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It's just another ruddy virus

Phil can't even go for a haircut without having to talk about swine flu, and swears if the virus doesn't kill him, the boredom will

Phil can't even go for a haircut without having to talk about swine flu, and swears if the virus doesn't kill him, the boredom will

My cover has been blown at the barber's. I've been going there in quiet anonymity for 10 years, but last year I met one of my patients there and now they know I'm a GP.

The lass who cuts my hair isn't the sharpest tool in the box. She usually says things like: 'Your hair just keeps growing, doesn't it?' - to which I always struggle to find a suitable response. In previous times she has regaled me with natter about the weather, Jade Goody and the fortunes of Sunderland AFC, but now she knows I'm a GP it's all changed.

'You must be busy with all this pig flu!'

'Uh-huh,' I say, noncommittally.

'Terrible, isn't it? We like bacon, but I'm not touching it now. My son eats practically nothing else, but I've told him to cook it himself. We were going on holiday to Holland but I'm going to cancel.'

I can't help getting drawn in. 'Why don't you want to go to Holland?'

'All that Danish bacon - that's where it all comes from.'

I should say nothing. I know I should say nothing. But it blurts out. 'But surely Danish bacon comes from Denmark?'

She looks nonplussed but soon recovers. 'They're all the same, them places.' Then she brutally tweaks a couple of hairs out of my left temple, causing a significant wince, but maybe that's just co-incidence.

Back at the practice we've had an upsurge in appointment requests, and are struggling. I've had dozens of consultations that start with: 'I know this probably isn't swine flu doctor, but...' Then they describe the symptoms of the common cold.

I'm sure some of them really do think they might have swine flu. Supposedly they've all had the Government leaflet that tells you to stay at home and phone the helpline. But they don't. They request emergency appointments, then spray their germs around the waiting room.

I saw one of these punters today. I asked to examine his chest and stood to the side, so he didn't cough all over me.

Spray of sputum

I asked him to turn his head away and give me a cough. It seems the words 'away' and 'towards' were synonymous in his mind, because he turned towards me and coughed a light spray of sputum over the top of my head. I felt the droplets alight like fine summer drizzle. I silently removed my glasses and ostentatiously wiped them clean.

Our PCT's reaction has been every bit as Keystone Cops-like as I'd predicted. A plastic box arrived last week containing our emergency supplies. There were 20 masks (between six of us) and one roll of plastic aprons. There was also a list of the stuff that should have been in the box: gloves, special soap, wipes and goggles, but apparently they're all out of date and have been re-ordered. How does a pair of goggles go out of date? What exactly goes wrong with them?

Apparently if you phone the PCT, you always get informed that the person you wish to speak to is 'in a meeting'.

Hiding in the bogs, more like.

My reaction to the swine flu epidemic is now one of utter, deadening boredom.

It seems there is no way of avoiding exposure to it, but for heaven's sake - it's just another ruddy virus. It's not the end of the world. The scandal about MPs' expenses is a welcome diversion, and may well have saved me from death by ennui.

Let's all moan about Hazel Blears instead.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

Phil Peverley

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