H1N1 Comes Calling
Rub Some Dirt on it
Hard working rural folk populate my small town here in California's Eastern Sierra; seldom do they whine over the aches and pains that accompany life lived on the countless farms and ranches that dot the community. There is a mentality here that brings to mind the old West, a toughness and determination passed down through generations. When my husband, Anthony, and I decided to leave Los Angeles' 'South Central' 15 years ago, we were in search of a safe place to raise our young son. Needless to say, the transition was shocking and at times trying, but Bishop (Pop. 4,000) has been our home ever since, I suppose you could say that we have become 'culturally acclimated' over the years, even though there are times when the advantages of big city life are sorely missed, but not, of course the problems. Our town has an actual Main Street (Hwy 395) where tourists from Los Angeles occasionally stop to gas up or rest before resuming their travels to Mammoth Mountain, 40 miles to the North, or further, to Reno, Nevada. Bishop has one chain supermarket, a K-Mart, and a J.C.Penney's, a thrice-weekly printed hometown newspaper, and cable television, with the usual tourist-oriented shops here and there.
When news of global interest trickles into our area, it is often met with skepticism, or even disbelief. Information regarding H1N1 has piqued interest only in the last month or so, now that the Swine Flu has been confirmed to be in this area. This is not to say that the local paper is not excellent-it is, or that the people are ignorant-they're not, it is simply that the isolation and pace of the place in which we live makes us, well, wary. And perhaps it is this isolation that leaves communities such as Bishop breathless when such a flu strain arrives.
The Take Down
Just last weekend, while walking through the annual Swap Meet here in town, I was unnerved when Anthony mentioned a 'run-down' feeling, not wanting to continue our tour. Now perhaps I watch too much television news, but his behavior was out of the ordinary, and the Swine Flu did cross my mind. Days passed and he went to work as usual, but each day he complained of 'not feeling himself.'
Then came the day that I happened to overhear his co-workers whispering to one another that he had been coughing up blood. Allowing a wife to listen in on this conversation was the biggest bust these good ole boys could have ever imagined. But despite their and his protests, I managed to convince Anthony that a hospital visit couldn't hurt, so off we went.
Triage and Tempers
When we arrived at the local county hospital, we were both surprised to see stands outside the entrance with surgical masks, gloves and sanitary wipes for public use. Dutifully, Anthony donned a mask to protect others from his now racking coughs, and I wiped my hands for good measure. Again, Bishop is a very small place, so Anthony was admitted and triaged within 30 minutes. As we waited in the examination room for the doctor's assessment, a nurse came in carrying 2 small brochures from the Center for Disease Control and the Fresno Dep't of Public Health. Now Anthony's triage did not include testing of any sort, but these pamphlets proclaimed loud and clear that H1N1 was indeed the culprit. The nurse also confirmed this when I demanded, incredulously, "How can you tell? Aren't you going to give him a test?" "And WHERE in the HELL is the DOCTOR?" Needless to say, I made few friends that evening, but by the time the doctor arrived I had calmed enough to find that as of September of this year, 99% of reported flu strains are of the H1N1 variety. Testing is performed now only on those hospitalized or in high-risk groups.
Anthony was released shortly thereafter with a discharge form and the aforementioned pamphlets, as well as suggestions to use Tylenol for fever and Motrin for body aches Since we were both a bit stunned by the seemingly cavalier attitudes of the medical staff, I decided to do some research of my own into our extreme reaction to the reality of this Pandemic. In the end, I have to be candid: As one member of this small community, I have developed comfortable blinders to the world, and the result has been an unfortunate lack of knowledge-which could also be called ignorance. I know few people who fit that description here in Bishop, life here is varied and complex in its own ways.
Anthony's convalescence has been difficult, partly because of his unwillingness to accept his own frailty in the wake of H1N1. Since we settled into this community so long ago, much of the former city boy has given way to a more rustic definition of his manhood. This countrified way of being is a wonder to behold in many ways; watching him using calipers on hay bales and wrestling sick calves to the ground so he can bottle-feed them has shown me another side of the man, a tender masculinity that only rural life can provide. We have both changed markedly in the last 15 years, and I am grateful for most of the growth that we have undergone. But there exists a fantasy in small, isolated communities such as Bishop that the world has its place-on the television.
Since the Swine Flu strain took so long to arrive here in the Owens Valley, I realize that the hushed tones and whispering I encountered reflect an isolationist consciousness. Many residents of Bishop simply didn't think that the virus would strike. When tourists fly through town, they are considered necessary annoyances who keep businesses afloat. While traffic actually stifles Main Street when events come to town, we know that they will eventually leave. Residual diseases were rarely considered until H1N1 came to our little oasis. I have found myself questioning the wisdom of this thinking, since I have taken to it quite readily. We have so little crime here that the paper reports bar fights and spiders setting off school alarms. Seriously. So when this illness came to the attention of the television and print media, it all seemed to be 'otherworldly,' something that happened only to 'them.' But now that it has happened to 'us,' we may finally choose to join the rest of the world community.