Long-awaited vacation. Overnight flight, US to Europe. Every seat taken. The adventure begins.
A man I shall call Mr. Sumac stands to let another passenger take an assigned seat next to him. This passenger, a man I call Typhoid Cretin, says (to the best of Mr. Sumac’s horrified recollection), “I’m sorry, I have a really bad head cold, which I’m over-medicating. I won’t be talking to you. They called and told me I had to go.”
Translation: ‘I’m about to GIVE YOU my REALLY BAD HEAD COLD. I’m making the NOBLE SACRIFICE of trying to suppress the symptoms with lots of medication. I’m the one suffering! To PROTECT YOU, I won’t talk to you, so don’t try to complain. I’m a helpless victim! The mysterious THEY, who are MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYBODY, said I must INFECT OTHER PEOPLE AND CONTINENTS.’
Mr. Sumac was aghast. On a previous occasion Mr. Sumac did a 4-week language course in Russia, and on the leg from the US to Helsinki was seated next to a diseased Finn. This plague vector coughed, sneezed, and frothed the whole way, spraying infectious aerosols into the already famously unhealthy aircraft atmosphere.
I think of Mr. Sumac as a bronze giant with lungs made of damp tissue. He caught the Finn’s cold. In Russia it became bronchitis, then walking pneumonia. By the time the course was over – and I, Sumac, was scheduled to join him to celebrate some anniversary or other and travel, making use of his burnished language skills – he was so sick he had to come home instead.
I have not been to Russia. Not that I’m bitter. Stupid Finn.
Now Mr. Sumac feared a repeat disaster. He checked with the flight crew – there was no other seat. He sat for 7 hours, while the adjacent leper sneezed and coughed, exhaling evil miasmas. “Great rivers of mucus flooded the airplane,” Mr. Sumac says. Not that he’s bitter. Also, when awake Slimy Share-the-Germs cracked his knuckles.
It’s remarkable that I am able to objectively, dispassionately analyze Horrible Vector’s apology, but I have a lot of practice. Let me know if I seem to be losing it.
Can you apologize for something in advance and go ahead and do it? No.
No. No. NO. Because it’s right out there. Not only would you do it again, you’re about to do it for the first time.
‘Sorry for what I’m about to do’? That is not an apology.
Responsibility is shifted to the unidentified “they.” Insult is added to injury with the whines about over-medication. Not to mention the pseudo-noble “I won’t be talking to you.” Why would your cellmate want to talk to you on a red-eye flight?
Well, what should Snotmonster have done?
He should have refused to fly in an infectious condition.
What if he had no choice? What if he was flying to be at the bedside of a dying person? Or what if he would lose his job? He said he was told he had to go. Is that believable? Unfortunately yes.
A grownup should be able to say no. But there are some employers so irresponsible, so bent on short-term tweaks to fantasized bottom lines that they might punish an employee who refused to fly sick. This is wrong. However, companies do wrong things on a regular basis.
Snuffleupagus should have done a better job of “overmedicating” himself. He failed, or he wouldn’t have been in dramatic respiratory meltdown, erupting copiously, firing viral particles into the air. (The only medications he was seen to use were cough drops. Oh please.)
And he should have worn a face mask. And washed his hands at every opportunity. He should have offered masks to those who had to sit next to him. (I do wonder how popular he was at whatever event “they” told him he had to attend.)
It’s not rocket science. It’s not airplane science. It’s like paper airplane science. Face masks significantly reduce the chance of infecting others with your hideous viral ailment. For example, in a 2008 study, when children with “flu-like” illnesses wore masks, family members were 80% less likely to get sick. Children. Gummy little children. It might not protect the health of a person who is forced to spend 7 hours strapped next to you. But it’s certainly worth a try.
I thought about whether airlines should ban sick passengers. It couldn’t be enforced. But they could stock face masks. And not make sick passengers pay a penalty to reschedule.
It’s not good for people with head colds to fly, not that I care whether Sneezy Snivelton lives or dies. As long as he suffers. It can bring on sinus infections, ruptured eardrums, lasting hearing loss.
So what happened? How kind of you to care! UNLIKE INTERNATIONAL CONTAGION KING. Mr. Sumac got the head cold. Despite OTC medication, it got worse. When it seemed to be turning to bronchitis, Mr. Sumac took the just-in-case antibiotics his doctor had prescribed to avoid repeating the Russian disaster. He didn’t die. (I, Sumac, felt the cold pass by, but it didn’t get me. I have okay lungs. But ask me about my knees some time, and how they disprove Intelligent Design.)
He spent a lot of time asleep in hotel rooms in lovely towns. I sat in hotel rooms or walked around alone, DEPRIVED OF THE COMPANIONSHIP OF HIM I LOVE, and since we went to a country where Mr. Sumac speaks one of the languages and I do not, DEPRIVED OF MY TRANSLATOR, due to the selfish actions of Sniffle Punk.
Mr. Sumac spent less time walking, hiking, or smelling forest air, wild flowers, or good food. There were strolls we set out on, but had to turn back, because Mr. Sumac didn’t have the wind.
There were whole countries we didn’t visit. (Okay, one.) He did improve and was better before we returned home. I was able to drag him up hill and dale, to visit bosky fountains, to clamber battlements, to seek curious birds.
Next time he travels, Mr. Sumac will carry antibiotics, and also a stash of face masks. One for any pathogenic passenger he is forced to sit next to, one for himself, and one for the unfortunate sitting on the other side of the bubbling, heaving virus factory.
Apology not accepted.
I hate to think how I’d carry on about this if I were bitter.