Tracking my efforts to beat Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), aka CFIDS, aka CFS

Tracking my efforts to beat Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), aka CFIDS, aka CFS

Monday, October 15, 2012

Unfortunately, I'm more aware of germs now that I have ME/CFS

Before I came down with ME/CFS, I caught colds or flus about once or twice a year.  Now it's about once a month.  I've seen the evidence in my natural killer cell numbers from blood tests: my immune system just isn't performing up to snuff.

Besides the obvious drawback--I get sick more--another unfortunate side effect is that I'm more aware of germs and the possibility of getting sick now. There was a time when I was mostly oblivious to the germ spreaders around me, but it seems that I notice them now.  For instance, last week, at a restaurant, I heard a nearby cough and instinctively looked around.  I then watched as a gentleman walked down the aisle between two rows of tables, coughing every few steps.  He was essentially crop-dusting two rows of tables as he walked.  Nobody seemed to notice but me.

I miss those days when I was oblivious to these such people.  Maybe I was even one of those people.

When my wife and I vacationed in Tokyo, Japan, a few years ago, before I came down with ME/CFS, we noticed that every 8th or 10th person wore a surgical mask in public.  At first we thought, "how depressing to live in a society where people are so germaphobic."  But we came to discover that while some people wear masks to prevent themselves from getting sick, most wear them to prevent others from  getting sick.  This is a common courtesy in Japan.  When one is sick, he/she wears a surgical mask in public to prevent others from getting sick.

I'm not suggesting that we should adopt this custom here in America.  In fact, I could never see such a thing catching on.  We Americans are far too vain, and probably too unconcerned with societal well-being.  Japan is a much more collectivist culture.  In American, we mostly look out for ourselves and, if others get sick, "oh well!"  It would take a pandemic of some heretofore undiscovered deadly virus before Americans would ever embrace such a mask-wearing custom.  Maybe that's a good thing.

In the end, I don't know what the "right" balance is between carefree living and germaphobia, but I believe that it lies somewhere between America's carefree crop-dusting lifestyle and the Japan's borderline mania.  But now that my immune system is weaker than before, the Japanese way certainly doesn't look as crazy as it once did.  People need to take responsibility for their own germs.  Stay home.  Cough into the crux of your arm (not your hand), and wash your hands if you're sick.  But mostly just stay home.


  1. You are SOOOO right. Stay home when you are sick!

  2. I haven't even read this post yet- just the title made me want to comment. I recently wrote a post about what I called my "brain virus" - how I went from germ and sickness obliviousness to paranoia and vigilance. I started wearing masks in clinics, I became very angry at people that sneezed and coughed without covering their mouths when there were people around them with serious illnesses that couldn't afford to get sick and were forbade from getting vaccinations.

    Right before that, I had read your post about how lucky we are, really to have had the healthy years we had and I had written a similar post to that, too! We are all different, but oh so the same. :)

    1. Hi Elizabeth. Yes you are so right that we all have so much in common. When I look around at others' blogs, I often see the things being repeated that I've written in my blog. It's comforting to know that others know what you're going through. And I can relate to the feeling of anger toward other people who sneeze and cough without covering their mouths. That used to be a minor annoyance, but now it's reached a whole new level of revulsion for me.