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Day 35: The Solitude of Sickness

My girlfriend is truly ill. Nina has barely spoken since I got home 16 hours ago.

Since I’ve never seen her under the weather, I don’t know how she usually deals with it. So far, I’d guess she starts out in denial and then nukes her symptoms in hopes that no one will ever notice she was sick. It’s scary and unnatural. Where I come from, we welcome loving tribute; no matter what ails us, ice cream has healing properties.

To Nina, mere witnesses are unacceptable, verboten.

MASKS UPON MASKS, BUT NOT MINEShe’s been vomiting and crying and behaving strangely. Her stomach is a mess. She won’t answer telephone calls from anyone but her employer. Her best friend ‘Growly’ texted me to get Nina to call her back. Debussy and thumping sounds emanate from the bedroom, as if she were trying to dance. It’s been a while. I hope she doesn’t hurt herself.

Every cough sounds deeper.

Nina pulls together heroically for the criminal bank. I can hear her saying how much she misses the office. I picture the smile she fakes for good measure. Apart from the nice blonde executive from Tennessee, Nina had barely met her desk when the flu struck. Sometimes her voice grows inaudible, as if she’s saying something confidential. As if I care about their marketing schemes. I’m hardly the target audience.

The boss wants her to show up Monday and she’s desperate to oblige. I doubt smallpox could keep her home, but she looks bad: She’s both red and pale. Her little dark orbs are inflamed. I tried googling her visible symptoms, got nowhere.

She refuses to discuss her malady. I don’t believe she has bird flu. Where could she have caught it?

Her symptoms seem like a kind of virulent hay fever—headache, fever, runny nose, cough, dizziness, fatigue, even stomach upset. I’m just a mask-vending typist, not a doctor. She may have something.

A doctor would probably advise her to head for an emergency room, which I still consider dangerous exposure. I haven’t been asked.

She won’t call a doctor. Her eyes tightened at my suggestion.

Instead she asked me to sleep in the living room, ostensibly to spare me from exposure to her symptoms. It’s absurd. Everything in this apartment smells of disinfectant. She’s polished every fomite.

Has Nina caught the American plague of presentism? Fewer than half of our workers get sick pay; the rest can’t afford to stay home. Not even a third get time off to care for ailing children. Part-timers and contractors fear they’ll be fired if they don’t show up. So people crawl to work, where they can infect their bosses.

A senator pointed out during the swine flu pandemic that only five nations in the world lacked mandatory sick leave: Lesotho, Liberia, Papua-New Guinea, Swaziland, and the U.S.

The deeper you look into the work chain, the worse it gets: Fewer than one-fourth of the lowest-paid workers get sick pay; maybe one-sixth of restaurant workers get it. What do you think happens to viruses in those kitchens?

Some so-called libertarians blame illegal immigrants for spreading bird flu. But there’s no native immunity for Americans. U.S. passports are fomites, slathered in germs and viruses. Just like paper money, which can harbor influenza virions for hours, even days. (Up to 2 ½ weeks if coated in mucus, according to Swiss bankers.)

Did I mention that Nina is wearing a mask inside? It’s not one of the (better) masks I sell, but a run-of-the-mill N95 like those reporters wear on-camera so they can look like common folks. What is she trying to tell me?

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