December 8, 2017
Disease at World’s End
I am enamored by the effects of illness and injury in future narratives. I think it is a very widely addressed and serious concern, no matter which way it is approached. In most future narratives illness or injury leads to the removal of that character.
In novels such as The Giver by Lois Lowry where the community has been “perfected” it is discovered that smaller, weaker infants are “released” along with the old. Illness is unheard of and injuries just don’t seem to happen. The truth is eventually revealed to Jonas that being released is really being put to death and pain is a very real and excruciating thing. So, while the community has no concept of pain, their Utopia is not free from death or illness. Twins are selected to live or die based on the ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality, which is unusual since neither infant survived by their own ability. The idea of a utopia embracing death by deciding who needs to go and erasing pain and emotions uncovers the fact that humans live, die, hurt and feel. Without those characteristics we aren’t very human. We would be more like robots.
In comparison, in stories like Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, illness or injury can be a death sentence or a target for becoming a victim. Survival depends on appearing to be strong, healthy and poor. Broken limbs, bleeding or obvious illness make you a weak victim for someone else looking to survive with whatever you have. Some will even take your life just for their own enjoyment. In this type of scenario ‘survival of the fittest’ seems legit. If you become weak then you are at a higher risk of losing your life. Lauren and her comrades survive by working together, but they also met up with a doctor who has some medications on hand. This raises the question, can one survive without modern medicine in a post-apocalyptic world? And if so, for how long? Either way, this novel shows that there is strength in numbers and humans need each other to survive.
On the other hand, stories like Butler’s Speech Sounds show that survival is possible alone, though it may not be preferred. Rye lives in a world stricken by illness that is not quite understood. The cause could be any number of things from “a new virus, a new pollutant, radiation, [or] divine retribution” (VN, 97). Whatever caused it, it seems to affect the brain and the ability to read, write and/or speak. “Often there was also paralysis, intellectual impairment, death” (VN, 97). These losses seem to create jealousy, anger and sadness that prevents people from letting on which language skills they still maintain. People speak by using universal hand gestures instead. While Rye is moving forward day to day all by herself, she jumps at the chance to bring Obsidian home with her for companionship and protection. When Obsidian is killed her human traits arise and she decides to take the two abandoned children home instead. She quickly learns that they can talk, which is a dream for a former teacher like Rye. Unfortunately, this leaves the hanging issue of the illness and why these children are seemingly unaffected.
In an apocalyptic television series, The Walking Dead, illness begins the whole apocalypse. A virus causes humans to die except for a part of their brain that allows them to walk around and eat and infect other humans. Avoiding the spread of the virus is an important part of survival, but becoming injured also causes struggles of survival as it is difficult to run or fight off zombies with a limp or an un-useable arm. The characters in this series are faced with unique challenges, such as what is safe to eat? Who can you trust? Where do you go for safety? In this case, humans can be just as dangerous as other apocalyptic threats. If the living dead are evaded and you avoid the spread of the virus, then you have to find food, water and shelter that is safe. Even with those three needs met there are still dangerous people in the world who live to torment and take from others.
Ernest Callenbach’s Chocco offers a different future scenario where a community has defied all odds and survived after an apocalypse. They are stronger and smarter than their predecessors. Or at least that’s what they believe based on their findings of the Machine People that came before them. Their account of the failing Machine People society is that “their leaders served only their own interests, and so allowed the forests, soils, and rivers to be overexploited and become barren. They even tolerated the poisoning of the air, so that in time their crop plants failed. They became helpless against diseases and pests that had developed resistance to their poisons. Their crops failed, and they starved everywhere on the planet” (FP, 197). It seems that the Machine People were stricken down by illness that they caused themselves. The people of Chocco hold true to their roots by using growing and hunting tactics passed down by their ancestors who survived the poisoning famine.
