Every year around Thanksgiving, I get a greeting card from my childhood dentist wishing me “a happy and healthy holiday.” I once asked her why she chose to send them out at Thanksgiving rather than during the traditional Christmas-and-Hanukkah greeting card rush in December. She said that as a health professional whose clients are healthy, Thanksgiving is the more appropriate occasion.
To tell you the truth, most years I resented the card. A usually-healthy person, I’ve never broken a bone or been in the emergency room, but I seemed to always find myself hounded by a common cold in the week before Thanksgiving when the card annually arrives. The irony was never lost on me; the good intentions of the card seemed like sarcasm in the acute phase of throat inflammation and strained breathing.
But, this year, the appearance of meningococcal disease afflicting our campus, I’m better positioned for resonance. To be sure, I’ve heard conflicting reports (as I’m sure most of you have, too), some claiming that as many as eight cases have been confirmed at UCSB, some as few as three. I’ve been told horror stories of emergency surgeries which I cannot confirm or deny. I’ve even heard rumors from beyond our campus, rumors that Princeton University in New Jersey has seen over five deaths from this very strain of meningitis.
And now, although I’m as guilty as any of us, I think we need to start thinking about health the right way, because, conspicuously, there has been a wave of panic sweeping our campus. Three incidents of a serious and potentially deadly disease have left many Gauchos concerned for their own well-being. I’m all in favor of precautions; we would all be better off if we were to place a temporary embargo on shared drinks, public coughing fits and misplaced disposals of chewing gum. But to a certain extent, the spread of disease is not entirely within our control. Too many of my friends want to paralyze themselves despite good health; the danger of disease is no more a grounds for excessive caution than it is for recklessness.
I propose an alternative point of view: Let’s acknowledge that, after the dust settles, almost every reader of this article will find himself or herself uninfected. I’ll use the most liberal estimate I’ve heard so far and assume that eight UCSB students have contracted the illness, which, when considered in the context of 20,000 students in total, renders each of us with a .04% chance of contraction. Not a very likely proportion.
Instead of concerning ourselves with our own safety, why not get festive and remember how grateful we are that seasonal afflictions (colds and flus) are only slight blemishes on otherwise clean bills of health. With the scare in full swing, I’ve never been so happy to recall a flu that went around my dorm during freshman year, leaving almost all of us miserable and unproductive.
My grandfather was a pediatrician, and he used to pass on a story about a pediatric oncologist who split his time doing routine checkups. The oncologist used to say, “There are so many sick kids, kids with cancer and other horrible sicknesses, that I need to remind myself that most kids are healthy.” Thanksgiving is often thought of in economic terms, and we often give thanks for our prosperity rather than our wellness. But I, one of the most callous writers you may ever read, think that this year’s holiday ought to be different, in light of the stories we’ve all heard. There’s no need to lock yourself up and refrain from living; on the contrary, living fully is a privilege and failure to exercise that privilege insults the sick. Be grateful, live well and enjoy a happy and healthy holiday.
Ben Moss is that guy who got everyone at your party sick.