/ 8 August 2009

If swine flew …

I knew the inordinate number of Piglet and Pooh Bear bags clutched by rug rats at the Frankfurt International Airport was a bad omen.

That, combined with the fact that — despite having brushed my teeth three times during the 10-hour flight to Jo’burg — my throat felt like sandpaper when we touched down and my head felt as though I’d been drinking pangalactic gargleblasters all night. It felt as though a lemon slice wrapped around a large gold brick had crashed into my skull.

All in all, something sinister was afoot. In the passport-control section at OR Tambo there was a chap sitting behind what I thought was a thermal scanner. I stupidly held my breath because I didn’t fancy being detained — holding my breath would, no doubt, help lower my body temperature. The scanner detected no anomalies and I was soon on my way home.

The doctor’s diagnosis was a severe flu virus. Because I had been travelling, she would prescribe what she thought was the best possible medication — Tamiflu, also being used to treat swine flu suspects — because it would be irresponsible to allow the virus to develop into the swinish variety. She said she had treated quite a few swine flu patients and was pretty sure I didn’t have it.

This was fairly good news, seeing that I was expecting to be whisked away by disease-control operatives in hermetically sealed spacesuits who would put me into a plastic bubble in a hospital ward, where my only company would be other unlucky swine in similar bubbles.

As my spirits rose briefly, they came crashing back down to earth when the doctor told me that, to be on the safe side, I should be in isolation at home, as, again, ”it wouldn’t be responsible to spread this virus — whatever it is”.

As my Mum and I walked towards our car, she wondered out loud if she should sit in the back seat, but my finely tuned growling put paid to me looking like a chauffeur.

Despite the fact that I spend about R1 400 a month on a Discovery medical aid scheme I had to fork out R270,16 for the Tamiflu. As I grudgingly paid I wondered what would have happened if I (or a real swine flu patient), could not afford the drug. Would I have been able to sue Discovery for ripping me off and causing a swine flu outbreak?

When I got home I sealed myself off from the world. Not even my dogs could visit me — though since the Tamiflu made me sleep practically 24/7 it wasn’t as lonely as it might have been.

After a few days of skulking around my bedroom with a eucalyptus-soaked handkerchief over my nose I developed a secondary infection. More antibiotics, which had to be paid for, in addition to two doctors’ consultation fees.

I was distressed by how blasé both physicians were about the swine flu possibility. I questioned the second doctor, who said she had treated about ”10 patients suffering from swine flu” and was ”100% sure” I didn’t have it.

Throughout this ordeal that often cynical, but usually faultless, voice in my head kept asking about the point of my R1 400-a-month medical aid.

Obviously, the point is to enrich Discovery chief executive Adrian Gore so that he can diversify into credit cards and investment opportunities. Decent medical coverage for the people who made him rich would happen only if swine flew.