Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Going viral

This whole "being human" business is, on the whole, pretty awesome. But sometimes it's also pretty gross. First thing yesterday morning, I received an e-mail from one of my co-workers that she had been terribly ill over the weekend, and was in the emergency room all morning with acute stomach flu. My natural reaction was worry, and to offer any assistance that the team could provide in order for her to stay home, rest, and recover. My reaction when a second e-mail from another co-worker came in a few minutes later describing the same set of symptoms, which had hit her at the same time, was somewhat less humanitarian. I mostly just wanted her to stay away, although of course I managed a few words of sympathy and support. When an e-mail arrived moments later from victim #3, I went into full lock-down mode. I panicked. I can admit that.

Ready for battle at the office.
We are a small office of only seven, and three were out of commission. I went to the website of my local public health department for information on the Norovirus, a strain of which has made an appearance here during an already-awful flu season. I e-mailed it off to our staff, with information on precautions and recommendations for preventing its further spread, and helped make arrangements for coverage. I considered ways that I might be able to just work from home yesterday, but the virus can live on surfaces for several weeks, and holing up for a month is not really an option (right?). After a couple of hours of pacing around my condo (and confirming that all of the surfaces in my office had been swabbed down with disinfecting wipes before I stepped foot in it), I came to the terrifying conclusion: life is risky.

This isn't news to me. I actually have a masters degree in public health, if you can believe that. There are many hazards of being human, and catching viral gastroenteritis is among the least of them. We live within complex networks of communities that provide us with what we need in terms of resources and support, but they also pose dangers to us. We participate in activities that bring us joy, knowing full well that we might get hurt along the way (think runners' knee, or tennis elbow). When we reach out and engage in relationships with other people, we're also taking the chance that those people will hurt us. But the deal is: we're always hedging our bets, sharing the risks, and guessing that the rewards will be worth it. You are part of my social insurance policy, and I'm a part of yours. I can live with that. Now please pass the hand sanitizer.


  1. Yeah, both flu & norovirus have been hitting my office while other people on my team had vacations and we had a much busier January than usual... It just happens. If it hits me, I know it will be awful but at least I won't worry about work anymore... being really sick is one of the few cures for my workoholism :(
    Stay safe!

    1. I can relate - I'm an actively recovering workaholic, and used to feel relieved when I came down sick because I had an excuse to slow down! These days, I'm getting a little better about letting myself slow down just for the sake of slowing down. Baby steps.