Letter From New York, November 2, 2009

Or: as it seems to me…

Outside rain falls. I’m not sure I remember a time anymore when rain hasn’t been falling. It’s been that kind of year. And continues to be – wet and chill, perfect weather for the flu. Which is on everyone’s mind these days. H1N1/Swine flu in particular, called that as the theory goes that it first emerged in pigs in Asia, leaping to a human there and then traveling to North America. Personally, I now know a half dozen people who have been ill with it; one so sick she needed hospitalization.

It is both seasonal flu and the more threatening H1N1 strain that has our attention this week. Some reports indicate this will be the peak week for the flu, of whichever variety. The CDC has released the last stores of Tamiflu for children due to an upsurge in children dying from the H1N1 strain, 19 more in the past week. We are all balancing our fears with the reality of living life. While children are especially vulnerable, it didn’t prevent parents from indulging them in this year’s Halloween ritual of “Trick or Treat.” Nor did it stop adults from congregating for parties though I am sure the thought of crowds gave people pause before setting out with their children or going off to their parties. I am sure that the use of hand sanitizer was way, way up. It’s hard to escape sanitizer these days. Many offices seem to have it everywhere; some buildings have installed sanitizer stations next to elevator call buttons and almost everywhere else you can think of. Everyone is advised to wash his or her hands, frequently and thoroughly. Scrub your hands for the amount of time it takes to recite the alphabet or sing “Happy Birthday” twice – that’s the current conventional wisdom.

We are, here in the United States, at the epicenter of H1N1/Swine flu. Some schools are decimated and workplaces as well. But it’s not just here – the entire world is bracing for H1N1/Swine flu. Jet planes mean that infected people move quickly from one country to another. It’s coming up on the time for the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to the birthplace of Mohammed. And the Saudi government is taking steps to encourage the most vulnerable not to come to Mecca this year. Hand sanitizers will probably be everywhere though some conservative Muslims won’t use it because it is alcohol based. The world is haunted, rightly so, by the flu epidemic of 1918 that left millions dead.

I tend to think: it’s just the flu. But every year thousands die of “just the flu.” It’s not something to take lightly, especially this year. This last week there was no Letter From New York partly because I was fighting what I thought might be the beginning of the flu – headache and achy body were my symptoms. Doing something unusual for me, I heeded the call of my body and stayed home, resting and going back to work when my body quit aching. Wisdom won the day and it’s smart that wisdom and caution rule the days for all of us this year when it comes to flu; it’s time to be cautious.

Airlines are being more lenient with re-booking fees and some companies are raising the limit for the number of sick days. The President has declared a state of national emergency to expedite procedures if things become dire, as H1N1/Swine flu has been reported in 48 of the 50 states and 168 different countries.

Now we’ve turned the clocks back, had an extra hour of rest, done our “Trick and Treating” we can begin prepping for the Holiday season in front of us. Best to focus on the good times ahead and be health cautious now.

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