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Dr Google’s verdict? Anthrax poisoning

Symptoms: sore throat, mild fever, fatigue and muscle aches... Well, of course I’ve got all of those

25 November 2017

9:00 AM

25 November 2017

9:00 AM

Six months into the renovations and I have so much dust in my lungs I have had to give Stefano an ultimatum.

‘You’ve got to finish by Christmas,’ I told him when he arrived with his men the other morning, ‘or I am going to have to start spending the budget, such that it exists, on emergency healthcare.’

I feel as though I have inhaled the entire house. I’m not sure what was in this house, but I hope it wasn’t anything noxious. It’s Victorian so it ought to be all right, I have been telling myself. But what do I know?

I think I’ve mainly taken on board brick dust and live plaster, the prognosis for which, a swift internet search appears to suggest, is that I should be all right, but then again I might conk out from anthrax poisoning.

I started coughing about two months ago. After a week, I stopped. Then last week, I recommenced and this time the coughing shows no sign of desisting.

I have coughed and coughed until I have felt there might be no alternative but to attempt to book an appointment with The Village medical centre, a long, drawn-out process requiring the computer skills of a Palo Alto dotcom tech gazillionaire.


I tried it once, and had to give up. So I took to going to see a private GP costing £70 a pop. That isn’t expensive, if you weigh up the true costs of the NHS option, which involves getting my tech guy to come to the house to help me fire up the online appointment maker and work out what my log-in is. I’ve so far narrowed it down to an estimated 150 possible permutations of the same daft word I use for most pass codes, but that is scant consolation as I never can remember exactly which permutation goes with what on account of the fact that some organisations insist on a mix of upper and lower case, while some want figures, so I stick a 1 and a 2 on the end, and so on.

Incidentally, I did once ring up and ask a living person for an appointment and was offered one a month later. To get anything sooner, I would need to log on to the system because sooner appointments are only ‘released online’.

I don’t care for these shenanigans. As a work colleague of mine used to say whenever we were contemplating whether to take a cab: ‘Are we artiste or artisan?’

I feel so ill I just want an easy, comfortable, sympathetic option. I want someone to be nice to me about my dust-filled lungs. I don’t want someone to lecture me, threaten me with the Mental Health Act and force me to fill out a form entitled ‘Dust! Know Your Rights!’ Or even ‘Dust! How to Cut Down!’

But I held off booking the private GP, thinking I would somehow manage to eject the dust myself, and because £70 would hire a set of acrow props for a day.

I had an hour-long steamy shower, but when my lungs still sounded like a broken accordion, I consulted Dr Google and found that by far the most helpful site on the internet for queries about lungs and dust is the website of Country Life, which holds forth charmingly on the subject, telling me the plaster in my building might be lime reinforced with animal hair, usually from horses, cows, goats or oxen, and if so, ‘There is a risk, albeit very minor indeed, that animal hair incorporated into plaster mixes before about 1900 (when greater controls were introduced) could be contaminated with anthrax.’

Anthrax is, it says, ‘generally, a very rare disease in the UK’.

And this, of course, is discordant horror music to my hypochondriac ears. Generally a very rare disease? Generally?

Oh, come on. Knowing my luck, the plaster dust I’ve been sucking down since May is so sure to contain anthrax I might as well alert Public Health England now.

Before I do that, I’m looking up ‘Anthrax in plaster’ and descending into a spiral of deep Googling hell, all the while deep coughing and causing Stefano to put his head round the door of the living room where I’m furiously typing to ask, ‘You all right, man?’ I wish he wouldn’t call me that. Symptoms of anthrax: sore throat, mild fever, fatigue and muscle aches, mild chest discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, coughing up blood, painful swallowing. Well, of course I’ve got all those!

So I type in ‘What to do if infected with anthrax’ and I get this legend: ‘If you think you have been infected with anthrax, you need to go to a doctor right away.’ That rules out The Village medical centre, then. They’d tell me to come in a month’s time.


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