Florence Nightingdroid

Space mumps, Epideme viruses, mutated pneumonia - the future is a dangerous time to get sick.

A crew of 1,169 was bound to pick up the occasional cold. Small wonder, then, that there is a full medical staff aboard Red Dwarf. Back In The Red alone featured Doc Newton, Kryten's baffled doctor/gynaecologist (and his drill) and apprehensive psychiatrist Lucas McClaren - one of at least two shrinks aboard the ship. Which really does make you wonder about the mental state of the crew.

Ah ha! My car keys... I wondered where I'd left them!

This team of highly trained (or so they claim) professionals of course have the facilities to match, and there are plenty of medical units throughout Red Dwarf. Whether it be Lister and Rimmer sleeping off the super-suck stomach pump and the Cat arriving in nurse's uniform, or Starbug's medi-bay, complete with cut-and-cauterise laser, it seems the gang are fully-stocked.

Even the skutters have taken to running the medi-comp and taking temperatures under Rimmer's helpful direction. He's even confident they could handle a simple caesarean! Although Lister - pregnant with his female-opposite's child (don't ask) is unsurprisingly reluctant.

These provisions are no bad thing, considering just how common illness - even the regular, non-mutated type - still is in the Dwarfers lives. Hollister's piles, easily salved with Anusoothe cream - which comes complete with it's own one-fingered application glove - is just the sore red tip of the illness iceberg.

Take for example Lister's athlete's foot. This requires washing and powdering daily - quite a challenge for Lister - plus a good buffing with a pumice stone. When all else fails, though, it seems Rimmer's lemon meringue pie works pretty well.

Lister has suffered from appendicitis/peritonitis - twice. The first time was long before he signed up for the Space Corps, the second occurred on arrival at Legion's space station research facility. A handy laser scalpel operation quickly solved the problem - but from where had this second organ come? Last Human tells us that Lister was born with two appendixes - but there's always a chance that the organ had been rebuilt by the DNA machine when Lister was transmogrified.

Still, not all Lister's ailments are genuine. His records indicate that he has taken sick leave due to diarrhoea on 500 separate occasions within his first eight months with the company - that works out to around twice a day. For this to be true, Lister would have to have a diet that consists only of red-hot curry, his veins running with Madras sauce... Well, okay, it's possible he was telling the truth. But there's no way his 'athlete's hand' was for real.

Nor is Lister the only crew member to suffer. As if being dead weren't sick enough, Arnold Rimmer developed a stress disorder that could have ended his hologrammatic life. Electronic life is still susceptible to the microscopic dangers of an ever-evolving universe - and not just Kryten's rogue self-repair system, the nanobots.

For example, we have the chameleonic microbe that caused the disintegration of Red Dwarf, eroding it from the inside out. The man-made organism is known by it's technical name - Zogothoniumelimoxiixiexiphulmifhidikalidrihide - and is able to disguise itself as innocuous objects such as a jettisoned escape pod to continue spreading across galaxies.

Care to join me in a wee dram of Soliciumfrankolithicmixyalebidiumrixydixydoxydexydroxide?!?

Then there are the holoviruses discovered by Dr Hildeguard Lanstrom, which can travel across radio waves. Why she couldn't have stuck to finding more viruses like luck and sexual magnetism is anyone's guess. But then, given Rimmer's tendency to overdose on sexual magnetism - leading to the scariest injection of anaesthetic in history - perhaps she should just have stuck to the theory.

Did I leave my tube of ZitZap here?

In fact, these are frightening times for the electronic life form. At any moment you could contract an Armageddon Virus, or develop computer senility and end up counting by banging your head on your screen. Maybe you'll risk your artificial brain to improve your intellect with a mind-patch. Or maybe you'll end up with droid rot - and anyone who's spoken to Kryten's third head will tell you that while droid rot might be bad for the droid, it's even worse for anyone who has to hang around with him.

Still, it probably is humans who have it the worst. Spare a thought for the space mumps sufferers - quite possibly the most disgusting ailment ever to spread across the cosmos. Over the weeks, your head will swell to the size of a a beach ball, filling with red and yellow mucus, until one day - while you're happily going about your business, co-piloting a space vehicle and obscuring the windscreen - your head will burst. Space mumps suffered have to contend with social ostracism, poor self-image, and carrying around inconveniently large amounts of plastic sheeting.

I know Kryten cooked a rice pudding... but where did he hide the smegging thing?

It seems regular illnesses have evolved quite hideously over three million years. Mumps may have become more unsightly, but pneumonia has mutated into something quite, quite different. Along with the usual fever we now, at the peak of the disease, have the free bonus of solid hallucinations. Think it, imagine it, dream it, and it'll be there. In retrospect, it's a shame Lister was the one to contract it - Confidence and Paranoia were fun in their own scary, psychotic ways, but just imagine what we could have seen if the Cat's dreams had been made flesh! (Remember the one about him, three girls and the family-sized tub of banana yoghurt?)

The Cat asks for opinions on his new diamante g-string...

Still, everyone can be prone to hallucination - as the despair squid proved. Inducing at first small bouts of sadness, the squid's ink eventually caused full hallucinations, scenarios that brought the squid's enemies to the brink of abject misery and suicide. Is there nothing cheerful in these guy's minds?

Well, if anyone wanted to find out, it was the Psirens. The GELFs, who carried metal straws with which to suck out a victims' brains, at first induced hallucinations to lure them in. This was especially effective on the weak-minded. That Cat was in big trouble. Still, at least Lister finally got to live out his childhood dream of making out with Pete Tranter's sister - though the less said about what he saw the Channel 27 weather girl doing with her pointy stick the better.

Finally, there's the most charismatic virus ever to infect a human. The disease created to be a rival to the nicotine patch. Epideme. The original idea was sound - create a virus which, once in your system, would block the neural signals that would otherwise have told the host to crave nicotine. But, as so often is the way, it all went horribly wrong. And this time it wasn't even Lister's fault.

Lister worries where his wristwatch is...

In practice, the Epideme virus also blocked the need for blood and oxygen. The body forgot to breathe because it didn't know it needed to! And while a person suffering from Epideme might be able to force themselves to breathe, they can't consciously make their blood circulate.

An intelligent virus, Epideme is also straightforwardly parasitic. It sits within its dead victim - hibernating if necessary by creating ice around the corpse - until a fresh victim arrives. At that point, the body is hijacked and used to spread the virus to a new host. But it does not breed or multiply during this period. The old body no longer holds the disease, all the virus jumps to the new host.

Located at a central point, Epideme's weakness - apart from its inability to easily multiply - is that anti-viral drugs can drive it around the body. If it can be forced into a single place - an arm, say - then that area can be removed and the illness cured.

So it was that Lister found himself on the medi-bay's only bed while Kryten laser-sawed off his arm, one slice at a time. It'll be a long time before he wants to go back in there.

And a cold day in hell before the Cat touches barbecue wings again.

Further reading: Spacecorps Database Medical Records

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