If little brown spiders don't get me, the superbug will

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The Independent Online
IDLING around a motel room in New Orleans last year, I switched on the local news. Following the usual selection of crack horror stories and cheap celebrity gossip was an item that still gives me nightmares.

It opened with a shot of this pretty little house, kids playing on the front porch, magnolia blossom falling from the trees. A perfect summer afternoon.

So anyway, this woman had been doing the housework (always a mistake) when she was bitten by a tiny brown spider. The next thing she knew, she woke up in hospital. Pretty bad for a spider, huh? The good news was that she'd come out of the coma - 10 days in a coma is more than enough. On the down side, they'd cut her arms and legs off:

Oh My God.

This spider had apparently given her blood poisoning. Within minutes gangrene had set in, then coma and then, hey presto, no arms and legs.

Amazingly, she gave interviews as she came out of hospital. 'I'm just lucky to be alive,' she said on the radio, with a heroism bordering on insanity. (God knows what would have happened to her on a bad day.)

I spent the rest of my trip in mortal terror that the very same spider (or one of his relatives, one or his friends) had chosen me as its next victim.

Needless to say, for the past few weeks I've had the mother of all sore throats. Not that that's particularly surprising - all my friends have got sore throats, too. But trust me, theirs aren't nearly as bad as mine. Mine is really serious. Mine is necrotising fasciitis. Inside, I just know my flesh is liquifying. I can feel it bubbling away fasciitisly.

Of course, the experts say that one in 10 people carries the bacteria anyway - that it's usually completely harmless. Unless, that is, it gets a virus (an ill illness, who the hell thought of that?), at which point, game over.

According to the medical

establishment, you've got more chance of being run over on the M4 than you have of catching the superbug. Hardly reassuring. Being run over on the M4 seems quite probable to me. All those cars driving around at high speed and me wandering about in the middle of them trying to avoid germs. I'd be asking for it, surely.

Actually, I was all right about all this when it started. Not wishing to sound blase, I'm something of a veteran in the hypochondria department by now. Until one report in particular.

One sufferer said that, after having had a very sore throat indeed (probably as sore as mine, in fact), her bottom had swollen up to the size of a pumpkin and turned black as coal. When she got to hospital, they discovered she had a gangrenous rectum. That, I thought, was absolutely beyond the pale. The indignity of it. It was even worse than the spider. The future looked bleak.

I should know. My hypochondria goes back a long way. As a

child, I seem to remember, it was a relatively healthy affliction. I used to love to be ill. Long to be pampered by my fretting and devoted mother, to drink Lucozade and watch Crown Court on TV. But then, who wouldn't?

I never actually was ill, of course. I was as strong as an ox, while my younger brother, bless him, just seemed to be stricken by one enviable childhood illness after another. With all my experience (I was eight at the time) I could have done being ill much better than he did. But everyone in my family insisted on ignoring my symptoms. They'd be sorry when I'd gone.

Then, in my early teens, I discovered the glamorous side of illness. Sobbing my way through The Lady of the Camellias, Wuthering Heights and The Wings of a Dove (I was a precocious child), I felt I had the makings of the consumptive heroine.

It wasn't really until late adolescence that things got out of hand. At this point, I started to

pore over the 'Diseases' section in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, inventing new, tragic and impressively obscure illnesses to be struck down by. I became an expert in medical matters. To this day, I'm known as Doctor Frankelstein in intimate circles.

I've had rabies, glaucoma, lymphoma. I've had every sick syndrome from Flaubert to Munchausen - this last one is particularly apt, I find. I have kidney failure quite a lot. And brain tumours. Those seering pains through the temples are a tough one to beat]

Of course, there's always medicine. And I've taken copious amounts of all sorts, just in preparation. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I realise it was a big mistake.

Aren't all these new illnesses something to do with viruses becoming immune to penicillin?

Let's hope nobody tells the superbug. Or the spider.

Miles Kington is on holiday.