Monday, February 25, 2008

Remembering to be Thankful

Here it is, a week since I wrote about staying up at night with my son because of his illness, and today, I’m tempted to just write, “Ditto.”

I am so DONE with this virus. You know this virus. Chances are good you’ve had it in your family already. Fever, cough, headache, stomachache. And now a sore throat. We thought he was getting better at the end of last week, but it returned with a vengeance on Saturday. I took him back in to the doctor today to make sure he hadn’t gotten something on top of it, like strep throat or pneumonia, but nothing showed up. It’s just viral, which means all we can do is out-last it.

And that might be the trick, because I’ve got to tell you, cabin fever is getting nearly as bad as this virus. I want to get out of the house. Even going to the doctor this morning was a welcome change of scenery, never mind that we had to sit in a waiting room full of other sick kids.

The one-hour-per-day TV limit flies out the door when he’s sick. So I’ve endured an all-day “Mythbusters” marathon and an all-day “Dirty Jobs” marathon, punctuated with occasional “Smash Lab” episodes. Thank goodness for the Discovery Channel. These shows let my son watch stuff blow up instead of doing it himself. I tell myself he’s learning lots of math and science, too, which is good since he keeps missing school because of this bug.

He’s not the only one. Eight kids were missing from his class last Tuesday (out of 25).

Supposedly, there are two different things going around – an influenza strain that’s different than what they vaccinated everyone for, and this virus (and possibly multiple strains of it). Everyone is sick, everyone is inconvenienced, everyone is annoyed.

But fortunately, very few people have died. And I think we’re forgetting to be grateful for that.

Just 90 years ago, in 1918 and 1919, an influenza outbreak killed somewhere between 20 and 40 million people worldwide. That’s more people than were lost in all of World War I. That’s more people than were killed by the Bubonic Plague in the 1300s.

28% of all Americans were afflicted with that flu, and it was incredibly scary. My grandmother’s favorite aunt died from it.

That was only 90 years ago. Yet somehow, almost no one seems to remember it today, even though most of us know people who were alive then. So now, this flu and viral stuff is going around, and we’re all annoyed and talking about it, but no one is terrified of it, like they would have been 90 years ago.

That says a lot for how much medical science has changed in 90 years. And it says even more about how our lives have changed because of that medical science. Despite all the news about bird flu danger and drug-resistant bacteria and mutant viruses, we have so much confidence in our medicines and doctors that we just aren’t all that worried.

So we hit WalMart and stock up on ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and cough drops. We make chicken soup. We call in sick for a few days. We watch TV and complain for a while, and then we continue on with our lives.

We aren’t planning funerals and boiling everything in sight and putting quarantine signs in our windows. We aren’t wondering how to piece our lives together after losing loved ones to this epidemic. Instead, we’re wondering who’s going to drive the carpool tomorrow and how to get missed homework.

I’m trying to remember not to take all of this for granted. I’m so grateful that my biggest worry today is that I’ve got a little cabin fever and my son has missed another day of school. I’m so glad we’ve gotten nine more decades of science under our belts since then, and I’m thankful for all the scientists and doctors who’ve made it their lives’ work to try to prevent another pandemic like the Spanish flu.

I’m so grateful we are living in 2008.

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