Frank Mulligan: Exercising flu diligence

Frank Mulligan

My dad was a doctor.

He used to say that all medical students at one point in their studies convince themselves they have some sort of horrible disease.

That’s because they’re immersed in learning all there is to know about all the horrible diseases out there and the various symptoms become prominent in their everyday thinking.

Recently, I began to experience symptoms of my own.

I had achy muscles, felt slightly feverish, and had a cough and sniffles.

What could I have?

Seasonal flu?

A common cold?

H1N1 flu?

Was I in love?

The diagnosis was very important.

Except for love, these are all communicable ailments - and we’re supposed to be particularly wary of spreading H1N1.

I confess I find it difficult to cough or sneeze into the inside of my elbow. Years of conditioning have trained me to cover my mouth with my hand.

By the time my mind catches up, my reflexes have already done the damage and my hand is left laden with contagion, a five-fingered Club Med for germs.

Fortunately, I’ve also been conditioned over the years to wash my hands.

Still, there are other practical problems here.

I ran into a man I hadn’t seen in several years at the bank and he reached his hand out to shake before we passed the time of day.

I had less than a second to decide a course of action.

Did I have the presence of mind to make a suitable explanation as to why we shouldn’t shake hands in the space of less than a second?

Something along the lines of, “Gee, maybe we shouldn’t shake hands due to the fact that I’ve catalogued a symptomology in the past 36 hours that leads me to believe that I may have a communicable ailment, quite possibly the H1N1 flu, also known as the swine flue, and I don’t recall the exact time I last washed my hands. Perhaps we should merely nod at one another in a comradely fashion.”

No, I shook his hand, feeling like typhoid Mary’s great-great-grandson.

Later that night I bumped into my sister Tara and niece Hannah at a mall. I reflexively kissed each on the cheek before realizing what I was doing.

Damn my affectionate nature!

I apologized profusely.

Tara, who’s a nurse, didn’t seem unduly alarmed, but it worried me.

On the highway home from the mall, I tried to turn off onto my exit. Another motorist, pulling onto the highway from the on ramp seemed to think it was OK to continue on a trajectory that would lead to our two cars colliding at a high rate of speed. I braked dangerously. If the motorist behind me hadn’t been paying attention, he would have rear-ended my car at 70 mph.

I beeped indignantly as the oncoming car sped off into the night, thinking only, “If I could just sneeze on that guy.”

Frank Mulligan is an editor in GateHouse Media’s Raynham, Mass., office and can be reached at