Lessons from two pandemics: be safe, don't panic

By Sandra Lee ( China Daily ) Updated: 2009-07-22 13:59:44

My sister was arriving for a long-awaited visit from a New York area airport. There was a chance that she would be quarantined, so I prepared a "quarantine kit" of 30 movies, the entire Sopranos TV series, a How to Hula video, four long books, biscotti, chocolate, a jump rope and a pack of cards. If she was quarantined, I was going to join her.

Lessons from two pandemics: be safe, don't panic

We hadn't seen each other for several years. We had a lot of catching up to do. I was certainly not going to have her languish in a hotel room for five days when we could be there together talking and laughing, watching movies and learning how to hula! I was determined to make lemonade if we were given lemons.

When she disembarked without incident, and we flew into each other's arms, we were both relieved. Our time together included many more sights of China than the four walls of a hotel room.

I've had two brushes with viruses that were pandemics, two experiences of quarantine. The first was SARS, when arriving in the United States from China meant that I wasn't welcome. Now, the tables have turned. The country of risk is America. A number of new cases of H1N1 in China are from those flying in from New York. Predictions are that we will face more, and potentially much worse, in the future. How shall we behave?

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Arriving in California in April 2003 for my first visit home, I had greatly underestimated how frightened the world was of SARS. My best friend flinched when I ran off the airport bus and hugged her. On the way to her house she told me people were terrified because I had flown in from China. Many couldn't believe that she'd let me in her house. By the time we got there I was in a panic. What had I done? Maybe I could infect those I love. I was afraid that maybe I had put them in danger. It was an awful feeling.

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