Sunday, October 12, 2014

Barney never says, "Hiya kids, let's talk about the Marburg virus!"

     Ebola is all over the news, and readers seem divided between those who feel the media is blowing it out of proportion, and those who suspect the whole thing is far worse than we're being told, no doubt a government conspiracy. That Fox News... The former have a point. The odds of Ebola taking hold here are very small, because in the United States, gravely sick people are not cared for by their relatives at home the way they are in Africa, and the chances for the handful of cases that reach our shores then spreading are miniscule. 
      But an illness as savage as Ebola has a fascination all its own—not many people are killed by sharks, either, but look at the coverage shark attacks get. Media coverage is not a meritocracy, not a reflection of carefully-calibrated social science values: it's more a kindling and reflecting of  public fixations. Ebola was of interest when only a few hundred cases were known about, years earlier. The growing alarm over Ebola reminded me of this column, a decade ago, about my older boy's childish interest in disease. Oddly, it mentions two books that also appear in Wednesday's column. And if you're wondering, yes, reading this made me miss the lad, now 18 and off in California, studying, particularly the parting note about college at the end. He kept me on my toes, as you will see.

     It's 5:13 a.m., and I'm sitting in my office at home, tapping happily away. I've been at it since 4 o'clock. Not the ideal work time, but my 7-year-old wakes up awfully early.

     Every day, I tiptoe by his door, and--boing!--he bounces out of his room, wanting to play chess and Othello and Cathedral and Breakthru and Uno and Stratego, sometimes all at once.
     I always have work to do. I sincerely want to tell him, "Scram, kid!" But I open up my mouth, and "Sure!" comes out. Every time. We end up playing until it's time for me to bolt into the shower.
     Anyway, it's exactly 5:13. Here comes a quick patter of bare feet on the red-pine floor and--whoosh--I'm enfolded in a big, arms-stretched hug. Such a sweet early-morning moment. He puts his cheek against my back and says--I swear to God--"Tell me about tuberculosis."
    I wheel around in my desk chair and gape at him, thinking: Where in God's name did THAT come from?
     "Well..." I say, buying time, "it's an airborne lung disease that used to kill a lot of people until it was brought under control by modern medicine." I tell him what I know, about TB wards and quarantines and Eugene O'Neill. He's sitting cross-legged at my feet, beaming up at me. When I finish, he says brightly, "Tell me about another disease."
       What would you do? In hindsight, I should clap my hands together and chirp, "Chess time!" But I don't. I think: OK, this is strange, but why not? It's education, right? Maybe he'll become a doctor. I pick something historic—scurvy—talking of the British navy and limes.
     Warming up now, I segue into AIDS—also an important illness!--and he listens politely about HIV and immune systems and sub-Saharan Africa. I try to present the sanitized, 7-year-old version—in my tale, AIDS is something that happens to drug addicts—but keep being nudged toward the more complicated truth, such as after he asks, rather perceptively, "But, Daddy, if it just kills drug addicts, they're bad people, shouldn't we just let them die?" Then, I have to get into mothers passing AIDS to their babies, and addiction, and sex, and stuff.
     It is about an hour later, I have gratefully moved on to a more comfortable area--bubonic plague—and after fleas and rats and plague-ridden corpses being catapulted over the walls of besieged medieval cities, I am just telling myself, "My, isn't THIS going well!" when, quite suddenly, it falls apart. My boy dances away, chanting, "Bubonic! Bubonic! Bubonic!" It begins to dawn on me that I am in trouble.
     "Now, now, none of that," I say, arms extended, fingers spread. "I told you about the plague because I thought you were grown up enough to learn about it. Hundreds of millions of people died. I can't have you singing 'bubonic plague' all day in school. It isn't right."
     In the days since, I've been trying to control my folly. My boy who, like most 7-year-olds, can sometimes act 17 and sometimes act 3, has kept begging to learn about diseases. I've tried to stick to manageable, non-gruesome, kid-friendly illnesses--like polio and pellagra. I've done research to learn talking points. (Did you realize that both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln had smallpox?) I savored the existential thrill, just last night, of saying, "If you sleep past 6 a.m. tomorrow, and let Daddy work a little, I'll tell you all about rickets."
     And, most importantly, I kept this all from my wife. She doesn't understand guy things like being fascinated by deadly illnesses.
     That is, I kept it from her until Thursday morning. I am telling both boys—the 5-year-old has joined the fun—about cholera, also a historically important disease, and its role in the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. My rendition must be dull because my older boy opens up a book on germs that I have pulled off the shelf to crib from and goes through the contents--they teach these kids to read, which I once thought was a good thing. He points to the entry for Marburg/Ebola virus, something I know a bit about, having read Richard Preston's The Hot Zone. I start pontificating about the blood pouring from the various orifices and people's skin falling off. The boys get so excited, they want to share the cool information about this affliction with their mother. Before I know what's happening, they bolt away.
     I will spare you details of the ensuing argument, though the image of my wife bursting into the bedroom, eyes blazing like an angry lioness, shouting, "Are you INSANE?" will stay with me forever. I try to muster a defense--history, medicine, science. She isn't buying any of it, but keeps shouting, "Strep! Why can't you teach them about strep! Or the common cold! These are children! Think of Barney. Barney never bounces out and says, 'Hiya kids, let's talk about the Marburg virus.' "
     I try to shift the blame. "And who told him about tuberculosis anyway?" I say hotly. "That sure wasn't me. I didn't say, 'Good morning, buddy, ask me about TB.' "
     "It WAS you," she hisses. "Don't you remember last week? When everybody had coughs? And you said"--here, she mimics a blowsy, pedantic voice--" 'It sounds like a TB ward in here.' "
     Oh. Whoops. Yes, that was me. My arguments blown out of the water like the Lusitania, I limp off to work to brood. No, boys, I will not explain the Lusitania. Wait until you're in college. And sorry, honey.
                       —Feb. 28, 2003

