Maybe Howard Hughes Wasn’t So Crazy After All!

At the end of his life, Howard Hughes was the butt of numerous jokes over his germaphobia.  Hughes became a recluse who went to extremes to avoid people and germs.  The past three days I’ve been sick with either the flu or food poisoning.  While laying around waiting for my fever to burn off and bowels to producing something solid, I began imagining how I could avoid this fate in the future.  I thought of Howard Hughes, and his techniques for hiding from unseen foes.

If only I was rich and could afford to buy hotels and occupy their top floors.


I seem to catch something once a year, usually a cold.  I do get the flu shots.  And this bout of whatever only knocked me back for three days.  They say the flu vaccine isn’t perfect but it at least could shorten the duration of the flu.  However my symptoms were more like food poisoning.  I’ve read a lot about what folks call “stomach flu” which more often than not is food poisoning.  But that’s just another way for germs to hitch a ride inside you.  Do such details matter?  Well, yes, it does.  Especially when you learn how some of the bad germs got on the bad foods.  Yuck.  Now I’m paranoid about restaurants and grocery stores.

Is the isolation from humanity worth the cost of avoiding occasional sickness?  Probably not, but then I thought of a novel by Isaac Asimov called The Naked Sun.  It’s a murder mystery set on a planet of agoraphobic inhabitants.  These people are so afraid of other people they never leave their homes, and only socialize via view screens.  Even married couples get queasy over getting physical.  Robots do most of the real work.  It’s a world that Howard Hughes would have loved.  I doubt this planet had many communicable diseases.

Since the news in the past 24 hours has been about the CDC’s report on superbugs, living as a recluse isolated from everyone might become the vogue.  Nor does it help that I’ve recently read a number of history books, covering times when simple fevers and chills killed.  If the age of antibiotics is coming to an end, and we have to return to a time when the little guys are winning again, how will our social lives change?  This time around we know the little critters are culprits.  Would Victorians have lived like they did if they were certain of germ theory?


[This guy is not a bacteria or virus, but a tardigrade – I couldn’t resist copying the photo from NASA.  Pretty scary, huh?]

I doubt we’ll all become as nutty as Howard Hughes, but then maybe we will.   What if germs get the upper hand again?  What if life becomes more like 1813, when the germs were regularly winning their war on humans.  What extremes will we go through to stay well?

I do wish that sick people would stay at home.  I hate meeting coughing, sneezing, hacking, nose-snotty people at work.  And isn’t it a wonderful feeling to have an obvious germ factory sit behind you at the theater?  One thing we could do at least, is all wear a face mask when we’re sick, like the Japanese.  However, that’s got to become a fashion first, and who is going to become the bellwether in your office?   

I think, instead everyone isolating themselves from the sick, the sick should isolate themselves. 

That old belief that no fever equals not contagious isn’t true.  Germs don’t immediately disappear when you get back to 98.6.

I’m also betting on vaccines.  Logic dictates that fewer hosts to infect, means less infectious.  But that only works if everyone gets their shots.

The way hospitals fight outbreaks of infections is by conscious systematic efforts.  Even if germs become immune to our meds, we can still fight them.  That involves killing them outside our bodies and interrupting their vectors of infections.

I’ve got to admit that maybe I’m being more paranoid about germs because I’m getting older.  When you’re young, getting a cold or the flu is no big deal.  When you’re older, it is.  The other night at 3am, when my fever was high, I thought, one of these days I’m going to get sick and not get well.  That was something to think about.  That’s the sucky thing about dying, you have to leave this wonderful world feeling bad.  I want a pill, that no matter how bad I feel, no matter how much pain or nausea I have, that when I know it’s time to go, I can pop that pill and feel good for the last ten minutes of life.  Is there such a pill?  I don’t need euphoria.  Just pain free and clear thoughts will be plenty, so I can think thankful thoughts about my life.

I can coexist with good germs.  I don’t even mind sharing my body with them.  And I don’t resent the bad germs digesting me in the end.  I just wished they didn’t make me feel so bad doing it.

JWH – 3/7/13

2 thoughts on “Maybe Howard Hughes Wasn’t So Crazy After All!”

  1. It does seem like the stomach flu is more prevalent these days. I don’t remember getting it as a kid, but it seems like I get it every year now.

    As for becoming like Howard Hughes. I really don’t want to walk around with tissue boxes on my feet or watch Ice Station Zebra over and over again. 🙂

    And that picture of the tardigrade is seriously freaky.

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