National Commentary

Johnny’s World: Epidemic

weir-mugIt’s winter. Snow is falling, streets are icing over, and there are flu and meningitis epidemics all around. Since the beginnings of winter, and the human race, there have been attempts to combat against freezing temperatures and to keep a watch of personal health. What strikes me as interesting is how often people get sick, and how rarely people heed the warnings of grandmothers and medical geniuses alike who have cautioned that life is hard when it’s cold.

As a citizen of the world lucky enough to travel, I always try to learn as I go, whether I be picking up fashion, dietary, or health tips from the countries I visit. I recently returned from my 27th trip to Japan. For the first time I encountered snow in Tokyo, which sent the extremely organized public transportation into frenzy and, in terms of snow removal, showed how rare it is to have “big snow” in Tokyo. In this gorgeous snowstorm, I was able to see how people dress for winter – necks closed up with scarves, hats covering ever-fragile heads, and masks reminiscent of the SARS epidemic (which I learned not only prevent illness, but also keep your mouth and the air you breathe warm as you trudge mercilessly through the cold. These masks aren’t to be mocked; nearly everyone uses them in Japan, an island nation where an epidemic strong enough could mean major casualties to her population.

Having spent many a winter’s day in Russia, I have seen that covering the neck and mouth with scarves, as well as covering the ears, is the dominant fashion of making it safely through winter. Using fur coats, while not always supported, is the only way to make it through the dry, sub-zero conditions of the country. Thick boots made of sheepskin or Mongolian lamb aren’t there for a fashion statement, but more so to keep your feet from freezing and paralyzing you. Wear a synthetic fiber coat or plastic boots, and you will get frostbite in Mother Russia’s harsh climate. In addition to the fashions, in winter you can get nothing served cold or iced – aside from vodka, nature’s natural astringent, or an iced-over look if you even ask for an iced coffee in an overheated café. Boiling-hot food and drink are the only things that will save you from catching a cold.

Approaching my return from Japan, I was warned of a massive flu outbreak in my area, which almost convinced me to extend my stay. How does this even happen to a wealthy and moderately medically educated population, every year?

Our country may not be too rich with folklore and holistic remedies, but we are a country of smart people and common sense. But if that statement is true, why does my car thermometer show a temperature of 12 degrees as I see a 30-something woman carrying a “Sigma Sigma Sigma” burlap messenger bag wearing unlined moccasins, no socks, no scarf, and a “down-alternative“ puffy vest walking down River Road? This idiot is the one who in two days will be red-nosed and whining in a doctor’s office waiting room about what a bad time it is to be sick and how she doesn’t know how it happened. Meanwhile, she’s infected her whole office and her roommates by her own stupidity, will be off work for a week and, on the first healthy, non-feverish day, will be back in the cold with no socks begging for it to happen again. If she had listened to her grandmother’s crazy bundling stories, watched TV and saw an ad for those free flu shots, or even just used her own clever judgment, she wouldn’t be paying for this doctor’s visit. This is why we have flu epidemics.

Of course there are epidemics everywhere, but use your head, take your vitamins, wash your hands often, and dress appropriately. Mother Nature doesn’t care if you think scarves are lame, she will get you sick. Bundle up, America.