Magazine article The Spectator

Exposed to the Elements

Magazine article The Spectator

Exposed to the Elements

Article excerpt

I'm virus aware. For example, I don't touch door handles in public lavatories.

If they've got in-swinging doors, I time my exit to coincide with someone else and let them grasp the handle. And I never, ever, touch the rubber handrail on Tube station escalators. Imagine what hundreds of thousands of commuting fingertips deposit on one of those during the course of a day! I suppose the paranoia is a leftover from my nursing days. Once you learn about the mechanics of infection, you hear it in every stranger's cough or sneeze, and see it on every hotel TV remote.

I'm always conscious, too, of the 40,000 potentially infectious droplets that fly out of a person's mouth at speeds variously estimated at between 95 and 650 miles per hour when a person sneezes. I sat in a claustrophobic doctors' waiting room this week, in which half a dozen patients sat facing each . other across a pile of grubby old Yachting Monthlys and sneezed at each other. A runny-nosed toddler investigating the toybox at my feet turned his head towards me and sneezed into my groin. We must have been sitting there in a miasma of flu droplets. Fortunately, I was on the end of a row, next to the shut window, and could avert my head to the wall. Pretending to rest my face on my hand, I closed off the nostril closest to the other patients and shielded my face from them without making it obvious.

After about half an hour, the person sitting next to me, a pale, painfully thin young bloke, initiated conversation by observing that the doctors must be running late this morning. I told him what time my appointment was, and he told me what time his was, and from there we got on to why we were there. We leaned in towards one another, hoping that our lowered voices were inaudible to most of the other patients.

I thought I had thrush, I said, and I was after an antibiotic. He had Aids, he said, and he was in for his regular check-up.

Perhaps noting that my eyebrows had shot up, as though on springs, he explained that he'd had the illness for many years, and that significant advances in the treatment of Aids meant that he expected to live for many more. In some ways he was fitter now, and led a healthier lifestyle, than before, he said. …

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