Category Archives: Health

Mind the bed bugs don’t bite

I was taught some valuable lessons when I was a kid. Not all of them have necessarily been carried through to adult life, it has to be said; knowing that Tootles the Taxi would go anywhere was important to me as a four year old, but Tootles never seemed to be available when I was wandering the streets of London, inebriated, at three in the morning. He probably wouldn’t have gone south of the river anyway.

Some learnings were certainly more valuable than others. Like “if you put your hand on the side of an oven, you will almost certainly get burnt”. Admittedly I learned that one the hard way. And despite that, I still haven’t learned it particularly well. My hands currently bear four or five cooking-related injuries, including a particularly fine scar from pouring scalding hot oil on the back of my hand in the pursuit of the world’s greatest roast potatoes at Christmas. And I’ve burned my arms on the bars of the oven so many times that I have to mention my culinary clumsiness to strangers whenever I’m wearing a t-shirt, for fear that they will otherwise assume I’m a cutter or a heroin addict.

Brit Out of Water Sr taught me that it’s futile to attempt to stop the blades of a lawn mower with your fingers – a valuable life lesson that I believe we could all benefit from. And my grandmother taught me that even the most mundane thing could be made magical with the aid of a little bit of imagination. Any woman who could manage to transform an underpass in Chester into ‘The Secret Garden’ for her two grandchildren has to be admired.

But most of all, I learned that you should always be watching out for little insects in the middle of the night. After all, every night as she tucked me in, She Who Was Born To Worry would say, “Sleep tight – mind the bed bugs don’t bite.” And then she’d wander down the stairs, leaving me at the mercy of an unseen foe.

As a kid being brought up in Wales, the bed bug had a faint air of mystery about it. I wasn’t entirely sure they existed, and I’d never met anyone who had seen one. For all I knew, they could have been three feet long and neon pink. The only certainty was that one of them could sneak under my duvet when I was dreaming of marrying Agnetha from ABBA, and that it would be partial to sinking its teeth into me for a quick midnight snack. And frankly, the idea scared the living bejeesus out of me.

As I grew older though, I assumed that the bed bug was one of the many nefarious creatures that your parents invent in order to keep your behaviour in check. You know, the bogeyman who lives under the stairs and devours children who don’t eat their peas, or the troll who keeps a list of the naughty children who don’t say their pleases and thank you’s – that kind of thing. As you move through puberty and into adulthood, you slowly realisze that these things don’t exist, and you slowly put aside your fears. Although clearly you still mentally file each of the creatures away in the category marked ‘things to scare your own children with in the future’.

But then I came to New York. And I found out that bed bugs really do exist. Essentially, one of the things that you will never read in any guide book about New York is that everybody – and I mean everybody – lives in fear of bed bugs. Pretty much every subway train carries an advert somewhere along it for infestation treatment services, all featuring huge magnified shots of the evil little blood sucking bastards. You often see all manner of bed bug repellent or protective products on the shelves of homeware stores, and stories on how bed bugs have ruined a person’s life are a regular feature in newspapers and magazines.

Fortunately we haven’t suffered with a bed bug problem, and touch wood we never will. Frankly, the idea of bagging up all my possessions and turning our home into a startlingly accurate recreation of the quarantine scenes towards the end of E.T. fills me with fear and dread. In an environment like New York, though, it’s difficult not to get caught up in the paranoia of it all. With leprosy, the affected had to carry around a bell warning others of their presence; for the bed bug-afflicted, it’s the appearance of an abandoned mattress and bed outside the home that warns all around of the possibility of impending doom.

Usually the embarrassed victim will mark the bed with a lurid “DO NOT TAKE – BED BUGS” or maybe a skull and crossbones alongside a tasteful artist’s impression of a remarkably lovable-looking insect. But all I can think about is the pavementsidewalk looking like the bug equivalent of a rush hour subway platform after a train has been taken out of service because of a faulty fingernail; bugs everywhere, desperately casting around for a passing boot or stroller to give them a ride to a new abode, away from the chemicals and cold city streets.

