Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu Pandemic?

Oy! I was all set to write about this Friday night, but then I got distracted by other things. As it is, developments have been happening so quickly what I would have written on Friday night would now be hopelessly outdated. Earlier today I saw a blog entry about this new version of flu that mentioned Randall Flagg - TRULY scary stuff. But that's exactly what I thought of when I first read about the then "outbreak" of a new strain of what is being called swine flu (combining DNA of swine, human and avian flu viruses, readily transmissible via air and touch, the worst of all scenarios). I was going to frame a blog entry around Stephen King's classic scary novel "The Stand." You may remember the story line: a flu-like pandemic of unknown virus sweeps across the world, and about 90% of the human population dies horrid, quick deaths. For unknown reasons, the remaining 10% or so of the population is immune to the virus, even proving totally immune to being directly innoculated with live virus. The world as we know it ends in a relatively short period of time. The meat of the novel then begins. The survivors gather themselves into groups, and eventually converge on Sin City - Las Vegas, where there is an apocalyptic show down between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil. The forces of Good are led by a very elderly, frail black woman. The forces of Evil are led by a big strapping dude named Randall Flagg, who becomes the Devil Incarnate. Back to reality. This incipient pandemic isn't something I'm taking lightly. I was laid flat on my back for a week in 1968 with the Hong Kong flu. Fortunately, I was a teenager at the time living at home, and had mom to take care of me. No one else in the family got sick which, looking back, is something of a miracle since there were eight people living in 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, "dining room" which served as a living room, and the "good" living room which normally served as a bedroom at night for my two brothers, on a sleeper sofa. And one bathroom. I was so sick, I wished to die. I was camped out on the sofa in the "god" living room where normally my two brothers camped out, and there I stayed except for trips to the bathroom, for the next seven days. For throwing up there was a bucket next to the sofa where I lay, helpless. Mom hung a sheet across the large open archway between that room and the rest of the house, and except for Mom everyone else stopped at the sheet and talked to me through it. Not that I did much talking. I was much too sick to do anything other than ache and moan. The odors of cooking from kitchen made me sicker still. I didn't eat anything of substance for a week, and for several days I could not even keep down the room temperature, flat 7-Up and saltines my mother fed me. Everything made me heave, including those cooking odors, long after my body had emptied of anything remotely resembling food. I heaved anyway. I had delirious, fever-induced dreams, one in particular that I remember to this day. I recovered. I prayed I would never ever be that sick again. But, I believe it was in November, 1975, I got a really bad flu again. I think that time it was a version of swine flu, another pandemic, although that one was not so bad as the 1968 pandemic. By then I was working full-time, living in an apartment on the fashionable east side with a roommate and had started college part-time at night. My kind roommate, Connie, took care of me in the early mornings and after she returned from work in the evening. My mom visited several times too, after working all day she traveled many miles to come take care of me. I was flat on my back on the sofa in the living room. I don't remember now why I wasn't in my own bed, maybe it was because the t.v. was in the living room. Not that I watched much of it. I was so sick, once again knocked flat on my back, this time only for five days, but I found myself once again wishing for death. The pain in my body was excruciating. Everything hurt, and it was non-stop. I did manage to keep myself better hydrated, and Connie forced water and broth down my throat, most of which I managed to keep down. I tell you - I never want to be that sick again. And I'm scared, really scared, about this new version of swine flu, because it seems that everyone who has been exposed to it is getting sick. There is no immunity. When I last checked the news, some 149 dead in Mexico of suspected swine flu, which is about a 10% casualty rate out of suspected cases. I don't like those odds. Now, evidently, there is at least one case of swine flu here in Wisconsin. So, what are the odds that I will NOT get sick? Already on April 26th the CDC stated quite bluntly that there was no hope of containing this flu, all they can hope to do at this point is mitigate as best they can, and hope for the best. What does that mean? In the 1918-1919 pandemic, some sources say nearly 100 million people died - and that was in a much smaller world population than the 6 billion plus we have today. I believe the 1968 Hong Kong flu outbreak resulted in some 2 million deaths, and the 1975-1976 swine flu outbreak resulted in some 1 million deaths. Ach! I'm going to bed. Couldn't help but wonder today whether there will be anyone walking around New York when dondelion and I are scheduled to meet Isis and Michelle there in May. Am wondering whether we shouldn't just cancel it all and lay low as we can until this fledgling pandemic burns itself out, one way or another.

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