A sense of perspective

Eye death

Eye death (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

On paper, I was very ill. The trouble was, I right at that moment in time, I didn’t feel very ill. Locked inside the hospital with the dead and the dying, I was akin to a caged tiger pacing around. I bore quickly at the best of times. After 3 days of medical confinement, I contemplated digging a tunnel.

In the TV room, there was a guy about my age, which was unusual. Most inmates could claim at least 3 decades on the pair of us. We were already on nodding terms. As I sat down on the sofa beside him, he asked me what was up.

I told him how frustrated I was with the continued confinement. I went on about the boredom, the tedium, the mind-numbing routine of it all. I was sick of the food. The TV set only had a dozen channels and what I wanted most of all was to go home. My diatribe must have lasted 5 minutes or so.

“Yeah – it’s no fun.” he replied laconically.

I looked at him properly for the first time. “How long have you been in here?”

“3 years.”

At that instant, I realised how stupid my frustrated speech must have sounded. I realised how selfish and insensitive I had been. Altogether too locked up in my own misery, it didn’t occur to me that the other people must have stories of their own. We spoke for an hour. He told me that he spent most of his life in and out of hospital. Born with a congenital problem, he had a lifetime of hospital treatment to look forward to.

I returned to the ward and for the first time, spoke to the guy in the next bed. A fellow patient now, not just one of the dead and the dying. He told me of his wife, how they’d been happily married for 60 years. Then a short while ago, someone decided he was no longer fit to drive so they withdrew his license and with it, their independence.

It wasn’t long before someone else decided that him and his wife could no longer cope and committed them to a care home. Unfortunately, for some bizarre reason, they were housed in different care homes. Together for 60 years, separated in a heartbeat, he quickly fell ill. It was a tragic story and I doubt it has a happy ending.

I will always be grateful to those people. They taught me a lesson I will never forget.


Four eyes, four eyes!

English: Eye with a contact lens (myopia).

English: Eye with a contact lens (myopia). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Schoolchildren can sniff out weakness at 20 paces. It doesn’t matter whether you have crooked teeth, ginger hair or a slightly rotund midriff. Once they smell blood, they go in for the kill. Call it taking the Michael or extracting the urine, such teasing to a small child can be mortally wounding. Of course, once you’re older, such behaviour doesn’t tend to wound so much.

I wore spectacles from an early age. Because my prescription changed every 6 months, it made no sense to spend a huge amount on any eye correction I wore, so I suffered the ignominy of National Health glasses. These were spectacles provided by the state for those who couldn’t afford to pay for fashionable eye correction.

By necessity, they were cheap. There was only one design which came in chunky plastic. You could choose between brown, black and a kind of tortoiseshell colour. In the rough and tumble of childhood play, broken glasses became a fact of life. Mum or Dad would carry out makeshift repairs using sellotape or superglue. When I started wearing them, the lenses were like milk bottles, fashioned from thick, heavy glass.

Thank goodness, over time the manufacturers turned to plastic which cut down the weight significantly. In addition, they worked out how to make the lenses much thinner. The bridge of my nose was grateful for both developments.

Several people (including Da Vinci and Descartes) dreamed up concepts for contact lenses, but it was 1949 before someone came up with a design that was bearable for any period of time. The original lenses did not allow oxygen through to the eye which led to all sorts of nasty side effects. Over the coming decades, more sophisticated, comfortable and safer designs were developed.

As soon as I started work, I sought freedom from the spectacles I’d been shackled to. I happily wore contact lenses for a number of years, before my laziness overcame my vanity. I don’t miss all the faffing around. I do miss the ability to see in the rain or to have a clear view when coming in from the cold.

So every 2-3 years, I spend the equivalent to a top of the range iPad on new spectacles. If only on economic grounds, if I was brave enough, I should invest in laser eye surgery. Developed in the 80’s from IBM technology, it was Dr Stephen Trokel who pioneered and applied the excimer laser in a ground-breaking procedure. The idea of burning away bits of my eye to sculpt the perfect lens sounds like it would be difficult to fix if they got it wrong.

One day, a quick injection of stem cells or the insertion of some nano-technology that adapts to your exact correction requirements will be safe, pain and error free. Call me a coward, but I think I’ll wait.


Take him to sick bay!


Medicine (Photo credit: iPocrates)

The army is struggling to recruit for the Special Air Service (or SAS), a world-renowned élite force. They find it hard to find volunteers with the right combination of mental resolve and physical prowess. They are missing a trick. They should look among the ranks of doctor’s receptionists. Like many men, I don’t like going to the doctor’s. If you don’t feel well, the last thing you want to face is a number of challenging situations. The receptionist is just the first of many, but in many ways, the most daunting. These highly trained individuals are there to weed out the needy, the snifflers and the feeble of mind.

“Is it an emergency?” Of course it’s not an emergency, otherwise I would go to accident and emergency.

“Do you need to see someone today?” In a week, I’ll either be dead or better and I’d like to do what I can to make sure it’s the latter, so yes – I’d like to see someone today.

