Monday, May 4, 2009

Pay Rapt Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain. And the One Spreading Newspapers, Too.

So we had a thrilling trip to the emergency room over the weekend. It was one of those rare weekends when all the boys were away and it was just "us girls". We finished watching the classic breakup movie (sorry no link — it wasn't THAT good) and were brushing our teeth and getting ready for bed...when The Princess discovered a huge abscess. So, always game for a little late-night entertainment, I drove her to the emergency room.

We walked into the waiting room and I saw a grave-looking Hispanic family off to one side, and their (adorable) child was wearing a surgical mask. I leaned over and whispered to The Princess, "I wonder if that kid has the swine flu," wishing I'd sat a little farther away. Pretty soon they were whisked away. And then so were we.

While we settled in to our ER "room" —a cubbyhole of sorts separated from the adjoining room by a green curtain—I overheard bits and pieces of the conversation next door. The doctor was speaking softly, but the translator was speaking loudly, and since I speak Spanish, I was able to pick up most of what they were saying. The princess could hear the Spanish translator, too, and sensed a gravity in their tone. She asked me to interpret for her. It went something like this:
You have a very bad flu.
It is Type A Influenza and we think it might be Swine Flu.
You all must stay in your house for two weeks.
If you need to leave your house, you need to wear a mask.
You must not go to work for at least seven days.
The princess and I just looked at each other. This was like a very bad dream. Or like a very bad late-night movie. And we were the special guest stars.

I stared at the green curtain. It looked so very permeable. And above it? Was nothing but net hanging from metal rings. Suddenly I had visions of that ghastly green mist from the Ten Commandments (remember the last plague, the destroying angel?) wafting up the green curtain, working its way through the net, creeping and oozing over to our side. I couldn't take my eyes off that flimsy curtain supposedly separating us from the pandemic. As if the germs would somehow become visible and avoidable if I stared over there long enough.

The words of the man behind the curtain kept ringing in my ears...quarantine...swine flu...

Suddenly I felt the need to cough.
Ah, the power of suggestion.

Then I was reminded of a similar scenario involving a smaller degree of germ phobia. A much lighter one. Hilarious, actually.

We were at the Academy, a discount movie theater just outside of Old Town Pasadena. As we walked into the theater where our film was playing, we got a whiff of the most putrid concoction of odors...a mixture of urine, stale popcorn, and body odor.

As we went to take our seats, I said to Jeff, "I feel like I'm going to get a disease from this place...just from being here. I don't even want to touch anything." I tried to sit in such a way that my derriere was touching as small an area of the chair as possible, and wondered if I could actually stay perched on the corner of my seat like that for the duration of the movie.

Jeff, who always knows exactly how to make me laugh, joked that they ought to furnish those tissue-paper toilet-seat covers for the theater patrons. He then deftly pantomimed pulling a seat cover out of an invisible box from the back of the seat in front of us and laying it on his seat with a flourish. I couldn't suppress the giggles. Yet I honestly thought I'd feel more comfortable if they DID furnish those seat covers.

THEN — and this is the amazing part — a homeless guy with a gray, matted beard and literally covered in filth, shuffled in to take a seat in the row in front of us. We watched in a combination of horror, amusement and disbelief as he pulled out a huge stack of newspapers and carefully covered every surface of the chair he'd chosen. Spread a few on the seat. Opened some and draped them ceremoniously over each armrest. Laid the biggest ones right on the fold covering the back of the chair. Clearly this guy knew something we didn't. And we didn't want to find out what that something was.

We just clung to each other, careful not to touch the arms of our chairs, and (sort of) held our breath until the movie was over and we walked outside again. Then we inhaled deep, lung-filling breaths of fresh air and vowed we were paying full price the next time we went to the movies!

Epilogue: The Princess is fine, no one in our house came down with the Swine Flu (nor did Jeff bring it home from Peru), and we never got sick from sitting in that grimy movie theater. But the power of suggestion was palpable. If only I could channel that power into something more positive....

13 comments:

Kristina P. said...

This made me laugh. I could just picture your eyes get wide when you heard SWINE FLU!! (Deep, ominous voice.)

Melanie J said...

I would never have made it in that theater. When did I turn into such a princess?

breckster said...

I thought it was pretty funny when the VP suggested that we avoid "confined spaces" like planes and subways. Has there been a decline in subway use... not noticeable... but I will admit if I can take the bus I do (and slide the window open rain or not).

The Hyer Family said...

Hi Jana! It's Shannon Smith Hyer...did you know that I read your blog??? I love it! Ah, good times at the Academy...I know EXACTLY how you felt...even now when I go on airplanes or to the movies, I try to wear a jacket with a hood so I can pull it up against the back of head, thus lowering the chances of mixing nasty hair greases or lice with previous occupants! I used to love the Academy...the things we put up with to save a few bucks...

Kimberly said...

I should be grimacing but somehow you made this funny and I'm giggling a bit. Perhaps over shared paranoia . . .

Heather of the EO said...

That's hilarious!

I mean, not the swine flu part...but the movie part :)

I love that the homeless guy took such care in covering his seat. Too funny.

LisAway said...

Aaak! That's scary! About the swine flu, I mean. And that destroying angel mist always freaked me out.

Ick about the theater. There's no way I would "stick" around there, I don't think. Unless I had some newspaper in my purse. . .

An Ordinary Mom said...

You have a gift for story telling. And I am glad everything turned out well.

Kazzy said...

Maybe the guy was a Howard Hughes wannabe. Weird. And the ER thing is creepy too. I can't wait until this whole Swine Flu hype is over. Sheesh. I heard from a friend yesterday that in an average year 30k people die from the regular old flu (mostly elderly, weaker people, but still!) Why are the swine getting so much face time?

Heidi Ashworth said...

Sooo very well written! I wonder if the homeless guy was uber aware of his own filth and smell and was protecting the chair from himself (and attempting to make those around him more comfortable).

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

I know this is totally not the point of your post, but I'm so excited to know you speak Spanish.

Brillig said...

HAHAHAHA!

As for the swine flu, though, that's scary. Brian works in a hospital, doncha know, and I'm just certain that he's going to bring that home to us. And yes, I do that "oh my gosh, I have to cough now and I KNOW I'm getting swine flu" thing too. Hahaha.

And when every store in Highlands Ranch ran out of hand sanitizer this week, it became my mission to locate some and stock up on it. Seriously. Like hand sanitizer is the thing that's going to save us all. And yet, when Walmart runs out because everyone is hoarding it, you suddenly realize that you have to hoard it to or you're all going to die!

Glad Princess is okay!!!!!

How does one say "swine flu" in Spanish?

xoxoxox

Eowyn said...

Phew! Glad the princess is okay.

I'm so glad that no-one got sick and that all is well. Maybe they put something in those curtains that prevents things from getting over?

You are superfabulicious!