Fortunately I learned another good lesson when I was a kid – always cross the road if you think you’re walking into trouble. If there’s going to be any biting in my bedroom, it ain’t going to be by an insect, let me tell you.

Checks and big balances

If the stubs on my book are anything to go by, in the three years preceding my move to the US, I think I probably wrote maybe one chequecheck. And even then I can’t be sure that I wasn’t just in desperate need of a piece of paper to write a phone number or address on. From the big stores to Mr & Mrs Badcrumble at the farm shop, everybody takes plastic and the cheque is practically obsolescent.

Of course, plastic is equally omnipresent here in the US. The banks even discourage check use by charging customers for their check books – a practice that seems to me to be akin to giving a friend an expensive birthday present and him subsequently invoicing you for the time taken to unwrap it. Yet despite this, I seem to go through check books like a particularly wealthy philanthropist with a peculiar writing fetish.

Finally I’ve come to the realisation that it’s because I pay for our medical bills by cheque. And despite being a remarkably healthy family, that means writing at least 87 different checks a month to around 43 varied medical providers.

Naively, when I signed up to give away a healthy proportion of my salary to a health insurance company, I assumed that this would mean that my health bills would be paid if and when I had a problem. Sure, I knew that there would be a “co-payment” (surely an insurance company invention to ensure that hypochondriacs don’t go to the doctors every other day) but I somehow believed that would be the end of it. How wrong could I be?

Essentially a health insurance card is less a payment mechanism, more a discount scheme. You might get about 20-50% off the total amount, but they’ll still come after you to cover the costs after your ‘discount’. I can just imagine the ad campaign…”Got a broken leg? – it’ll normally cost you $8000, but with Blue Cross insurance we’ll let you hobble away on crutches for just $6800! It’s a deal so good, you’ll feel like breaking your other leg!”

Whether it’s a simple injection or a laborious operation, insurance companies have got a way to ensure that they never have to pay the full amount, leaving you hoping that you only have to go to hospital during the January sales (heart bypasses half price, and buy one ingrowing toenail removal, get one free). Although if medical care was indeed like shopping and you’re anything like me, you’d go out with the intention of having an appendectomy, and come back having had your tonsils out because they were on special offer.

After all, how do you think I got my third nipple?

A full and frank apology to the USA

I would like to issue a full and unreserved apology to the United States of America. In a previous post, I had revealed that an American foodstuff (albeit Italian-American) had made a personal attack on me, and left me with a cold sore-like legacy.

By relating such a story, I was suggesting that foods from America – and only foods from America – were highly volatile, dangerous and unpredictable, and should be trusted as much as, say, a former high-level Lehman Brothers executive with a shifty smile.

I now fully accept that my intimation was wrong, and that food products from any part of the world can cause pain and a herpes simplex-type look. That such a realisation can be caused by that great bastion of Britishness – the humble roast potato – is a cause of intense personal anguish to me.

I appreciate that there are some people who would try to maintain that I am using maverick comestibles as a scapegoat for a persistent cold sore problem. This is both unfair and actionable, and I will not hesitate to pursue those rumourmongerers to the full extent of the law.

Note that while the physical manifestations of these unprovoked attacks will fade in time, the emotion scars will live with me for a lifetime.

My family and I would appreciate your privacy and understanding during these difficult times.

A very male kind of illness

I’m rarely very ill. In more than fifteen years of working, I’ve probably had no more than twenty days off sick. That’s not to say that I don’t get sick at all – it’s just that I’m likely to drag myself into work despite various aches and pains, in some kind of martyr-ish attempt to prove that I’m either Superman, or a leading contender for the two luncheon vouchers (or subscription to Anglers Monthly) on offer for the employee of the month.

