Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Dystopia in the Kitchen

I kind of hate, yet kind of love when I get so involved with an audiobook in the kitchen that I clean everything in sight and then just sit on the footstool next to the litter box and listen. Blitz loves the ends of audiobooks since he rolls around on the floor in front of me and gets his belly rubbed. I never met a cat who loved to have his belly rubbed so much. He has a blubbery little belly with dots and dashes coded into his fur.

I kind of hate listening to these audiobooks too because the afternoon is waning, gray and damp, and I haven't taken Teddy out for a walk. A day has a different aura at 4:30 in the afternoon when I haven't been for a walk, rather dreary. It doesn't help that my book is a dystopia, an apocalypse.

I kind of love audiobook days in the kitchen because my mind swirls with the story. One disk remains and I don't know how the band of musicians and actors are going to survive the post-apocalyptic battles against crazed survivors. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I promise I won't give away the story. I hate when people tell me how it ends. You're going to want to listen to this book. Your kitchen will never be so clean.

I'm a sucker for a good post-apocalypse story and this one is good. I got drawn in by the virus, the very real possibility that our civilization could be brought down by a crazy flu bug.

The plague, the 1918 Spanish flu, West Nile, Avain flu, Swine flu, H1N1, ebola.

For the H1N1, Mike and I were nearly frantic. I remember the fear, birthed when Mike first mentioned a shortage of vaccines then the way that fear accompanied me in my gut like a tumor, growing heavier every day the vaccine was still unavailable. Kids in the school were sick. Substitute teachers were scarce because teachers were sick. A school near us closed for a week. We tried to keep from infecting Nick with our fear, but I know he felt it.

Nick had contracted pneumonia five times between the ages of four and nine. He was in the highest risk category. He had already been given two kinds of pneumonia vaccine, the normal one and the one they give to the elderly and those with COPD. It was hard to reconcile the sturdy kid who practiced karate against the one with a right lung that filled with fluid and threatened to drown him every year between February and April, RSV season. I had listened to him bubble as he breathed. I knew how fragile life could be.

The whole family carried tiny bottles of hand-sanitizer during the fall of 2009. My hands bled in the cracks, they were so chapped. Every time any of us came home, we stopped at the sink and lathered up. Mike taught Nick to sing the birthday song and to keep lathering until he was done. I still mindlessly sing the birthday song when I wash my hands, but it was serious then, a time to send Nick back to do it all again if he was too quick. Privately, Mike and I talked about whether we should keep Nick out of school until after he received the vaccine. There was a shortage. We couldn't get him vaccinated soon enough.

Finally, there was the day, I drove Nick to the Department of Health forty miles away and told the nurse about Nick's condition. It was the first day the vaccine was available in our area, two months before it became available to the general public. At first, the nurse looked dubious, as if I were trying to cut ahead in line. But I had brought Nick's list of meds, two steno pads filled with lines indicating the medicine, the dosage, the date, the hour, Nick's peak flow, and O2 saturation. The second steno pad was nearly full, the first completely. I didn't have to explain. She flipped through the pages and quickly left the room. When she came back, she had two shots prepared on a tray.

"I don't need one," I said. "I have a good immune system."

"You don't want this virus anywhere near your son. You have to get vaccinated too. Everyone in the family should get vaccinated." I wanted to cry.

And so we both got shots. I held Nick's hand during his and he held mine during mine. And the weight of fear lifted a tiny bit that afternoon. Nick had never been so happy to get a shot in his life. We stopped for ice cream on the way home. Two weeks later, when Nick's immunization should have been complete, Mike and I quietly celebrated in the living room after Nick had gone to bed. I felt so light, so happy. I hadn't realized just how heavy the weight of that fear had been.

And so it was easy to get drawn into Station Eleven, the way the virus ran through a flight of passengers and overwhelmed an ER. I still remembered the fear we'd had with H1N1, but I watched it as a distant fear, like the thrill of reading Stephen King back when I lived on the second floor of the old mansion built in 1886. Another crazy virus was possible, but I didn't carry the weight of it in my gut, not too much anyway. I knew I had tucked away a bottle of hand-sanitizer somewhere, but I'm not sure where.

Okay, I'll admit. I'm still a little bit afraid whenever they mention on the news that it's going to be a bad year for the flu. But people survived on Station Eleven, and now they have to survive the crazed survivors. I'd better get started on dinner. I have one disk left to hear.

There is hope still, even after an apocalypse.

Thank you for listening, jb

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