In my welcoming tubes these viruses fool my cells into helping them multiply and set up a thriving colony. In reaction to this invasion, I begin to feel a bit unwell and develop a temperature that, in the absence of a thermometer, causes Mrs Pobaan to go ‘Oooh’ when she touches my forehead. Also, I can’t stop coughing. When this becomes truly antisocial, I withdraw to Khao Talo Towers, our unassuming abode across the Sukhumvit Road, and skulk around the house limply, feeling sorry for myself.
I look up ‘brochitis’ in my Thai dictionary and show the result to Mrs Pobaan. She looks thoughtful; little do I know that she is plotting a detailed diagnosis and cure for my condition.
Actually, I feel pretty bad, and my temperature is quite impressive, but the characteristic of my affliction that is most notable is how long it lasts. After four weeks, although the fever has abated, I still haven’t shaken off the bug. In particular, the cough persists. If they had coughing at the Olympics, I could bring back gold for Thailand.
I wait to hear the results of Mrs Pobaan’s deliberations. They are not long in coming.
Here we go. First, it’s all my fault. ‘I tell you many times not to drink whisky,’ she confidently chides me.
‘What’s whisky got to do with it?’
‘That’s why you’re sick.’
‘I think it’s a virus.’
‘Maybe, but you have a temperature because you drink whisky. And ice. You put ice in your drinks. What do you expect? Of course you’re going to get ill. Drink warm water. My mother always drinks warm water.’
‘But your mother’s always ill.’
‘She would be worse if she drank cold water. Also no ice cream. In China they don’t eat ice cream when they’re ill.’
‘They always give you ice cream in hospital. What harm can it do?’
‘Ice cream is bad for your stomach. Also caffeine. How can you be well if you drink coffee?’
‘I don’t think the virus is in my stomach.’
And so the recriminations continue, day after day. I discover that there’s little in my lifestyle that hasn’t contributed in some way to my poor health. I eat warm doughnuts: risky. When I get hot in bed, I push the covers down: hazardous. I walk in the garden without an umbrella: dicing with death. Viruses love warm doughnuts, bare flesh in bed, mad dogs and Englishmen.
In the face of all this projected guilt, all I can do is repeat my mantra over and over again, however weak it now sounds: I think I’ve got a virus. I’m just going to take it easy until it goes away. There’s very little I can do to hasten its departure.
Which brings me to the second part of Mrs Pobaan’s deliberations: I’m being silly. Of course there’s something I can do.
‘I’ll go to the pharmacist,’ she announces. An hour later she returns with a shopping bag that rattles like a set of maracas. With a triumphant look, she carefully unpacks her purchases on to the bedside table. It looks like Damian Hirst’s Pharmacy installation, a nightmare of medical intervention. The till receipt curls out of the bag like a roll of ticker-tape. This shopping trip hasn’t been cheap.
My wife presents me with pills of every conceivable size, shape and colour. She has been persuaded to purchase pills so big they’d make a hippo gag; and there are tablets so small I wonder at the power that must be packed into their tiny dose of active ingredient.
‘Those are herb pills,’ says Mrs Pobaan, referring to the little brown spherical ones, ‘in case the others don’t work.’
She gives me a run-through of her new pharmacopoeia. I have drugs to reduce my temperature, drugs to soften my phlegm and drugs to stop me coughing.
‘I don’t want to stop coughing,’ I protest.
‘Not if you take the pink ones. They dry up your chest. The big ones are antibiotics.’
‘I have a virus. Antibiotics aren’t effective against viruses.’
‘Just take them.’
In my weakened state, I have a nightmare flash. I have shrunk to the size of a puppy on the bed. Mrs Pobaan is a nurse in a shiny white PVC uniform with stiletto heels. She’s wearing mirror sunglasses and a severe expression. She’s hefting mounds of pills into me with a shovel. Her evil laughter echoes around the bare walls of my cell...
‘OK, thanks,’ I say meekly. ‘Thanks for getting all this stuff for me.’
I swallow the pills by the handful, two, three or four times a day according to instructions, until they run out and the bin is full of empty blister-packs. Generally, I don’t like taking drugs, but none of these seems to have done me any harm. But they haven’t done me any good, either. When my supplies are depleted, I’m still coughing. The cough takes a long time to go, but eventually it does.
‘It was probably the herb pills,’ concludes Mrs Pobaan.
‘What, the ones that ran out three weeks ago?’
‘Yes. It’s quite a powerful herb.’
‘What’s its name?’
‘I forget, but it’s definitely some kind of powerful herb.’
‘Can I have some ice cream?’