Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

We’d stumbled onto a good spot for dinner, after chasing each other around town for too long, and were settling into the nitty-gritty of it when the lady seated across from us, the one with four kids, started coughing like she was getting ready to die. One deep, lung rattling hack after another to which my companion suggested, no demanded, that we get out of the way.

Good idea, and with no waiter in sight, we “struck camp” ourselves and moved to a far-off table.

Lately, we’ve been getting hammered by news of a possible swine flu pandemic and although some of us are more phobic about germs than others, it is a time of heightened awareness. As we agreed that night, “I’d rather be considered rude than become a dead statistic.”

After the recent body slam of the economy, it is obvious that we are, as a group, rather inclined toward panic, and if not patented panic itself, at least the generic brand more commonly referred to as bad news. Just when you think we’ve gotten a handhold out of the cesspool of murky water, here comes swine flu, another blindside to the collective confidence of the world.

Oops, make that H1N1 (as if that really describes anything tangible), in an attempt to be painfully and politically correct and to ease the creeping trepidation of hog producers that their “brand of bacon” might become associated with sickness.

Every flim-flam artist and whack-job between here and there is jumping on the bandwagon with his own brand of making a dollar or a point off this emerging new disaster. There is the “swine flu survival guide,” advertised online to be required by the U.S. government and only costing $19.95 each. If you’re self-sufficient, you might see an end-around the Health and Human Services department and buy your own swine flu vaccination directly from a supplier. If there was such a thing.

Those with a different agenda have taken up the cause of ending cruel and unusual practices on “factory farms.” And while most of us agree that keeping animals in body-sized cages is unacceptable, there doesn’t seem to be any U.S. correlation between such heinous animal husbandry philosophies and any kind of flu. If on the one hand we’re told we can’t catch swine flu from pigs, why is a confined calf, chicken, pig, etc., suddenly a threat to the health of the nation? At least have the integrity to fight your wars honestly, if for no other reason than to maintain credibility.

You might think it odd, but I can remember Aspen’s flu outbreak of 1918, almost. Not because I’m that old, for God’s sake, but I grew up listening to my grandmother, great-aunt and other townspeople talk like it happened yesterday. Imagine holding the hand of a sick, young girl as the hearse rolls by her bedroom window everyday and wondering, after the last day, whether the child even minutely suspected she’d be occupying the same hearse come daylight? Aspen was in the heyday of its “quiet years” then, and everyone knew everyone else’s business, such as who died in the “flu epidemic,” as they called it. There was a real fear that it might come back.

We need to remember, before hitting the anxiety button, that influenza (pig, swine, A/H1N1, Spanish, bird, avian, etc.) causes fever and coughs, chills and aches and pains, but doesn’t kill people. The real killer is pneumonia, which of course, can be brought on by the flu virus. That’s a distinction we need to make if we’re to think rationally about such an intrusion into our lives.

I suspect that by the time this column sees ink, the importance of swine flu in our lives will have dissipated, and news organizations hungry for even the tiniest morsel on which to feed will have moved on to the next tantalizing tease, whatever it may be. Just look out for the coughing lady at the next table.