To really understand how I feel about this you need to know that my mom grew up on a farm, and her experience with being sick was, “if you're healthy enough to work, you work.” This was a very common perspective among farmers since they worked with animals or plants.
Later in life, I remember driving past a daycare once with a large sign that read, “if your kids are sick, please keep them home. We will not watch them.” It struck me at first, but after a moment of reflection, it made perfect sense. One sick kid at daycare means sixty sick kids next week, and a lot of exhausted parents.
It was only in college that I had a professor explain this to me, well to my class at the expense of a student she was told to go home. He came in sick and was sniffling throughout the entire lecture. About halfway through the teacher stopped and gave a brief history of being sick in public. She explained that antibiotic and symptom reducing medications changed the way society viewed disease. Before their introduction, if you lived on a farm and were you sick, you still had to help out on the farm, but if you lived in the city and got sick, they quarantined you.
After the Second World War, there was a huge influx of people leaving farms and moving to cities, and they brought with them the culture of working while they were sick. With new medicine, disease was no longer feared like it once was, so legal quarantines no longer existed. If people came to work sick, they just go other people sick, and more people had to buy medicine, but it wasn’t a big public health issue.
This lecture changed my life. It changed how I thought about being sick. It wasn’t about how sick I felt. It was about infecting other people and recognizing that people have different immune systems and a mild cold for me might put someone else in the hospital.
So, I found myself at the viewing of a movie in a park, and a few rows behind me I heard someone sniffling. In my mind, I ranted about the importance of self-quarantine for the sake of others. I never planned to deliver this rant but ruminated on it in my head. After another sniffle, I turned to see who the offender was and… it was a good friend of mine. Immediately my rage of this issue changed into, “I hope they feel better.”