Catch up

After a five week trip to the U.S., where we slept in 14 different places, we’ve arrived back home!  During our stateside trip we did the west coast parent tour, stayed a week in Taos with the kids, took a side trip to Sedona with my mom, conducted business at Stanford University (Thom gave a talk), and spent ten days in Michigan where we made a side weekend trip up to Frankfort.  Whew!

A few days after arriving in the U.S. I became sick, which really ticked me off!  How could I get sick in the sanitary, clean U.S. after being completely healthy a whole year in Africa, where I was supposedly exposed to all sorts of diseases, germs, vermin and unhygienic situations?

Well, maybe all of the research about how air travel makes you sick is true.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “Air travelers suffer higher rates of disease infection, research has shown. One study pegged the increased risk for catching a cold as high as 20%.”  Hmmmm…I wonder if I got sick breathing recirculated air on multiple 12-hour long-haul flights while sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with at least 400 people sharing nine bathrooms?  Or, was it the shuffling through three airports and being funneled with thousands of other holiday travelers through six security stations, all touching, coughing and sneezing on the same computer and jewelry trays?

Being stuck on the ground in an airplane with non-circulating air is particularly hard on one’s immune system.  Think of yourself as being in the middle of a petri dish growing ever crowded with multiplying germs whenever you’re boarding, delayed (due to weather/traffic/mechanical issues), or on a stopover (think of the SAA Dulles-Jo’burg flight with stopover in Dakar; you’re never allowed to get off the plane, you just have to sit there for an hour or two while they refuel and board new passengers). “One well-known study in 1979 found that when a plane sat three hours with its engines off and no air circulating, 72% of the 54 people on board got sick within two days. The flu strain they had was traced to one passenger.” (source: Wall Street Journal)  Wow!  A single sick passenger causing almost three-quarters of their fellow travelers to get sick.

Guess I should be grateful for my normally strong immune system as this Christmas trip is one of the first times I got sick after flying.  What made this trip particularly grueling is that we had not one but two extreme long-haul (12 hours) flights in addition to the two-hour originating flight from Lusaka to Johannesburg, accompanied by two long layovers in crowded airports (6 hours in Jo’burg and 8 hours in London), with multiple security checks at each airport.

Also, I think not sleeping during the 44-hour ordeal trip weakened my immune system and allowed me to fall prey to the germy environment.  Three days after our arriving in the U.S. I came down with a bad cold that developed a into a throat infection entailing two rounds of antibiotics and is just clearing up now.  Thom managed to stay healthy on the outgoing flights but picked up a case of the flu coming back, resulting in a 102 degree temperature and him being knocked-out flat on his back yesterday.

So, as if there wasn’t already enough to worry about when flying (terrorists, wind shears, food poisoning, chatty seatmates) now we have to think about germs.  To help you remain healthy on your next long-haul flight, I found this illustration below, which tells you all of the ways you can infect yourself keep yourself from getting sick.


So, now that we’re done traveling for a while we’re both recuperating and on the mend.  After the cold of Michigan it’s nice to lay out in the sun and let our bodies turn the rays into immune-boosting Vitamin D. I took lots of photos from our trip and have lots of information to share, which I’ll start doing in the next few days.

Until then, Happy New Year!



About Kimm X Jayne

Gravatar Photograph from the exceptionally talented Ben Heine.
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8 Responses to Catch up

  1. Maureen Witte says:

    When you mentioned how sick you were, I was reminded of friends of ours that came back last fall from a trip to the Balkans, and they were really, really sick with respitory flu that lasted for almost a month or more. They’re our age, so it’s even more difficult at our age. I’m sure it’s got something to do with long flights. And I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, so I read that article. I’m glad you’re back safely and getting healthy back home in Zambia. But what a busy time you had here in the USA!

  2. Kimm X Jayne says:

    Speaking of age, one thing being sick like this so long did is really, really motivate me to take care of myself and exercise, eat healthy, etc., so that we’d be healthy when we reach middle age (70 yrs or so). It’s so easy now to be flippant and not take care of myself because my body bounces back pretty quickly (not as quickly as 30 years ago!) but I know I’m at the age now where I really need to be vigilant and take top-notch care of myself to ensure a healthy middle age.
    BTW, have you seen all of the new research showing that frequent exposure to sunlight is good and even necessary to ensure high levels of Vitamin D? (burning the skin is bad but not exposure) The stuff I’m reading says that one cannot get cancer unless s/he is Vitamin D deficient. I thought of all of those years of sunbathing (not burning) you guys did – who would have thought you were just preventing cancer?!

  3. Jeff J says:

    Glad you’re on the mend and sorry we didn’t see you! Thanks for the diagram and tips. I had always heard to not use the air vent as it was thought to just blow the germy air into your face. I guess it depends on how good the filtration is. I usually point it away from me to (hopefully) blow the germs of the people in front or back of me right back at them. Ha! I think I’ll bring some wipes next time I go and definitely wipe down the trays as the girls always use them for coloring, etc. On one of the US shows “Undercover Boss”, they showed the work the flight crews have to do to turn around the plane for the next flight. They don’t have time to really clean and sanitize everything. It’s more like a chaotic “quick, they’ll be here in 5 minutes!” type of cleaning job, so it’s no wonder it’s a germ pit. It’s even worse if the plane was late to the gate as they will always sacrifice cleanliness just to make time.

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      Sorry we didn’t see you either! I sent your wife an email re a property to get her opinion. Deny her until she does! 🙂 On our last flight home we had a stopover in Harare where they cleaning crew stormed on and tried to clean around all of the passengers waiting for the next stop. It did occur to me that if every time I blew my nose and stuffed my kleenex into the seat pocket, so did probably lots of other people. Ewwww….

  4. And all my family thinks I am a Debbie Downer when I use paper towel to touch doorknobs. Glad you are home safe and sound.

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      In public bathrooms I always crank out the paper towel before I wash my hands, so that after they’re washed I don’t have to touch any surfaces and can just rip off my clean paper towel. Miss you!!

  5. Esther Park says:

    Sorry I missed you in Michigan but have enjoyed reading your blog! Congrats on your son’s engagement. Take good care

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