Of course in reality I’m no superhero. To be around me when I’m not feeling very well is to truly know sorrow. Not my sorrow, I hasten to add – just the aching sense of misery brought on by watching the melodramatic whining of somebody who is old enough to know better. The reason I’m not ill very often is that mankind (and more to the point these days, The Special One) wouldn’t tolerate the inhuman moaning that I can muster in response to, say, a paper cut.

The strange thing is that when I feel vaguely ill, it’s almost as if I step out of my own body. Not in a ‘moving closer to the light’ kind of way, although by the groans of perceived pain coming from me, you could easily be confused into believing that I might be on the verge of death. Instead, I’m just able to hear myself complaining about my latest malady and inwardly wonder why I’m making such a fuss about nothing.

The last few days I’ve been genuinely ill, with my body performing all manner of emergency evacuation procedures in an attempt to get rid of toxins brought on by a stomach flu. The bathroom has been my near permanent home, and I was virtually nil by mouth for 36 hours. I felt pretty bad, I have to admit. But I’m sure the consistency and voraciousness of my vocalised pain was such that alarmed passers-by would have been convinced that I was having my wedding tackle sliced at with Samurai swords every five minutes.

I’ve come to the realisation that it’s not the pain that upsets me though. Instead it’s just the fact that I – and most American residents, to be fair – only get to take five days off sick per year before they cease to be paid for their time away from the office.

Don’t get me wrong, I have never once taken off five sick days in any year of my career. I could probably be given five days for every two years and still not use them up. But it’s the principle. In Britain, I always had the comfort of knowing that I could be off for four days in a row at any point without even needing a doctor’s note to explain my absence. Find yourself struck down with a four day illness in the US, and you’re suddenly taking every preventative treatment known to man in an attempt to ensure that you can afford to pay your rent.

I’m thinking about fighting for some kind of constitutional amendment enshrining the inalienable right to sickness. If the powers-that-be don’t agree, I’ll threaten to step up my moaning every time I get even slightly ill. That’ll get them on the back foot, I promise you.

London’s dirty secret

I think it’s probably fair to say that there’s a common perception among the global community that Americans are pretty direct. And that’s no bad thing. For example, I’d say that most Americans are pretty intolerant of poor service, and aren’t afraid to make their dissatisfaction known. As a sweeping generalisation, Americans aren’t known for delivering bad news with a spoonful of sugar, either. It’s the kind of directness that allows utility companies to tell you that there’s going to be a ten day wait for your gas/electricity/phone to be restored, and then remind you in the same breath that prices are rising by 25% next week.

The British are more of a nation of shrinking violets. Clearly, the natives of India wouldn’t necessarily have agreed during the years of colonial expansionism, but the British are essentially more reserved. Or “emotionally retarded,” as some more unkind American commentators would probably describe it.

As I’ve detailed in entries before, most Americans would need an ever-present translator to understand the difference between what a Brit says and what he or she actually means. “It’s fine” generally means “I hate it but I don’t want to cause a scene”. “We should do this again” translates as “It’ll be a cold night in hell before I agree to go for dinner with you again.” And “it’s a really interesting color” is roughly equivalent to “who in the love of all that is righteous and holy would have a urine yellow sofa?”

However, one area in which Britain isn’t shy and retiring is its approach to communicating issues of public safety in and around the transport system. Having taken the train to London on Monday, I was confronted outside the station by an advertising campaign to warn people of the dangers of ignoring the barriers at level crossings. Let’s just say that this thing doesn’t pull its punches. Unsurprisingly, having read an advert demonstrating the eight points on the line where they found the person who jumped a barrier, I wasn’t quite so in the mood for my morning bacon buttysandwich.

Over the next three days, my tube journeys to and from meetings were delayed three times by “passenger action” somewhere in the London Underground system. “Passenger action” is the oft-heard euphemism for somebody jumping into the path of a fast moving train in an attempt to kill themselves.

