Every man, woman and child in Essex is calling up Copperfield with tales of poo and vomit – but just what do they expect him to do about it?
I was having supper with a psychotherapist the other night. He watched the way that I was carving my way into some particularly brittle pork crackling and popped up with, ‘You're a bit confrontational, aren't you, Tony?'
This from the man who dispenses the sort of advice that you can find in a packet of fortune cookies – ‘Some days good, some days not so good' – to the well-heeled neurotics of Chelsea and Westminster.
‘So you can tell this by the way I eat?' I asked.
‘No, it's what you were saying about The Shower of Shit over Shenfield.'
This is the working title of the movie of the book of the same name that I'll write one day recounting Essex's recent encounter with the norovirus. Alternative titles include The Cloudburst of Crap over Chelmsford and The Tornado of Turds over Tiptree.
It's been dire here – diarrhoea and vomiting to be exact. Everybody's either had it, got it or will have it soon. And to a man, woman and child, they've all rung in to tell me. As many as 80 a day – all reciting the same mantra. He/she/it is puking/ pooing/dehydrating, something's got to be done and I'm the man who has to do it.
And I must admit that once in a while, tempers may have become a little frayed.
Now I know that a norovirus infection is an unpleasant yet short-lived experience, a bit like finding myself sitting opposite a Reiki practitioner on a cross-country train journey. It produces profound waves of nausea, but with an end in sight and no unpleasant after-effects.
Even the doommongers at NHS Direct, for whom even the slightest twinge is considered to represent a tentative stab from the scythe of Death himself, advise patients that:
1) there's nothing they can do about it and
2) there's nothing I can do about it either.
Everybody who's got it knows somebody who's had it – in all probability the person that passed the infection on in the first place – and they've all heard the hapless victim's anguished cry: ‘I rang the doctors and they said there was nothing they could do! So I went up casualty and they told me the same thing!'
Yet when they develop the same symptoms next morning they'll ring me anyway on the off-chance that teams of antiviral research boffins have been working through the night to perfect a miracle cure. A phone call that's frankly as welcome as a pork butcher at a bar mitzvah.
Years ago I wrote in grudging admiration about the senior partner here at Copperfield Towers who had introduced the ‘Bof' – the Gallic shoulder shrug and indifferent look beloved of Parisian waiters – into the consultation.
But it's hard to shrug your shoulder when you have a phone balanced on it.
So, in response to ‘He/she/ it's got that bug that's going round and ain't keeping nuffink dahn...' I wait a second or two and then come in with ‘And...?'
Call it confrontational if you like, but if you do, you're the one who'll be paying for dinner.
Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can email him at email@example.comCopperfield Copperfield