Sunday, August 29, 2010


UPDATE No. 2: So get this. Early in the week, a fan attending a game at the previously discussed minor league baseball stadium threw back a foul ball that he'd caught, which hit an opposing team's player in the leg. The team banned the fan from the facility for life. No, I have no idea how a minor league team plans to stop him from attending a game next spring, hell, next week, since it's not like they ask for ID or anything. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig described the absence of any straws or lids at the scene as "ominous" and immediately banned the use of baseballs at minor league games. (No, he really didn't say or do that. I made it up. It's called satire, you jack-booted thugs from the MLB Office of General Counsel. The rest of it, however, is true).

At 6:00 p.m. Friday, things were looking pretty rosy in my neck of the woods. The kids were in a great mood, we were headed for dinner with friends, and I had plans to meet a few buddies at a friend’s river cottage on Saturday for the night.

Fast forward six hours. All plans in the crapper. This would be like the beginning of I Am Legend, right after Emma Thompson’s character announces that she’s discovered the cure for cancer, and the scene cuts to a post-apocalyptic Manhattan, Will Smith’s character stalking the empty streets, hunting for his dinner. By midnight, my son had spiked a fever of 102, and I had developed a bad sore throat. Sorry, Friday night dinner hosts. Um, this is awkward. My daughter was on the tail end of a cold, but she had her own surprise in store for us on Saturday.*

These are the times you dread. When it comes to the Gigantic List of Things that Suck, Seeing Your Kid Sick is this week’s No. 1-ranked team in the country. Amazingly, it’s been the No. 1-ranked team in every USA Today/CNN poll ever released and will continue to be the top-ranked entry for eternity. And truth be told, we’ve been fortunate to avoid any major illnesses, outside my oldest kid’s very scary bout with a stomach virus a while ago.

But seeing them in any pain or discomfort makes me want to vomit. Sometimes, depending on the particular microorganism, it actually does make me vomit. Hey, guess what? Not only do you get to see your kid suffer, we’re going to toss in some personal suffering as well. It is undoubtedly the worst part of being a parent, and unfortunately, it’s the price of admission.

I’ve frequently wondered what the point of getting sick is. I’m currently reading a fascinating book by David P. Clark called Germs, Genes and Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today. I’ve been reading it for a couple weeks, but I’m only about halfway through it -- namely because (1) it’s not a Stephen King novel and (2) it is non-fiction and contains many, many long words. Lest you think I’m sort of literary snob, please see Point #10 from my Random Thought Patterns column. Anyway, I used my massive intellect to deduce that the author’s hypothesis is that epidemics shaped who we are today.

Basically, the point is this: if you are healthy enough to read this column, you are one lucky S.O.B. – not because you’re reading this column, but that you’re even here at all. For you to be born, every ancestor you have ever had to be fortunate enough to not die before reproducing. And that took a hell of an effort for both your mother’s and father’s ancestors. Because it sounds like there was a damn union of infectious agents – with representatives from the International Brotherhood of Viruses 228, United Bacteria Workers 138 and Fungi for a Democratic Society – all skipping around the early and middle ages just thinking up with ways for us to bleed to death internally and feel every ounce of pain in the process.

So the next time you watch Cops, just remember that dude wearing the dirty t-shirt is a freaking miracle of evolution and luck, his entire lineage having been selected to survive and ultimately produce him. Somewhere along the line, one of his ancestors likely survived an outbreak of pneumonic plague that wiped out 90 percent of his village. And then ten generations later, another one of his ancestors survived smallpox. That blows my mind. It’s a funny thought – that guy on Cops, his face blurred because he is, in fact, innocent until proven guilty in a court of law (as opposed to a Wal-Mart, I suppose), missing a handful of teeth, suspected of beating up his girlfriend, is a towering biological achievement.

Also mind-blowing is the author’s theory that disease allows civilizations to flourish by withstanding outside assaults – the reason being that bands of invaders have rarely built up the same disease resistances that urban population centers have (because disease spreads quickly and becomes more virulent in dense populations), and so those Vikings will all die of diarrhea before they breach the city walls.

Granted, the price of this disease resistance is the fact that every once in a while, the entire civilization is going to be wiped out by some pathogen, so nature can select even MORE disease-resistant generations. The lesson is that evolution might care about all of us, but it doesn’t care about you. Think about that the next time you catch a cold. This must be why infectious disease specialists don’t sleep much. They must have been pooping themselves in the early days of the swine flu outbreak in 2009. Or breaking out the good scotch.

So really, in the end, when you cut out Facebook and summer vacations and Fox News and minivans, does it really come down to this? That some of us get sick and suffer and die so that the rest of us can propagate the species? I gotta tell you, that is a harsh truth. This is why I sort of envy the non-human members of the animal kingdom. They don’t sit around dwelling on this stuff. Granted, a Canada goose doesn’t necessarily want to die of bird flu, but it’s not flying around looking for hand sanitizer. If it makes to Canada for the summer, great. If not, well, it did all it could.

In the meantime, someone get me some effing Purell.

*My daughter was diagnosed with a sprained knee. She’s 2. You haven’t seen anything more pathetic than a 2-year-old limping around the house, using the wall for support. I have no idea how she pulled that little stunt off. I’m putting her on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Wednesday.


  1. I'm using the towering biological achievement line and crediting your blog on my FB page! Maybe I'll subscribe?

  2. thanks! glad you liked it, and I hope you do subscribe. I post every Sunday morning.

  3. "Germs, Genes and Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today'" by David P. Clark was actually featured on The Book Report( Might give it a read. Its a great radio show!