Once you are in, you are faced with the next challenge, the examination. Is it just me, or does the examination seem somewhat archaic? Thee stethoscope remains fundamentally unchanged since its invention nearly 200 years ago. If the doctor wants to test your reflexes, he hits your knee with a hammer. To take your pulse rate, he holds your arm and counts. To take your temperature, he pokes something in your ear. If he thinks you might have appendicitis, he pokes your abdomen to see if you hit the roof. The only nod to modern technology is the PC in the corner which is clinically useless. It is just a record keeping device.

You might get referred to a hospital for more detailed tests. If they want to see inside you, they will stand you up against a photographic plate and bombard you with radiation. Or maybe they might stick you in a torpedo tube where they ask you to lie still whilst they try to deafen you. They might even smother your belly with freezing cold gel and thrust an ultrasound wand into your abdomen. They will look at the results on a monochrome screen that looks like a poorly tuned TV.

Number One (Star Trek)

Number One (Star Trek) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why can’t it be like sick bay in Star Trek? As you lie on the couch, a machine behind you monitors your life signs. A steady bass beat echoes in time with your heartbeat. Doctor Bones McCoy waves a warbley box of tricks over your abdomen which tells him exactly what’s wrong with you. Invariably, he then reaches for a different device which makes a high-pitched whining. Whatever’s wrong with you, it is rapidly remedied with a quick wave of this futuristic marvel. All of this is carried out whilst a beautiful nurse in an inordinately short skirt mops your fevered brow.

It feels to me like modern medicine has a long way to go.

Don’t worry, it will be better in the morning (hopefully).

English: toilet wc

English: toilet wc (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is there anything worse than a child who is ill? It has to be among the most heartbreaking things in the world. It’s bad enough when you suffer yourself. It’s doubly bad when you have to watch someone else suffering. When it’s a small child, it pulls at your heartstrings.

There are, of course, degrees of suffering and poor baby Maisie only had a tummy bug last night. Even so, it was a fraught and traumatic 24 hours. Because she was feeling under the weather and looking for comfort food, everything she craved was a bad idea; chocolate, sweets and barbecue beef hoola-hoops are not really the order of the day. Calpol is a wonder drug and it took the edge off for a while but after a while it returned with a vengeance.

She was absolutely shattered and unfortunately, her body decided at regular intervals that everything inside her needed to come out somehow. It doesn’t take too much of that process for the body to become completely dehydrated. The best way to remedy this is to drink rehydration salts, but they are an acquired taste and she had absolutely no inclination for acquisition last night.

When your body purges like that, certain parts of your anatomy become sore through overuse and she started to cry every time she went. There is a certain helplessness when you look on with a burning desire to make everything better (which is normally within your power) but this time, there is simply nothing you can do. Maisie alternated between wanting you to cuddle her and pushing you away saying she wanted to be left alone.

She is back with Mummy now and hopefully on the road to recovery.

On the plus side – I taught her to say bum gravy.

So we can land a one tonne truck on Mars, but we can’t cure the common cold?

Cheltenham ... Dr. Edward Jenner.

Cheltenham … Dr. Edward Jenner. (Photo credit: BazzaDaRambler)

For the last 48 hours, I have suffered with man flu. This vile condition strikes lightning fast and is scientifically proven* to be a million times more debilitating to men than to members of the fairer sex. This probably goes some way to explaining the lack of understanding or sympathy that poor men undergo when knocked flat by those nasty little flu bugs.

In 1896, a British doctor, Dr Edward Jenners first discovered vaccination in its modern form and proved to the scientific community that it worked. Since then, mankind has developed and widely immunised against diphtheria, smallpox, tuberculosis and tetanus. Many of these diseases have all but completely been wiped out which has contributed to a dramatic rise in the life expectancy of both men and women.

So if we can do it for all these horrible diseases, why can’t we do it for the common cold? The disease is reckoned to cost some $40Bn a year in the USA alone which you would have thought should be sufficient incentive. Although a large industry has built up in cold remedies with a bewildering array of lotions and potions available with comforting names like “max strength”.

If you search the BritishPathe.com news site for “common cold” you will see that the British have done their bit over the years for research into a cure. Set up in the aftermath of WWII in old Salisbury hospital, the Common Cold Research Unit spent  over 40 years infecting 30 people a fortnight with the common cold for research purposes. Although what they ended up with other than 10s of thousands of miserable people is unclear.

So let me do my bit for the scientific community. Observation over the last 48 hours suggests to me that tea is very effective at combating the symptoms but not for long. Beans on toast seems to be the most soothing foodstuff. Sleep is very good – whilst you are asleep, you don’t have to put up with the sore throat, the aches and pains and the staccato sneezing. Cats most definitely don’t help and neither do phone calls trying to persuade you to claim back PPI from the banks.

I have a flu jab every year. Despite the assurances of the surgery that the vaccine is not “live” and I should suffer no ill effects, I usually feel rubbish for a couple of days after the injection. I wouldn’t mind if that small bit of suffering was all the man flu I was going to get, but to add insult to injury, here I am suffering again.

Maybe the Mars Rover will find a cure.

* I was lying about the scientifically proven bit.