Home » End of the world » Panic now. Official. £1.10p at all good newsagents.

Panic now. Official. £1.10p at all good newsagents.

Godde preserve us, one and alle.

A little over two years ago, I evinced what I have since considered to be a bit of a crazy desire to emigrate to Portugal, an imagined country I have never visited.

I put my house on the market, anticipating leaving Britain with cash in my back pocket. I would find a cottage with a bit of land, a pool and a studio. I would do a bit of B&B and teach English – for both of which I have qualifications. I would play Portuguese songs on my expensive guitar. With a little money put-by, I would live on my pension on a diet of artisanal bread and cheese, ripe tomatoes and rough Douro wine. I would die in delicious obscurity.

The principal advantage of the plan was that I do not speak many words of Portuguese; whereas I can, for instance, manage a bit of garbled French or Italian. It is quite easy to understand written Portuguese, as we have many words and word-roots in common. I would quickly pick up a few courtesies: ‘Good morning’. ‘A kilo of that, please!’ ‘Where is the bus station?’ ‘No, I was never in Praia da Luz.’

But spoken Portuguese is impossible to understand! So as for accessing media, forget it. I would be pretty well isolated from the news.

As we all need to be in 2015, for our sanity.

Today’s lead story, for instance. One Scottish nurse who has years of experience of working in Africa has possibly contracted Ebola, the vicious viral disease she went to Sierra Leone as a volunteer to fight on behalf of the poor and needy and desperate people of the region. As she said in an interview before leaving, she didn’t hesitate.

I think you might, no? I know I have.

The infection was suspected only after she returned to Glasgow, via Casablanca and Heathrow. At Heathrow, she underwent the standard temperature tests for medical aid workers returning from Sierra Leone. She complained of feeling unwell, but the tests were negative and so she went on to Glasgow, where she tested ‘possibly’ positive and was immediately isolated and rapidly flown back to London’s Royal Free hospital, where there exists the most advanced treatment facility in the world for patients with high-morbidity infectious diseases.

She is, technically, the first person to have a diagnosis of Ebola actually while in Britain – setting her apart from William Pooley, the nurse who was diagnosed in Sierra Leone and returned to Britain for treatment. The difference is really academic. Now fully recovered, Pooley is back working in Sierra Leone. In the seventeen months since the outbreak they are the only two Britons out of hundreds of volunteers to be treated for Ebola in Britain.

These true ‘heroes’ deserve nothing but our humble and unstinting admiration.

Instead, every single tabloid newspaper today has headlines screaming insanely about why was she allowed back into the country? Are our medical defences against foreign illnesses as completely useless as our defences against foreign immigrant benefit scroungers? Internet trolls too are out in force: it’s her own stupid fault, she’s put us all at risk, black people don’t deserve help, we give them all this money and what do they do?, and so on and sickeningly on.

The nurse’s name is Pauline Cafferkey*. Thanks for that, British media. Releasing her name is a breach of her right to medical confidentiality, but I suppose our right to be protected against a rerun of the Black Death of 1347 transcends common decency – Leveson please note.

The question why? could equally apply to tabloid editors. Why are irresponsible, semi-educated, crapulous baboons encouraged to edit British newspapers?

I don’t feel well after flying either. It’s an unpleasant and disorientating experience, frankly, being forcibly packaged in a pressurised cigar-tube and shot hurtling into the stratosphere, being plied with peanuts and shopping vouchers, hoping the tyres don’t burst on landing. Nor do I feel well after I have caught a cold, hit my thumb with a hammer,  eaten dodgy shellfish, or watched Friday the 13th.

It doesn’t mean I have Ebola.

We are all aware, are we not, it having been explained to us myriad times by experts, that you cannot catch Ebola from someone unless and until after they are showing advanced symptoms of the virus. A symptom is a sign that someone is unwell (Editors’ note). Symptoms of Ebola include a very high temperature, projectile vomiting, diarrhoeia, multiple organ failure and bleeding from orifices. Another common symptom is death.

Nurse Cafferkey was not exhibiting any of those symptoms at the time she arrived in Glasgow.

