Yesterday at the gym, breathing in the thick sweaty breath of my fellow Brooklyn-ites, I watched the TV screen flash from one surgical mask to the next, each fastened tight beneath a pair of sad, worried eyes. At the bottom of the screen, in all caps: “IF YOU’RE HUMAN, YOU’RE AT RISK.”
I was reminded of a cough I developed when I was six. It raged through me, sent me in wilds fits that left my eyes watery and my throat sore. I remember it as being accompanied by chills, by an inability to eat, by nightmares and cold sweats and general malaise. I thought I was dying.
A few years later—after going through rounds of medication—I mentioned it to my mother. We were driving, I’m sure, to some new place, and Remember when I had the whooping cough, I asked. What? She said. You know, that cough, when I was in first grade. She took a swig of her Diet Coke and laughed. That was psychosomatic, she said. Psycho-what?
In your mind, she said. We think you were just trying to get attention. But the pills? I asked. Fake, she told me, they’re called placebo. I stared out the window long and hard. Had I really not been dying? Had I really not narrowly escaped Ole Man Reaper?
Because of this, I never really believe I’m sick. A couple of weeks ago, when Eva and I were laid up in the house, and I was sucking down chicken soup and reading US Weekly, I kept thinking, I hope no one finds out we’re faking it. Yes, we were coughing and going through tissues like mad and we didn’t really have voices and we were curled up like two shrimp in the bed, but deep down inside, I wondered if it was really all just in my mind.
And now this…Pigs flying…151 dead in Mexico from the Swine Flu…if you’re human, you’re at risk. None of this is accompanied with a reminder that 35,000 people die each year from the HUMAN flu. I’m just wondering if it’s all in our minds a little. What do you think: is America suffering from the same cough I had as a girl? Or should I stop getting on so many airplanes and invest in a mask or two?