Monday, October 12, 2009

Panic -- The New National Pastime

I am not much of a worrier. Quite honestly, worrying requires the type of commitment of which I am not capable. Maybe I’m just glass-is-half-full or maybe I’m just comfortably numbed to the idea that we all have to die of something. Either way, I don’t spend a lot of time pondering things over which I have little or no control. I work hard enough to maintain the modicum of control I truly have in my life; I don’t need to increase to my to-do list by considering dangers outside my jurisdiction.

Last spring, our post 9/11, perpetually nervous country found another reason to fret as a new flu emerged from Mexico. The drama-seeking media got busy counting victims, tracing its origins, and calculating possible death tolls. “Swine flu,” as it was then dubbed pursuant to its original existence in populations of pigs, became the next great anxiety. Comparisons were made to the Spanish flu pandemic that is estimated to have claimed 50 to 100 million lives between 1918 and 1920. Following the swine flu became something of a new national pastime. Surgical masks and antibacterial gel were being cleared off store shelves as the Woody Allen-type worriers stocked up...just in case. Everywhere I went, someone was talking about it. Airlines stopped handing out pillows and blankets on flights, claiming the measure (while also conveniently cost-effective) was meant to reduce the spread of the swine flu. Entire schools were being closed down for fear of the disease spreading. The paranoia was omnipresent.

Then, just as quickly as it appeared, the panic subsided as summer arrived. With the end of the school year, the number of cases being reported to the public daily seemed to decrease. Everyone, except the CDC, seemed ready to put swine flu back in its pen. As a nation, we seem to relax a bit during the summer. I guess we figure we only have three months to enjoy life. So, in June we began enjoying barbecues, boating, baseball games, beer, and fireworks. We started taking deep breaths again (even ones not covered by surgical masks). We went back to focusing on living rather than dying.

Much to my chagrin, however, with the arrival of fall returned the fervor for the fever. The kids went back to school, and Americans went back to their panicking and stressing over this virus. But, now, we were no longer calling it “swine flu.” Suddenly, it was H1N1. A friend of mine quipped that at first she thought H1N1 must be somehow related to R2D2 from Star Wars. My first and admittedly sardonic reaction to the new name was that someone in DC was busy doing some heavy lobbying, convincing Washington insiders that the nickname “swine flu” was detrimental to the sale of bacon, ham, pork chops, and baby back ribs. Either that or some piggish attorney had filed suit in superior court claiming defamation of porcine character. No matter what the reason, now H1N1 was the new fearmonger.

At one point, I heard that upwards of 50% of us would contract this particular strain of flu this season. I had many friends tell me they were going to get two flu shots this winter to protect themselves and their family from different strains. Again, this seems like overkill to me. In my house in the past two years we’ve gotten “the” flu shot, and for two years in a row people in this house have gotten “the” flu all the same. It’s gotten to the point where it seems like a crap shoot to me either way. Don’t get the shot, maybe get the flu. Get the shot, maybe still get the flu. What difference does it make? The World Health Organization is now saying that if you have symptoms that appear to be related to H1N1 assume it it is H1N1 and don’t even bother getting tested for it. The virus is already showing some resistance to the Tamiflu that is prescribed to combat it. The likelihood that you or someone you love is going to get this flu is pretty high. It seems like an awful waste of precious energy to worry about it.

Maybe I’m alone in my complacency towards this virus, but then I’ve always been a realist. A 50% chance of contracting H1N1 is as good as a done deal to my jaded mind. Wouldn’t it just be best to try to stay healthy in the first place? Take a proactive approach rather than trust that some hit-or-miss vaccine will keep you well? Doesn’t it make sense for those of us who are not infant, elderly, or already infirm to wash our hands judiciously, eat well, exercise, take extra vitamins, get some fresh air, and make sure we are getting adequate rest? And if, heaven forbid, we actually come down with H1N1, would it really kill us to take a week off work, stay home, rest, and try to keep from infecting others? I guess that is too logical. Perhaps we should merely continue with our current modus operandi, do what we do best. Speculate. Wait. Discuss. Panic. And, then, point fingers, assess blame, and wait for the next thing we need to panic about to rear its frightening head.

H1N1 is a risk but so is every other thing on this planet. Every day that you wake up is a day that you might end up dead. About a week ago, I learned about the quite unexpected loss of a thirty-something friend. It got me to thinking about how little control we have. I think what we should really panic about is what we’re not doing with the time we have here on this planet. If you really need something to fear, fear that you’re not spending enough time with your children. Fear that you’re not realizing your true potential because you’re lazily watching 5 hours of reality-based television each night. Fear that people you love may never know how much you care for them because you’re too busy with your job to tell them. Fear that while you’re worrying about things you can’t control you’re missing what you could actually change for the better. H1N1 is not what we need to be immunized against. We need to be immunized against fear-based distractions that remove us from what life is all about. Let’s kick panic to the curb and replace it with our old national pastime, baseball. Baseball gives us something to look forward to, something to cheer for, something to get behind...a means for feeling alive. And, if that’s not enough, at least baseball offers snacks, souvenirs, and a seventh-inning stretch. What has panic offered you lately?


  1. I totally agree with you! Still, my kid is in preschool, which means we end up with a cold about once every month. Last year, I missed getting her the flu shot & the whole family was home from school, home from work and down and out for over a week. (I love my family, but...) So really, for me, getting the vaccine is all about convenience.

  2. Well written, Jus!