the movie Contagion

Fifty Percent Infected

I’ve had a mild case of the flu for two and a half weeks now. It’s a relief that I haven’t had to miss work but a drag that it’s such a tenacious bug. I haven’t had the energy to do anything but the essentials: work, walk Teddy, shop for groceries, and do dishes.

I heard on the news that last fall’s shots were only 50% effective. So, I was 50% infected by a nasty-ass virus for the past two and a half weeks. If you’re shopping at my grocery store and you didn’t get a shot, you’re going to get 100% infected no matter how much Purell I used before I grabbed your grocery cart..

One of the kids at work infected me. I think I know who. He’s still trying to clear crap from his throat but he says he feels better now. He’s a nice kid so I don’t blame him. Not really. I just wish parents would keep their sick kids at home. Tutoring is only effective when a kid can breathe.

But, how am I any different than him? I went to work anyway. I rationalized that at least four or five other kids there had been sick first. Why should I stay home when the whole place was a snotfest anyway? A different kid literally picked his nose, blew a snot bubble, then hugged me and buried his head in my shoulder. It’s impossible for me to reject a hug from a kid when he’s sick even if all that snot is gross. That’s how people get sick. They fucking care.

Mike and Nick haven’t hugged me for two and a half weeks. It surprises me when I have to remind my newly adult son that he can’t hug me until I’m not sick. He’s the one with a compromised immune system. He’s the one who was in the first wave of shots back when the H1N1 virus was going around. It surprises me how much he still needs hugs even though he’s a burly teenager.

I felt a little better Sunday morning and felt responsible to go to church even though I wasn’t feeling great. I’m in the choir, a very small choir. Once voice matters in a very small choir. A friend of mine, a nurse, took one look at me and told me to go home. I told her that I only had a clearing cough, that I probably wasn’t even contagious any more. She shook her head and said that I could be contagious and that people would definitely hug me, people who might not have strong immune systems like mine. Like the kids that infected me in the first place, I thought. I went home before I touched anyone at church. I felt a little rejected, as if I’d been declared unclean. I wanted to stay, you know, in the back or up the balcony or something. I didn’t want to be treated like I had leprosy.

I met a woman at the dog park yesterday who was studying public health.

“Do you mean like the CDC and pandemics and stuff?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m studying how people behave and how that spreads or doesn’t spread disease. Especially AIDS, with its stigma. It’s harder to prevent the spread of disease that has shame attached to it.”

I thought about having leprosy. Or Ebola.

“What about Ebola?” I asked.

“Eh, Ebola is gross, but the media has had a field day with it. It’s harder to catch than they say and if the patient is monitored and is well hydrated, they usually live.”

I started thinking about the movies Contagion or worse, World War Z. Would I sound like an idiot if I brought up World War Z to someone involved in public health? I’d even heard some researcher made a video game out of the concept of an enforced quarantine.

“Did you hear about the video game that someone developed to simulate how people would behave in circumstances of a pandemic if quarantine were enforced.”

“I didn’t hear about that one,” she said.

I thought of the movie I Am Legend. That was one of the most terrifying movies I ever saw, even worse than Hellraiser or The Exorcist. After watching all the parodies of The Exorcist, I didn’t think it was all that bad by the time I actually saw it. I actually laughed in some of the places where I was supposed to be afraid. But I Am Legend was a vaccine gone wrong. People acted like they had rabies. Terrifying.

I looked back at the woman in the dog park. Had I stood there too long with my mouth hanging open? She was watching the dogs chase each other. Maybe I really didn’t have to constantly throw words out at a person. Maybe I could stand quietly with someone I just met and not say anything for a moment while I thought about movies I’d seen that reminded me of what we’d said.

She looked up at me as if remembering I was still standing there.

“When I was a kid,” she said, “I really liked the movie Contagion. You know, the one with the little girl and the infected monkey?.”

“Oh yeah. I liked that movie too,” I replied grinning. I hope she didn’t catch my bug.

Thank you for listening, jules