Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cold War

Enough is enough!

I’ve been assured that the usual, run-of-the-mill (also known as “common”) cold will take between seven and ten days to burn through one’s system. From one perspective, this is amazing. Our bodies are invaded, identify the pathogen, then research, manufacture, and distribute the appropriate cure to deal with the enemy virus/bacteria. To mirror this effort outside of the human body takes months in million dollar labs staffed by hordes of PhD graduates, yet we do it many times in a single year. As I said, amazing.

From another perspective, of course--namely the perspective of the cold-sufferer--this is painfully, frustratingly, agonizingly slow. It means days of mucus, wadded up tissues, sneezes, and general malaise.

This has been a bad year for me. Colds and I have become far, FAR too familiar with each other. If I’m using the “7-10 days per cold” as an average, based on “days sick” I’ve managed to clock in four colds since the start of school (I’m currently in the midst of Cold Four). Unacceptable. Something must change.

Oh, I know why I’m so stricken. I’ve been doing the rounds of playgroups with my year-old, so I’m getting exposed to hordes of unfamiliar viruses. In a few months my immune system will sort of wake itself up and remember it has a job to do, and things will go back to normal. Until then, however, it’s time to re-examine some old customs that just don’t work in this pandemic-prone world of ours. We do, after all, live  in a global village where one nasty bug can be flown everywhere in the cushy convenience of pressurized airplane cabins.

First on the chopping block? Handshakes. What a stupid idea. I don’t know where your hands have been, and you don’t know where mine have been. Anyone who’s ever gone into a public bathroom knows hand-washing is a lost art. Some do it, some just splash water and run, and the truly evil few walk out of the stall, adjust their belts, run their hands through their hair, and head off to spread their ugly particles. Even bathroom design helps these jerks, by having taps that require turning and doors that must be opened by hand, meaning every clean hand is now sullied by the dirty. (I have an uncle who used to--and maybe still does, I don’t know--open bathroom doors with his feet rather than sully his epidermis by physical contact. It was really very amusing watching him contort in order to manage this impressive task.)

Yet try to avoid handshakes in social situations. It’s tricky; I know, I’ve tried it. People look at you as though you’re a freak, and no explanation you can offer 100% reassures the wounded party that you aren’t being a) standoffish, b) germophobic, and/or c) making aspersions about their own hygiene. Even the Japanese, famous for their bowing, have bent to Western groping, as evidenced by all the hand-shaking whenever the US President goes on an Asian tour. Why couldn’t we have gone for the nice, safe bow, respectfully accomplished at arm’s length?

Next up for elimination is kissing. I’m not just talking about the cheek-slobbering done in France and Russia, but suggesting all oral contact is verboten. Your epidermis is a very effective defense against plague, but when you slurp up viral agents through that big hole in your face, you doom yourself (and others when you later start coughing, sneezing and otherwise smearing your surroundings with germ-filled liquids). Of all types of kissing, surely mouth-to-mouth is the silliest. “Here, have some bacteria-laden sputum.” “Mmm, thanks, here’s some back.” Yuck. People freak out about backwash in a bottle of pop, but we still do the ol’ open-mouth kiss. There’s no Daily Health Advisory broadcast about kissing, but there should be. Why doesn’t the UN’s World Health Organization make some sort of announcement about it? The UN is all about grand, symbolic gestures; this should be right up their alley.

Come on, Margaret Chan, help me out here. Make it alright for me to avoid human contact and eliminate the common cold from my life.

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