Except transport bosses have decided that this phrase is not – excuse the pun – hard hitting enough, as they now consistently say that there are delays on the system due to “a person under a train” at a particular station. Talk about not pulling punches. At least with “passenger action” you can naively convince yourself that it’s a result of a teenager pulling the emergency cord, but with “person under a train” all you see are the flailing arms of the ‘victim’ and the horror of the helpless driver. And with three ‘jumpers’ in three days, clearly the credit crunch is taking its toll in London.

In New York, subway suicides are almost never ever mentioned, swept under the carpet like those bits of fluff and cat hair that you can’t be bothered to vacuum. In many ways it’s the public transport equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and saying “La la la la la la” when you don’t want to hear something.

Strangely though, it seems like New York probably has the right approach. With 1.5 billion users of the subway system every year, there were only 26 subway suicides last year; London has a third less commuters every year, and twice as many suicides. If you ever needed a macabre demonstration of the power of advertising, you just found it.

Putting a price tag on health

After twelve straight hours in the ER last Friday, my friend was finally admitted to the hospital. I manfully stifled my laughter as he was put in a wheelchair and slowly wheeled around the medical corridors like an 85 year old war veteran by a man in maroon overalls. I wouldn’t normally have controlled myself so well, but the look on the face of my friend suggested that he wouldn’t have been averse to getting out of the wheelchair and putting me in my own ER cubicle if I didn’t keep quiet.

Wheeling through the hallways of the ER, and into the main hospital itself, I looked puzzledly at the porter. Had he possibly made a wrong turn, and accidentally taken us through an adjoining door into the Brooklyn Hilton? After all, the floors seemed to be vaguely marbled, and the walls had dark wood panels that wouldn’t have looked out of place at some gentleman’s club in Pall Mall.

To be fair, the presence of a number of wheezing old ladies suggested that we’d either wandered into the host venue for the “Lucky Strike for Seniors” convention, or else the guy knew what he was doing. Before we knew it, he’d put the brakes on the wheelchair and left us infront of the door to one of the rooms.

Now, I’ve stayed in a few hotels. This time last year I was kicking back in a two floorduplex affair in the Greek islands, with an infinity pool just outside the French doors and the sea only a few short yards further away. I know the things that hotels can include just to make you feel like you’re in the greatest place on Earth.

Last time I checked though, that list of perks did not include ‘a bed containing an old bloke with a hacking cough’. Admittedly you could only rarely hear the cough, but that was largely because his television was loud enough to be audible in Georgia.

Given that it was almost midnight by now, I had to make my way back home. But before I pushed off, my friend asked if I could make my way down to the foyer to pick up some bottles of water for him. After all, we’d already watched in horror as the old man had drunk directly from the water jug provided for the room, and neither of us fancied supping on ‘eau de pensioner’.

With a security guard having given me the dubious stares reserved for somebody who seemed to be visiting four hours or so after visiting hours had finished, I wandered the corridors looking for some Poland Spring. It was only then that I truly realised that I was in America.

Firstly, the vending machines contained every manner of crisppotato chip known to man. From TGI Friday’s cheese and bacon flavour potato skins to onion and garlic snacks, it was a veritable high fat, high cholesterol temple. Don’t get me wrong, I grabbed myself a bag of something salty and sickeningly unhealthy for the trip home, but that doesn’t mean I condone it.

But even the snack factory couldn’t prepare me for the sight of the gift shop. Yes, you read it right. The gift shop. Stand aside Disneyland, back off Alton TowersSix Flags. You’ve got nothing on the American medical system and its desire to shift souvenirs on the ill and infirm. And what better for the friends and family of the sick to take their mind off their troubles than a little bit of retail therapy?

Given the late hour, the gift shop was sadly closed and as a result I can’t comment on the range of products available for purchase. I might go back this weekend though, and if they don’t have “Welcome To Brooklyn” colostomy bags and clothing with the slogan “My Grandma Had A Heart Attack And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt”, I’m going to be very disappointed.

