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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In the doctor's waiting room

3.45 pm yesterday. Time for one of my comparatively rare visits to the GP. We are sitting, Tracey and I, in the reception area.

  There are two mothers there, each with two kids. One of the Mums is reading a mag from the pile on the table, both little ones crawling over her, each the most terrible cough you’ve ever heard. She shares an iPod with one child, each with an earpiece. The other is reading another mag, or looking at the pictures.

  Snotty notes, flying mucus as they cough. They’re both sick.

  The mother, of course, has no choice but to bring them to the surgery, whether she's the patient or they are. There’s nothing she can do but keep the kids amused till the appointment. She picks up the two magazines and puts them back on the table, thumbs through the collection and gets two more.

  Another Mum brings in two little boys, about 4 and 2 years old, by the look. The boys make a beeline for the blackboard and while one uses the eraser, the other draws. They use the things so recently handled by the others.

  Their mum picks up the magazines and thumbs through them. She does a brilliant job of entertaining the boys, deftly sharing the chalk and duster. All four kids share the same space. The coughing and sniffling goes on.

  I hope the immune system of the two newly arrived kids is up to scratch, otherwise they’re going to be in the same boat in a day or two as the others.

  This isn’t a complaint. There’s absolutely nothing that can lower the chances of passing on infections under these circumstances. People have to wait their turn. They share the mags and the chairs and the space in a doctor’s surgery, and the kids share the toys. It’s just the way it is.

  But I have to say that I never touch anything there that I can avoid. I wouldn’t pick up one of those magazines if you paid me. They must be a hotbed of squirmy little nasty things way too small for the eye to see. Touch your face after turning the page and you spread them that bit further.

  Most of these sorts of infections, I suspect, are passed on through physical contact. The door handle to the doctor’s room itself, the documents the doc gives me, and the pen I use after previous patients to sign my name right at the end – that’s the extent of it.

  When we get home, we disinfect our hands and exposed areas of skin as thoroughly as we can before we touch a teacup or food.

  Before this illness, I didn’t give a thought to this on the rare occasions I was in a doctor’s surgery, but that changed when I had to deal with a low threshold of immunity. Prior to this, I seemed to stay healthy just about all the time, getting flu maybe once every two or three years. But if you can’t afford to catch something from others in the waiting room, all you can do is to guard against it as best you can.

  Bring your own reading matter for a start!

  I can’t imagine any better place to catch something than a doctor’s waiting room. Airports and shopping centres no doubt do a good job sharing round the infections too, but to increase your chances for the reverse to happen, nothing beats the place you go to get or stay well.

  Taking your own precautions surely helps. Up to now, in 21 months with a battered immune system, I have not had one infection. TOUCH WOOD!


  1. You've done well to avoid infection (shhh, the gods may be jealous!). When I was having chemo, I learnt the habit of not kissing people on the mouth. I still don't like to...and it seems so stand-offish...yep, I really notice things such as you've described, too.

    Julie xx (not on the lips!)

  2. I worked at a hospital where the first thing they taught you was how to wash your hands properly and never to touch your face - they had a light box that showed you how much of the skin on your hands you hadn't washed when you thought you had. Since learning those two simple things, I very rarely get a cold (famous last words).

  3. Julie: I understand just how you feel - all too well. That 'noli me tangere' response soon gets etched deeply into your being. It's sad, but safer.

    Zoe: How true! It was Tracey who had long experience with hospitals keeping Christian alive as a baby who showed me the critical nature of these things, apart from the experience below which I had forgotten I had written about.

    I'll touch wood for you on getting no more colds, Zoe - thoughI must say, I am a fanatical believer nowadays in getting that flu shot every year. I never used to be, but now I think if you don't get one, you must deep down WANT to get flu!

    Looking at the story I referred to above, it occurs to me there's a real danger I may end up writing this entire blog at least twice. Now I am going back through the last months of stories and looking in amazement at what I have written there. Scary, huh?

  4. There's something about blogging that makes you forget the posts as soon as they're out there. Quite often someone will say something to me about one or other thing I've put on the blog, and I've quite forgotten I wrote the post. I've decided that after a certain age, once the memory banks are getting a bit overstuffed, the only approach to take (not that I remember to very often) is to treat every experience, each thing you read, et cetera, as if you were going to be examined on it later.

  5. Zoe: it’s quite strange. I find myself going back through old postings occasionally in a narcissistic way when looking for something else and finding myself thoroughly entertained. (Though I also find scores of things I want to correct or alter – a very dangerous thing!) I realise that in less than a year I’ve blogged something like 100,000 words! That’s War and Peace size.

    You frighten me terribly by suggesting exam mentality. I think I’ll just take the Alzheimers approach and look at each posting as like making a new friend.

    I feel bound to warn anyone else reading this that the two blogs below are highly addictive and you should on no account go there:


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