on not giving a pig’s arse about swine flu

The little red-haired girl is getting over swine flu.  Well, I say swine flu because it’s the hysteria du jour, but it could have been anything that lays a kid low for a few days.

She is one of 16 from her grade 7 class of 28 at home instead of school right now, though we don’t know how many of those kids have simply been taken out of school because their parents got the jitters, or whether they’re genuinely ill like she was.

We also don’t know for sure if it was swine flu, but the symptoms seem to match.

Temperature about 38?  She got up to 39.3C – or nearly 103F – at one point, though thankfully she’s now back to just above normal.

Headache? Runny nose? Sore throat? Lethargy? The British National Health service says if you’ve got only two of their laundry list of symptoms you may have swine flu, so with five already, she had more than a double dose, I guess.

Never mind that most of us have headaches, a runny nose, sore throat and feel like crap when we have a common cold, too, but we’ve got to keep the worry up, right?

The other day the headlines in Germany screamed that a healthy 15-year-old girl died of swine flu within a few hours of her first symptoms, that 14 in Germany have died so far, that we’d all better get vaccinated or the numbers will only climb, and on and on.

Tell you what, people.  When the headlines start to blare about how dangerous it is to go outside and move about in traffic, I’ll start to take swine flu seriously.

The number of people in Germany who die in traffic accidents – that includes cyclists, pedestrians, bus riders, car drivers and passengers, the works – was a little under 5,000 last year, or around 13 – 14 every single day.   The annual death toll is always framed as GOOD NEWS, because the figure has been falling steadily from a high of around 20,000 per year four decades ago.

But if we’re all potential victims of swine flu, and are told we should get a vaccination, we’re also all potential traffic stats, against which there’s not much you can do but try to follow the rules and hope for the best.

Every morning when I haul the little red-haired girl’s bike out of the basement to carry it up the stairs for her, I try not to think of the dangers  she faces in rush hour traffic, armed with only a good light, reflectors, reflective vest and helmet.   I shake my head and imagine her steering well clear of those roving one-tonne tin cans of death she has to make her way through, arriving at her destination safely.

Just before the kiss good-bye, I always slip in a “be careful” in as many ways I can think of spread out over each month, a verbal talisman to pin on her as her rear light fades from view, round the corner and out of sight.

I remember rolling my eyes a bit whenever my own mother said that to me.   Every time, without fail: You be careful, now!  It was her standard send-off, though she’d often tack on short summaries of her more harrowing shifts at the Lion’s Gate Hospital emergency intake.

Ya shoulda seen this guy on a bike who came in lass week, I tellya, he was a mess! Car smucked him going down Lonsdale and they brought him in within five minutes, but his head was so bashed in you couldn’t tell what he looked like.

If I was headed up to Whistler skiing I’d hear about everything from torn ligaments, spiral fractures and quadraplegic cases to ski pole impalements and guys getting lost in the woods, their corpses recovered the following Spring.

Anything to ward off a parent’s worst fear, the fear that came true when her first-born was killed in a car accident at 18, and the constant worry that it might happen again to us.

No, we didn’t get swine flu vaccinations, and don’t plan to.  Too late for our daughter anyway, who got hers the hard way.

I know it’s only human to fear a new disease whose final impact is not yet known more than it is to cower at the daily sight of a throng of traffic at an intersection, but I wish there were a vaccine to protect cyclists.  A pill to pop that would shield us from the dangers lurking around the corner.

I wonder if it would sell, though.  First you’d have to whip up the hysteria, but all we do is take for granted that 5,000 people will die a horrible death in this country every year, and hundreds of thousands  more around the world, and hope to hell it isn’t us.

16 Responses to “on not giving a pig’s arse about swine flu”

  1. November 11, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    I’m sorry to hear about your sister. I agree, the biggest risks in our lives don’t seem to faze anyone: heart disease doesn’t stop people from eating crap and being sedentary, accidents don’t stop people from driving every day. Still, I wouldn’t say it’s nuts to get the H1N1 vaccine any more than to get a regular flu vaccine, which is not a bad idea overall for at-risk groups or those with contact with them or even for regular folks. I hoped to get one, but with cases closing in on my husband and I, I think we’ll be exposed the natural way before ever getting a vaccine.😉

  2. November 11, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    I got a normal flu vaccine for the first time in years. Arm hurt like a bugger for almost a week!

  3. 3 Vorpal
    November 11, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I get flu shot every year, and this too. Why not? If they offer one for the hini flu, I’ll get that too. Company I work for holds free (to employees) clinics, and since I do all of the normal health-supporting things, I’ll do that one too. Opponents of vaccinations hold that I don’t (often) get sick because of all of the other health-support stuff I do, and the vaccination is useless. What I find *hilarious* though, is that many of the people who worry and fuss about the “dangers of vaccinations” will walk into “health-food” stores and buy some untested crap off the shelf because it “supports the immune system”. Sigh.

