On Monday, Governor Gregoire weighed in on the swine flu crisis. "There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for the people of this state to panic," Gregoire said, "but we all need to be vigilant." The undertow from the Governor's use of "vigilant" should trigger fear in the immuno-deficient hearts of hypochondriacs everywhere. It's a sentiment best reduced to the favorite Czech saying of University of Washington professor Bruce Kochis: "Situation is hopeless but not serious."
Fatalism, especially for hypochondriacs, is a self-preserving virtue. I had an Aunt Agnes who died in Everett from the Spanish Flu at the turn of the century. I had a Dad who contracted but survived small pox in the 1920s. It doesn't require a tragedian to connect the apples of the poisoned tree and appreciate that I'm next.
Which brings me to my girlfriend who arrived at Sea Tac Airport at 11:36 PM Tuesday night from Mexico City. What's a self-respecting hypochondriac to do?
Laurie has a robust immune system which is one of the reasons that I'm so attracted to her. By day she works for an international development organization that is not, contrary to appearances, a CIA front. She labors nonstop, takes frequent overseas trips, and occasionally shouts into her cell in bursts of fluent Spanish like a Latina version of Alden Pyle in Graham Greene's The Quiet American. (The Company, I'm confident, would not have sent her to Mexico City).
She is clearly more than a petri dish, or a throat culture, or a potential incubator of the swine flu. She is a human being. That's why I'm so heartsick that the Mexican government didn't detain her or throw her into quarantine for just a few days. On this side of the border, why not deposit her into a hermetically sealed bubble like the Apollo 11 astronauts? What's good enough for Neil Armstrong should be good enough for a non-astronaut Idahoan. It seems pluralism and civil liberties trump epidemiological common sense.
Conscientious hypochondriacs have already bookmarked the CDC's swine flu website. It's instructive, includes various podcasts from in-the-know docs, and offers up several gems from the hypochondriac's Bible, e.g., "Try to avoid close contact with sick people." No-contact behavior dovetails with the broader notion of "social distancing" which sounds like code for "act like a Northwesterner."
And so I arrived at SeaTac sans protective mask (read: John Wayne-style) to pick her up. She'd kept her mask on in Mexico City, she said, except to eat. "Why did you need to eat?" I wanted to ask, but I couldn't muster the nerve.
Today Laurie has the sniffles. "Just like I always do after a long trip," she says. To echo those sanguine Czechs, "Situation is hopeless but not serious."