C.W. Gusewell


A digital disease can't be dodged

We live in a world made hazardous by the incredible proliferation of potential infections.

Eat a cantaloupe and you might sicken – or die – from listeriosis, a kind of virulent food poisoning unheard of by most people until a couple of months ago.

Take a pleasant walk in the autumn woods, pull off a tick, ignore the bite and Lyme disease could cripple you or Rocky Mountain spotted fever finish you.

Get shut up on a grounded flight with fellow passengers coughing all around you and you’re apt to wake up a few days later with influenza, as happened to my family in March. Or, instead of the flu, it could be pneumonia.

If by some chance you happen to take the low-cost contraceptive that’s been offered to African women to prevent recurring pregnancies, you should know it’s been found to double the chance of contracting HIV.

Go in for surgery and the doctor will shuffle you out of there as soon as possible afterwards because of the ever-present threat of a lethal, hospital-acquired staph infection.

With constant vigilance, some of these risks can be circumvented.

Avoid cantaloupe as you would the Amanita ocreata mushroom, better known as the “death angel.”

Stay clear of the woods and walk only on the sidewalk.

If you’re headed to Florida on holiday, drive or ride a bike. Forget flying!

And for any surgery less complicated than a heart bypass, consider doing it yourself. At home. In a nice, clean kitchen.

Regrettably, for the kind of infections I keep getting, there seems to be no reasonable avoidance strategy. I speak here not of ailments of my corpus, or body, but infections in the instrument I’m obliged to use to earn a living.

I am not of the digitally adept generation. It was hard enough, in the transition from typewriter to computer, to adjust to the different keyboard, the whole new terminology required, and the tangle of wires and plugs and sockets under my desk and around my feet.

What most infuriates me is the ease with which sly intruders from such distant places as China, Nigeria, Latvia, Russia and who knows where else can make their way into my machine, collect personal information, interrupt whatever bit of writing I’m engaged in and, when it suits them, shut me down completely.

In the past year I have paid more than $200 for the installation of programs whose promise was to safeguard me from such intrusions.

They failed.

In fact, I’ve recently learned that one of the alleged protectors was a malicious trespasser in clever disguise. And when I called a different outfit to seek rescue, the adviser on the line was a man in another hemisphere – no doubt capable, but with speech so heavily accented that I finally gave up in despair.

One day not long ago, I received notification on the screen that I’d suffered 38 infections. The cost of having my computer cleansed of such worms and viruses over the last six weeks has come to just under $300.

It’s getting almost too expensive to work. Before much longer I may be obliged to give up my craft, unless by chance the people I write for can be persuaded to accept my offerings in typescript or scribbled in longhand.