CategoriesLegalHealthThought of The Day

The “D” Word

This April Fool’s Day it is fitting to write that I have become….. disabled. There, I have written it.

But I cannot easily say this out loud.

How can I – Andrew Gray – have become disabled? I’ve run two marathons; completed the national Three Peak Challenge; and played competitive football until this time last year. My high fitness levels were always a source of pride. I can tell you how many goals I scored in each competitive season, and for pleasure, I often play back some of the goals in my head. Those were good times.

But this issue – this definition of “disability” – has gnawed away at me over the last few months. In my head, I knew that I needed to write down my thoughts, for in writing I usually find clarity, but I had no prompt. That is, until just now.

Minutes ago, I finished a telephone call with a very good friend, one whom I have played football with countless times. He kindly enquired about how I was doing, without making a big deal about it (which I much prefer). Replying, I struggled to say: “I have fluoroquinolone associated disability. There is nothing that the doctors can do for me.” Ouch. I couldn’t fully finish the sentence. It’s the “D” word which bothers me most.

Perhaps, in my head, disabled people were, I thought, born that way, and have known nothing else. Or, perhaps I thought, that such unfortunate people had suffered a freak accident, leading to their predicament. Of course, I knew that people often become disabled over time – as has happened to me – because I have represented so many of them as their lawyer. Yet, subconsciously, I must have thought that it couldn’t possibly have happened to me. To me! I was fit and able.

In the darkest recesses of my head, “disability” must still have conjured up images of a wheelchair-bound people, even though the legal definition of disability, as set out in section 6 of The Equality Act 2010, has been hardwired into my brain ever since I represented disabled people pursuing disability discrimination claims. It seems that what I knew as a lawyer somehow didn’t connect with what I thought, at a deep, flawed and irrational level.

And yet, possibly, the nomenclature – the terminology, the definition of “disabled” – perhaps is unhelpful. Or just unhelpful to me. In my blog profile, I list all the things that I am, to an outsider, before finishing that “I hate labels”. Does the label – disabled – help me? Does it help others? It must.

And why does it upset me to say out loud: “I am disabled!” I am, in law, disabled. Perhaps I need to own it.

Am I bothered that “I don’t look disabled”? Do I want the condition to be more physically obvious? No, no way, though I am sure that my subconscious craves more obvious signs to the world that I physically struggle: a ready-made excuse as to why I sometimes cannot do something. If I can’t stand up on a train to let a pregnant woman sit down, should I have to explain myself?

Logically, when my day is going well, I must be happy, right? But, then, subconsciously, I feel guilty that I am functioning well. There is guilt in feeling capable, able. And yet there is guilt when feeling incapable, unable.

I suppose that I should make much more of an effort to care even less about what others think. And, I wonder what other prejudices and silliness lurks in my subconscious.

CategoriesLegalHealthHarrogate

A Life-Affirming Stay in Harrogate Hospital

(These are my musings, written in hospital, more diary entry than blogpost)

In Antibiotics, I trust

 

It’s 23:51 on Saturday 12 February 2022. I’m back as an in-patient at Littondale Ward, nearly four years ago to the day that I was last in here when I had sepsis. My drip pumps fluids into me. It’s been a tough few days.

 

I’m the youngest on the ward, by 30 years. So, everyone asks me – what I do for a living. It’s always a bit tricky to talk about it at such times.

 

I have Pyelonephritis. Essentially a kidney infection which has risen up the body. 111, ambulance, A and E and now however many days I need to stay here.

 

I’m glad I came in when I did. If I didn’t, kidney damage can be permanent. Perhaps it still will be. I read that this condition kills 7.4% of people who get it. But I suspect that most are older men.

 

I’ve been treated fairly well. The staff are very pleasant. Due to my temperature, I was placed on the Covid unit for 6 hours, which makes sense. No lunch or tea. Thankfully, this evening Julia delivered my bag, complete with food. I don’t know what people do when they have no loved ones close by.

 

I haven’t seen any specialists, but that will come. Staggering to the bathroom (details to be spared, suffice to say that it’s unpleasant) with my drip tripod-thing-on-wheels, with my blood visible up and down the tube, is something I’d like to forget.

 

My advice to any reader is to understand your body and to dispassionately read around your medical condition, making your own mind up. We know our bodies best. Night.

…………………………………………………………………………..

I’ve become like a phone charger

 

Well, that was a memorable night. Dehumanising on one level, yet I’m filled with immeasurable gratitude for the endeavours of my carers, working Saturday night shifts, doing the work of the angels. My eyes fill with tears as I type that sentence, for I couldn’t do this for a living.

 

Dehumanising in that, for the nearly 24 hours I have been here, I’ve spent most of that time connected to a drip. Each time the drip is changed – from this antibiotic, to another; to fluids and anything else I cannot figure out – nobody really asks for my permission. They just do it. I feel like the utility phone charger in a hotel: used by all the guests, often roughly but necessarily so, repeatedly being plugged and unplugged.

 

The legal case of Montgomery- which deals with patient consent in a medical setting – has crossed my mind each time, for it was frequently being breached, but perhaps this was the right thing to do, though not strictly lawful.

 

Bathroom “breaks” are a frequent challenge. Each “success” feels like scoring a goal.

 

Update:

 

Urologist has just told me I need to stay another day, and that it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll be able to go on holiday next week with the kids. I’m quite upset.

 

The man next to me still snores – it’s 9:30am – as he has done all night, at such a high decibel level that I could claim for noise-induced hearing loss. He’s disrupted those of us under 80 in here, but I only feel pity for him, as he looks so unwell. He sounds so unwell. I wish him well. Sleep, though, might help the rest of us recover.

