You’re going to think I’m nuts, but the week before last, I asked my husband if he had an emergency plan if New York City gets hit by the plague.
This wasn’t a tongue-in-cheek, hypothetical conversation discussing the zombie apocalypse—though I kind of tested the waters by having a semi-flippant attitude, in case he thought I was certifiable. The thing was, I had been seeing a bunch of signs around the city, asking, “Do you have an emergency plan?” And I realized that I didn’t.
How was that possible? We lived through the horror of 9/11 in this city. We went through the blackout and hurricanes. I’ve got flashlights smartly stashed in various places in my apartment. I’ve got spare jugs of water in case we need them (though, admittedly, they’re old and probably stagnant), and at a few points over the years, I’ve had emergency kits packed in the closet. I’ve also mentally worked out how to scale my fire escape with my 37-pound toddler and my 18-pound dog if my husband isn’t home to help.
But a real emergency plan? About where we would meet up in a sudden crisis? About how we would get off this island if the proverbial you-know-what hit the fan and where we would go? I’ve got nothing.
Now, let me make a little confession: I’ve seen a lot of horror movies. A lot. And an inordinate amount of disaster movies, too. There’s something about the vicarious chills and thrills that I find exhilarating—but, of course, it’s all at a safe distance.
And now, it’s all suddenly not at a safe distance. Ebola is knocking on our front door, and it is freaking me out.
OK, I realize that sounds overly dramatic. There seem to be random outbreaks every few years, but they always seem so far away and contained. But now…there’s a bunch of potentially infected people walking around a crowded city in Nigeria. The head of the CDC just called the outbreak “worse than we’d feared.” Even though we’ve been hearing about the outbreak a little bit less over the last week or so, in light of the other atrocities going on in the rest of the world, it is in no way under control in West Africa. And let’s not forget that we live in a highly mobile society, so infected people could easily enter the States. It takes up to 21 days for symptoms to show, and at that point, God only knows how many people those people would’ve come in contact with.
And, of course, there were the two American victims in Atlanta—who, yes, were totally contained in a secure facility, to whom we should have given compassionate care and who are now apparently cured. But, um, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t worry about it at the time and don’t still worry about it since we could easily find ourselves in that situation again.
Given my disaster-movie résumé, I would be lying if I said I didn’t slightly worry about the what ifs when I heard they were coming here. What if a hurricane or, you know, a sharknado hit Emory’s hospital, taking the power go out? What if the backup generators stopped working? What if someone accidentally got infected, was afraid of the quarantine and somehow got out?
Not likely, I know. But that’s what what ifs are about.
I’m not an alarmist. Really. But the fact remains that I live in a major city—one that seems to get hit with some sort of emergency scenario every couple of years—and I’ve realized that I am woefully unprepared.
Would I be freaking out this much if I weren’t a parent? I don’t know. I used to joke about the fact that in a disaster situation, I would be the first to go. For example, I’m always cold and have some (undiagnosed) nerve damage in my fingers and toes after a poorly thought-out Christmas caroling experience when I was 15. If I ever got stuck in the cold, hypothermia would take me out pretty quickly. And sicknesses? I’ve never met a germ who didn’t want to embark on a long love affair with me; this past year, I was sick pretty much from mid-December through the end of April. My immune system is crap, and if I don’t laugh about it in the throes of my sicknesses (or at the sight of my blue fingers), I will cry.
But now, the joke seems too real, and I’ve got someone other than me to worry about. Someone who’s so precious that I would literally give my life to not only protect but also to comfort.
In the middle of writing this post, my son came down with an inexplicable fever. No, I was not crazy enough to think it was ebola or anything, but when he accidentally spit in my eye, it did remind me just how, um, communicable he is. Yes, when he literally spit in my eye. His fever had broken after a dose of baby Tylenol, and we were laughing and playing on the couch. His head was buried in the crook of my neck, and when I picked him up to face me, he must have gotten a hair in his mouth or a fuzzy from my shirt, and he was trying to get it out. Hence, the spit in my eye—never mind the fact that he had already sweat all over me.
My very own, very adorable Patient Zero.
And that’s the thing. Kids sweat on you. They vomit on you. They poke their germy fingers in your mouth. They cry and just want their mommies. And their mommies want to be there for them, communicable diseases be damned. And that’s how the plague spreads. In fact, while writing this, it came to light that the disease likely started with a 2-year-old child in Guinea, which then spread to his family.
So…all that said, I thought it couldn’t hurt to have an escape plan to avoid all of this in the first place. As well as any of the other million emergencies that could befall an unsuspecting, poorly planned family.
What did my husband say when I nervously brought up this topic? He had a plan. An escape plan, a survival plan, because he had been thinking about it, too. It’s something that had always been in the back of his mind, because, hey, you never know, but yes, of course, now he was thinking about it more because of everything that was going on.
Thank God I married that man. He’s seen a lot of horror movies, too.