Worst CPD. Ever! How I caught scarlet fever

Worst CPD. Ever! How I caught scarlet fever

This week I found myself doing research on historic illnesses. In this case it’s not for a learning session but because, apparently, I’ve been suffering from scarlet fever.


I’m used to researching all kinds of slightly odd subjects. All sorts of weird and wonderful things have been on my radar at one time or another. Former heads of the KGB? Check. How to construct a dirty bomb? Check. The background and history of various paramilitary groups? Check. Peculiar illnesses of sailors (not that sort)? Got. The Latin name of Stella’s Sea Eagle? Done that. All in the name of genuine academic research for a learning session of one variety or another.

Not this week. This week I’ve been researching something because I have been the victim of it. This is, without doubt, worst research I’ve ever done.

So, how did we get here?

Last week, as I was minding my own business in the shower, I looked down and noticed that my arms were the wrong colour. The colour in question was scarlet. Being bright red is never a good sign. The only thing that is worse than being bright red is realising how red you are based on the little blotchy bits that aren’t. Those little blotchy bits were confined to the inside of my elbow and by armpit.

Being the only person in the house, I started ever so slightly to worry. As I called NHS Choices (or whatever they call NHS direct now) I started to run through the things that it might be: none of these were places I particularly wanted to go. The result of that conversation was that they thought I was to get myself to hospital post-haste. A short taxi ride later I was sitting A&E waiting to be seen. A few short hours later and I was sent home reassured that I was indeed having an allergic reaction to something, though exactly what that something was wasn’t entirely clear. A bit of a pain, thought I, but something that could be lived with.

Or so I thought.

My arm with scarlet fever rash

My arm with scarlet fever rash

I took this picture in A&E. The light is pretty awful, but this lurid rash was all over me by this stage.

Things become steadily less clear

that night I completely failed to sleep.

The following day I felt like I had been run over. Everything ached. My hands and wrists and arms were swollen. And I was doddering round like an old man. In short: it was rubbish.

“Oh well,” I’ll just muddle through this and, sooner or later, I’ll be right as rain again. Turns out that the emphasis would be on later rather than sooner. I shuffled through that day, the following day, the weekend and, eventually, admitted that if I still felt this bad on Monday morning I’d call the doctor.

Monday morning. Guess what? On the phone to the doctor. Cue phone consultation. Cue appointment to be seen later. The doctor looked me over, poked, prodded and generally badgered me before making her pronouncement: “you’ve got a strep infection.

I raised one eyebrow and asked: “a what?”

“A streptococcal infection.” After a certain amount of elucidation she said “you’ve got scarlet fever. Or, at least, something very much like it.”

“Oh. Scarlet fever you say.”

Well that answers that then. That would explain the aches and pains, rash, feeling wrung out, everything. Just a quick blood test in the morning to confirm all of this.

So, why am I telling you all this?

So, I went home and did what any self-respecting education professional would do next: I sat down and researched what the hell it was I’d been diagnosed with. In many ways it was a lot like being at work. It was like those situations where someone says: “Andy, do you think you could put together a session on this?” To which I always reply: “of course I can.” Before heading off frantically beginning to research it. That evening was pretty much the same. I was starting from a base knowledge on streptococcal infections of approximately zero (except that I’d heard of some of the diseases and courses). The learning curve was, unsurprisingly, really rather steep.

The other way in which this was much like preparing for a learning session was this: no one gets scarlet fever any more. I found myself reminded of Terry Pratchett’sthe Colour of Magic” which finishes with Scrofula turning up to collect the soul of the main character. The would-be Grim Reaper is rebutted thusly: “nobody dies of scrofula any more”. I felt very much the same about scarlet fever. Here I was researching an illness that nobody gets any more. Nobody, that is, except me. It was much like the times in the past when I have prepared learning sessions on scurvy or typhus or dysentery. These were not diseases of which I expect to gain first-hand knowledge.

And yet here I was with a list of symptoms ticking each one off with a sage nod and a mutter of “yup, got that.” There was a certain grim humour attached to the whole process.

A matter of empathy

so, what have I got out of the whole experience? I did have a rash, but that’s gone away now. I still have a lot of aches and swollen joints. What I’ve really got out of this is a sense of empathy with sufferers of illnesses, diseases and conditions that are (thankfully) largely considered to be historic. No longer do I view the poor unfortunates who have suffered from these diseases as characters but as real people groaning and mumbling about how unwell they felt. And rightly so because, if they felt anything like I do, they felt awful. As well as empathy, I also feel a sense of genuine sympathy for fellow sufferers.

The downside of all this is that, whilst I have discovered many new and exciting things, I have been far too unwell to do any actual work. Preferring instead to shamble listlessly around complaining about how my hands and wrists hurt. Notable things that cause significant pain: using a keyboard and opening door handles. Both of which feature fairly heavily in my daily routine. Excitingly, I have been able to circumnavigate the first of these by beginning to work with voice recognition technology (which feels a lot like the future).

You will, however, be pleased to hear that at no point do I plan to develop a learning session using photos of my own ill-health as teaching resources.

Posted by Past Participants Andy in Thoughts, Uncategorised, 0 comments