Sunday, September 20, 2009

When do I start worrying about swine flu? (Babble)

A friend and I were talking recently and in the middle of her rundown of things on her plate she added, “And I still haven’t decided whether to worry about swine flu or not.”  Then she laughed because choosing to worry about it wouldn’t really change anything.  Or would it?

Growing up we used to have some very interesting conversations at our dinner table.  Sometimes we would debate some current issue (my brother Arno often slipping into the role of devil’s advocate if he thought one side wasn’t getting enough support) and other times my dad would educate us on a topic he thought we might not know enough (or anything) about.  I just got used to this, and didn’t give it much thought, until one weekend I brought a friend home from college and between dinner and dessert my dad announced it was time we all learned about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.  My friend was utterly stunned by this, and I finally stepped back and realized that probably not all families had this as part of their routine.  Regardless, my dad’s descriptions of the Spanish Flu and how it affected the world was haunting.  My friend certainly never forgot it, and neither did I.  And I’ve worried about another serious flu outbreak ever since.

Now as a mother of young children, I feel it’s in my job description to worry about such things.  I’m responsible for the health of my kids and deciding what to do when they get sick.  It’s no longer just inconvenient to me if I catch something, it affects everyone under my roof, and as with most households with kids there is a chain reaction when illness strikes.  We all get whatever it is, no matter how hard we try to keep that from happening.  Each time another bout of scary flu stories makes the rounds on the news I start running through emergency scenarios in my head.  Do I have enough food in the cupboards to last us more than a week or two?  How many of my kids’ friends have to start getting sick before I pull my kids out of school and hole us up at home?  What about violin lessons and choir?  How am I supposed to handle things alone if I get sick while Ian’s away?  Can you really do anything for flu other than rest and drink fluids, and if it really is a dangerous strain is there something the doctor should be doing?  How will I know?

The thing about something like the flu is that deciding whether or not to worry about it changes your behavior, and spreading flu is all about people’s behavior, so maybe deciding to worry or not does have an impact.  My kids are not reliable handwashers, and one is a thumb sucker and another a nail biter, so I really worry about them picking things up.  But I don’t want to overreact and look like a crazy person.  My kids love school and I’d hate to have them miss any for no reason, but what if keeping them home keeps us healthy?  And alive?  I picture myself doing some basic home schooling if things started looking dicey, and ordering our groceries from a delivery service.  (Sick people still have to eat, and I worry about grocery stores being the kind of place where flu could easity spread.  Does that sound like rational thinking or does that sound nuts?)

These are the times I remind myself that my kids are at greater risk on the drive to school than from almost anything else, and that I will just have to rely on my judgment as things unfold.  I’m sure it will all be fine.   But I’m sure there were moms who thought that in 1918, too, before whole communities were incapacitated and mass graves had to be dug in some places to deal with all the bodies.  There are some estimates that nearly one third of the world’s population was infected during the course of the 1918 pandemic.   And just becuse it’s hard to imagine, doesn’t make it unimaginable or even unlikely in my lifetime, so it gives me pause.

What do you think?  I don’t hear much about individual households and how they plan to deal with a possible flu epidemic.  I hear about large scale plans at places like universities, but not what other parents are thinking.  Is anyone else worried?  Worried enough that it could affect how you live and what you do?  I’d like to know.

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