My adventures as bubble boy

Andrew Paulsen

Daily Kent Stater features reporter Andrew Paulsen walks on the University Esplanade dressed in full flu-prevention gear. Sean Mathis | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

I imposed a challenge on myself that was also a little social experiment on campus last week. I wanted to see if I could get through a whole school day following suggested preventative measures to avoid getting the H1N1 virus. I’m proud to say that I made it. I disinfected my hands after touching surfaces, wiped down my desk before I sat down for class, washed my hands thoroughly for 20 seconds at every opportunity I had, and well, went a bit above and beyond recommendations.

I actually took it to the extreme.

Did you happen to see a guy walking around in a blue coverall suit with goggles, a respirator mask and blue nitrile gloves last Thursday?

Well, Kent State students and faculty, that was me.

That person walking around looking like a mad scientist in a biohazard suit was paying attention to your every reaction.

But why did I do it?

For one, I wanted to see what it was like to take extreme preventative measures to avoid getting sick. I wore the outfit from the time I woke up until I returned from my final class of the day and it wasn’t easy. The weather was a bit humid last week and by the end of my day I was glistening with sweat underneath that suit. Also, the conscious effort that went into making sure I always washed my hands, changed gloves and avoided contact with certain surfaces made it difficult.

But as for the second reason, really the most intriguing motive on my part was to monitor the reactions of the hundreds of people I pass each day on my way to class. I wanted to see if people would be dumbstruck by what I was wearing or whether they would pass by and think of my get-up as commonplace. I wanted to see if people would talk to me and see what I was doing. I can confidently say my little experiment was a success, as most of you gave me your attention.

My day began rushing from Olson Hall to Satterfield Hall for my American Politics class. I was running about 10 minutes late and had to sneak in through the rear lecture hall door. Sneak – that’s an understatement considering my 6′ 3″ stature. That, and the fact I was wearing a big blue suit.

I sat down in a chair in the back row and immediately saw the stares from everywhere around the room.

A few people let out blatant laughs at my precautionary measures, while others snickered, smiled and shook their heads like “this guy is nuts.”

My professor, who was discussing the free exercise of religion clause in the Bill of Rights, locked up, laughed and was at a loss of words. He redirected his attention toward the class and then quickly apologized for his sudden stop in speech.

Class resumed, but students continued looks every now and then, probably wondering if I was serious.

After class, a fellow student approached me.

“Hey, I’m just wondering, do you have an immunity disorder or something?” he asked.

“No, I’m just trying to prevent getting swine flu – the H1N1 virus,” I replied.

“OK, so you’re doing this as a precaution?”

“Yes.”

I could tell my answer didn’t satisfy his curiosity and he was suspicious of my intentions, but I didn’t have to say anything else to him. If I wanted to maintain my poise for the day, I couldn’t reveal my experiment already.

I went back to my room, took off the respirator and goggles for a bit to cool off, drank some water, washed my hands, put on a fresh pair of nitrile gloves and left for my Earth Dynamics lab.

As I walked down the Esplanade toward McGilvrey Hall, I garnered more stares and confused looks.

I overheard a guy behind me say, “I wonder if he has swine flu – or maybe he’s just really scared of getting it.”

I made it to McGilvrey a little late, but not as late as my first class of the day. Being that I use my cell phone as my watch and I didn’t have pockets in my coveralls to hold my phone, my timing was slightly off for pretty much every class that day.

I walked into the classroom for lab, but my usual seat was occupied so my instructor pointed me to an available spot on the other side of the room. Obviously, everyone in the class was staring at me. I sat down in my chair, used a disinfectant wipe on the desk surface and settled in. The guy sitting beside me looked a bit unsettled and uncomfortable.

About 15 minutes into class, my body began rapidly heating up. The air conditioning in the room was inadequate and I started wondering whether I could handle making it through the nearly two-hour long class.

Luckily the class period flew by quickly, and I miraculously made it through the lab without passing out.

“Stay healthy,” one of my classmates said to me as I left.

As I passed the Business Administration Building on the Esplanade during my walk back, I saw my roommate’s brother approaching with his friend. I watched his expressions change from smiling as he was conversing with his friend to astonishment at the guy 50 feet in front of him, wearing a blue jumpsuit with goggles and a breathing filter.

“Whats up, Adam?” I called out.

“Who is that?” he asked, obviously unable to recognize whom he was speaking to.

“It’s Andrew.”

“Why are you wearing that?”

“I don’t want to get swine flu.”

Adam and his friend broke out in laughter and continued to walk by.

I reached Olson Hall again, stopped in the room to switch gloves and repeated the routine as before, then left for the Student Center.

On my way to the Student Center, I walked toward the M.A.C. Center and spotted Ray Campbell with his typical Thursday afternoon promotions team. They were passing out fliers and acting friendly to all passersby.

And then they saw me.

As I got closer, all of the friendly flier-holders quietly backed off to the side, still handing out fliers to other people passing, but they avoided me like the plague. I waved at a confused and suddenly serious-looking Ray and he gave me a head nod. Maybe I should wear this gear more often, I thought to myself.

I walked into the Hub and everyone was floored by what they saw. I didn’t stop to stare back, though. I needed to get lunch, so I continued walking nonchalantly to the dining commons on the second floor. For the first time that day, I took off the goggles and respirator in plain sight of everyone. I ate my chicken sandwich and cookies, finished my bottled water and it was back to the grind – with a fresh pair of nitrile gloves, of course.

My final class of the day, Video Field Production, was my favorite – not just because I was an hour and a half away from being able to take off the gear, but because of how my professor reacted.

Midway through class he asked about my suit, “Do you have swine flu?”

“No, I’m just trying to avoid getting it.”

“Well, I think that’s a great idea. I think we should all be wearing those.”

I couldn’t tell if he was serious, but on that day, he was the only person to commend my precaution. Of all the mocking, laughter and confusion, here was one person who saw the reason behind it.

After class I hurried back to Olson, took off my gear, showered and that was my day.

With a confirmed infection by the university as of yesterday, maybe this isn’t as much a joke as you or I might like to think. People need to take the H1N1 virus seriously and follow advice to avoid getting sick. Wash your hands before you eat, don’t touch your face, get plenty of sleep, avoid alcohol, get some exercise and eat fruits and vegetables to boost your immune system.

But don’t forget your other option. Perhaps next week I’ll see some of you on campus in blue suits, too.

Contact features reporter Andrew Paulsen at [email protected]