General Hospital: a lesson in the difference between fact and fiction

Luckily enough, I’ve never had to spend much time in hospital. There was the time I fainted and fell back off my stool in a physics class at school, although walking in with a suspected fractured skull and walking out with a fractured thumb was frankly embarrassing. And when I was a toddler, I naively put my hand on the side of a hot oven and had to be raced off to casualty. It wasn’t a lesson I learned particular well either – a couple of years ago I cooked Christmas dinner for fifteen friends, badly burnt my hand as I served up the food, and spent the rest of the evening watching other people eat while I sat in excruciating agony with a bag of frozen Thai green curry in my rapidly blistering hand.

Given that those were my only two visits to an A&E department, I’ve generally had to look elsewhere for my understanding of medical emergencies. And by ‘elsewhere’, I’m clearly referring to hospital dramas on TV.

In the UK, hospital drama means ‘Casualty’, the gritty weekly show based in the fictional city of Holby. Famous largely for the presence of the world’s worst actor (Derek Thompson, who plays Charlie Fairhead, somehow manages to make David Caruso look like a Shakepearean veteran), Casualty is apparently the longest running emergency medical drama in the world. I appreciate that this might not be the most expansive category in the world, but bless ‘em for coming up with the stat anyway.

In the US, Casualty’s equivalent is ER, the George Clooney-launching monolith that has just lumbered into its fifteenth and final seriesseason. For a while back in the 90s, ER seemed to be the biggest show in the world, although if you ask me it was just Casualty with more money and less wooden acting.

Anyway, the point is that as far as American emergency rooms go, my experience was limited to the times when I happened to watch ER. With flying trolleys carrying half-mutilated traffic victims, and surgeons bearing high voltage defibrillators asking passers by to stand back, the US emergency room always seemed to be the pinnacle of unbelievable tension. Especially compared to the early years of Casualty, when the most exciting injury of the evening was generally a pretty nasty paper cut.

However, having spent much of Friday night sitting with a friend in a Brooklyn ER, I can’t begin to sum up my disappointment at the grim reality. That the biggest piece of excitement seemed to be the moment one woman breathed in on an asthma inhaler would probably best sum it up. No dashing trolleys, no electric paddles, and not an Alex Kingston or Anthony Edwards in sight. Hell, I’ve been in more exciting shoe shops.

In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a situation in which there could have been less of a sense of urgency. It’s almost as if hospital staff were trying to bore patients into curing their own illnesses. Although given that most patients appeared to be founder members of Brooklyn’s ‘Why Take Up One Chair When You Can Put On Enough Weight To Take Up Two’ society, it would have taken more than casual nonchalance to shift some of these folk.

At least I wasn’t in a British A&E on a Friday night, I guess, watching a succession of dishevelled and dirty individuals, almost certainly over the legal driving limit, and ready for a fight at any moment. And that’s just the staff.

Still, with Charlie Fairhead and Doug Ross as examples, what can you expect?

Return to sender

It’s amazing how the passage of time changes what you love and hate. When I was a twelve year old, I used to hate cauliflower cheese, butter and coffee, claiming that even being in the same room as any of these products would cause me to throw up. And to be fair, the first three times I drank coffee, I was true to my word. The dinner ladies at Buckley County Primary School didn’t care too much for my pleas of “I told you so” but it was some small comfort to me as I bent double, I can tell you.

Of course, I loved Whizzer & Chips comic book, potato waffles, getting anything in the post and playing heavily pixellated games on the ZX Spectrum. Above all, I loved Glynis Barber. Dempsey & Makepeace probably doesn’t mean much to most Americans on here, but it played a small formative role in my upbringing, and at least allowed me to get over the devastation caused by the realisation that I was never going to spend the rest of my life with Agnetha from Abba.

Everything changes. I now consume more butter than the entirety of Venezuela, and you shouldn’t even bother to talk to me before I’ve put some coffee into my bloodstream. I don’t read Whizzer & Chips, admittedly, although that has more to do with the fact that the title closed down in 1990 than a loss of faith with Shiner and Mustapha Million.

