Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Take the swine flu quiz!

We were having a family dinner last night, something we always try to do before I fly off on a business trip. After explaining to the kids that Dad would be flying to Tucson, Arizona, my wife changed the tone of the conversation with one simple question:

“Will you be wearing a mask?”

Nothing like a swine flu pandemic to make dinner seem less appetizing. By sheer coincidence, we were eating pork chops.

In just a matter of days, swine flu has replaced Britain’s Got Talent singer Susan Boyle as the world’s number one topic of conversation. CNN’s Anderson Cooper “tweets” about the subject so often that I have stopped “following” him on Twitter. Seriously, I don’t know how Cooper finds time to host a nightly news show, provide minute by minute updates of swine flu victims and still maintain that perfectly off-white head of hair. Sooner or later something has to give.

Thanks to Cooper, I’m aware that the disease is in Mexico City. Wait, now it’s in Europe. Hold on, it just flew across the ocean to New Zealand. Now it’s in New York City. It was photographed partying with Kim Kardashian at a swank Miami Beach hotspot. has EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS.

In spite of the virus’ viral spread, I told my wife that no, I did not have a surgical mask and was not planning to wear one on my three hour flight to Arizona.

Call me an eternal optimist but I just don’t believe I’m going to catch a disease, no matter how many people have it. I’m just the opposite of people who are afraid to come in contact with other members of the human race. We watch Deal or No Deal enough to know that host Howie Mandel is a notorious germaphobe and will only “fist bump” contestants who appear onstage with him. After watching this show, I think Mandel is afraid of catching a chronic case of stupidity from contestants who refuse to go quietly with half a million dollars and instead scream, “NO DEAL.” The show always ends the same way: the lucky player opts to open one more case and leaves the stage with enough money for bus fare.

After stand-up comedy performances, I shake dozens- sometimes hundreds – of hands. Sure I wash my hands afterward but I don’t drown them in anti-bacterial liquid. I don’t eye the pretzel dish at the bar with a look of unbridled horror. Sometimes I will actually eat the pretzels, even though the dish is half full, meaning other hands have been there prior to mine.

I’ve consumed yogurt past its expiration date, sat on toilet seats without paper covers and allowed dogs to lick my face. I’ve drank from public fountains, walked barefoot in locker rooms and shared a bottle of Gatorade with my kids.

I’ve eaten food after dropping it on the floor, used gym equipment without wiping it down and typed on computer keyboards at public libraries.

I’m still here and, as far as I can tell, I’m perfectly healthy.

Okay, I did catch a doozy case of the flu about a year ago. Knocked me on my butt for two days. Ironically, I think I picked it up in Mexico, as the virus swooped down on me just days after returning from a family vacation in Cabo San Lucas.

But prior to that, save for the common cold, I can’t remember the last time I was sick. I’ve remained healthy even while flying more than 1 million miles, performing in 45 states and visiting numerous foreign countries. I’ve also never had a flu shot.

But now, as I get ready to board the plane to Tucson, I see the flight attendant wearing surgical gloves while collecting tickets. A person in line behind me sneezed. Anderson Cooper just tweeted that the virus is in Indiana. Should I get out of line and find a surgical mask kiosk in O’Hare?

I’m 46 and this is the first alleged pandemic that I’ve experienced. True, I want to protect myself but it just doesn’t seem as easy as strapping on a mask and going about my daily life. For starters, wearing a mask gives me the creeps. Even in non-pandemic situations, I will occasionally see someone walking through an airport wearing one. To me, they might as well have a sign around their neck that says, “I’M THE ONE WITH THE DISEASE. STAY AWAY FROM ME!”

Michael Jackson is often photographed in public wearing a surgical mask. Okay, show of hands. How many people think Michael Jackson is a normal human being?

That’s my point. A surgical mask is today’s equivalent of a scarlet letter.

“So what?” countered my wife. “Why not take EVERY precaution to protect yourself.” She went on to announce that she would definitely wear a mask if she were traveling right now.

That’s her choice. But eventually everyone will have to decide just how seriously they want to take this threat. And with that, I’ve come up with a brief swine flu quiz. What would YOU do in these situations?

Question 1: You’re sitting on a plane and you have a mask in your carry on luggage. Midway through the flight, the passenger next to you sneezes. Do you…
A) Immediately put on your mask, regardless of how offensive it looks to your seatmate?
B) Offer the mask to the sneezer?
C) Ask to be reseated
D) Update your will

Question 2: You walk into a restaurant wearing a mask. The hostess warily leads you to a table in the back. After 10 minutes, nobody has waited on you. Do you…

A) Take off your mask and loudly say, “I was only kidding.”
B) Casually mention that you are a food critic for the New York Times.
C) Leave the restaurant and realize that, until this pandemic ends, your restaurant meals will consist solely of drive through fast food.
D) Cook at home, providing you have enough food in your pantry so you don’t have to go to a grocery store wearing your mask.

Question 3: You and your fiancĂ©e are about to board a nonstop flight from New York City to Rio de Janeiro, where you will exchange vows. Mechanical problems force cancellation of the flight. A gate agent says there is another flight leaving in one hour, albeit with a brief stop in Mexico City. Do you…

A) Decide this is a bad omen and call off the engagement but vow to always “stay in touch” via Facebook
B) Ask the airport chaplain to marry you
C) Purchase “his and hers” surgical masks from a New York City street vendor
D) Take the flight, take your chances and pledge that, if one of you contracts swine flu, the other will make every effort to get it too. After all, marriage is about sharing, isn’t it?

Question 4: You wake up in the morning with a slight headache and a temperature of 99.7 degrees. Do you…

A) Take an aspirin and go back to bed
B) Call in sick and say, “it’s probably nothing but it might be swine flu.”
C) Get out of bed and say to yourself, “now is NOT a good time for me to catch swine flu”
D) Tweet Anderson Cooper

Question 5: Tyler and Ashley, two kids at your child’s school, have flu-like symptoms. Officials decide to take “precautionary measures” and close the school. You have an important business meeting and no childcare available. Do you…

A) Decide that today would be a perfect “Take Your Child to Work” day.
B) Take a personal day and see if this home schooling thing is all it’s cracked up to be
C) Stay home, lose your job and join the ever expanding ranks of the nation’s unemployed
D) Give your kids surgical masks and quickly arrange a play date at Tyler’s house

See what I mean? Pandemics just aren’t as cut and dried as they were back in the Middle Ages. We have busier schedules and, as much as we hate to admit it, we worry about how we might be perceived by others.

I’m made my decision: No mask for me. I’m going to get on that plane, fly to Arizona, do a good show, shake hands, wash them and continue believing that, if swine flu wants to get me, it will find a way and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Except maybe avoid the bar pretzels.

2 comments: said...

I found myself noticing empty slots at Walgreens and Domincks where the masks should be for various reasons and decided I had been an idiot. Everyone else would have a mask and I'll be left begging. Then saw the stocker with a carton of them and grabbed two boxes. Ended up leaving them at the checkout when I found out how much they cost. Evidently I'm too cheap to worry about getting sick.

Anonymous said...

Greg - remind me not to shake your in San Antonio after your presentation at the National ASMC PDI.

You "swine" you.