Category Archives: Health

Die in ignorance if you want …

… but don’t kill your kids with it!

A few days ago a friend on Facebook posted this devastating picture.

CaptureFor those lucky enough not to know about such things I’ll explain what it is. Rows and rows of children in rows and rows of iron lungs – victims of polio in 1950, they can only live by staying inside a machine which breathes for them. Medical science has come a long way since then. Modern ventilators are a fraction of the size and allow far greater autonomy. Oh, and vaccination has all but eradicated polio, and numerous other similarly grizzly, disabling and fatal diseases.

I must be one of a gradually thinning group of people who have seen at first hand what polio can do to a human body. In the house next door to where I was born and spent the first six years of my life lived a lovely woman by the name of Doris. She has long since passed away, but in her early years she contracted polio and it left her disabled for all her adult life.  She had a speech impediment. Her right arm was withered and she wore leg irons and a surgical boot, but could still only just walk as far as the outside toilet. For all that, she was a gentle soul who I will always thank for introducing me to plain chocolate! But the years of struggling against such disability took their toll and she died all to soon.

There are those on this planet who would take us back there! The anti-vaxers with their ill-conceived conceit that they are right and decades of scientific research, experiment and proven results are wrong. They tend to fall into two groups, both equally deluded and very dangerous in their beliefs.

The “vaccines cause autism” brigade. There was never any serious evidence to support that old chestnut. It came from a case study sample of only 12 children and was blown up out of all proportion. Besides, parents who use that argument are essentially saying that they’d rather have a dead child than an autistic one. Well, congratulations! By not vaccinating your children you’ve raised the prospect of the former by an order of magnitude utterly and completely out of proportion to any risk of the latter.

The “(insert deity of choice here) is my vaccine”. Well, good luck with that, but I’ll take science over prayer any day!

Anti-vaxers say that it is nobody’s business but there own. Wrong! Their irresponsible behaviour puts that child who is unable to be vaccinated because of health reasons at serious and unnecessary risk. Anti-vaxers say they have a right to decide for their own children. Wrong again! They have no right to decide that their child will die a horrible death from a preventable disease. Not vaccinating children in the face of overwhelming evidence of the benefits amounts to child abuse, and should be punished accordingly.

It’ so funny …

… how we don’t talk any more.

Not, to be honest, that we ever did. I come from a generation of “Big Boys Don’t Cry” and self- reliance and bottling up problems because they’re ours and and we can’t possibly show weakness by asking for help. That’s partly why suicide rates are so high among young men – they can’t answer the question “Who am I, really?” and asking for help would make them look feeble. My father’s generation was even worse. My father-in-law kept the illness that eventually killed him from most of his family until the last few hours of his life. I only found out that my own father had been diagnosed with dementia long after he had died.

That’s why the visit I made last Friday was both highly emotional and very uplifting. It was to a work colleague. I’ll call him Charlie, for reasons he will appreciate. Those who know him will realise who I’m talking about – for the rest of you his real identity doesn’t matter.

Three weeks ago Charlie was playing tennis. He got an ache in his leg which his doctor thought was a DVT. Sadly it was only a symptom of a much deeper and more serious problem. He has advanced pancreatic cancer which has spread to his liver. It is not susceptible to surgery or chemotherapy, either of which would only buy a few months more. Charlie has opted to receive only palliative care and has very little time left to him.

I knew nothing of this until last Thursday when he appeared on my chat contacts list after having been missing for some time. Of course I asked him where he’d been and the awful story emerged. I had been planning on going shopping for Alex’s Christmas present in Guildford the next day, but I went to see Charlie instead – a four hour train and ferry trip each way which is no mean feat when you’ve got your own terminal illness screwing up your lungs. But I’m glad I did, and for two reasons. The first and lesser is that if I hadn’t gone to see him before he dies I would beat myself up emotionally afterwards. The second was because of the long talk we had.