One thing that hasn’t changed is my love of getting stuff in the post. I’m supposed to say it’s the mail these days, but there’s more chance of me saying aloo-minn-umm than denying my love of the postie and her sack of many delights. Perhaps most people think of the deliverer of their letters as a man, but ours was a nice woman who used to give me and Little Sis a 50p coin each every so often. Inevitably, we used to look forward to the arrival of the daily delivery.

Even in recent years my childish excitement with the familiar sound of envelopes hitting the floor under the door (don’t give me any of that mailbox rubbish, please) hasn’t lessened. Sure, there were plenty of bills, but there was always the chance that a package would arrive with untold treasures inside. In reality, it was usually the offer of a new credit card with free balance transfers from HSBC, but you just never knew.

Until I came to America, that is. Despite not having built up 30 or so years of inadvisedly signing up to mailing lists, I get more junk here than I ever got in the UK. As well as credit card offers, I’ve had catalogues, loan opportunities, and even the chance to get a special rate subscription to Playboy. That went down well with The Special One, I can tell you.

But I don’t mind the junk so much. What really upsets me is the constant barrage of medical bills I seem to get.

Now, there are two things you need to know here. Firstly, I’ve got good medical insurance through work. Secondly, I’ve been to the doctors twice in the last twelve months. I’ve spent no more than 40 collective minutes in the building. So why do I get a barrage of bills, receipts and inexplicable letters from companies I’ve never heard of, claiming that I owe them for a whole series of acronyms like a GGT, LD or an HFP? I think they must charge by the letter, given that an INTRPT seems to cost a hell of a lot more than a ‘routine’ BCBS.

Whatever happened to the happy days of walking into an NHS clinic and walking out with nothing more than a prescription and a slight limp?

Next time I go to the doctors, I’m going to demand a glossary of terms. And I won’t even think about going to the bathroom, for fear that I’ll get an invoice from Toilet Diagnostics of New York® six weeks later.

I’d probably leave The Special One to explain that one to the insurance company, to be honest…

Spot the difference

July 2007

A man walks into a doctor’s surgery in South West London, under extreme pressure from his wife-to-be, to get his allegedly high blood pressure looked at. The surgery smells like all doctors the length and breadth of the UK – a heady mix of two parts flatulent old lady, one part Brut aftershave, and one part child’s vomit (three day vintage). The scene is like something from a refugee camp in war-torn Uganda, with the sick of the area having wheezed, oozed and staggered their way into a waiting area so large that the end-of-season football playoffs could conceivably be played there.

Stepping over the wounded to get to the cinder block reception, the man stands for five minutes waiting for Doris to finish her conversation with Patricia about the size of Mr Harris’s piles. No, not Mr Harris from Watling Close – the one from Ridgemount Drive who was having the affair with the hairdresser from Belmont Hill. You know, the one with the hoop earrings who’s already on her third marriage?

Eventually Doris turns to the man and asks which of the seventeen doctors he’s here to see. Once he’s been redirected to the reception on the other side of the room, and endured a similar delay while he waits for Mabel to discuss last night’s episode of Heartbeat with Sandra, he eventually checks in and scans the room for somewhere to sit.

Our hero uses both hands to lift and move the beer gut occupying the last remaining space in the room, wiping off some unidentifiable residue from the orange plastic seat as he does so. Wedging himself into the seat alongside the aforementioned Beer Gut, he ducks quickly to avoid a flying red plastic Fisher Price brick which has ‘accidentally’ ‘slipped’ from the hand of the five year old convict-in-waiting to his left.

On the table ahead of him lay three magazines. Having rejected a copy of Hello magazine from 1994 (featuring Mandy Smith on the cover) and Weight Watchers’ 101 Low Fat Classics, he plumps for a relatively new (only four years old) copy of Top Gear magazine. Sadly, the cover is merely masking an issue of Coeliacs Monthly, the new publication for intestinal disease sufferers everywhere. He wearily puts it down and forces himself to read an informational pamphlet on the warning signs to look out for when you’re having a stroke.

