Illness scares me. In fact it would be completely accurate to say illness scares me more than anything else in the world. Yes I’m afraid of zombies and clowns bit those are fears that keep me centered and make me feel alive. Those fears are in the end almost fun. Sure it’s a fun that often ends in the need for adult diapers and weeks of nightmares but still fun.
My fear of illness only serves to make me feel small and insignificant in the universe. Unlike with zombies and clowns I know illness will almost definitely be the end of me. Most people end their lives in sickness, I’ve seen it and it scares the piss out of me. I fear dysentery, I fear pneumonia, I fear the most extreme forms of the flu, and I fear cancer. I know there are other worse and deadlier sicknesses but in the end those are the ones I have nightmares about.
The only other fears I have that even begin to match my fear of disease are fire and heights. I don’t know where my fear of fire comes from. Maybe it’s just the normal fear of fire all animals have hardwired into out DNA. All I know is that I have almost drowned twice and managed to hold my nerve and power through it without panicking but the one time there a legit chance of me being burned I turned into a caged animal. Heights on the other hand… I know where my fear of heights comes from.
When I was about six my best friend had a tree house in his front yard. It wasn’t much of a tree house but it was awesome for us. Instead of a ladder his father nailed a series of boards to the front of the ancient willow tree for us to climb to the top. Maybe if it’s happened on the fifth or the tenth or the hundredth time I climbed the tree it wouldn’t have affected me but not it happened the first time. We ascended the tree and cheered our conquering of the woody behemoth, if I’d been better read at the time I would have crowed about making Treebeard my bitch, and then it was time to descend. Three steps down the trunk my Ked clad foot slipped and I fell to the ground. After that heights of more than a few feet have had the power to freeze my heart in my chest.
Rational fears versus irrational fears.
That is all a very indirect way of coming to the topic of Ebola.
But before we talk about African Hemorrhagic Fever (no I don’t care if that’s accurate I just like the way it rolls off the tongue) we need to talk about the last truly great epidemic scare. We need to talk about AIDS.
The AIDS epidemic officially began on June 5, 1981, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report newsletter reported unusual clusters of Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) caused by a form of Pneumocystis carinii (now recognized as a distinct species Pneumocystis jirovecii) in five homosexual men in Los Angeles.
- Wikipedia Excerpt
I remember the very beginning of the AIDS epidemic. I was young, just about 5 years old. I know this without having to look it up because I have a very clear memory of a conversation between my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Cupp who was so pretty and sweet I wanted her name to end in cake, and one of the other teachers in my school.
My kids tell me they don’t do nap time anymore in school but when I was young they made us lie down on the little mats for half an hour every day. I was lying there and wondering if I could convince Shannon Howard, the first girl I ever kissed by the way, to scoot over and share my mat when I heard it. Mrs. Cupcake was sitting at her desk in the front of the room talking to one of the first or second grade teachers while her class was on the playground. They were talking in hushed tones and it took me a minute to recognize the concern in their voices. I’ll recount the conversation as best as I can remember 33 years later.
“My dad says they’re rounding up the queers in California” the other teacher said. “He told me they’re talking about locking up and waiting to see if they get sick and die.”
“I haven’t heard that” Mrs. Cupcake whispered in shock.
“Well that’s what they get for being perverts” the other teacher declared a little too loudly. “It’s god’s way of punishing them.”
“What about the normal people who have it?” Mrs. Cupcake asked. I heard challenge in her voice. “I’ve heard people are getting it from blood transfusions.”
“Regardless” the other teacher said dismissively, “It’s here now and we all need to be careful. If I ever find out a pervert touched me I’m going right to the hospital. I’m not going to get AIDS.”
I’m sure I mangled the exchange badly but that’s the essence of what I heard that day. It was the first time I heard the term AIDS in connection with disease and death. I’m sure I’d been exposed to the term before that but this was the time all of the pins fell into place.
AIDS was a disease and it could kill me.
After that AIDS was the primary worry in my world following the impending nuclear war that never happened. I became obsessed with the disease and through it pathogens in general. I read and watched everything I could on the subject and in the days before the internet that was a pain in the ass. I remember in 1985 begging my mom to buy me the infamous LIFE magazine with the AIDS epidemic as the cover story. I read and reread that thing till it fell apart.
I remember the panic. I remember the children forced to stay home from school or else be isolated from their classmates in special chambers. I remember the hate for the homosexual community which had been ebbing in the years before AIDS exploding into the mainstream and setting things back a good 25 years at a minimum. As a young boy just beginning to realize he was not as straight as an arrow that aspect in particular fucked me up.
In the end the hysteria subsided and people took a good objective look at the situation. Treatments and protocols were developed and thing s stabilized. I’m not saying things are good. The disease is still spreading like wildfire in the third world, the treatments are absurdly expensive, and I am convinced there would be a vaccine if the government took the lead and not the pharmaceutical companies. In short I think, much like with other illnesses, that we are being fucked for profits.
But at least we know how to NOT get AIDS.
Fast forward to 2014 and we get the Ebola scare.
I’ve known about Ebola for a long time. Anyone who reads speculative apocalyptic fiction in any quantity heard about Ebola decades before it became the exciting new thing to be terrified of. I’m not minimizing the disease, it’s a nasty bug and it will kill your ass dead if you’re not careful. Ebola has been burning its way through West Africa all summer and has finally made the jump to the western world (The USA and EU as of this essay). Ebola did jump to the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria, and they kicked its nasty ass so keep that in mind.
So now America is shitting its collective shorts. We are freaking out and acting like it’s the judgment and we’re all doomed. People seem to think an Ebola infected hobo is lurking behind every corner waiting to shove a body fluid encrusted hand down their throats. People need to calm down.
Yes Ebola is scary, you bleed out in agony.
Yes Ebola is deadly, but people can and DO recover.
Yes Ebola is contagious, but only through direct fluid transfer.
Yes Ebola is in the USA, but Nigeria kicked its ass so… yeah.
Listen folks we’ve been through this before both as a nation and as a generation. There is no need to fly off the handle and act like we’re doomed. It’s an illness we understand, yes mistakes have been made and yes more will be made before it’s over. But guess what, that always happens. Do a little reading on every modern pandemic, in the end we always win. Wash your hands, see your doctor if you run a fever, disinfect body fluid spills, and use some damn common sense because when it comes to intellectual problem solving Nigeria ain’t got shit on us!