For me H1N1, when I first heard the term, was nothing more than a bill being evaluated in Congress or some new-fangled preservative on dairy farms – slightly interesting, maybe, but no big deal. The term became like a persistent gnat or fly, though, constantly buzzing in my ears. I figured I would pay attention and see what exactly the hoopla was all about.
It was then the terms epidemic and pandemic sent cold chills over me. I’ve never been a sensationalist but new mother? Roger that – proud mother since March to a bouncing baby boy. If you’d asked then for me to tell you when H1N1 cases were first reported, I wouldn’t have been able to give a correct answer. Origins aside, when the commercials and news scenarios in papers and television depict everyday Joes and Janes wearing a mask over their noses and mouths as if they’re doctors fresh from the operating room, call me crazy, but I then get seriously worried.
I work in the education system and visit schools every single day. Schools where children of all ages are housed from 8am to 3pm, at least, and these very children are one of the groups most highly affected by this strain of flu. To this fear of being in a proverbial incubator of germs, add the fact that the illness is airborne and communicable by simply breathing in an area where someone has just coughed or sneezed. My precious baby boy is in daycare, not too far from one of my schools. Normally I visit with him for some length of time everyday just so he doesn’t forget who I am. Actually I just like checking in to make sure he’s getting the proper doses of TLC. Well, how could I hold my head up and not be racked with guilt at the idea of walking into an innocent daycare environment when my clothes, skin and very breath could hold such hazardous material as swine flu germs??
I thought I was a near obsessive-compulsive hand washer when my son was first born, but I gave even myself a run for my money. Every bag I carried and every nook and cranny in my car contained a bottle of antibacterial hand gel. I took to coughing or sneezing into the crook of my arm to – as I’d seen teachers show the Pre-K students – prevent getting germs on my hands. Supermarkets and malls were a thing of the past, and I began pre-screening family gatherings for anyone who’d had a case of the sniffles or any unusual aches and pains.
My baby, in the meantime, didn’t suffer, thank heavens. He never knew his mother was hovering about and covering his face with blankets or a burp rag when crossing paths with some stranger. I kept a couple of those lovely surgical masks about, and a thermometer was always nearby with a trusty bottle of baby fever reducer, just in case.
Swine flu did hit all my schools where I work. Masks were worn by these kids, and we could hope their parents would keep them home until their fevers were gone. My precious angel escaped the germ, so far, without any scrapes or awareness of his hovering mother.
The family has had its regular flu shots now and wait eagerly for the vaccination to arrive for H1N1 itself. Indeed, I’m eager for the sleepless nights I’ll spend when every bead of sweat or fussy cry is indicative that a trip to the E.R. is imminent. Ahhh, not really. I feel like some sort of flu monitoring superhero who lurks in the background ready to squash the evil germ if it rears its ugly head.
If my description so far doesn’t imply levels of panic, read on. At a time when my pediatricians’ office is bursting at the seams with people eager for appointments, I rebelled. Our most recent visit to the doctor, which yielded the regular flu vaccine for my son, led us through a waiting room – filled with sneezers and coughers – to the front counter to schedule his next visit. My little one was in a cocoon in his stroller already as we were leaving; however, that protection seemed meager when I stood behind a gentleman at the counter and saw the expression on the face of his beleaguered wife at the same time I saw a mask dangling precariously from his left ear. I threw caution to the wind, as well as any hope for a good appointment time for his next visit – I also threw the scheduling card on the table and shouted I’ll call back later as I peeled out with my stroller almost bowling people over to get to the exit and fresh air.