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Wet, Soap, Wash, Rinse, Dry

Patient Eye

Jo Carlowe

Thursday, 17 September 2009

hands.jpgWhen I recently visited my GP surgery, there was a note in the corner of the touchscreen self-check-in system, stating: “Do not touch the screen if you are experiencing symptoms associated with swine flu.”

I was not suffering any symptoms. My trip to the doctor was a routine family planning matter, if anything I had never felt healthier.

I’d recently read a report suggesting that bacterial cells transfer from one surface to another almost immediately upon contact. So instead of confidently tapping in my details, I gingerly nudged the screen with my knuckles like some kind of Neanderthal. And then I started to think of the screen as just the first of many germ-filled obstacles. The waiting room itself being a hotbed of disease; a place where one has to bob and weave to avoid a salvo of coughs and projectile sneezes.

Even the pile of magazines in the corner took on a malevolent form. Not so long ago, a Swiss study revealed that human influenza viruses can survive and maintain their infectiousness for several days when deposited on banknotes - surely the same must hold true of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire?

And then I figured that the entire waiting room should be re-arranged: partitions erected separating those with aches and pains and other non-contagious conditions from the lurgied masses. Crueler doctors could direct heart-sink patients into the middle with the dual benefit of deterring them from feeling too at home while creating a buffer zone. Masks and gloves should be distributed to those most at risk and separate time-slots offered to the ‘very unwell‘, and the ‘mostly quite well’ - so that never the twain shall meet.

Then the GP called my name and it suddenly struck me that if she could only see into my head, far from thinking I was in the peak of good health, she’d have reason to believe I was suffering from a severe case of O.C.D.

And so I stopped worrying, aware that my doctor seemed relaxed despite the fact that she is exposed to the same risks, only at closer range and on a daily basis. Indeed, encounters with the unwell - and quite possibly the infectious - is de facto, a professional hazard for all in her profession.

The next time I went to the surgery, the sign on the self-check-in system had been removed. I wondered if the reception staff had complained that it was causing anxiety or whether it was deemed unnecessary with the recent dip in swine flu cases.

Either way the sign had some public health benefit for at least one patient - because henceforth, the first thing I do when I leave the surgery is to wash my hands.

Author's Image

Jo Carlowe

Jo Carlowe is a freelance journalist specialising in health and psychology. She writes for national newspapers including The Times, The Daily Mail, and The Observer and for specialist medical journals, health websites and women's magazines. When not working, she is a self-confessed scrabble nerd, a reluctant runner (one who is still waiting for that elusive runners' high) and a lover of live music, fine food and single malt whisky. She lives in London with her four-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter.
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