Quarantine Files – The price of paranoia

Sitting at home does things to people. Some get all melancholy and withdrawn from the lack of external human contact. My email and instant messaging ensures that doesn’t happen to me. Some get anxious and worried about the reason why they’re quarantined. I’ve got medication and since the fever broke feel like I’m well on the road to recovery. Some get morose from the lack of direct sunlight. I sit next to the window. Some get bored. That is I.

I’ve been trying to fill the days by catching up with work that might otherwise get pushed to the background (no I’m not a workaholic but I don’t want to start up again with a huge inbox) and some reading that I’ve neglected. I guess it’s making the best of what I’ve been saddled with – I’m staring at 4 more days of being stuck at home trying to survive without scratching at the walls to try to claw my way out. As Jess my fellow quarantine buddy mentioned, I need to try to lean more towards my nerdy self to be content with reading and such while leaning away from the side that yearns for adventure and the outdoors. Bit tough because the grass is always greener.

Been thinking about the flurry of activity that characterised the past 2 days. The aftermath of my positive test for H1N1 sparked a wave of paranoia that even I couldn’t have expected. People tend to get worried most about their health and for good reason too but I did find the extreme paranoia that was worsened by the newspaper reports a little disturbing. I was inundated with calls that always started with concern for my condition (thanks!) but that soon turned into a detailed cross-examination of my symptoms, what I did that led to my decision to get tested and how the testing went. It was hard to allay their fears when they were already fairly worked up by the media hype.

While I did feel a little guilty at being the cause of the paranoia, one also realises that while my diagnosis was the thing that sparked it off, the wildfire would not have caught and blazed if there wasn’t ample kindling there to begin with. One can be tempted to blame the media for all this but there’s something else about the human condition that seems to predispose us to paranoia – our innate fear of the unknown. People have been trying to explain things that we don’t know since time immemorial and try to find all sorts ways of giving reasons to things they cannot understand. In a similar vein, people who fear the unknown of a disease try to react to it the best way they know how – to fall back on the ‘reason’ of science and medicine and try all possible means to find ‘rational’ explanations for their fears.

As fear gets thrown into the mix, irrationality sets in. The slightest cough or sneeze gets turned into an object of suspicion and people start second guessing their own health whenever they feel a little odd. Fuelled by the general perception of what the disease is and not what it actually is, everyone just goes down the slippery slope of unconfirmed conjecture and large leaps of logic towards the unknown. My work as an educator is aimed at reducing the incidence of this so one can imagine the frustration that one feels when faced with this on all fronts.

We sometimes get so worked up over something that’s new and dangerous that we ignore it as it develops. The case-fatality ratio of people infected with H1N1 when the news broke about it was stunningly high (5% for the confirmed cases in Mexico) and this prompted comparisons with the 1918 flu epidemic that had similar ratios and was also caused by a similar strain of Influenza A viruses. This seemed to remain on the consciousness of people even when the number of confirmed cases went up but the fatalities didn’t. Even when governments and the WHO realised that H1N1 had all the trappings of a seasonal flu and was no more deadly than the bugs that go around every year around autumn and winter, people still clung on the belief that the virus was deadly and acted as such. Times change but mindsets and perceptions based on old risks evidently don’t.

All it takes is a large dose of common sense and some opening of one’s eyes to recognise that following the herd would lead to a stampede that wouldn’t do anyone much good. Just slowing down to stop and think can do wonders. Stop, smell the roses and think for a bit. One might even see the pig that flu.

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2 Responses to “Quarantine Files – The price of paranoia”


  1. 1 Anon 3 July 2009 at 6:27 06

    I am stepping out of lurkdom just to say, that was a terrible pun. 🙂

  2. 2 gymstan 4 July 2009 at 9:09 09

    Not quite stepping out of lurkdom yet… Anon 🙂

    But yes, it was a terrible pun but apt given my penned existence. Hyuk hyuk. I believe that was called for.


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about the brushhead

had a head like a brush (it's more like an egg now). seeks to sweep through thought and faith with that brush. tries to wax philosophical but often forgets to wax off. trying to be good brush to all, while discerning what kind of brush he's meant to be.

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