who coughed or sneezed, held the same door for you that you held for someone else on the way out. I touched potatoes, squeezed avocados looking for ripe ones (it took awhile), searched through the pork chops, moved the orange juice to find the one in the back with the latest expiration date. And when I had it all, I checked out myself, pushing buttons on screens and touching scanners all over the place.

In my own house, I can't even keep track, though I've tried my best, using tongs, and towels and whatnot. But with everyone working, who's going to load and unload the dishwasher? One has had the flu shot; one hasn't. So we're playing a game of chance. But, trust me, no one wants this flu.

Oddly, I've also been reading Worm by Mark Bowden, as a potential summer reading book for next fall. Finished it today. It's the story of the informally-bound group of men who worked together to try to stop the "Conficker" Worm about three years ago.

Though filled with technical language, it's a pretty thrilling story of the race against time to stop the third unleashing of the worm, Conficker C, with both the behind the scenes and public responses to that crisis.

As cautionary as cautionary tales get, it also opens up a world that most of us could conjure up only vaguely, maybe with the ability to still name one virus and the thought that a worm and a virus are the same thing and the thought that our computers are protected from malware, which is only an annoyance anyway,right? and the thought that our government must be way on top of cyber-security (though Obama is light years ahead of his predecessor--big surprise). Even those of us who think we are somewhat techno-savvy don't really know or want to know how the whole Internet or internal computer thing works.

It's kind of like the flu. If you get it, sucks for you. If you don't, you and I like to believe that it's something we did, ran some Ad-Ware or Symantec program that saved us or updated when our tech people told us to update that saved us. We think that identity theft is carelessness, or, perhaps more reassuringly, randomness. Maybe so, but the odds are increasingly not working in our favor.

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