6 Ways Life Gets Complicated When Disease Overruns Your Town

If you’ve been feeling like the end periods are upon us, take heart: There are some portents we have to see before the real cataclysm kicks off. Rivers of blood, dude on a white horse, plagues — we are just have, tops, two of those right now. There simply aren’t many sexy plagues attaining the rounds these days. But back in 2002, SARS appeared in China and the world went seeds. By the time that epidemic was done, the disease had spread to 73 countries and killed nearly 800 people. We talked to Tyler, a kid living literally down the street from where the disease first popped up. The direction he echoes it …


Suddenly, Everywhere You Gaze, There Are Masks

One day, when I was six, I watched the grocery clerk wearing a mask. I was terrified.

If you think of Asian Urban Face Fashion, your intellect goes to those photos of people wearing hospital-style disguises over their noses and mouth disease. But those are usually in industrial cities like Beijing, with their coal-burning flowers and traffic contamination, or Japan, with their culture hygiene pertains. There was nothing like that in the countries of the south Chinese city of Guangzhou, where I lived as small children. Guangzhou is a tropical metropoli with large-hearted blue-blooded skies and mainly fresh air. It’s about as clean as you’ll find in a city of 16 million people. In 2002, it became the epicenter of the SARS epidemic.

Out went the disguises. I still remember my panic and bewilderment at those blue-blooded facehuggers. These were different from the flimsy newspaper ones tribes in Beijing wear to block the pollution. We turned to eight-ply surgical disguises, which guard against minuscule airborne droplets of contaminated saliva. They were thick and red-hot, and when they got immersed with sweat they became suffocating. Talking was difficult, but we deterred them on all the time( and doctors wore two ), because this new infection going around was deadly and extremely, very contagious.


We Were Wracked With Paranoia

A couple of years ago, the U.S. went apeshit over Ebola( and it merely killed two Americans ). Ebola sounds like a beset work in retaliation by a primeval deity, but you merely catch it if your liquids come into contact with infected liquids, which is as gross as it is unlikely in the First World. Scary as Ebola was( and there were later reported Ebola examples in my metropoli ), the question “Did my liquids come in contact with some guy’s from Liberia? ” didn’t precisely haunt the populace.

But SARS was the perfect infection for the 21 st century( even the epithet clangs chic ). Since it was spread by airborne pathogens, it could be caught at any time, be borne by any one. SARS started killing hundreds of people and infecting thousands more. A few of these people hopped on airplanes and started coughing their direction across the world, like an Indiana Jones trip montage, but with more fatal respiratory failure.

China was also the perfect incubator. The crush of crowds and modes of public transport ramped up paranoia like you wouldn’t believe. Everyone knew we are able to catch SARS at any time.

Were you in the same bus as an infected person? Did they sneeze near you? Did you breath the virus at world markets? Did you talk to someone without a mask? Are your hands contaminated with the germs, and did you pass it on to your newborn? Did you touch the door treat that an infected did? Should you get that cough checked out? If you went for a checkup at research hospitals, would that get you sicker? We were more paranoid than your average late-night Taco Bell customer.


We Conceived It Was A Biological Weapon

As crazy as it seems now, at first we thought we’d been attacked … by the United States of America … using a biological weapon. That’s madness, I know, but that was the rumor going around at the time. To us, the United States was China’s greatest economic competitor, and it had been attacked by terrorists the previous year. It was already waging conflict in Afghanistan( which shares a small perimeter with China ), so why not China itself next?

And then went this freaky contagious epidemic, perfectly tailored to crowded, world-travelling southern Chinese. Surely “its been” cooked up in a vial by U.S. scientists, right next to the super-soldier serum, and Manthrax( the more macho version of anthrax ).


