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[Fiction] The Plague Chronicles
A fictional account of life in the midst of collective madness (part 2)
Michael Werbowski (minou)     Print Article 
Published 2009-12-14 10:53 (KST)   
This is a fictional story by columnist Michael Werbowski. It is only lightly edited.  <Editor's Note>
How many valiant men, how many fair ladies, breakfast with their kinfolk and the same night supped with their ancestors in the next world! The condition of the people was pitiable to behold. They sickened by the thousands daily, and died unattended and without help. Many died in the open street, others dying in their houses, made it known by the stench of their rotting bodies. Consecrated churchyards did not suffice for the burial of the vast multitude of bodies, which were heaped by the hundreds in vast trenches, like goods in a ships hold and covered with a little earth.

Giovanni Boccaccio

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Day Five

I woke one morning on the second week of the massive flu campaign. I drew open the curtain and saw the paper boy toss the "City Sentinel" on my doorstep. It was cold outside and I was wary of even sticking my head outside the house to pick up the paper on my doorstep, in view of the flu alert and risk of catching some germs. In front of my coffee mug, I read the latest news. New government guidelines were issued to contain the spread of the virus. The most basic human interaction was frowned upon socially such as kissing, shaking-hands, spitting - is there no end to the list of things-not-to-do to avoid swine flu! An anti spitting regulation was issued because Premiership hockey players chewing gum and then spitting on the ice are, surprisingly, not immune to swine flu. Spitting is a rather disgusting habit anyhow - as is the hockey players' habit of blowing out the contents of their noses in all directions - and is made even worse now we have high-definition TV.

But spitting is rather low risk for spreading swine flu. Shaking hands is rather more dangerous and last month one North American nation dissuaded hockey players from indulging in this practice. Pity the poor referee who has to shake hands with everyone at the end of the game. And then there are the goal celebrations where players jump on each other, hugging and kissing and what about politicians on campaigns that had to kiss strangers and their snot-faced, sweaty babies. And what of large crowds of fans all packed in together in a hockey arena? Surely, that's not good either. One hockey manager has shared his family's traditional remedy for flu with the rest of us in today's newspaper. ''It is my grandmother's prescription,'' he said. ''Its hot milk with red wine. Fantastic.''

There were not only in the newspapers, but also on the radio and T.V, advertisements admonishing the populace to get their "jab." The airwaves were inundated with recommendations to stay at home and not spread the virus for those who had not yet been vaccinated. It was a mass media frenzy.

Day Six

Yesterday travel restrictions were imposed and schools closed as well. I saw more people in the subway wearing face masks. I called into a local radio show and said this panic would lead to something worse than the flu: mass hysteria. It would provoke a military type intervention in the streets, I said. The emergency rooms were overflowing with people complaining they have the flu symptoms.

I'm in my thirties and more or less healthy. But I decided as a family man, to write my last will and testament just in case something happens to me with this pandemic. Today my wife's 54 year old aunt fell ill, with the flu. She was taken to the hospital last night after collapsing. She has been diagnosed with the same symptoms, as all other victims of this pestilence. She first complained of feeling weak at home, then her muscles began to stiffen and eventually progressively Aunt Maya lost sensation in their feet, ankles, then the paralysis reached her heart and she died the doctors told us.

We went to the hospital to see her, but came too late. There were people waiting outside, even camping on the sidewalk eating in the cold and not being able in to see their sick relatives in their last moments on earth. In addition, there were endless line ups of those waiting in the cold and rain for their vaccination shot outside the hospital. Even the hospital lobby was so overcrowded that we could not and were not allowed to even enter to see out dying relatives.

Day Seven

My wife and children prepared to leave for the country house as we all feared that the plague was spreading throughout the city evermore. We packed for them, plenty of provisions for several weeks of self imposed isolation. I decided to stay in the city and observe and document the plague's progress.

"Sweetheart, make sure you don't go out unless it's really needed" my wife told me. "Marjorie, please don't fret, I will be fine, just make sure the kids stay safe while you're all away." I said.

"Will the pets stay with you?" she asked

"Yes, they'll keep me company...who knows how long this plague will rage on." I replied hesitantly.

We embraced and against the authorities' recommendations, I lifted there protective masks also kissed the children on the cheeks as if this was a final and fateful farewell. After their departure, I went to the local library and began to investigate the Plague in its historical time frame. Propcopius, who witnessed such a calamity, recorded the devastation of the plague which killed 10,000 people daily in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. Apparently the contagious disease came from Egypt or Ethiopia on board ships which carried with them rodents such as rats and mice. According to the historian, the victims' bodies were so large in quantity, they had to be stacked and piled in the streets as there was no room to bury them all.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Michael Werbowski

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