So … swine flu. Yeah. It like, it comes from pigs, right? Like, when you eat bacon that’s not cooked? You know, when pigs roll around in the mud and stuff they get really dirty because, you know, mud is dirty with like parasites and stuff, and when you don’t cook a pig and you eat its skin as bacon it can get you all infected and stuff.

Swine flu is like getting an STD except instead of having sex with like a dirty … you know … you’re eating dirty pig meat. Yeah. Exactly.

Only time will tell whether the international response to the swine flu pandemic is too little, too much or just right. I think it’s safe to say that the flu has brought the issue of worldwide health emergencies back to the forefront of our collective consciousness, both on a local and international level, but has its wall-to-wall media coverage once again proven the capacity for the over-connected digital age to instill fear rather than provide information?

The numbers of the outbreak don’t tell the whole story. Hundreds of people have died in Mexico – a tragedy – and hundreds more have been infected around the world. Thousands have been screened for the illness, while millions and billions have been put on high alert, watching and wondering if constant press conferences by the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and global leaders trumpeting their readiness to combat a wider outbreak signal something more sinister yet to come.

In an attempt to gauge the public response to the swine flu, I conducted a limited experiment. I called six pharmacies in our nation’s capital, chosen for its ostensible leadership position, to see if they currently had any Relenza in stock – a prescription flu medicine that, along with Tamiflu, stands as the best defense readily accessible against the swinery – and found that only two had any available. Two had never heard of Relenza, and the two others had run out despite, at that moment, no cases of swine flu reported within 200 miles of Washington.

I then expanded the scope of the inquiry with the help of a D.C.-area university medical center that suggested a major medical supply company that would likely be able to sell me N95 respirator masks. The N95 designation is provided by the government, signaling the mask’s ability to filter out about 95 percent of airborne particles that are 0.3 microns and larger – meeting, in theory, the CDC requirements for tuberculosis and anthrax spores. N95 masks have been a hot commodity for concerned citizens stocking up for a potential widening of the illness’s path, though the CDC says they offer at best limited effectiveness to stop the spread of the disease.

This major, interstate medical company was out of the masks. CVS and Walgreens drugstores were sold out.

I called some of the hospitals in my hometown of Denver who, despite having masks, would not sell them to the public. A colleague of mine, tasked with the inglorious assignment to travel to Mexico City to report on the swine flu, ordered masks at an online company only to receive notice that her order would have to be delayed because of a stocking problem. She then found another supply at a different Web site, only to see it vanish when the screen refreshed. She finally called the second Web site and spoke with a human being who, after hearing of her plight, brought one box of masks out of storage and agreed to sell them.

My point is this: For all our supposed readiness for a serious pandemic outbreak, some very basic chinks in our national medical armor are already apparent. It would be my hope that, facing a new and potentially deadly disease, the public could go about their lives at a relatively normal pace to avoid panic, that medicine and preventative tools would be available through normal channels – local drug stores, online shopping – to prevent a bottlenecked slavishness to a centralized government effort.

We must collectively remain calm and use this situation to prepare for challenges yet to come. Keep this small note in mind, scrunched into the end of an Associated Press article from last week: “Pulmonary specialist Dr. Leonard Horovitz … pointed out that while there has been just one death attributed to swine flu in the U.S., 55 children died last week from conventional flu, according to CDC records.”

And one very bright note: Guess who had plenty of N95 masks? My local Home Depot. God forbid the apocalypse comes – viral or otherwise – but make your way to the Home Depot. That place is stocked.