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.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.
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.
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....