The Power (and Stupidity) of Fear

Lately, you can’t go anywhere without exposure to some sort of “swine flu” comment.  People are joking, people are scared, people are stupid.  A certain level of awareness is good, of course, but spreading fear will only make things worse (as evidenced by the over-capacity waiting room at the doctor yesterday when I went in to have my neck adjusted). 

During my lunch break, I went to the grocery store to purchase lunch food for the week (with no intentions of avoiding pork should it strike my fancy) and there I saw him:  some old dude with what appeared to be a zombie-face with a dripping eye socket.  And I went on with my business.  However, this sight, during a time of national fear about getting sick, made me remember a certain incident in high school when I–irrationally–let the fear get to me.

I believe it was for Themes in Lit, a senior year blow-off class, that I had to read The Hot Zone, a “non-fiction biothriller” by Richard Preston.  The book detailed the origins of certain hemorrhagic fevers and viruses, such as the Ebola and Marburg viruses.  This book scared the shit out of me.  To this date, it remains the most terrifying thing I have ever read, and I am decently well-read. 

Besides the tales of monkeys in a disease control facility infecting people with Ebola, particularly disturbing was a description of “spontaneous bleeding” as a symptom of one of these horrible diseases.  Scary stuff.

One night, I was working at the local grocery store when a man stormed in, blood streaming from his face and smeared all over his clothes.  I couldn’t see any injury–just blood.  He left a trail of blood as he walked, zig-zaggedly, through the store.  I was petrified.  I ran to the bathroom to get away from the sight with thoughts of ebola running through my head. 

“This is it,” I thought.  “Ebola has come to northwest Indiana and I have been in almost direct contact with it.  As a result, I am going to die but not before spreading it on to more people, who will all die.  Soon, there will be nothing left of humanity.”

Okay, so maybe those weren’t my exact thoughts, but they’re close. 

After a few days, I calmed myself down through logical thinking (and the fact no one at work had started spontaneously bleeding).  I never knew what happened to the man–no one else knew anything and there were no reports of accidents that night.  Living in a smallish town, word would have reached me had there been any such accident.  It still remains a mystery.

Although still prone to occasionally freaking myself out, I know no longer fret over such things.  Not every bleeding person has Ebola.  Not every “pandemic” will actually become a pandemic.  I won’t get pregnant from a toilet seat.  I won’t get AIDS from playing basketball.  I won’t turn gay from listening to techno.  I won’t turn into an ultra-conservative if I keep FOX News on for more than five minutes.  My mom’s back won’t break if I step on a crack.  The list goes on . . . and on . . . and on . . .

It’s just like those stupid shirts said back in the day:  NO FEAR.

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