We are also aware that you do not catch Ebola, any more than you can get pregnant, from merely sitting next to someone who has been to Sierra Leone. You would not imagine we knew this from the bizarre behaviour of some, especially American, institutions. The American mindset is of course still very much located in the seventeenth century. You would not expect it of an advanced society, yet we hear of schools in Britain that have barred pupils who have returned even from parts of Africa a thousand miles from the disease outbreak, at the insistence of worried parents with nothing better to do.

We have come nowhere, really, since the Middle Ages.

The training of medical volunteers travelling to West Africa is rigorous. The Army Medical Corps is providing it. Outgoing personnel spend nine days learning how to protect themselves against infection. But conditions in the field are such that, sometimes, nurses may come into unprotected residual contact with the bodily fluids of infected patients, living or dead. That is, so far as the experts are aware, the sole means of transmission of the virus. You cannot get it from reading newspapers.

When Nurse Cafferkey suspected she was unwell, she correctly reported the fact to the medical authorities, who have set up monitoring facilities at UK airports for people returning from the danger areas. The authorities did all that was necessary at that stage, given that there were no obvious symptoms: they monitored her temperature over a period of time, after which she was feeling better, and cleared her to continue her journey AT NO RISK WHATSOEVER TO THE READERS OF THE DAILY MIRROR.

The fact that they did so, and that one doctor – not a clinician, a psychiatrist – had complained on TV that the room in which the 37 returning medical personnel were tested was rather small (Freudians dislike small rooms) and there did not appear to be many staff on duty, is not really evidence that:

  • the Great British Public is being recklessly endangered, or a reason to
  • ban medical staff from travelling anywhere, or to
  • close British airports to onward flights from West Africa, or to
  • sack the Chief Medical Officer, or to
  • force everyone travelling anywhere to undergo quarantine, or to
  • panic the less sentient sections of the British public into ill-judged pitchfork lynchings of patients with embolisms or tennis elbow,

…or whatever the tabloid editors are trying to do by spreading dismay and disinformation.

Sell newspapers?

Has it not occurred to any of these feral word-rats, that the whole point of the story is that the precautions put in place against this expected eventuality actually WORKED? Evidence that they had not would be the onward transmission of Ebola to the population of Glasgow, something that does not appear to have happened. In the meantime, another Scottish and a Cornish case of returned aid workers reporting-in sick have proved negative.

It has been reported from time to time, as you may have heard, that in remote rural villages in dark jungly places like Equatorial Guinea, there remains a superstitious whisper among the afflicted tribesfolk that Ebola is being deliberately spread by the White Man’s juju. This belief has translated elsewhere into the ‘modern’ milieu of internet conspiracy theorists as a plot to eradicate Africans and steal their land for agriculture – which we are doing very efficiently already through the standard model of capitalism.

There seems to be a similar belief prevalent in the sweaty, sweary offices of the post-festive, tired and emotional baboons who print the spurious and dangerous medieval crap, which fearful caerls in deepest urban Sofaville seem to want to believe, that we are all doomed, if not by Ebola then by membership of the EU, and that it is all Nurse Cafferkey’s fault for being an n-word loving sentimentalist, coming back here when she should stay in bloody Bongoland or wherever she came from.

Could they not find one kind word to say about this courageous woman?

The thing is, the press would absolutely love it if there were to be a mass outbreak of plague in Britain. It’s the story, stupid! Just think of all the foreigners we could blame! The hapless ineptitude of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his Poshboys’ government! NHS cuts! Austerity! Lib-Dems! Lack of preparedness for whatever, asteroid impacts, tsunamis in Cornwall, a UKIP victory in May… anything, just to break the fucking monotony.

Why, there’s always an air crash somewhere at Christmas, another typhoon, a boring earthquake in some rutted feudal demesne nobody gives two shits about. Now, an outbreak of plague… seventy per cent mortality… people in Birmingham’s eyeballs exploding out of their heads… martial law… Nigel Farage… Romanians looting… undertakers running out of coffins… grannies buried in binbags… the dead coming back as zombies…

Now, there’s a real story to kickstart the New Year.

*Postscriptum: 14 October, 2015

Unhappily, Nurse Cafferkey was readmitted to the Royal Free isolation unit in a critical condition last week, following a recurrence of the Ebola infection. Experts say some ten percent of infected patients can continue to harbour the virus in small pockets of fluid anywhere in the body, and are liable to reinfection at any time. What that means for the 30 thousand ‘recovered’ West African patients is unclear, but it may be a death sentence for many.

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