9 comments:

  1. this is one of those days when I wish I were you.

    John

    ReplyDelete
  2. নতুন গল্প পড়তে এখানে ক্লিক করুন
    আমার লেডিডাক্তার ডলুমাসির গল্প (পর্ব ১)
    হট আপু
    ১৯ বছরের কুসুম
    অন্ধ শইতান
    চরম সুখ (really nice golpo)
    উদ্দেশ্য
    নাইট লাভার
    অফিস + রেহেনা
    আমার স্বপ্নের মেয়ে
    আমারকে চুদে খাল করে দিল
    নীল সিনেমা
    আন্টি পটানোর কৌশল পত্র
    দু হাত দিয়ে দুধ টিপে যাচ্ছি ২
    প্রযুক্তি মামীকে চোদালো আমাকে দিয়ে
    মেঘলা দিনে বৃস্টির সাথে
    ফুল বনে মধুকর মেয়েরা কানো ছেলেদের হোল চোষে
    কাকীর সাথে প্রেম প্রেম খেলা 01
    কোচি দুধ চাপার বাংলা গল্প, Bangla Choti Golpo In Bangla Font
    কাজের মেয়েকে চোদার সত্যি কাহিনী
    দুই দিনের বৌ
    পাশের বাড়ির দামড়া ছেলে আমার রশ শুখিয়ে ফেললো
    যেভাবে আমার লিচু – ডাব বানিয়ে দিল
    নতুন ভাবীর গুদ ফাটানোর গল্প
    যুবতি মেয়ের কামতাড়না
    মনি ভাবী
    থ্রীসাম
    যৌন মিলনের সময় ছেলেরা সাধারণত যে ভুলগুলো করে
    সুন্দরী ভাবীর অবৈধ কামক্ষুধা
    নিশি আর ভাইয়া
    মামীর তৃপ্তি মুচন
    মাকড়সা
    অভিলাষ
    নীল সিনেমা
    আন্টি পটানোর কৌশল পত্র
    দু হাত দিয়ে দুধ টিপে যাচ্ছি ২
    প্রযুক্তি মামীকে চোদালো আমাকে দিয়ে
    মেঘলা দিনে বৃস্টির সাথে
    ফুল বনে মধুকর মেয়েরা কানো ছেলেদের হোল চোষে
    কাকীর সাথে প্রেম প্রেম খেলা 01
    কোচি দুধ চাপার বাংলা গল্প
    কাজের মেয়েকে চোদার সত্যি কাহিনী
    দুই দিনের বৌ

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Apparently, this is a spam comment in Bengali & Google translate shows it to be a total mess of just random, useless phrases.

      Delete
    2. But sorta pretty, so I decided to leave it up. Thanks for taking the time to check the translation.

      Delete
    3. I think "Really Nice Golpo" would make a nice subtitle for the blog.

      Delete
  3. As Sarah Palin said, "I send condolences to the people of Ebola!"

    ReplyDelete
  4. Were any of the guesses yesterday correct?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Bill Savage's, though I'm not sure if he's eligible. It's the director's office at the Newberry Library.

      Delete
  5. That is absolutely the funniest thing I've ever read about Ebola.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.