I just read that The Incredibly Horrible, Devastating, Not-Nice-At-All Flu Season of 2017-2018 may have reached its peak. I’d rejoice if I felt better, but I don’t.
Remember Patient Zero? And no, this is not the number on the little bracelet given to the first person ever pre-admitted to the hospital. Common mistake. Rather, this is the person who the CDC was looking for in trying to deal with the AIDS epidemic back in the early 1980s. Patient zero was the identity of the person who introduced the human immunodeficiency virus into the U.S. And as I understand it, the CDC thought they had I.D’d the fellow, but no, it wasn’t him.
In any event, the term Patient Zero entered our vocabulary. It now refers to the first case or the onset of a catastrophic trend. I can think of several persons who have started catastrophic cultural trends, trends that rate a zero in my book, but we can only apply this term to medical trends of an incredibly horrible, devastating, not-nice-at-all nature, such as the flu season that is still upon us.
Inasmuch as I used to be a pastor – I gave it up for Lent – I was always wary of catching something that would clog my sinuses and/or paralyze my vocal cords and/or set my throat on fire, resulting in losing my voice. And if you didn’t already know it, there is no harbor for sick people like a church. Pneumonuclear droplets floating through the air, handshakes that are really handminds loaded with germs, surfaces that look spotless but camouflage legions of diabolical agents.
And so I was always on the lookout for any person who might be, for me, patient zero dark thirty. Zero dark thirty is, of course, military slang for an unspecified time early in the morning before dawn, the time when germs from a handshake or a secret agent’s sneeze or the mere touch of a doorknob sneak up on me and give me this person’s cold or flu or undiagnosed malady. I have always tried to identify such threats coming my way and walk the other direction. After all, we can catch up after cold and flu season. And I have had my successes, but not always.
Two Friday’s ago I arrived early in the morning at a local senior citizen center ready to assist a wonderful team of volunteers prepare tax returns for a group of senior citizens. I had just logged in to my laptop – you can’t believe the security one has to go through just to be a volunteer any more – when the first appointments started arriving.
A lady sat down at the table next to me. She was about my age – older but not too old, younger but not too young – and she had a little dog in a purse. And instead of saying, “Good morning,” like most people do, she said, “Oh, my God! I feel horrible. I wouldn’t have come but I had to get my taxes done.” And I said, “Welcome to my life, patient zero dark thirty.”
Again, that was on a Friday. By Monday evening I was sicker than a dog, certainly sicker than the little dog in the lady’s purse. Getting no better as the week went on, I let the supervisor at the senior citizen site know that I wouldn’t be in that Friday, which was one week after I had been attacked by patient zero dark thirty.
And the team was sympathetic that I had come down with the flu, but amused by an incident that then happened that day in my absence. A lady came in and asked if she could have her taxes done. She had been ill the week before and missed her appointment. The supervisor was able to work her in after a few minutes, and so the missed-her-original-appointment sits down with another tax preparer. The tax preparer enters the lady’s social security number, only to find out that she had in fact not missed her appointment a week earlier. She had been there, and I had completed her tax return! Relieved to find out this information, she picked up her purse with the little dog in it and went on her way.
Beware of your patient zero dark thirty. Not only does he/she sneak up on you, this person doesn’t always remember anything about it. These people are like unthinking robots, mere germ delivery devices. And I even had a flu shot.