I originally thought that epidemiology had something to do with the skin. Epidermis? But no, dermatology, duh… and there’s my knowledge of Latin fully exhausted.
It turns out to be the study of how disease is transmitted in large population groups – epidemics, innit! – and therefore not really something I’d talk about much in my spare time because… well… I wouldn’t…
But it is absolutely fascinating, and something that’s kinda popped to mind because in the last few days, in the evening job that is my other life, a bug has been doing the rounds of the theatre with amazing speed and virulence. Stage manager’s backstage calls end with a cry of ‘please do disinfect your hands’ and we all wait with baited breath to see Who Next will get the bug and just how many members of the cast and stage managers we can do without before we have to start giving money back.
And make no mistake… I am waiting for that dire day when the bug hits the LX department and promise that the second I go down with it, I’ll be straight to bed, with a hot water bottle, wailing like a siren on a hunger strike. But in the mean time, the sheer detective drama behind where this disease came from and how it spread and why it spread to these people in particular, fascinates me. Possibly the only other incident I’ve experienced of being so interested in the transmission of a disease was when my ex-boyfriend gave me gastroenteritis (an incident he will never live down and he knows it.) The actual disease itself was, I can honestly say, up there in the top 3 most unpleasant experiences of my life, along with being electrocuted and those 4 hours I spent lying on the bedroom floor while having the ‘flu like symptoms’ that come associated with the flu jab. (I now realise that I have never actually had flu, because if it feels anything like those flu-like-symptoms, I would have moaned about it for months.) What made it slightly more interesting was the fact that, on the Saturday, the gentleman who, for the purpose of this blog we’ll call TLC turned up, and reported that he felt fine but that the woman he’d had dinner with the night before, wasn’t feeling so good. By Saturday evening he himself wasn’t feeling so great and by Sunday I’d never seen a man so ill. (I was remarkably unsympathetic, feeling as I was, fine at the time. Sorry.) By Sunday evening he was vaguely walking again and I felt… still fine… and then on Monday afternoon, just as I was programming a particularly annoying bit in a technical rehearsal, I suddenly felt very, very not fine. And by Monday evening I had puked in my Dad’s car, which is the part of the story I won’t be living down any time soon. Again, did I mention… sorry?
And let’s face it, the epidemiology here isn’t exactly hard to work out. But the timing is so elegant! What a clear and easy detective adventure, what a clear culprit and what a lovely linear development! You gotta hand it to those goddamn pesky diseases, when they get cracking, they do it with an almost stylish single-minded determination and predictability, as clear cut an exponential curve on your carefully ruled graph paper as ever a sharp-penciled biologist could dream of.
But like all good detective stories, the tale of the disease currently rampaging through the company of the production I’m working on is complicated by far too many factors. As a good detective, ask yourself what brings the current ill people together – not just time and place, but perhaps a sandwich shared in the canteen, the same dirty knife and fork? No, not all of them – okay, the same dubious toilet, or perhaps the custom of kissing on the cheek has finally turned to a thespian bite? Something in the clothes they wear, or where they go to do their warm up, something, perhaps, in the air conditioning in their changing rooms? Who became ill first? How did the disease get into the building? Who will go ill next? Very quickly you find the factors spiraling out of control in a way which, while horrible once you get down to the actual business of cleaning up the puke, is, from an intellectual point of view, entirely fascinating.
That said, based on the rate of disease transmission, the time between everyone feeling fine and at least five people definitely not being fine, by the time this blog entry actually makes it onto the net I should be entering those key 24 hours in which I get to discover whether the next few days will be spent robustly washing my hands with antibacterial gel, or lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. I imagine if the latter, my intellectual satisfaction may not be quite so great…