I saw my podiatrist this morning. I try to go every two or three months because when I’ve tried to remove the unsightly, dead skin on my feet by myself, I’ve ended up with something even more unsightly, infected and painful, which has meant seeing her anyway. I decided skipping the intermediary steps of that process was in my best interest.
As she inspected, clipped, and buffed, we chatted. She asked me how the school counseling position is going, what kind of weekend plans I have, etc. She told me she’s going on vacation to Mexico next week, and expressed her concerns about the flu. She didn’t say whether or not she and her family had gotten shots, and I didn’t ask, but she said she’s bringing face masks to wear on the plane because she’s worried about H1N1. She admitted people might laugh or make fun of them, but she said she doesn’t trust airplane ventilation systems, and felt it was probable there would be someone on the plane with the virus. She then shared that there have been some cancellations from patients with the flu. I told her I wasn’t aware of any outbreaks at my schools, but that my friend’s son had it recently, and it had been making the rounds in her community.
Back during the summer when the fuss over swine flu was gathering steam, I was fairly worried about my chances of catching it since I planned to return to the school counseling gig. I considered not taking the job, especially when I found out I was going from 11.5 hours a week to 7 hours after the scary nun school didn’t renew their contract. On one hand, it’s not much money, and certainly not enough to risk my health. On the other hand, it’s more money than I’d be making to sit on my sofa and blog, and not taking it because of the risks of hanging out with potentially snotty, coughing, feverish children was a little paranoid, even for me.
News reports were only contributing to my uncertainly and concern about the flu. Once upon a time, news was intended to clarify, but that’s no longer the case. Now it’s intended to amass readers, so more sensationalistic headlines, especially for stories that already have people a little nervous, are the rule. I read a bunch of articles from a variety of sources, and I either figured out they were just trying to scare people, became desensitized to the issue altogether, or some combination thereof because eventually I kind of stopped caring.
I’ve written before about my irrational fear of dying, something with which I’ve really been trying to make peace since it’s going to happen eventually seeing how I’m not immortal as far as I can tell. My fear of death has probably driven my fear of getting the flu, but once I surmised that while the chances of dying from the swine flu might be higher than some other flu strains, they’re still pretty slim.
I also read an article by a doctor posted on Twitter, by JaimieH, I think, back in the summer. I’m drawing from memory so I might have the details a bit wrong, but as I recall, the doctor made some points about how going cuckoo-birds with vaccines and germ-phobia would likely facilitate a stronger mutated strain of the flu, and without any immunity to the current strains, a potentially stronger strain could be significantly more dangerous.
This resonated with me. I’ve never been germ-phobic. I don’t use hand sanitizer. I wash my hands after using the ladies room or if I’m doing something that causes my hands to be obviously dirty – gardening, cleaning, handling a squirming lizard – but I don’t wash them just for the heck of it. I’m careful about using alcohol to clean infusion and sensor sites, but I think that’s justified when you have something inserted under your skin for days at a time. Plus, I had a nasty staph infection at an infusion site a couple of years ago, and I’d like to avoid a recurrence. Besides that, I’m not a neat freak. I’m terrible about housecleaning. I’m not obsessed with bleaching and sanitizing surfaces. I wash my hair maybe three times a week because doing it everyday is bad for my hair. As long as I haven’t been sweating profusely, I don’t shower everyday because it’s better for my skin. If I drop food on the floor, I have a very generous 5-second rule, usually punctuated with an exclamation of, “A little dirt never killed anyone!”.
While I’m not rolling around in the mud like bacon-waiting-to-happen, I think dirt and germs and grime have merit. My evidence? Well, I’m sure favorable genetics have a lot to do with it, but I’ve never had asthma or allergies. I don’t get sick that often. I have days when I don’t feel so awesome, but full-blown infections and viruses with fever and vomiting and feeling like I’m on my death bed don’t happen to me so often *knock on wood*. Jason gets more nuisance upper respiratory infections and colds and the like, and I always tease him about it because he’s supposed to be the healthy one in this operation. I can’t say with absolute certainty that I’m less susceptible to illness, as it’s not based on anything more than my perception and anecdotal evidence, but I do think my appreciation for a few germs has a little something to do with it.
My immune system hasn’t exactly been a total ally considering it offed my beta cells, but as an adult, it’s served me fairly well. Because of that, and also because I don’t completely trust vaccines, I’ve avoided getting a flu shot every year that I’ve known it to be an option, save for one when I worked in a hospital. My coworker was going to get one, and I gave into peer pressure and went with her. I don’t recall having any kind of reaction to it, so it’s not like I swore them off due to a bad experience. I understand getting a vaccine for something like Polio which caused permanent physical problems for people once upon a time, but I honestly don’t put stock into getting vaccines for things like chicken pox, and once I overcame my paranoia about H1N1, I decided I’d likely be just fine skipping the flu vaccine.
So what am I doing to protect myself from swine flu since I’m a person with a supposedly compromised immune system due to chronic illness? Not a darn thing. When I see the endo next, I’m guessing someone will encourage me to get a flu shot, assuming they have them in stock, and I’ll politely decline or fabricate an excuse so they let it go. I think I’m pretty good at following medical recommendations usually, but even if Dr. Joslin came back from the dead, showed up on my doorstep, and advised me to get a flu shot, I still wouldn’t trust it. Maybe I’ll end up regretting it if I get sick, and I’ll definitely be miffed if I die. On the plus side though, at least I’m not ruminating and stressing over it. If I do get it, my immune system still owes me for this little case of type 1 diabetes, so I trust that it’ll take good care of me.