Further still, in The Bible, it doesn’t matter much if you get sick or injured because Jesus might just show up and heal you! What is important in the scripture, and what many Christians believe, is that you have to be a good person and believe in God and Jesus Christ to get to heaven. It doesn’t matter if you died prior to that event from illness or murder. One can still enter the pearly gates based on honor.
Based on future narratives that I have read, I would gather that I need only to be a decent, healthy, cunning human being to survive and have any chance at reaching a better place in a post-apocalyptic world. However, I think power plays a large role in just about everything, and the same could be said for life saving medications and services. Without someone in power people would likely run amok or individuals with power would have the ultimate decision of who survives and who wastes away. So, how do we survive long term in a disease-ridden crisis situation? There are actually a number of suggestions for surviving in other types of emergencies that would largely benefit survival in an apocalyptic scenario.
For starters, we all know that washing hands often, eating healthy, getting exercise and protecting our nose, mouth and eyes from germs can greatly decrease our chances of getting ill. Most of those are doable even if the world is in flames and chaos is everywhere. For clean water, know where a personal well is located and store bottles of clean water in a safe place. Remember, that drinking water is more important than hand washing if you must choose between the two. Hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes are a good replacement for soap and water so stock up! Food can be grown in a garden and stored in cans and jars. Take a tip from Lauren in Parable of the Sower and save seeds that would be of great value in a long term emergency. Keep in mind that if you have neighbors who keep livestock you could have the opportunity to trade or share food.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) actually has a zombie apocalypse preparedness guide. It is a ruse to attract traffic for hazard preparedness, but it is, nonetheless, amusing and full of great information. There is a list of emergency supplies from flashlights and batteries to important papers and medications. There are also lists for children and pets. Clicking around the website will illicit information on making a plan, where to get information and the resources that are available in your state.
According to The National Academy of Science, vaccinations are one of the most important tools in preventing the spread of communicable diseases. Getting necessary vaccines to developing countries has remained a challenging task due to availability, cost and health care providers to give vaccines, care and track patients. This leads me to believe that continuing vaccinations might not be that big of an issue in the United States, but I would encourage everyone to stay up to date on vaccinations just in case. Especially in regards to children who don’t have many of the more serious illness preventions yet.
Looking back at other widespread deaths caused by disease led me to investigate the Black Death of the 14th century caused by the plague and how it could have been avoided. Because the disease was caused by rats, people are cautioned not to handle sick or dead animals, avoid rodents and rodent droppings, avoid insect bites, eliminate fleas, which can spread the disease, and keep a safe distance from anyone who has or may have the plague. This includes pneumonia. The Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Department of Public Health also includes a little note alerting readers that terrorists could release the bacteria in public places. As if that wasn’t terrifying enough, they also have a link to their emergency preparedness program titled SF72 where the explanation of the name is a tad alarming. It states, “In a serious emergency, city services will be impacted, so a basic rule of thumb is for people to be able to take care of each other for 72 hours before help arrives. That’s just three days—think of it as a long weekend—or nine meals.” I know they mean for it to sound comforting, but I think it's a great time to be living in Texas! I can’t even think of a situation where I would need emergency services that would allow me to live for 3 days. Of course, I’m not one to ask for help or visit doctors unless it is completely warranted.
Overall, I would say that it is abundantly necessary to follow some tips from our literary heroes and be prepared. Stay informed, expect the worst and don’t let the zombies get to you for at least 72 hours if you live in San Francisco because you are on your own until then!
· Butler, Octavia E. (, ©1993) Parable of the Sower. New York: Warner Books
· Butler, Octavia E. (1996). Speech Sounds. In J. Schinto (Ed.), Virtually Now. New York: Persea Books, Inc.
· Callenbach, E. (1994). Chocco. In K. S. Robinson (Ed.), Future Primitive. New York: Tom Doherty Associations, Inc.
· Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, June 13). Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response: Zombie Preparedness. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombie/index.htm
· Communicable Disease Control and Prevention: San Francisco Department of Public Health. (2017). Plague. Retrieved from http://www.sfcdcp.org/plague.html