The Loneliness of the Long-distance UTI Patient
When did I first become aware of the word “phage”? “Star Trek,” of course!
It was an episode about a disease that was destroying a race somewhere in the Delta Quadrant. (OK, possibly — even I fade out in the Nerdverse. But it definitely was in the “Voyager” series.)
It also was about a bacteriophage — the writers just got their lifted scientific argot wrong. A bacteriophage is literally an eater of bacteria. They tend to be the good guys of the microscopic world.
When did I realize those might be helpful to me? That I’m not too sure about. It was sometime in the last few years. When you get desperate enough, you research harder.
I know the current orthodoxy is to blame the internet — well, Facebook — for everything, but it’s an incredibly handy tool. It’s something I used to daydream about while in college, where in the 1970s we’d only get to borrow the books du jour (or du essay) for four hours!
It’s a pity that my knowledge of math only ever stretched to the philosophical. I also hated garages.
So, phages slipped into my consciousness. They’ve saved the lives of people on the verge of death, including one U.S. man who would’ve died but for his wife hitting the internet. She was far more academic and also far more desperate.
The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even had to give permission for the phages to be allowed into the country. Luckily for me, I live in the U.K., where there is no such hurdle.
I jumped at it!
Private medicine is damned expensive, which is a bit of a shock for a Brit. I’m still in recovery, what!
This is to say nothing of shipping a urine sample to Georgia. No, not the American one, rather the country that was part of the former Soviet Union. Indeed, it’s where Stalin came from, though if anyone reminded him of that, they were perfunctorily shot.
The phage therapy institute I turned to, located in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, was the source of phages supplied to the U.S.S.R. during World War II. They were employed in 1942 during the Battle of Stalingrad, which saved many lives and legs. The Western Allies first employed their wonder-drug antibiotics during the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944.
I’m enjoying this — science and history. I may have to lie down for a bit.
The Phage Therapy Center found E. coli in my sample. Though a common enough beast, as variations exist in all of us, they set off hunting for the exact bacteriophage to counter it. Best not to ask where!
Eventually, a liter of the stuff turned up. It’s very yeasty, very umami.
It’s also fiddly to take, as I had to imbibe a bicarbonate of soda solution one hour beforehand.
The upshot? The UTIs were mostly snuffed out.
At the same time, doctors at my local hospital changed my antibiotic regimen — while I waited for a new urologist. But that, dear reader, is another story.
Hurrah for me, another column idea! This one will now slowly phage out …
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