Monday, January 20, 2014

World War P

This is a story of being connected.  This is a story of islands.  This is a story of disease.

This, my friends, is the story about the time the entire island of Pohnpei got pinkeye.

It happened in early December.  Patient 0.  He was sitting on a toilet and probably found himself without anything sturdy with which to wipe his ass, so he went with the old standard: his left hand.  The man (presumably) exited the bathroom only to have no adequate hand-washing station in sight accompanied by an intense urge to scratch his eye.  Boom!  The poop bacteria invaded his conjunctiva and began to multiply.  Pus began to flow.  He touched his eyes, and then someone's hand.  What happened next was tragic.

Patient 0 and his first contact don't wash their hands.  They also eat with their hands from the same plate as everyone else.  They also drink from the same unwashed cups as everyone else.  They use the same towels.  The same washcloths.  The same clothes.

On Pohnpei, it's hard to find soap.  It is truly a scarce resource.  In the outer communities the knowledge of bacteria is little, so the demand for soap is quite low.  When they do use soap, it is cheap powder laundry soap, and they use it on everything.  Dishes, clothes, babies...  You name it.  Also in many public places such as government offices, there is no soap in the bathrooms along with no toilet paper.  The budgets apparently just aren't large enough for janitors and sanitary supplies.

It was a recipe for disaster.

Immediately the entire Pohnpeian elementary school population was hit.  It spread like wildfire.  The routes for contamination were infinite.    Every student came to school with it.  They didn't care about infecting their classmates.  I watched them touch textbooks and doorknobs only for the next student to touch them immediately after.  They shared pencils and erasers.  They shook hands.  The slapped each other playfully.  

Every Peace Corps Volunteer shook with fear.  We all didn't want to catch it, but one by one, most of us did.  Antibiotics were had.  Sunglasses were worn.  It was all out bacterial warfare.  But there was still one more victim to get.


I managed to stay away from the main surge of pinkeye.  How?  I have no clue.  This was the case until Sunday January 19th.  I was writing my book when a sudden muscular pain struck beneath my right eye.  I checked the mirror.  Yep.  Pinkeye.

The last time I had it was in Spain.  That episode was absolutely horrible.  Pus everywhere.  This time, however, is not as bad.  Minimal fluids and after today, day 3, the pain is nonexistent.  I think getting pinkeye is like a right of passage for any abroad experience (at least in my case).

So basically I was Brad Pitt.  I survived the initial pinkeye zombie attack, but then I wasn't like Mr. Pitt.  I got bit(ten grammar?).  Maybe I should have infected myself with something less harmful, like contagious sarcasm, to ward of the pinkeye zombies from getting to me.  Maybe I'd have lived.

Well...  I guess only one of us could marry Jolie, right buddy?  Well played ol' chap.  Well played.

Un saludo.

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