Health, Pandemics and Paranoia

crossposted at Herspective: Current Events from a Mom's Point of View Common sense. It all seems to go out the window when someone is sick.

I was never really one for anti-bacterial sanitizers. I currently let my kids abide by the 30-second rule (after all, it was at my alma mater where students debunked the 5-second rule myth! Go, Camels!). I've even caught my middle child picking popcorn off of the floor and eating it. My sisters were horrified. I, on the other hand, take the approach of "Well, my kids will build a better immune system."

The only time I was truly obsessed with cleanliness and anti-bacterial supplements was when my oldest child was diagnosed with cancer. She had just turned 2-years old when we had to go into emergency surgery to save her life. During her 6 months of chemotherapy, I didn't even let anyone in my house if they so much as had a cold-weather induced runny nose. We had a Purell station by the door long before those wall-mounted gadgets were popular. We disinfected everything, sterilized anything that went into her mouth, and carried alcohol swabs like they were pennies in a purse. But, in all fairness, my daughter spent most of her days with a terribly low white blood count due to chemotherapy; and the common sniffle to you would be debilitating for her.

Yet, fast forward to this past summer. We attended a camp for children with life threatening illnesses. And, while none of the children were on active treatment, they were all somewhat immuno-affected. Camp was cold, rainy, and unseasonably miserable for a late June week. On the way home from Camp, a number of families reported being very, very sick. Word quickly spread that H1N1 had found it's way to the Camp and that, unfortunately, people were not adequately notified.

Some of the parents were pissed upset. "How could they allow people with H1N1 symptoms continue on at Camp?" Out of all the people in the world, one of the groups you hope to not be exposed to H1N1 is a whole bunch of kids who recently fought cancer. And, while some parents were appalled at the lack of notification, others (like myself) thought, "Okay, so, let's take care of our kids and move on." In addition to having my cancer survivor there, I was also there with my 2 year old and my 2 month old - so I certainly had plenty to worry about.

Camp is a lot of closed and confined spaces (especially when it rains 5 out of the 6 days). But, working at a college puts a new spin on it, too. Already, students live in such close quarters, share dining hall utensils, desks, door knobs, kitchen faucet handles, computer lab keyboards, etc. And, college students are notorious for not taking care of themselves -- operating on just a few hours of sleep, staying up late, using their "leisure" time making unhealthy choices.

As with most colleges, the place I work recently created a pandemic plan for if there is an outbreak of H1N1. There is encouraged "self-isolation", faculty have been asked to adjust their absentee policy, and the IT staff have vamped up there remote access capabilities. While the students will likely not change their behaviors (they seem to think they are invincible to anything, including H1N1!), it has been important for us to have a plan to protect our community.

While I admit to not being overly paranoid about the flu, I am in favor of the government mandating that a plan be in place for a few reasons. First, it does send a sense of urgency and importance. That, while most of our college students won't really care a heck of a lot, those who work with them do care. Second, it forces us to plan better. The government is asking people to plan. Planning, in the end, also saves money on health costs due to preventable spread of germs. And, given the enormous debt our country is in, a little cost saving is just what we need these days.

For those who are taking steps to plan and who are taking responsibility for the safety of their communities, the government's mandate doesn't affect them -- they were already doing it. As a parent, I would expect that my child's school/organization/activity should also have a plan for vaccination and quarantine. Just as we expect them to have a fire escape plan, an emergency outage plan, and a lost child plan, I expect them to have  pandemic plan. If my child's school did not have these plans, I would consider them negligent.

I almost my oldest child once due to an unplanned illness; I expect to keep her safe with well planned steps.

At the same time, I believe that widespread paranoia can be just as detrimental to our health (stressor) and to our planning. The flu is the flu. Yes, this is a Super Flu; but, we should all still be using common sense. I'm proud to know that our government is going to hold those who do not use common sense accountable for safety.