  4. November 12, 2009 at 4:36 am

    One of the things that touches me about your writing is how deftly you make me, a childless one, feel the pangs of parenthood. Very, very nice.

    The great irony of H1N1 here in the States is that they hyped it out of all proportion, whipped up the population to demand the vaccine in a panic stricken frenzy, and then failed to produce enough to satisfy demand. There simply is none available in my area – although it’s worth noting that professional football teams have received it. Priorities, priorities….

    After weeks of hysterical reporting, the media have grown strangely silent. Perhaps they’re finding it a bit embarassing to keep urging people to search out what he government promised but failed to provide😉

    • November 12, 2009 at 7:27 am

      @Linda –
      The same thing happened with vaccine elsewhere. In Calgary, Alberta the professional hockey players there got to go to the front of the queue. I think they fired a health official over it. Here in Germany, top-level government officials, cabinet ministers, military – they have already been administered a “special vaccine” while the rest of the population has to wait around for “regular.”

      @Vorpal –
      Did you know that health-food stores also used to market “additive-free, natural-smoke tobacco” here as good for you? The argument being, if you’re going to smoke, better to drag on ciggies without all those additives you get in mass-market butts.
      I’m neutral on the vaccination question. If people want to get a shot, fine, but let’s can the hype over it.

  5. November 12, 2009 at 9:32 am

    We saw some of the hysteria when my son’s class took a week-long trip to UK. They made all the parents sign a statement saying they would pick up their child by car or plane, if the child came down with swine flu. Additionally, parents would have to pay for a private room at a bed+breakfast, where the child would be quarentined.
    Nice, how CYA works in Germany.

  6. November 13, 2009 at 12:02 am

    The same thing happened here–whip up the public, then say oops don’t have it. I think the difference between the flu and cars is this: vaccine makes money for business, biking rather than cars loses money (and jobs) for big business. So government doesn’t go there. From the public perception, vaccine is easy to take or avoid, being out in traffic hard to avoid, making a change to use of cars involving a lot of personal change and policy change. Human nature. But here’s something I don’t know. Why does the media not make hay out of car crashes? I mean they whip up fear of things much rarer or farther away, why not this? Does it not sell? And then why not?

    • November 13, 2009 at 6:09 am

      There have been huge drops in the number of traffic deaths despite more traffic on the roads thanks to improvements in car and road safety – seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes, better road engineering, etc. Still, the number is very high. But traffic accidents don’t make the news because car accidents, while horrible for those involved and for their loved ones, are too numerous to mention. They’re also nothing new. The swine flu is.

  7. November 13, 2009 at 3:14 am

    Yes there is a lot of hysteria over H1N1 and people lining up for hours to get the vaccine in fear. Governments are being blamed for not providing enough for every single person who wants it immediately, sigh. Having said that, we have an acquaintance who is a doctor and he tells us there are a lot of awfully sick patients on ventilators at his hospital. I get a regular flu shot every year and I did get an H1N1 shot today (without waiting in line) but mostly because I have some serious health issues not because of hysteria…ciao

  8. November 14, 2009 at 7:20 am

    I was hit by a car on three different occasions as a child riding my bicycle to school. I remember the look on my father’s face when he rushed into the paediatrician’s office. He looked worse than I did. I was really very lucky that time. The other two were mere taps. The third mere tap caused a bit of an outrage though. Come to think of it, would be a good post. Love you writing. Love your photos. Love your neck of the woods (I was born over border in Seattle and have a fondness for the Pacific NW. BTW – was adopted.)

  9. November 14, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Hope she is feeling better. Risk is something many people do not understand, nor contagion for that matter!

  10. November 15, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Is there anything that makes you more vulnerable to unbearable pain than parenthood, I wonder. The story about your mom made me laugh, Gavin’s mom is also a nurse and after he got his motorbike at 16 she would take him to her ICU ward to show him victims of bike crashes.
    Did it stop him from being a reckless, testosterone filled git on wheels? It did not.

  11. November 15, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    I could never have let my children ride to school on their pushbikes -Sydney traffic is diabolical. Even thinking about that possibility years later freaks me out….

    Had my swine flu injection last week, but only because I work in such a high risk category. and I did it more for the patient’s safety than my own. (Quite frankly, I’d like a week off work on sick leave so long as I didn’t have to spend it on a ventilator).

  12. November 20, 2009 at 11:09 am

    “But if we’re all potential victims of swine flu, and are told we should get a vaccination, we’re also all potential traffic stats, against which there’s not much you can do but try to follow the rules and hope for the best.”

    I’m glad somebody said it. 14 people dead! Oh gosh golly gee! FOURTEEN WHOLE PEOPLE?!?!?! Not to lessen the significance and sadness of each of those death’s, but more people die each year from job-related injuries, cancers caused by all the toxic waste industry dumps everywhere, etc, etc. And is anybody writing headlines about it? Nope.

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