Well worried: everyone I know has a cough… they’re all barking

    18 February 2016

    Everyone I know has a cough. They are popping lozenges, swigging honey, squeezing lemons, sleeping on five pillows and begging for the antibiotics their doctors are suddenly not allowed to give them. One of my friends, after a hectic Christmas and several flights, now has pneumonia and is on steroids, probably along with many frequent flyers. My own particular coughing partner swears he had an anti-pneumonia injection years ago. I think he dreamt it but, T.G., it seems to be working.

    There has been much excitement about the suggestion that rubbing Vicks on the soles of the feet, rather than just on the chest, is beneficial. I thought about applying it to the paws of my dog, who’s been coughing for five months, but decided against. To me it smells of childhood, but to a Basenji, the barkless dog of the Congo, it could signal the approach of a viper or, worse, a vet.

    Most of these barking humans have had the flu jab. Which makes me wonder. Most doctors and pharmacists push the flu jab with the enthusiasm my mother had for pushing perms. ‘Oh, go on,’ she’d say, ‘have one. It’ll make your face look fuller. Aw, go on… have it, you won’t regret it. Don’t you want curly hair? I love curly hair… go on. Have a perm.’ A week later I would be dunking my head in the sink, crying my eyes out, smelling like a sweaty plimsoll marinated in muskrat pee and screaming at her that she’d made me look like the label on a jar of Robertson’s jam. (Politically dodgy reference, I know, but please put it in its context and its period before you start abusing me in 140 characters!)

    The only time I was manoeuvred into a flu jab by my doctor I felt so bad I reckoned flu would be a relief. No, I am being facetious. Influenza can kill and I don’t want any reader to think I am against the jab just because of what happened to me. I’m just funny about vaccinations. I will happily avoid a long-distance holiday, even a freebie, if it means exposing my bingo wing to somebody’s syringe of strange substances. I need to understand more about the chemistry behind it.

    In truth, I need to know more about all sorts of worrisome questions. Therefore I wish to ask Dr Max Pemberton, Hippocratic oath-taker and editor of this supplement, a few questions that bother me (on behalf of the persistently naive):

    Once, on a cruise, we were all told to take our malaria pills standing up.

    1) Why would standing up be a more efficient way of swallowing a malaria pill?

    2) Was this just to amuse the Filipino waiters as guests at each table sprang up and down as though partaking in a party game?

    3) Did I dream the whole event, and if so did I really go on the cruise and see all those ruddy Greek icons?

    OK. Now I’ve started so I’ll finish. If you’re still there Dr Max, can I ask something else? Right. Ahem…

    If the principle of vaccination is to give a very small amount of something harmful to ward off the full-blown disease, then why are you lot so dismissive of homeopathy, which would seem to operate on much of the same principle — a heavily diluted dose of a like substance which tricks the immune system into believing it has had the disease and is therefore resistant to it?

    Now I know that the medical profession demands scientific proof as opposed to anecdotal evidence, but frankly, one look at the Queen and her family — who subscribe to homeopathy when necessary — measured against her astonishing good health throughout almost 90 years of the most punishing schedule on Earth, would seem to me to be the best conceivable proof for any system in the history of medicine.

    Before I’m slapped down for silliness and told: ‘See me after school, Maureen,’ may I continue?

    If cancer of the cervix is a virus which can best be treated in puberty with a programme of immunisation, why does the medical profession not concede that all cancers could be viruses? Is someone just scared to admit it?

    And — I hardly dare ask this one for fear of the doc turning into Mad Max II — why does my blood pressure, which is normally low-ish, quite suddenly register 160 over 90, prompting my doctor to prescribe beta-blockers, then the very next day, when my blood pressure is taken at an acupuncture session, it registers at 135 over 90 before treatment and 120 over 82 afterwards? In the centenary year of the Bard, I ask you: ‘To beta or not to beta, that is the question?’

    Finally, what ever happened to croup? I was a martyr to the croup as a child. Many were the bleak nights my perm-touting mother would dash into my bedroom, wielding steaming basins and throwing towels over my heaving head. In the background my father would be shouting: ‘Hot milk and honey! Hot milk and honey!’ like some street vendor in a Lionel Bart musical. Did croup just vanish, like rickets and ringworm and Dr Finlay’s Casebook? Or was mine merely a violent reaction to the ammonia in the perm?

    Oh, there is one other question, Dr Max, which baffles me and most of the country. The effect on patients of being treated by exhausted young doctors on seven-day call could be catastrophic. What is the current treatment for cloth ears? And is anybody willing to treat Jeremy Hunt for it?