View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The long way round

A lady, confined to a wheelchair, alighted at the station in southern England one day. In order to leave the station, she was required to cross the footbridge to the other platform. Unfortunately, there was nobody to operate the lift, so she was marooned on the platform. Helpful trainstaff suggested she join a train to the nearest junction, 15 miles away, then take a train back which would deposit her on the platform from where she could exit the station. In disgust, she telephoned relatives who hoisted her up the steps and over the footbridge. The traincompany has now apologised to the lady, and made sure the lift can be used without a member of staff present.

World Tuberculosis Day

Did you know it's World TB Day today? The BBC has put up a picture gallery with graphic images associated with that disease. I'll just jot down a few private observations on that illness.

TB is an old adversary of humankind, and has crept into everyday vocabulary. It is referred to as consumption in English, a euphemism of the sort commonly attributed to serious illnesses. In days gone by, within living memory, TB sufferers were taken into a sanatorium with plenty of fresh air - even if that was fresh air from outside at a temperature of minus a lot. In the 1950s, people were operated upon, with entire lung lobes removed. I personally know someone who had that done. It cured them - or did it? The antibiotics used to combat TB are heavy duty stuff, and just today the development was announced of a new compound.

TB has made a come-back in the last decade or two, on the back of AIDS. The latter disease destroys the immune system, which opens the floodgates to the TB.

Chemically speaking, the tuberculosis bacillus has some unusual fatty acids in its cellwall - consisting of a chain of 80 carbon atoms. Those of you familiar with bio-chemistry will recognise the extra-ordinary nature of such a compound. It means that the bacillus is well-nigh impregnable to antibiotics, which need to get into the cell of the TB bug to kill it.

Another problem is that the treatment course of TB is 6 months. Few people manage to finish a course, because their symptoms tend to disappear after a couple of days or weeks. Bearing in mind the unpleasant side-effects of some of the drugs, it is even less of an incentive to continue to take pills that turn your urine an alarming hue of pink, for instance.

If you haven't been put off yet, I'd like to highlight another aspect of tuberculosis: transmission through domestic and wild animals. Bovine TB is a major problem in farming, with some farmers blaming wild animals (like badgers) for transmission. So, even if we manage to eradicate TB in people, it might stage a come-back via the animal kingdom. Bearing in mind that the AIDS message seems to have dropped out of people's considerations when having casual sex, I don't expect the eradication of TB to happen very shortly.

Wednesday 24 March

Today has been a very wet day, which has only just now dried up.

Here in the islands, working parents are being inconvenienced by the closure of a nursery at the hospital, called Little Teddies. The nursery can be used by any working parent, but the NHS here is running a £3m deficit - and has done for 5 years - which needs to be addressed. Fortunately, an alternative facility will be in place by August.

It is quiet on the hurricane front, with only two tropical storms about. Imani is headed south across the Indian Ocean, near the 85th degree longitude east; Omais is moving slowly northwest, away from the northern Marianas islands in the Pacific. Both are not expected to be around for much longer than 48-72 hours.