Saturday, February 9, 2008

Chapter Ten

One unexpected consequence for Scott and Sissy is that by keeping Rose, James, and the younger kids sequestered in SIP to comply with the mitigation strategies, they’ve also kept them somewhat insulated from the realities of the pandemic. As time has passed, its gotten easier for the kids to say "its happening to other people and in other places, it isn’t happening to us." Their feelings are "since it hasn’t happened, it won’t happen." This is the same thought process that many adults went through prepandemic that kept them from prepping adequately, if at all.

Our family certainly isn’t unique. Other parents are fighting the same battle of wills with their kids. There is a lot of burnout. Everyone just wants things over. They crave normalcy. Too many people have forgotten how to think in realistically long-term ways. They can see the beginning of the story and they can see how they think the story will end; but they’ve forgotten how to plan for getting from point A to point B. The fact that the pandemic is lasting considerably longer than most people were at first given to understand only adds to this problem.

A stealthy bird’s eye view of Tampa would show you that youths are gathering, despite the many public warnings; many without their parents’ permission. First they gather in groups of two or three then in larger groups, but never so many that they might get noticed by the authorities. They do it quietly to avoid detection. They sneak out of their homes at night. They quietly leave during the day when their parents are at work and return without ever saying a word about where they’ve been or who they have been with. Even suspicious parents employ the "don’t ask, don’t tell" method of parenting to avoid any more arguments.

Most of the groups are made up of kids who live in the same general area because otherwise they would be noticed driving, even if they could swing the cash necessary to buy the fuel for any vehicle. And with the night curfew for everyone being vigorously enforced, well, they view it as much safer to travel under the radar of the authorities. A common justification for this sneakiness is "Why raise a ruckus that the adults will use just to make our life harder and more unfair?" This type of behavior may have been going on all along without any noticeable consequences. But like they say, it only takes once.

A group of kids who met online figured out that they lived within a mile or two of one another. They finally said, "This is totally bogus. If we are careful, nothing is going to happen. Anybody who can get out, let’s meet up two nights from now in that stand of trees over by the lake. Keep it quiet. We don’t need the cops or somebody’s parent spoiling things." And that’s what happened. About a dozen kids in a two-mile radius took the chance to get together and "have a little fun."

What the kids didn’t know is that one of their twelve friends had an older brother that had been meeting his girlfriend after work for a little socializing of his own. This girlfriend had relatives from another part of the country suddenly show up on her family’s doorstep a few days before the party. The girlfriend was complaining about how she was now having to share her bedroom with three other female cousins and how their stuff is all over her stuff and how to make it worse, "One of them has this really gross allergy thing going on. All she does is sneeze all day and wheeze all night and they have to give her breathing treatments." The boyfriend, focused on what he wants, pays little attention to what she is saying and completely forgets about it later.

What no one realizes is that the girl may have originally started out with airborne allergies but somewhere along the way she picked up the airborne pandemic flu. The breathing treatments are only masking the earliest stages of her symptoms. She has already given it to the girls she is sharing a room with. In turn, the girlfriend has given it to her boyfriend that has taken it home as a treat for his own family. Wrestling with his younger brother, in an attempt to keep his spirits up, brings him in close enough contact that one sneeze was all it took to give the virus to him.

"Oh gross! You are totally gross! Mom, he got sneeze spit all over my face!"

"Look you two. Chill out a little, I’ve got a headache. I can barely hear myself think. If you insist on wrestling take it outside."

"Yeah mom, OK," both boys respond. The older brother picks the younger one up and gives him a relatively painless body slam before racing through the kitchen and out into the back yard. The younger brother is in hot pursuit and the kitchen door slams as they both fall to the ground like a puddle of puppies.

"Thank God I’ve got good kids, not like their bum of a father," the motehr thinks in the silence following the boys' exit. I don't have to worry about them being disobedient or any other stupid crap my sister’s kids are doing.

And now, this "obedient" boy is dancing and cutting up with a bunch of kids he isn’t supposed to be around. But, he’s a little bummed because his normally very upbeat brother was grumpy and not feeling too hot this mornign. His girlfriend hasn’t shown up for work in two days and her phone must be out of order because no one is answering. "Geez," he thinks, "I hope I never gets that crazy over a girl."

While at the party to celebrate their "freedom" he manages to give the virus to 4 of the 12 kids there. These kids in turn take the virus home to their parents and siblings. Some of the parents take the virus to work along with their lunch and spread it there.

Within a week, city public health officials notice that there is an alarming rise in flu infections. The hospitals, barely able to keep up with what they already have on their plate, don’t need a spike. Now in addition to having patients lined up in hallways, they have to put them in triage tents outside -- right when the weather is beginning to turn cool. They do notice that the initial outbreak seems to be centered in a certain area of the city and a quick investigation shows it is probably related to a family who had come to stay with relatives from another part of the country.

By two weeks out, the media has gotten wind of the spike and are reporting that all four of the kids who had been infected at the party are dead along with several of their younger siblings. Other members of their families are critically ill, and so are between 20 and 30 percent of their family members’ co-workers who took it home to their families where their children are now dying. And there are not enough hospital beds, anti-virals, and ventilators to help them all.
It isn’t just the parents of teenagers that are having problems. Parents of college students are facing the same thing, only their kids are legally adults. How do you convince your children that they aren’t invincible?

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