The Kikwit handshake and culture


Some trivia from the Ebola outbreak in 1995:

Outbreaks and the news they create also give the public a chance to see culture being created and transmitted because people invent behaviours and management strategies when they encounter new diseases. One small example of this occurred during the early days of the Ebola virus outbreak in Kitwit, Uganda. Villagers who were deathly afraid of contamination began to stop shaking hands and to start touching elbows in greeting, a gesture that became known as the ‘Kitwit handshake’… Shaking hands in greeting became briefly supplanted by touching elbows as a polite way to greet one another without passing the pathogen” (96).

— In Epidemiology and Culture by James A. Trostle (2005)

I thought I’d share this because of the behaviours manifested in:

  1. The public responses thus far – boomer-tips, panic-buying after the raising of the DORSCON risk, the response to the panic-buying itself, etc.; and
  2. Me, because of my own responses to boomer-tips and hand-shaking.

Boomers and their medical expertise

    (IMAGE: Gregory Grinnell/Northeastern University)

I like how, thanks – or no thanks – to the 2019-nCoV, almost every single boomer has become a medical expert on the subject.

Last Saturday morning, my Grab driver told me we can protect ourselves against the coronavirus by eating “a lot of hot stuff: ginger, chili, curry – all these!”

He added that going out into the sun and taking a walk will result in the sunlight “burn[ing] off the virus”.

These pro-tips were in addition to many other pro-tips from other boomers I’ve had the honour and privilege of receiving, such as:

  • Don’t use cheap toilet paper because it’s a possible cause of the infection;
  • Gargle with warm salt water; and
  • Take non-spicy food.

Interestingly, the last tip completely contradicts what my good friend told me today. I guess there are some things boomers still can’t agree on.

What boomer advice in relation to the 2019-nCoV have you received? Please share.

When all this is over, we’ll compile these nuggets of wisdom into a book and give a copy to each boomer during a mass ceremony to confer on them their honorary medical degrees.

Overly-clinical doctors.

I’m wondering why it is patients don’t have more of a say in deciding their own rest/recovery period. The dentist told me she was only going to give me a one-day Medical Certificate (MC). I asked for one-more day; she offered me an excuse letter instead, saying the procedure was a “minor” one.

I understood why – it wasn’t a surgery (although I thought it was at first but I guess I confused the phases of treatment) so from a very clinical point of view, I didn’t need that much rest.

But I didn’t see the point to this flow of logic i.e. I thought it was too hard and fast a rule for it to work across the board. I’m not an office worker, so it’s different in my case. The act of excusing me from teaching still means I have to be at work, which still means I have to prepare my food, my clothes, etc. the night before, wake up early, jostle with the crowd (Pooters is at the workshop, BTW [separate story]) – which I think doesn’t really bode well for the recovery process.

Or is it a Singaporean obsession with ‘showing face’ at work? Quantity of appearances doesn’t really translate to quality of appearances, you know.

Anyway, I went to the clinic near my home to request for an MC; the doctor said no. Again, I understand. He has his own ethical code of conduct to follow. I could feel him grappling with his own inner conscience, but I decided not to push the matter. I know he felt guilty, but I think he should feel some sense of guilt – if he had bothered to listen to what I was trying to say (which, in any case, was kinda hard because the braces have rendered me slightly unintelligible), perhaps he would have understood a deeper meaning to it all – I don’t chao keng but I am aware enough of my own body to know when I need the rest.

I think the rest I need is more psychological than anything else. I didn’t have a pleasant day with the extraction; it hurt like hell. I can’t chew any more; I’m reduced to soups and porridges, and even though I like soups and porridges, I don’t have any more choice to consume what I want at will. I just want some time at home to recover mentally and emotionally, but I guess Medical Certificates don’t cover that, do they?

On hindsight, maybe I could’ve practiced what I preach about performance. I didn’t go into the clinic looking like death; I went in requesting for an MC. So in a sense, I wasn’t in the role of the patient enough for the doctor to step up to the stage and perform his role as well. Maybe it really is all about the politics of performance? *shrugs*

The only thing to be slightly cheery about: I have very good Co-Operating Teachers. Ms Toh Hui Yuan, Mr Peter Crawshaw and Mr Anthony Phoon, if you come across this – thank you very much for your care and concern.

And for the students who are stalking: 4E2 and 4E Literature rocks, and I hope 3E4 comes on board soon.