Forty five minutes later, the man is convinced he has at least three symptoms, although the pain running up and down his left arm could conceivably be caused by the angle at which he’s having to hold himself to avoid resting his elbow on his neighbour’s man boobs.

Finally, an announcement over the loudspeaker informs him that it’s his turn to see the doctor, and gives him a lengthy set of directions to get to the relevant office. Given that the PA system is now 43 years old and replacement parts are no longer available, the muffled instructions (to head down the corridor, take the first right, and then the fourth door on the left) are unclear, and our hero spends the next ten minutes inadvertently interrupting old men having their prostates examined before finally managing to track down his GP.

July 2008

A man walks into a doctor’s surgery in New York’s SoHo, under extreme pressure from his long suffering wife to get his allegedly high blood pressure looked at. He takes the liftelevator to the second floor, and quietly remarks to himself that he wishes Americans would accept that it’s really the first floor. Stepping out of the elevator, he walks past a gentle waterfall that takes up an entire wall in the corridor that leads to the reception desk.

Eva Cassidy’s version of Sting’s “Fields Of Gold” plays gently across the loudspeaker as he approaches the desk. The receptionist looks up, smiles and asks how he is. By name. Having extracted a $20 fee (or “co-pay”, as she calls it) by credit card, she asks him to settle down in one of the chocolate brown leather sofas nearby. He is the only person in the waiting area.

Healthcare free at the point of entry vs extortionate health insurance. You pays your money (or not), you takes your choice.

I still had to wait forty five minutes with eight year old magazines as my sole entertainment, though.

Death, where is thy sting?

After two long flights, and a lot of late nights with work and with friends, I’ve found myself encumbered with an early summer cold. Not the slight sniffles of a borderline hay fever attack, but the full on “I need thirty tissues to get through every hour” man cold, which could conceivably bring about my death in the next thirty six hours.

It’s bad enough trying to get myself understood in this city at the best of times, but when I’m bunged up with a cold I may as well be talking in Swahili for all the good my voice does me. Simple requests such as “can I have a glass of water” turn into “get the bath, I’m passing borders”. Which would be useful if I was, say, on the verge of entering Mexico and needed a scrub down. But not so much when I’m parched and desperate to get liquids into my system.

My sudden descent into languagelessness is at least an incentive to get better quickly, and with that in mind, I made the trip to Rite Aid at lunchtime to pick up all the potions and concoctions I could carry.

Rite Aid is a strange shop. I know it has been a pretty successful chain, but I have no idea how it managed to persuade people to shop there in the first place, and it’s now clinging on to its former glories. Their stock levels can only be described as pitiful, and their commitment to customer service is barely higher than Kraft’s commitment to producing one-off artisanal cheeses. I swear I stood waiting in a queueline for fifteen minutes today. There were only two people ahead of me.

But it’s not their ability to engender irrational hatred that bothers me, it’s their weird choice in products. Now, bear in mind that this place is a glorified pharmacy. Sure, they’ve got hairsprays, toothbrushes, deodorants and photo printing, but essentially it’s all about the vitamins, pain killers, creams and ointments. Things to help you get better if you’re ill. Items that will aid your recovery from trauma, and get you back on the road to fitness and health. A cornucopia of wellness restoration.

And beer.

Great big fridges of the stuff. Bottles and bottles of Corona, Heineken and Miller, chilled to perfection and waiting for a willing high blood pressure/broken arm/mosquito bite sufferer to take them home and numb the pain away. It’s like putting the Algerian branch of Agoraphobics Anonymous in the middle of the Sahara.

Personally I think Rite Aid are in cahoots with the makers of Tylenol in a desperate attempt to bump up sales. Buy two six packs and they’ll thrown in some liquid capsules for a dollar.