We Get Our Report From The Rumor Mill

Even when SARS started ratcheting up over a hundred fatalities, the government’s official posture was “Chillax, bros! ” They said that merely a dozen or so had died, and SARS genuinely wasn’t such issues. This lie likely led to additional fatalities, and “theres only” uncovered when a Chinese doctor leaked the truth to the international public. So we didn’t listen to the government, and instead got our report through snippets of anonymous chain messages circulated endlessly between friends.

Weeks before the report had anything to say about SARS, we got texts notifying us that a lethal lung infection was catching on at the Third Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-Sen.( Hospital Zero was a short walk from my family’s home .) The text used to say doctors and nurses were dropping like dissidents, and that in ward after ward, people’s lungs were becoming black and rotten.

These texts also offered admonition. Some of it was surprisingly sensible. Some of it was exactly what you’d expect from unverified chain texts.


Our Countermeasures Were As Crazy As They Were Ineffective

SARS had no scientific panacea known to the medical community. Fortunately, notified by text and popular Chinese medical wise, everybody could, and did, oppose SARS like medieval apothecaries. Turns out boiling vinegar was the answer, because the steam would cleanse the breath of SARS-carrying droplets. Patently!

My kindergarten simmered massive vats of vinegar invariably — no parent would send their kids to a school that didn’t — and the sour reek was in everyone’s the homes and clothes. People washed their windows in vinegar. For several months, “there werent” vinegar in any of our cook, because it was only to be used as medicine. The price of vinegar rose 3,000 percent, and it faded off of all the shelves. The demise answer? Now everything reeked like vinegar and we had SARS.

Getty Images/ Stringer
Things were surreal enough without the ever-present perfume of zesty Italian dressing .

On the streets, trucks sprayed disinfectant — which, by the way, does nothing against airborne viruses, though it’s great for killing mosquitoes when there’s dengue fever floating around. My vicinity was told to stay inside as whole streets were engulfed in the white smoke following the path of HAZMAT-suited men with blowers. That image right there is when you two are suspect you’re living in a sci-fi movie. And not one of the fun ones.


The Hospitals Were Death Traps

Remember that SARS hospital I mentioned, the Third Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-Sen? My father was expecting her third offspring right in the middle of this pandemic, and that’s research hospitals we had to go to. China has good healthcare, overall — it does not deficiency for equipment, medicine, hospitals, or doctors — but it did lack for basic hygiene. Hospitals were disconcertingly dirty, and doctors may or may not have washed their hands before coming to see you. There was no soap in any of the bathrooms. The maternity ward that my expectant father visited information technology shared ventilation rod with the lung infection research center. This was not an ideal place for a newborn.

Paula Bronstein/ Getty Images
Just to elucidate in case ground zero of a executioner beset seemed like a good home for a newborn .

There were SARS patients in that infirmary, but there was no chance of encountering them. Patients were cloistered away from society and retain like prisoners. Going the city, I watched whole structures shut down, cordoned off because there was a obscure outbreak in their walls. It was frightening. We left home as little as is practicable. We didn’t discover pals, and certainly never went anywhere crowded in public. You were to wash your hands often and carry hand sanitizer in your purse. Stay away from hospitals, if possible. Pay attention to the rumor mill. Don’t eat poultry. Don’t get meat delivered to your doorway — it’s the perfect vehicle for germs.

It seemed like the end of the world.

But time extended, the number of new cases fell, and over time, the panic lessened. Through everything there is, my father deterred going to work. As he tells me now: “There reaches a degree where you have to say “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, you may have 8,000 examples worldwide and no panacea, but dammit if I’m not getting to work on time.”

In June 2003, we took another trip to the hospital so my mother could give birth. We asked if we should be concerned about delivering small children at Ground Zero.

“Oh no, ” the wet-nurse announced cheerfully. “That’s all winding down. We have no more SARS patients.”

Great news!

Then she followed up with “Everyone on the seventh and eighth storey is dead.”

Ryan Menezes is an editor and interviewer here at Cracked. Follow him on Twitter for chips cut from this section and other material no one should discover .

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