It has been a while since I returned from Australia, and although the flu and bronchitis I developed in Sydney have gone (there's nothing like being stuck in a foreign hotel room with a fever watching imbecilic 50s British C movies featuring James Robertson Justice), I cannot shake off the jetlag. The world lists from side to side, and sleep patterns remain distorted.
I awake, having passed a brief but troubled night, and run a bath. "Oh no, now it's off to work at 3.15am," says a muffled voice from beneath the bedclothes. "How much longer do you mean to keep this ridiculous jet lag thing up?" "It isn't ridiculous. Everyone knows it takes a day to get over every hour of time difference." The head pokes through from the protective shell of duvet for a spot of quick-fire interrogation. "Time lag to Sydney?" "Ten hours." "How long since you came back?" "Four weeks." "So what does that tell you?" "That it isn't jetlag at all" - she nods approvingly - "but something more serious? Lymphatic cancer?" The alarm clock catches me just below the heart.
Re-reading the excellent G2 cover story about the outbreak in Uganda of ebola, that monstrous viral boost for the cause of atheism, I note to my shame that the thing I'm really interested in is the chances of catching it here. Cleverly, the authors of the piece wait until the last paragraph to say that there is just about no chance at all.
For the first time in months, I visit the Grove surgery - not for myself, but a small boy of my acquaintance. During the hour-long wait, I realise how much I've missed it here, with the view of the trains, the goldfish, the pictures of Tony Blair's visit, and the other features of this home from home. Eventually Dr Beverly McDonald calls us in. She asks about the problem. "Well, doctor, it's this jetlag." "Not you," she says. "Him." Diagnosing a virus, she prescribes paracetamol and lots of liquids.
Shortly after breakfast (normal breakfast, that is) my mother rings to report a very painful chest. "When I rang for an emergency appointment, they asked if it was a medical emergency," she says. "I said, 'No, I'm worried about the colour of the curtains.'" Pleurisy has been diagnosed, and she's on two different types of antibiotic. I was also on two for my bronchitis in Sydney, I remark, but she doesn't seem remotely interested.
Never one to be left out lightly, Rebecca has taken to her bed, with symptoms that sound to me like the absentee worker's best friend, gastric flu. I spend the morning ferrying trays to people on various floors, and hostilities do not formally break out until Rebecca requests for lunch a Pizza Express Fiorentina, garlic bread and a portion of chocolate fudge cake. "You want me to go out for food you can't be well enough to eat?" I enquire. "Yes, she replies. Oddly enough, she is well enough to eat after all, and when she rises shortly after 2pm (looking a little more green than I realised when she was horizontal), I undress and retire for the night.
Rebecca and the small boy are better, my mother reports a minimal improvement in her condition, but the dog is limping badly enough to necessitate a trip to the vet where a muscle strain is diagnosed and basket rest suggested. I am beginning to feel like one of those nurses working round the clock in a cholera epidemic, or perhaps an outbreak of ebola, without a thought for their own health. Whether I'm cut out to be a selfless hero I can't decide (Rebecca can: she thinks not), but the nurse always falls sick in the end, and that's without having her immune system disastrously compromised by jetlag. It will not be a matter of months again, I begin to suspect, before I next set foot in the Grove.