Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 11.06.09
Stanstead, Quebec


H1N1: Our best shot at obsession

Probably the last thing you want to read is another article about H1N1. (Then again, the fact that you're reading this column suggests you'll pretty much read anything.) But, I'm sorry, these days it's all H1N1 all the time. H1N1 may be the most famous number-letter combo since R2-D2.

I can't recall when a subject so insinuated itself into our psyches. Even after 9/11, I never looked at my neighbours and thought, "Hmmm, I wonder if Jim's a terrorist..." But if I see a co-worker so much as scratch his nose, I seriously consider reporting him to the germ police.

Quebecers haven't been this paranoid since every stranger with a camera was a potential sign inspector.

You can't escape it. Last Saturday, my kids were in the high school soccer finals. After the games, instead of shaking hands, players were encouraged to bump elbows. It looked like line dancing combined with the Funky Chicken.

After one game, however, they went old school: Good game, good game, good game," slapping hands as they went. A mother muttered on the sidelines muttered, "Don't shake hands, don't shake hand." Luckily, she had a bottle of hand sanitizer, which she whipped out of her bag and squirted into waiting open palms. It was a bit like communion, only with better odds of salvation.

Hand sanitizers. The resurgence of the global economy can likely be attributed solely to the sale of hand sanitizers. They're everywhere! The irony is that, with everyone squirting, pumping and grabbing at their dispensers, those hand sanitizer handles are probably loaded with flu cooties.

Along with obsessive squirting, we've started second-guessing physical contact. For people like me who've never been comfortable with awkward social kissing and unwarranted hugging, this is actually good news. It also reinforces my conviction that, with all our secretions and fluids and mucous and germs, we're just plain disgusting, folks!

Speaking of disgusting, Sunday was municipal election day. As I stood in line with my neighbours (potential carriers, all of them!), it occurred to me that we might just as easily have been in line for H1N1 vaccinations, and that, with a little forethought, the Quebec government could have combined the vote with the vaccine. They could have called it "The Voteccination." Publicity slogan: "Make Your Pick and Get a Prick."

Clearly, H1N1 is affecting our mental state. (And by "our" I mean "my.") I'm particularly concerned about young people. Think about the anxiety they've undergone in the past 10 years: 9/11, climate change, economic collapse, two Bush administrations, all those Air Bud sequels. And now they have to worry about getting sick just from making out with their girlfriend or boyfriend. Thank God I never had to worry about that when I was a teenager... but that's a whole other pathetic story.

Fear of the flu has increased dramatically since two otherwise healthy Canadian children died from H1N1. As sad and terrible as this is, it's important to remember that such cases are extremely rare. Your odds of dying from H1N1 are about 1 in 1.5 million. This is the same probability as the federal Liberals ever being satisfied with their choice of leader.

Fear of the virus is matched only by the fear of the vaccine against it. There are rumours that it's unsafe, that it was rushed to market, that it will make you vote Conservative. It turns out that Canadians have an aversion to putting potentially toxic chemicals in their bodies. This hasn't hindered the artificial cheese-flavoured corn-chip industry, but still...

In my house, we've gone back and forth several times on whether we should all get the shot. Is it necessary? Is it safe? And, of course, is it "owwy"?

So am I going to get vaccinated against H1N1? Damn straight! And then I'm going to get vaccinated against global warming.