Lice, damned lice and steel combs

comb 2

There were, at various stages throughout your school career, times when medical matters loomed on the disinfectant-smelling horizon; although it seemed to go up a gear at secondary school.

At St Mary’s primary school in Balham I can only remember seeing a nurse a few times – each time armed with a steel comb (these were the days when buzzing combs had yet to be invented) and a glass of disinfectant. After the visit of the nit nurse your hair stank of Dettol and was probably highly flammable until bath night.

Secondary school was like an episode of M.A.S.H. compared with primary school.

In the first year at Bec we had the cough and drop test. I failed.  I was given a card which said “Ascended right testicle”.  I took this home to my mother who knew one of the three words.  I explained to her what this meant.  She was livid.  Not at the fact I’d had an undescended testicle but that I’d not been diagnosed with malnutrition.  I was disturbingly skinny as a kid and was given Virol – a malt extract probably designed by dentists as it was 101% sugar.  Because, as my mother put it, I looked like something out of Treblinka, she was disappointed I’d been told I had something she only knew 33% of.

In the second year we had BCG tests – this was to check if any of us were going to get TB (or consumption if you were examined by an older teacher or the King’s Evil if your school doctor had been reincarnated from medieval Europe). It was also to prevent any of us becoming 20th Century Elizabeth Barrett Brownings – which was unlikely as no one was very good at poetry in my year at school.

The procedure was called the Heaf Test (named after the then PM, Ted Heaf) involved having, what appeared like a multi-staple gun on your arm. It was quite painless.  You waited a week.  If the mark of six spots had gone, you got the BCG injection (and sent to play rugby immediately after); if the mark was still there, you got another note to take home to your parents suggesting a chest x-ray.  Mother was furious, a year on and still no diagnosis of malnutrition.  Plus, Virol wasn’t cheap

We never got tested for Rubella at our all-boys school. I assume, once Brexit is officially triggered on March 29th, Rubella will go back to being called German Measles?

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