Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Girl in the plastic bubble

Usually I can count on being sick within a week of getting home. After three months in school where I live virtually alone (even though I share a bathroom with about 17 other people, yuck), coming home to live with my dad somehow makes me an incubator of illness.

It's one of the worst realities when you get back to your house, ready for comfort and relaxation, and then you get smacked in the face with a sinus condition or the flu or strep throat or rabbititis (that one was made up, but you should know what it is anyway).

This time around, I got sick before I got home. A few days with strep throat had me feeling like I'd died and been revived again only to live as a zombie with the Promethean horror of boarding an airplane. Mixed metaphors, but you catch my drift. Getting sick sucks. But it's fine once it's over.

Until you start working and you realize that your home isn't the worst incubator for disease. Your job is.

Everything is communal. We drink out of the same mugs (we wash them too, but the whole save the planet thing has me worried about germ-sharing), we use the same restrooms, we touch the same computer keys, we sometimes share food and obviously we handle many of the same objects. If one is sick, it's likely another may be sick. Maybe everyone will be sick in due time.

For the past couple of days, I've been glad to have rid myself of the strep throat that ruined my trip back to California and made the first few days of my vacation all but miserable.

Then I made a friend at work. She's a fellow intern and very kind and friendly, a helpful and accommodating companion during this, my first venture into the career world.

We've only spent a week together, though, and she's already sick.

And on top of the possibility of catching her germs, my dad has made my home a hazardous zone, since he has been feeling unreliably unwell, switching between strep-like symptoms and relative health.

Being in this situation - as in surrounded by so many sick people wherever I am - I've come to realize something about myself. I can be quite blind to other people's misfortunes.

In the first week of summer, all I could think of was that I deserved to be pitied and taken care of. A poor girl who can barely walk and has a sore throat that prevents her from eating her food comfortably. Everyone should be at my beck and call under these circumstances.

Then, a few weeks later, I'm interacting with two people - my new friend and my father - who are facing their own conditions of discomfort. But unlike the childish me who talks about staying home and vegetating, they go out to the doctor or to the drugstore to tend to their problems. They talk about avoiding spreading germs or working despite feeling ill.

Is it unfair to blame my upbringing?

I was raised as an only child to my mother, so in my youngest years the household revolved around me. I was my mom's baby and she treated me as such.

Someone needs to remind me that I'm not a baby anymore, though. Eventually we all have to grow up and figure out that not only do we have to take care of ourselves in sickness, but we also have to be responsible about what we do under varying degrees of health.

We're not all girls or boys in the plastic bubble like we might want to be. And occasionally that means having to interact closely with someone who is sick and not pretending like they will be the ruin of the world that revolves around me me me.

After those first few days of summer break when I could barely get up from bed without weeping and pitying myself, I lost sight of what it is to be human in some way. It may be part of our preordained personalities - as a selfish race of babies - to focus entirely on the self and abandon anything that threatens us.

But that's an animalistic instinct. The human instinct is to be conscientious and helpful to those around us, especially when they're in need of help. Especially when they're sick.

I tried to escape my inhibitions today, walking my friend to CVS so she could buy cold medicine. Not giving my dad a hard time about anything despite my fear that if we use the same silverware, I might end up being out of commission next week having caught what he has this week.

Yet I believe that cautiousness must end eventually.

This is that time. Even if it means risking my health for the sake of my humanity. Knowing my immune system, I'd probably catch it either way. Karma.

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