I’ve had a bit of a headache lately and really wanted to get out of the house for awhile to see if the fresh night air would give me a little break from my pain, so when my wife decided it was time to go to bed, I put on my boots, grabbed a small firearm and a flashlight, synced a recent episode of a favorite show on my iPod, and headed out into the hazy night.
It’s been in the 30s lately, but tonight the temperature was in the low 50s, so I took my time wandering the backstreets and alleys through town, and eventually decided to go to the only convenience store open this late to buy a sandwich and a bottle of water. As I zig-zagged the streets to my destination, I passed a tattoo parlor whose door proclaimed “closed” but which also revealed a full-blown party going on inside. Some Mexican guy in a Mohawk glared at me as he strummed his guitar, and I turned away and continued on my trek.
The night has always been my favorite part of our daily 24 because it is empty and lonely and clean. The moonlight and shadows hide well the dirt, weeds, cobwebs and litter of the daylight hours, and the schedule and maybe even the fear of the unknown – of criminals or beasts – keeps most people indoors. This causes less sound pollution, and is more relaxing because there are less eyes that might judge or harass. The cold part of the year is the same way, so having both tonight I was feeling pretty relaxed.
As I neared the store, I saw an old van parked in the lot with its engine running, and a short woman of about 30 years of age inside chatting with the clerk. I went to the back and got my sandwich, then walked near the front to get something to drink and then I heard the sound that changed the course of my night: a watery, low hacking cough.
She’d smelled of cigarettes as I’d passed her, so I hoped it was just a bad smoker’s cough, but as I neared the register, I could hear some of the conversation, as well as the sniffles and wheezing that sounded like a more serious communicable condition. She was talking about her young son being sick, and how she’s had “all the flus this year”. I was trying to find a way to hold my breath without being obvious.
The clerk motioned me forward, but coughing girl was still there, talking. As I took a step forward, she started hacking again, turning away from the clerk and toward me while weakly covering a portion of her face with her sleeve. I wanted to turn and walk out, but also didn’t want to offend anyone, and I quickly decided I was going to need that water to wash my hands when I got outside.
If this was any other flu season, I probably wouldn’t be as worried. But H1N1 is different. A Kid in my state died this morning from it. more than half a local elementary school’s students are absent currently, as are most of the faculty in the district. A student at the school I attend was recently diagnosed with it. They say its like the Spanish Influenza in its ability to harm healthy individuals with more vigor than those who are weaker. They also say those with certain pre-existing conditions are more at risk, as well as the elderly and infants.
I’ve been sick with an unknown ailment for a little over a year now. I’m pretty weak a lot of the time. I have a newborn son. My In-Laws, who watch our children, both suffer from serious health problems. H1N1 in our home could have serious consequences. I have to be aware and take precautions that others might laugh at as a result.
As I stood there, the reality of the “zombie scenario” struck me. While I wasn’t going to pull out my weapon and start blasting the zombie in the head (typical zombie flick move), the sick woman was very much the “I-Got-Bit-And-Am-Starting-To-Crave-Brains” character (we should call them “Pre-Zombies”), and those with confirmed illness are the full-on zombies. I realized how extreme my response was (I’m normally fairly cool, calm and collected), and how easily others who are more prone to ‘freaking out’ may have handled the situation differently, and the reality of mass panic became apparent.
“Swine Flu” is going to change our society, whether or not it has a huge death toll. My generation grew up with the AIDS scare, but you could control that through abstinence and testing, and even live through it with a cocktail of prescriptions. H1N1 is not as easily controlled – as I discovered in a convenience store in Small Town, USA at 11pm on a Wednesday night.
If that woman did have the flu, despite my weak precautions (trying to hold my breath & turn away, washing my hands immediately after handling money and the door, and sucking a zinc lozenge right now as I type), I will probably get it too. If I get it, my family and those parts of the community I come into contact with are at risk. I’m now the guy in the zombie film who got bit and needs to isolate myself for the better good of the rest of my team. While I’m not going to sit in the corner with a gun loaded with one round (that sad moment of every zombie film), I do need to consider limiting contact with my family for a couple days. It might sound paranoid, but would I rather look weird to some people or lose my son?