An outbreak took place that changed the lives of everyone on the planet. That’s the basic plot for the hit television show “The Walking Dead.”
In an early episode of the series, a group of survivors, with seemingly nowhere else to turn, decide the Centers for Disease Control would be a logical place to go to save them from the terror of the apocalypse.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself thinking I could be in the middle of the apocalypse when I was smack dab in the middle of the emergency room at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham. My son had injured his shoulder in a wrestling match. I did not think about any possible epidemic going around until we were sitting in the midst of hundreds of coughs and sneezes. There were so many people wearing surgical masks that it felt like we had traveled back in time to Tokyo at the height of the SARS virus scare in the early 2000s.
As I waited on someone to simply call the name “Stone Phillips,” so we could get out of that Petri dish full of sickness, I thought, much like the survivors on Walking Dead, that I could turn to the CDC to ease my mind that I’m not in the early stages of an apocalypse. The first thing I saw was a graphic instructing me to “Take 3” actions to fight the flu. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel much better after reading their tips for not getting the flu. I had vaccinated, but the second step talked about taking everyday actions to stop the spread of germs. The first bullet point on that list was “try to avoid close contact with sick people.” I was at the emergency room. SICK PEOPLE HAD ME SURROUNDED.
I am happy to report that St. Vincent’s did not keep us with the general population for long since he had a sports injury, but I couldn’t help worrying for a day or so that I had been exposed to something serious.
For the past month, social media has been full of friends and family who have been diagnosed with the flu. A few days after our emergency room visit, I received the news that one of our folks at the Daily Mountain Eagle had been diagnosed with flu. I was concerned our office would have a full outbreak, but we’ve been able to contain it to the one person so far. I hated to force that person into quarantine for a week, but it had to be done. We also used about a case of Lysol in her area of the building when she returned to work.
The DME reported on Friday that Walker County Schools would be closed Monday in order to fog the schools with disinfectant and clean the buildings as a way to fight the flu. Jasper schools are not closing, because they have not seen a very large number of flu cases.
State officials and area health workers also said the number of flu cases are not slowing down. A nurse practitioner working in east Walker County said 60 to 70 flu cases per day are being treated at his office.
“It’s about the worst that I’ve seen, to be honest,” Heath Hammock said, adding that citizens with symptoms should see a healthcare professional quickly, because of the severity of the flu this season.
The problem with a flu outbreak of this nature is that anyone who coughs or sneezes in public can be looked at as a second-class citizen. That’s what I was doing as I looked around the emergency room on that particular night, and that’s what I’ve done at many public events in the last few weeks. Since I have had a cough since about Christmas, I have also been on the other side, with many people looking strangely at me after I go into a coughing fit reminiscent of someone with COPD.
Everyone in my immediately family has suffered through some type of sinus crud over the last few weeks, but none of us have gotten the flu. The nature of our business is that we are out in public a lot, so don’t be offended if I don’t shake many hands or let anyone kiss my baby until this flu season is over. I read an article the other day that suggested an elbow bump should replace the handshake throughout flu season. I can’t say that’s a bad idea.
Keep well, or get well real soon, whatever the case may be for the person reading this opinion piece.
James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He may be reached at 205-221-2840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.