Health · Memories · Notes from West London · Word of the week

Word of the week: conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye, or pink eye, is an “inflammation of the conjunctiva”. The conjunctiva is “the mucous membrane that lines the exposed portion of the eyeball and inner surface of the eyelids”. just told me this, in the definitions here and here. I am currently recovering from conjunctivitis, the second time in my adult life that it has affected me.

The first time was back in 2006, when my wife was expecting our second child. We were on holiday in Dublin and spent our Sunday afternoon at Croke Park, watching Kilkenny beat Wexford in the Leinster Senior Hurling Final. Or rather my son (20 months old at the time) and I did. We had two tickets for the game and the dutiful men at the entrance to the stadium would not let the three of us in together, even though my son would have spent the entire match sat on my lap. We had a few options: my wife and son could have seen the game and I could watch in a nearby bar; we could have refused to enter, and let the tickets go to waste; or my son and I could take the two tickets. We went for that last option. It would have been inadvisable for my wife (six months pregnant at the time) to carry the pushchair and our son up and down four flights of steps to our seats. She sat in a nearby bar to watch the game. Inside the stadium my son sat on my lap through the whole match (which Kilkenny won, unlike the Leinster Hurling Semi-Final against Wexford earlier this month). The seat beside me remained empty throughout

After the game we walked the length of O’Connell Street towards our hotel, south of Stephen’s Green. My eye was red, watery and beginning to throb. The following morning I went to the pharmacy opposite the hotel. There was an optician on the same corner but both the pharmacist and optician insisted that I see the doctor. He had a consulting room upstairs. It was an enjoyable consultation, our scheduled 10 minutes extending to over half an hour, discussing London, my wife’s family, my former GP in London (who had trained in Dublin) and Dublin’s Jewish quarter. We were very close to the Jewish Museum (formerly a synagogue) and Bretzel’s Bakery, from which we later bought “Dublin’s Little Jerusalem”, a book about the history of Judaism in Ireland.

Back in 2006 Dr Brady explained that conjunctivitis is “an inflammation of the conjunctiva” and I used the same words over the weekend with my own children, now aged 10 and 12, to explain why my right eye was so red and why I would be lying on the sofa for 30 minutes at a time after my wife had applied the antibiotic ointment. I now know that you can buy the ointment over the counter, unlike all other antibiotics in the UK. I also explained the derivation of other “-itis” words to them: appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix), tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils), dermatitis (skin) and tinselitis (which is what Santa’s helpers get if they spend too much time near Christmas decorations).

I have known that “-itis” means “inflammation of” since 1980 and remember how I learnt it. Clive James wrote about it in one of his era-defining TV Reviews in the Observer. 37 years on I can still recall many of the things he wrote about, like Harry Carpenter pronouncing Wimbledon as “Wmbldn” and equating events at the 1980 Snooker World Final with the simultaneous siege at the Iranian Embassy. Back then the Snooker World Championships were sponsored by the cigarette company Embassy and many of the players were shown puffing hard on cigarettes between shots. As I recall it Clive James wrote something along these lines: “Alex Higgins could reduce an Embassy to ashes in seconds. Which is just what the kidnappers were threatening to do before the SAS stormed the place.” Around the same time James wrote regularly about “Dallas”, one of the most-watched shows of the time. He referred to “Dallasitis” but was corrected by one of his readers. The correct term was “’Dallasosis’, a condition brought about by excess ‘Dallas’. ‘Dallasitis’ merely means that one’s ‘Dallas’ has become inflamed.” He continued: “But one’s ‘Dallas’ has become inflamed. Also it is producing offshoots”. My conjunctivitis, on the other hand, is on the mend.



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