H1anyone?

panicBy A. B. Thomas

It was 7:30 on a Tuesday, the night  I strolled into the emergency room.  I was greeted by the sounds of several people sitting on the waiting couches wearing white masks and emitting  occasional groans and sputtering coughs. I walked up to the Plexiglas encased receptionist and smiled. Without looking up from her computer she tiredly asked if I had chest congestion, cough, fever, headache, nausea, diarrhoea or other flu symptoms. I told her that I did not. It was if I had become interesting; her eyes left her computer screen, she leaned forward towards the Plexiglas and conspiratorially asked what the nature of my visit to the emergency room was.

Proudly I held up my right hand wrapped in a blood soaked towel as if I were Arthur pulling Excalibur from its stone sheath. I could not see her hands, but I thought I had heard several sounds resembling gleeful clapping though I could be mistaken. She told me to go to the nurses station, which I did, just as another person came behind me with a large chunky sounding cough. The enthusiasm the receptionist had exhibited faded quickly, and I heard the tiredness return to her voice as she asked the person if she had chest congestion, cough, fever, headache, nausea, diarrhoea or other flu symptoms.

I received a similar icy reception at the nurses station when I approached their window; the nurse did not look up from her paperwork as she asked if I had chest congestion, cough, fever, headache, nausea, diarrhoea or other flu symptoms. As with the receptionist, the nurse actually looked at me when I told her that I did not, I had cut my hand. With doleful eyes she said, “Really?”

I held up the blood soaked hand as confirmation, and sensing her excitement I added in my best sexy voice, “I cut it real good.” She had that doubting look on her face, much like the one women give men boasting about their penis sizes at the bar. She asked how the cut occurred. I asked if she would believe I had been wounded whilst defending three maidens accosted by a roving band of marauding albino midgets using plastic cutlery from the hockey rink’s food court. She replied that she would not. I had to relate the sad tale of carving a bone shield out of foam, an exacto-knife and an overly proportioned cat who chose an inappropriate time to attempt, and fail, jumping over my arm onto my lap for an ear scratch.

“Show it to me, baby, show it to me,” she breathlessly demanded. Okay, she didn’t repeat herself or call me baby but I could tell that those were the words she was thinking. I told her that I did not think, at that moment, I should show her.  The blood was flowing rather liberally. She insisted, while I coyly answered that I really didn’t think I should. She demanded that I show it to her; it was at this point that  she would be classified as one of those women that wouldn’t be put off for long – her official title would have been the “Crotch Grabber” if this would have been a bar situation.

With the artistry of a burlesque stripper, I slowly unwrapped the towel my hand, knowing full well what was contained underneath. I had, after all, put the exacto-knife into the flesh between my thumb and pointer finger only half an hour before, so I was confident the majesty of the gore would impress the nurse. Coincidentally,  twenty minutes before I stood in front of the nurse, I realized that I was indeed in a relationship; as layer after layer of red shone brightly upon the kitchen floor, freezer, fridge and table.  Contrary to my insistence that it wasn’t serious, my partner had insisted that I wrap my hand up – not in the good tea towels you nitwit – and hasten myself to the hospital to get my hand looked at…and, for Christ’s sake, to stop bleeding all over her floor. In her defense, I tend to bleed often though I am somewhat astounded, from  the sheer volume of scar tissue that has wrapped itself around my body, that I have as of yet not become a walking bio-Kevlar advertisement.

As if it the wound was waiting for its cue, it gurgled and spurted just as the last of the towel unwound from my hand. I am uncertain that the nurse’s non-verbal communication was appropriate given the situation; somehow I felt lessened as she hurriedly rushed me into the treatment centre with a large smile on her face and a slight skip in her step, announcing to the doctor that there was a patient that was actually bleeding! As the door closed between the treatment area and the waiting room I heard a man growl, “Hey, I’ve been here for an hour and you take him in? I’ve got H1N1, damn it!”

