By Irina Echarry
The swine flu virus has jolted the world. Some people don’t know if they’ll live till the end of May. In Cuba, fortunately, so far there hasn’t been a single case reported. Measures have been taken to prevent the virus from sneaking onto the island. Nevertheless, capricious winds will force us to spend a good while waiting, and we must be prepared.
I heard from a friend who lives in Mexico City who has spent several days without leaving her house. She doesn’t work, go to the supermarket or venture to the pharmacy. She doesn’t visit anybody. She says that she’ll leave only if she some symptom appears. She passes her time connected to the Internet or looking at cable TV, where every second they announce so many newly discovered cases in some country.
When I learned how that friend was living, I got even more worried. I thought about poor Ivette, a very fearful hypochondriac neighbor that I’ve known since she was a little girl. After hearing only a couple news reports, she began calling everybody she knew to alert them (hysterically) of the illness.
She cut up an old bra that she had in storage and used one cup for a homemade surgical mask; she forced her nephew to put on the other one. Apparently the kid got upset with her dimwitted behavior. “Adolescents don’t understand epidemics,” I told her when she recounted the incident to me.
With her contrived facemask, it’s hard to slip out to walk the dog, plus the odor of the stored-away bra caused her uncontrollable allergic sneezing, so she spent the night taking her temperature-just in case.
People who know Ivette make jokes and make fun of her. I know of someone who called her at work (she has not been able to miss it, though she wants to) to tell her that we were in “Phase 7,” and invented a “scale of viral severity.” She almost believed it, until she finally recognized her friend’s voice. In the building where she’s lived for so many years, people spread false reports that only disturb and worry her even more.
She’s so fragile, Ivette, I’ve now heard her coughing a number of times.
I knocked on her door and spoke to her. I explained to her that there is no influenza in Cuba; that people are playing with her as if she were a naive young schoolgirl, and that she shouldn’t exaggerate things. She then said to me, with heart wrenching sadness, “The air makes me cough. I’m allergic, so… (lifting her eyebrows and voice) what are we going to do if it comes here? Is it pandemic yet?” Then she just kept coughing.
Seriously, I don’t know what would happen to my neighbor if that virus were to hit this country. She couldn’t be locked in the house all the time, her family couldn’t tolerate her. Ivette doesn’t need Internet or cable television to know how the figures of the people infected have increased.
She only loses her temper and gets everyone else all worked up. She’s truly trapped in her own hysteria. She’s struck with the very worst of illnesses.