Sunday, July 26, 2009
The F-Word again
When Jo mentioned the F-word, I felt a surge of pride. “I’ve got flu,” she said.
I confess I couldn’t stop myself. “How exciting – you’re the first person we know who’s got it”.
Swine flu is the latest must-have: I couldn’t believe our luck. This pandemic that’s been hyped throughout the media has actually reached our little community. Even here in deepest rural Northumberland we’ve managed to get the latest big thing.
Jo had been feeling pretty lousy all week, but she’d only gone to the GP to take Izzy for her six-month-old checkup. Izzy was fine (16 pounds and giggling), but the GP said that Jo had a temperature, achy limbs and a sore throat. Flu.
“But it’s not swine flu”, Jo went on. “How do they know?” I said, trying to hide my disappointment. “She just knows: she’s a doctor. It’s ordinary flu and you have to look after Izzy and be nice to me for a week”. “Did they give you Tamiflu?” I asked, hoping to salvage something from the setback. “No, I don’t need it. You’ve just got to bring me meals in bed, keep the kitchen clean and change all the nappies, even the pooey ones.” This real flu sounded much less interesting than the pig version.
In the interests of journalistic research, I checked out Jo’s symptoms with the new National Pandemic Flu Service. Its website, which received 9.3million hits per hour when it first went online, is efficient, easy to use and alarming.
Was Jo any of the following: “Unresponsive or unconscious, floppy, limp or difficult to wake?” If it had been about me, I’m quite sure Jo would have ticked the YES box. “Drooling excessively?” That’s me too, when I’m unresponsive, floppy, limp and difficult to wake: classic symptoms of too much red wine, not flu.
“Is she having a fit?”, the website went on. I looked at Jo, happily singing “The wheels on the bus” with Izzy guffawing on her knee and ticked the NO box. That’s a relief, the website said, you don’t need an emergency ambulance.
I answered all the other questions to the best of my ability. Sure enough, Jo has flu and, because there was no stopping the website once it got going, we now have an (unnecessary) prescription for Tamiflu. Presumably she is also a national swine flu statistic, one of the 100,000 who were supposed to have contracted it last week. But she doesn’t actually have swine flu, just boring old “you do the nappies for a week” flu. This didn’t make her feel any better though, poor thing with her aches and pains and stuffed up nose. So I felt for the hapless Labour candidate in the Norwich North by-election, who missed his own defeat because of swine flu and sent his wife to face the music. Mind you, it would have cleared up pretty quickly if he’d won.
Predictably the political parties are trying to mutate this pandemic to their own ends. Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Flu Secretary, claims the Government’s “dithering” has left the NHS unable to cope with the hysteria: “there won’t be enough intensive care beds to deal with demand when the virus spreads”. It’s precisely this kind of scaremongering that caused the “pandemi-onium” in the first place.
You can’t help but be confused by the conflicting messages. On the one hand, we're told that in a fortnight’s time 100,000 people will be catching it every day, and 60,000 may even die. On the other hand, it’s evident this strain is so mild most people will just stay at home and watch England winning the Ashes. Even though, like Jo, you’ll feel pretty awful, you’ll be happily cheering from your armchair. Unless Flintoff catches swine flu: now that really would be a national catastrophe.