The dreaded lurgy sweeps across the country…

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think I am a character in some kind of Sims game, and we all live in a collective illusion. Occasionally you see glitches in the Matrix, like when you pull up at the lights, and there are three other red Golfs next to you. Whatever God or Monster currently controlling us has decided to shake things up. When the health service is particularly on its knees, it unleashes a wave of lurgy to make things more interesting.

Our Christmas was pretty grim. On Christmas Day junior got the bug and was puking, the wife got it last Wednesday, and I got it last Friday. There seem to be many bugs going around but we got the 24-hour one where you have nausea, headache, and generally feel terrible. It does seem to pass after a day, but you are very tired for a few days afterwards. As I type this, I have developed some kind of congestion thing to go along with the tiredness.

Almost every Christmas event we had arranged had to be cancelled as friends and family fell like dominos to the lurgy or Covid. It has been a tough few years, and a wave of sickness is just what we don’t need.

My unscientific Twitter poll showed that nearly half of people had some kind of sickness over Christmas.

Of course, winter bugs are nothing new but what does seem to have changed is the lack of common sense in the public of how to treat these illnesses. Chatting with nurses and doctors, they say it is astonishing how many people are pitching up to A&E or their GP surgery with the most minor of symptoms. ‘I woke up with a cough or headache’. Instead of doing the sensible thing and sitting on the sofa watching the new Jack Ryan series on Prime, they decide the best course of action is to sit in A&E or their GP surgery for several hours, spreading all their germs around the place.

Worse are the people who cart their sick kids out in the cold to sit for hours only to be told the obvious – give them some Calpol, plop them on a sofa with a blanket around them and let them watch nonstop Peppa Pig till they feel better.

People are becoming increasingly demanding and impatient – ‘fix me now!’ Most things go away on their own but they don’t want to hear it. They want magic pills, cough bottles, antibiotics etc. We are no longer citizens, we are customers, and we demand you fix our problems right now, or we are calling the manager.

The cynical response is that some people are just selfish, impatient eijits but it is important to be charitable and consider how we ended up in this position.

Media: The media have done a great job of scaring that absolute bejeesus out of us all. The extensive coverage of the tragic Strep A deaths pushed many already stressed-out parents over the edge. Now every time their child coughs, they are on the phone to their GP. Doctors will tell you people are primarily looking for reassurance, and who can blame them? The issue is when you have 300 parents looking for reassurance, this can soon swamp already overstretched health services.

Education: At times, I marvel at the ability of our education system to churn out citizens devoid of any useful skills at all. We don’t teach kids how to cook, understand a credit card agreement, how a washing machine works, the basic elements of swordsmanship (ok, not exactly a crucial skill in the modern world, but teenagers would love it). Worst of all, we seem to teach them nothing about exercise or health. Why is first aid not taught in schools? Knowing how to do the Heimlich manoeuvre is a lot more useful than knowing the tributaries of the Nile Delta.

Ultimately we have done a terrible job of instilling a sense of agency and self-confidence in people to trust their own instincts. People no longer trust their own decisions and need to be validated by an ‘expert’.

The government also does a terrible job of communicating advice to the public.  We need something like the Party Election Broadcasts: there should be a friendly, good-looking, reassuring GP on the TV and Radio after the news who explains the various bugs that are going around and advises people on how to treat them. These videos also need to be put on social media.

Ultimately the critical phrase is reassurance. No one wants to hear a doctor telling you they have never seen your symptoms before; you will immediately assume you have something terrible and are not long for this world. But if the doctor pats your arm and tells you there is a lot of it going around and you will be fine in a few hours, you can go on your merry way, comfortable in the fact that you have avoided the reaper for another day.

Instead of doctors having to tell 100,000 individual patients they will be fine, we should use mass media to give the same message.

Stay well, and remember this too shall pass.

PS: Dr Google really should be the first call for most people. The NHS site also has excellent advice for most conditions. Locally we have NI Direct but I think the NHS site is better. Decongestants don’t work, for me coffee works well. Cough Medicines don’t work, honey is a simple alternative. Antibiotics do not work for viral infections such as colds and flu, and most coughs. Ultimately our bodies do a great job of fixing themselves, so patience and rest are the most important things. When you do feel better, take a shower, get dressed and get out for some air – it will perk you up.

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