The doctor peeked out from one of the curtain divided beds, a look of disbelief.  Perhaps the nurse had used the ruse of someone having other than flu symptoms one too many times before on him. He shot the nurse an accusing look and shrank back slightly behind the curtain when I made the unfortunate act of coughing; however like the ground hog on February second upon not seeing its shadow, he fully emerged when the bright red beacon of my hand affirmed the nurse’s assertion. It took a couple of hours for my blood to clot enough to allow a careful examination of the wound, the doctor to repair the artery that I had severed, and put a couple of stitches into my hand, which gave the doctor and I time to talk – in between running back and forth to the other treatment areas telling people that while they did have a flu, they did not have the H1N1 flu.

It is not just in my town that clinics and hospitals are inundated with people coming in, insisting that they have contracted H1N1; across Canada the medical community is being swamped by fearful citizens convinced that Death is knocking on their door. This paranoia is not simply contained in the medical disciplines – it is far more widespread.  Some school districts in Alberta are reporting a 40% attendance rate in the classroom with the work force numbers  estimated as being not far behind. The fear of H1N1 has gone so far as the Alberta Labour Federation demanding protection from demotion or termination of employment for workers who call in sick  – which led the Provincial Health Minister to issue a press release reminding the Federation that there was already legislation protecting workers who were legitimately ill from those consequences.

The disconcertment that I have about mass media’s sensationalism of the World Health Organization’s proclamation that H1N1 is pandemic, is that it has trickled down to the community level by elevated and skewed statistics that don’t portray the actual incidences of H1N1. For instance the 40% drop in school attendance, in my community, is a deliberate misdirection of what has been occurring in our schools. Monday, we received a phone call from the youngest child’s teacher saying that since the boy was coughing, she was requesting that he stay home – which was followed up by a letter from the school district that if a child displayed any symptoms of being sick, such as a cough, they be kept home. Friday I went into the school to report that since they were still coughing,  they would not be in school for the fourth day straight. She smiled as she placed a couple of checkmarks in a book. I asked what the book was for. The book was for Alberta Health, keeping track of how many kids were sick in the school. I pointed out that the boys were not sick – there was no fever, nausea, diarrhoea, chills, or headache- they had dry coughs which were quite common when the seasons changed in Alberta, and until this year had not been an issue. She didn’t remove the check marks. In a week, I imagine that Alberta Health and Health Canada’s statistics on the prevalence of sick children will include three children who have caught on that if they don’t wish to attend school all they have to do is cough in front of their teachers. Children, much like their adult counter-parts, know a good scam when they stumble across it. I wonder how long it will be before the Alberta Department of Education announces it has decided to suspend the minimal hours of classroom time that a student has to attend to be considered “taught” enough for academic credits.  Thanks to the over-sensitization by the eduhcation professionals who do not hold children back a grade because of a lack of grasp of the basic concepts in mathematics and language until they progress up the learning ladder; at which point, the feeling of inability and failure at grasping the more complex concepts has made actual examination marks moot. Perhaps the Department of Education will not examine the effects of the over saturation of pre-cautionary measures, time will tell.

It would appear to me that as Western civilization progresses in science and the acquisition of knowledge, the more learned helplessness, we as a society, develop. One could easily juggle the numbers to suggest H1N1 is far deadlier than the common flu; the more common the higher the contagiousness and contraction of the virus is. H1N1, relatively new and still mutating, could in five or six years lose its media darling status and become immersed in the cover-all of influenza to allow another virus strain take its place as the new pandemic fad. Society is on a pendulum; when swinging to the right we all see ourselves as independent and self sustaining individuals with entitlements we haven’t really earned yet.  When the inertia is going left, we are invalids requiring the scientific community to save ourselves from the evils of the natural kingdom. There needs to be a re-aligning of our concepts of living; medications in the short term are helpful for most people, but in the long run the minor bacteria and viruses that used to be easily overcome are becoming stronger and stronger as our immune systems become reliant on medicine for functioning over natural generation of prevention. Perhaps there should be an acknowledgement that H1N1 is not deadly unto itself but more the so because we as a society have become mere shells of hardiness for the pioneering societies we once were.