This had all come along so suddenly that I didn’t know what sort of meeting it would be. From the time I worked with him, I recall Charlie as a highly educated man with an agile mind, and that is the way I will continue to remember him once he has gone. But there is a natural human tendency to feel bitter and lash out and/or slump into a whining heap of self-pity when life kicks you in the balls like this, so I was prepared for it to be an emotionally difficult visit. It was, but for good reasons.

What I found was calm acceptance. Charlie is undeniably angry at what has happened, particularly as, at the age of 55, he had finally got most of the ducklings in a row and was making his plans to retire. But he was dealing with a situation that he couldn’t change by quietly and efficiently putting his affairs in order and making his peace with this world. (I was most moved by his determination that some good should come from his passing by placing money in a trust to fund a university place for a young member of his extended family. That will be a fitting memorial for him.)

We were able to have a long talk about what had happened, how he felt about it and how he will approach the inevitable end. I was struck by the stark comparison between this and a situation I must have seen a hundred times before. As some of you may know I worked as a volunteer in our local hospitals for many years. Out on the wards I’ve so often seen the scene – a patient with their visitor(s) – the patient knows they are going to die, the visitor(s) know it as well, but they are sitting there in embarrassed silence because they are emotionally incapable of addressing the elephant in the room. We need, as a society, to be more open with each other about dying. How many times have you heard someone bemoan that they didn’t tell a loved one something while they were still alive. “If only” is one of the saddest phrases in the English language.

We none of us know how we will approach our impending death. I only hope that I will have the grace and manners to do it in the same calm and rational way as Charlie. I did not want to say Goodbye to him because that is so final, but we both knew that this was almost certainly the last time we would meet.

To my friend when the time comes I would paraphrase the late, great Douglas Adams – “So long, and thanks for all the chilis!”.

Ups and Downs …

Today has been rather extraordinary!

It has involved two of the most interesting men I have ever had the privilege of regarding as a friend.

It’s seen the wedding of a man I have known well in excess of a decade to his significant other, who I have never met. I’ve seen the first photos and they do look radiantly happy together. John and Siobhan, you make an exotic and lovely couple and I wish you very many happy years together, although I’m still disappointed that you didn’t ask me to be a bridesmaid.

Also today I have heard from a colleague that I worked with a couple of years ago. A very educated and interesting man and he told me why we haven’t seen him around for a few weeks. He has pancreatic cancer which is inoperable and terminal and he has only two or three months to live.

Life can be so beautiful and yet such a bitch at the same time!

Martin Shkreli

News from the other side of the pond that Martin Shkreli has pleaded the Fifth Amendment in a hearing before Congress. This is the man who bought the rights to a drug used to treat Toxoplasmosis in HIV patients and then jacked the price through the roof.

Yesterday he was called to account for what he’d done, but sat there and giggled and smirked his way through the hearing and then lambasted Congress on Twitter afterwards.

Those who know me personally able to attest to my very wide and extremely colourful vocabulary, but even I do not have enough swear words to provide an accurate description of this arrogant little c**t.

Joining the Camera Club

Well, it’s the morning after the morning before and I am somewhat relieved – in more senses than one!

I won’t go into all the gory details, but there’s been a few problems with the drains in recent months. Eventually, and way too late being a bloke, I went to the doctor and he ordered a colonoscopy. Instantly you think of bowel cancer, despite the reassurances that it’s probably something more benign – and that’s certainly what’s been running through my head for the last few weeks. Happily, at the moment, I can say that I don’t have cancer and that what I do have can be dealt with easily, even if it cannot be cured.

The reason for writing this blog, though, is to set down the experience of a colonoscopy. Google the term and you can find no end of horror stories about how invasive and painful the procedure can be. I don’t doubt that some people found it so, but what follows is my experience and if it helps someone about to go through it for the first time then it’s worth me spending twenty minutes to write it! Continue reading Joining the Camera Club