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Day 2: Cracks Appear in Our Medical Temples

With two New York corpses awaiting final testing results and 16 likely victims in intensive care, we’re awash in flu news. It’s about time.

The biggest story isn’t the local contagion, however. It’s in Vancouver, where a family of tourists from Szechuan who seemed fit when they landed five days ago is now in the ICU. All of them, plus a tour guide and a pizza vendor who served them. Coincidence? That would hardly be reassuring.

Not that some aren’t still fiddling. While the WHO meets again to debate alert levels amid so many complaints about how quickly they raised them for swine flu, veteran flu debunkers peddle cynicism across our TV screens. They cite New York’s past scares and promise this month’s menace will pass, too. Sometimes I wonder if these guys would have sneered at the 1918 pandemic, too: Hey, what’s all the fuss? I feel fine. The Black Death was so much worse and we’re all here, right…?


Like Wall Streeters who insisted that dot-coms and real estate would pay off forever, the flu skeptics have been right for years. When they’re finally wrong, the downside will be far worse than any stock market crash. (Financial Armageddon will be the least of it.)

Some fear H5N1. That sprawling fistfight streaming in various versions on the Web took place outside New York’s biggest hospital. It hints at what’s coming.

The riot squad looks ill-prepared. Sure, they’ve got plenty of weapons. But their paper masks look like a joke to me. Helmets and clubs and tasers won’t protect cops from flu as they face off against flushed and furious New Yorkers desperate to get inside a building that’s bursting with virions.

New York’s hospitals are filling with frightened, sneezing people. It is reported that some doctors, nurses, and technicians are already missing in action. These professionals know what we face. Many were given paper surgical masks that I consider next to useless at blocking the tiny aerosol particles that erupt when people cough or sneeze.

The pros know that our surviving medical facilities—redesigned to shed excess capacity—can’t cope with virulent influenza. Those who slashed medical personnel and resources in the somersaulting recession made no provision for surges in demand. As with dominoes, a systems failure anywhere may mean contagious collapse for all.

Nothing could lure me to a clinic tonight. Survivors will someday look back on today’s emergency rooms with revulsion— as we now think of the notion that surgeons would ever slice into us with unclean hands and tools. (American hygiene still isn’t what we prefer to imagine: Read some grisly studies about how few doctors wash their hands.)

It’s safer to stay home with people and creatures we love, and who care about us enough to hydrate us in a pinch. In this regard, I’m a very lucky man.

Newbies to H5N1 can pass their early self-quarantine days reading copies of Dr. Grattan Woodson’s excellent The Bird Flu Preparedness Planner and The Bird Flu Manual or download for free his Good Home Treatment Of Influenza. (He’ll tell you all about hydration.)

My home is crammed to the cobwebs with boxes of the best respirators, masks, gloves, goggles, and disinfectant I could stockpile. (Plenty of water, beer, wine, and spirits, too.) I hope to save a lot of lives. Anyone who doesn’t catch flu is someone who won’t spread it, so I take pleasure in helping people who will never even hear of my wares.

DIY or Die

Surviving this thing will take more than protective gear. It will take wit and heart and luck. It demands the do-it-yourself spirit that animated the American settlers and New York punk rockers of yore. DIY can save us. It kinda has to.

As long as the Internet holds up, we’re linked. There will be times the digital thread fails us—when electricity is cut, servers can’t handle increased demand, or workers are too sick to keep the ISPs afloat. I won’t be surprised if criminal botnets try to do more than sell phony flu cures and counterfeit Tamiflu. People still robbed banks in 1918; I’ll bet those little gauzy masks everyone wore made it easy.

For now, we’re joined in our isolation. We can safely trade insights to help each other survive. Contact me at this website and I’ll post tips I like.

My digital bean counter says I’ve already snared some readers. I presume they came to buy and stayed for the bonus verbology (with a splash of virology).

Next, I'll have more to say about how we can defend ourselves. Hint: We need to infect society with rational fear. We need to go viral—no less than H5N1 has done. People far from New York must prepare. It's not too late! Yet.

« Day 1: Sign Up to Fight Killer Pandemic Flu! | Main | Day 3: A Libertarian With Hopes, Fears & Regrets »