Sometimes, when I see pictures of people in hazmat suits, I feel jealous.
I don’t fear Ebola or anything, and I’m not a survivalist and I don’t think I’ll ever need to protect myself from chemical spills or germ warfare. On the contrary, I want a hazmat suit for the next time one of my kids brings home norovirus.
That’s right, I fear what is quite possibly one of the least dangerous viruses in the developed world—the common stomach flu—in a way that can only be described as irrational.
“Marigold threw up today,” one of my kids will say in a voice that belays her insight into just what this information will do to me on a deep, psychological level.
“Yeah. She had to go home.”
Next, the interrogation. The answers to these questions will determine whether I remain sane through the next 48 hours or if I spend my time curled up in a fetal position in a dark room.
“Were you anywhere near her when it happened?”
“Yes, she was at my table.”
“Did any of it get on you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“How did the teacher clean the table? With disinfectant? Or just with soap and water?”
“I don’t know, Mom.”
“Well, was it a spray bottle? What color was it?”
And so on.
Personally, I think a zombie apocalypse would be somewhat less terrifying than a school-wide outbreak of norovirus. My kids, on the other hand, don’t really seem to care if they get the stomach flu. But they just love to say the words, “I feel like I’m going to barf,” especially when they’re mad at me. Because I stop being intelligent at the mere mention of the words “stomach flu,” and its lesser forms “barf,” “puke” and “vomit.” And they know it.
On the plus side, I pretty much know everything there is to know about norovirus. I know how it is transmitted (oral-fecal anyone?), I know how long it remains in a person’s body (up to three weeks, which is also the exact number of weeks I will spend opening doorknobs with wet wipes and washing my hands until the skin cracks) and most importantly, I know how long the incubation period is (12 to 48 hours of having a minor breakdown every time I hear a kid cough or roll over in bed).
I consider the greatest milestone of childhood to be the ability to make it to the toilet in time (crawling, standing unassisted, walking, talking—these things all pale in comparison). I own several pairs of rubber gloves that go all the way up to my elbows, only because I don’t think they make any that go all the way up to the armpits. I also have a gas mask. Not just the sort you buy for woodworking or spraying weeds or painting with smelly varnishes, either. I have a 6000 Series half facepiece reusable respirator with P100 particulate filters.
I told you I was irrational.
I also have a husband, who is my first line of defense against all things vomit. “Honey?” I say as one of my children appears in a doorway at 11:20pm with the words, “Mom? Something’s all over me!” “Honey, you know how many more diapers I changed than you did back when the kids were babies?”
And bless him, he usually does it. Usually.
Now I know my overblown paranoia is laughable, but keep in mind that while norovirus doesn’t kill a lot of people in the developed world, it’s not totally harmless. When my youngest child was two he was actually hospitalized with a norovirus-like illness and had to spend three days and two nights on IV fluids. Most of us who are unlucky enough to get noro will simply spend a few hours curled around a bucket or camped out on the bathroom floor, but for the very old and the very young norovirus can be a major health threat.
Happily, I hear they will have a norovirus vaccine available in less than five years. Like the flu shot, you will need to get one every year, since there are different strains of norovirus and immunity is thought to be temporary and incomplete. And although I know on an intellectual level that norovirus will probably not kill me, I shall brave all unknown side effects of the untested vaccine and be the first one to roll up my sleeve the second it becomes available. And my kids will get one routinely too, as soon as my pediatrician gives us the green light.
Zombie apocalypse? No problem. You can always move into a windowless bunker. Stomach flu? You don’t have the same option, though I have to admit it does sound like a pretty good idea.