Saturday, November 14, 2009

Conversation re: flu

So, this morning I arrived at the Wheatland bright and early to help peel spuds for a catered dinner later today. There were the two main caterers, Ruby and Helen, and Helen's husband John. John already had the potatoes in the sink, had quite a few peeled, so I donned an apron and joined him, with a peeler I brought with me from home, originally purchased at IKEA in Vancouver. It's a great peeler, sharper than most of the ones I've tested at the Wheatland.

Anyway, I asked Ruby how things were going for her. "I'm not going to get that flu shot," she announced, which made me think that she had been thinking about it that very moment. Which one? I asked. "H1N1" she replied. Oh. How come? I asked. "Because I don't think I need it. By the time we get the vaccine here, the flu will have come and gone anyway," she replied. "I'll get the seasonal flu shot though," she added. She continued ripping up several heads of iceberg lettuce for the large salad she was building in an enormous clear plastic rectangular tub, enough to feed 60.

"That's interesting," I remarked as I fished a gigantic potato, a good three pounds, up out of muddy sink water, a potato that still had half a farmer's field stuck to its side, which I set out to remove before trying to peel it. "I came to exactly the opposite strategy after thinking about the whole business. I'm willing to become part of 'herd immunity' for H1N1, because, well, while seasonal flu does kill people, it's usually the really weak and sick that die from it, whereas H1N1 is picking off healthy people, kids. I'm more interested in not being a breeding ground for something that kills healthy people than I am in not being a breeding ground for something that is mostly not dangerous for healthy people." I managed to chop up the three-pounder into about 6 large chunks, each of which I could peel more easily with my small hands and wicked sharp peeler from IKEA.

Ruby replied, "But those people who die from H1N1 must have a weak immune system."

"Actually... my understanding is that they don't, that the virus actually provokes their immune system into over-reacting, and it's their own immune system response that does them in."

Silence. Then, "How are those potatoes coming along?"

"Good. How many pots-full will we need?"

"We'll need about two and a half small pots full, but we'll cook them all in just the big pot. There are only 60 people coming to this. It's not like a regular supper with a hundred and 20 where we need the big pot full and two small pots as well."

"OK then, I think we'll have enough with these four big potatoes we have left to peel here."

Long pause.

Then Ruby said, "I don't know.. I think I'll just go with what the doctor said. He said he thought that by the time the vaccine got here, the flu would have already come and gone anyway.."

I waited an appropriate length of time, then said, "Well... I was thinking about that 1918 flu. I think it arrived in waves. I think it can go away for a bit then come back again... I wouldn't want to be someone who worked for the Center for Disease Control, tracking viruses and whatnot, trying to figure out how to advise as I tried to understand what was happening around the country.. That 1918 flu took out a huge chunk of the population. In those days there were only 2 billion people on the planet, and the flu took out 50 million, something like that.. that's a big percent of the population, and there were no shots for it, no Center for Disease Control, nothing. People died like flies in those days from all sorts of things, but for sure that flu made a big impression..... Do we have enough potatoes peeled now, do you think?"

"Yup. That should do it. Let's go have coffee."

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