Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Help me cope with everything

My mother 'phoned this morning to tell me that my brother’s partner, Sascha, had been diagnosed with whooping cough. I found the news disturbing, as, the last time I checked, Sascha was not a six-year-old child! I genuinely thought the illness was something that only affected children. I remember how the words “whooping cough” used to terrify me as a child. I think there was something of an outbreak of the disease in Bedfordshire in the late 1970s. We never got it, but there was always some child on our street who was close to death. The word “whooping” always felt so shockingly onomatopoeic. You’d hear these children coughing, and shudder!
Anyway, with Sascha confirmed with a case of whooping cough, I started to look at my own symptoms in a different light. I’m in my 7th week of coughing. I cough uncontrollably and then gasp for air, a process which often ends ups sounding like I’m honking like a goose. I have a constant itchy sensation in my throat. I cough every time I laugh, or run, or get cold. I cough at night. I often cough so hard I give myself a headache.

I immediately went back to the doctor’s – for the third time in two months. I described my symptoms, and explained that my brother-in-law had been diagnosed with the illness. The doctor dropped everything and made a phone call. With diseases like whooping cough, there's apparently a procedure that needs to be adhered to. I think he was talking to a government organisation who track infectious diseases. They asked him lots of questions, and the doctor got rather angry because, he said, he only had 7 minute appointments and was already running late. He eventually asked me to talk to the woman direct. She asked all sorts of questions. Had I been abroad recently? Had I come into contact with anyone else who seemed to have the symptoms? I felt a little bit like I was in one of those films about a deadly world virus, and wondered if a group of men in white boiler suits were going to appear in a helecopter to take me away.

Anyway, the upshot of everything is that I have to go to the doctor’s tomorrow for a swab test which will confirm everything. There’s nothing they can do if I have the illness. It’s only something you can treat in its very early stages – and they failed to diagnose it on my previous two visits, which makes me feel a little angry. It seems whatever symptoms you go into a doctor’s surgery with, you’re always told to come back in two weeks. I’m told the Chinese call it “the 90 day cough”, and the only thing I can do is sit it out. Still, the knowledge that something definite is wrong with me will probably ensure that I get better more quickly. I'd started to panic that my vocal chord polyps had returned. Better the devil you know, and all that.

Pepys was supposed to travel to Kingston 350 years ago to meet Sir William Batten, who was on his way back from Portsmouth, but a series of important people arrived at the office, and the morning became all about meetings instead. In the afternoon, Sir William Penn accompanied Pepys and Elizabeth to the King’s Theatre, where they saw The Country Captain. It was the first time the play had been performed since before the interregnum, and by Pepys’ reckoning, it should have been left in mothballs; “so silly a play as in all my life I never saw, and the first that ever I was weary of in my life.” So there.

Pepys returned home and was met with the news that Sir Robert Slingsby, comptroller of the Navy, had died. Pepys was devastated and could not sleep; “he being a man that loved me, and had many qualities that made me love him above all the officers and commissioners in the Navy.”

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