 

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The Kindness of strangers

 

It’s 19:40 on Sunday night. My neighbour – out of the blue – has bought me a gluten-free snack. He’s the one who kept us all awake all night with his mammoth-like snores. He must have heard my repeated requests for gluten-free food, often to no avail. It’s really touched me. We haven’t really spoken. I’ve always known that humans are 99.9% good: this gesture is life-affirming.

 

A new man arrives. He’s far younger than me and clearly very poorly. We’re all rooting for him, but nobody has said a word. It’s unspoken. There’s always someone worse off in here.

 

The nurses change the elderly men with such dignity. I’d rather not hear it, or smell it – for their sake and mine – but it truly is inspiring. I bury my head in my phone.

 

And then we all overhear a doctor giving the “end of life” discussion to an elderly man at the other end of our 6-man ward. Does he want his heart restarting, if it fails? I’m watching football on the iPad, unable to concentrate on it: what will his wish be? Will his heart stop tonight?

 

The inhabitants of this ward shouldn’t have all heard that, particularly the new guy, gasping for air. That was such a delicate conversation. The doctor was, simply, perfect, though. Not an easy conversation to have with someone. When the time comes for me, I’d want to be spoken to like that.

 

I guess we are all bearing our everything in here. I can’t work out whether it’s appalling that this lack of privacy pervades in 2022, or whether this war-type spirit is good for us all.

 

One chap has the sweetest of sweet tooths, almost childlike in his requests for biscuits. It makes everyone smile. Who knew that the NHS does chocolate milk on tap?

 

The staff are unfailingly kind. I’ve never been anywhere where the staff are universally so willing to help, and they don’t stop either. And they’re so diverse, far more so than the population of Harrogate. The accents do cause some of the elderly men some confusion.

 

In macro terms, the structure and processes of the NHS need an honest rethink. But the kindness on display from the staff here is unsurpassable.

 

I hope to go home tomorrow (which I do).

 

CategoriesHealthThought of The Day

Poisoned by antibiotics?

It’s time for another dull health update. Today, my neurologist copied me into a letter which he sent to my GP. In it, he asks what types of antibiotics I have had over the years, speculating that I might be suffering from fluroquinolone toxicity. He asks whether I have ever taken ciprofloxacin (Cipro). Boy, have I taken Cipro! It’s the only antibiotic I can recall taking for the innumerable bouts of prostatitis which have plagued me for years.

In the US, there are class lawsuits against big pharma for the damage that these antibiotics have done to thousands of men. Stemming from these actions, the EU investigated the issue, leading to an EU-wide memo warning of its dangers. Relevant to me, the European Medicines Agency demanded that Cipro and others was not prescribed for chronic prostatitis.

In March 2019, our Department of Health advised GPs not to prescribe these antibiotics, unless in exceptional cases. The guidance notes that some people are left with permanent nerve damage. Perhaps this is where I am now.

Frankly, I am numb, at the thought that I’m stuck at 65% (if that) of capacity, permanently. Will I ever be able to work full-time again? Will I ever play sport again? Or run again?

And what trajectory am I now on? If permanent Cipro poisoning is the diagnosis, does this actually change anything?

In the last seven days, I have: attended the funeral of a good friend’s mother; met with someone whose son committed suicide; learned about my friend’s husband, who buried two of his children before they turned 12, due to an inherited condition; and caught up with another friend who has just lost their mother.

There are no guarantees for any of us. Everything has changed but nothing has changed: life is tough and unpredictable. Enjoy it! Time to book a holiday.

Lessons to Learn

Foolishly, well before now, I should have started researching why it was that I kept on succumbing to infections. In yesteryear, each infection would have killed me. It’s only of late when I have bothered to ask this fundamental question. More fool me. Repeated prescriptions of weapon’s grade antibiotics could never be the answer.

And as for the NHS, it could have saved us all tens of thousands of pounds by investigating why these infections occur. Upstreaming, holistic approaches to medicine must quickly become the way that we as a society tackle health issues. Quick fixes, like antibiotics, just push the problems down the line.

CategoriesHealthThought of The Day

Amor fati: Morvan’s Syndrome

I’m writing, this evening, for the first time, in a long time. Not about party-gate 1, 2 or 3; not about Reckless Boris; not about my booster jab; nor about party-pooper Omicron. As ever, I’m writing about my health.

Right now, this boring topic has me in a pensive, yet creative, mood. For posterity, and to help others, I want to record what I know – and feel – at this time.

A few hours ago, my neurologist informed me that he thought I had a rare condition, known as Morvan’s Syndrome. I haven’t heard of it either. Of course, he wants to run some more tests, but he seemed unusually sure of himself for a consultant, at a first appointment.

Given just how rare this condition is – with only four reported cases in English medical literature, according to the British Medical Journal – this blog will be one the few pages about Morvan’s Syndrome online. Facebook – usually a good source of groups about rare health conditions – has only one group, with 89 members, and no postings in ten years!

Though limited information is out there, here’s what I know so far:

  • Apparently, there’s medicine for this, which allows a sufferer to live a normal life.
  • But other reports suggest that frequent blood transfusions will be needed, every three weeks.
  • In 20% of cases, it’s fatal.
  • It normally strikes men, at a similar age to me.
  • It’s likely caused by an autoimmune condition.
  • Covid has triggered more reporting of the condition, so now is a “good” time to be diagnosed with it.
  • In the UK, only a lab in Oxford can do the analysis of the bloods.
  • Cancer is often the cause of it (which I think is unlikely for me!).
  • Some people spontaneously recover.
  • Some sufferers can go for months without sleep.

During 2021, I’ve had a number of potential diagnoses. Like the others, perhaps this one will fall by the wayside, too. I hope so, but if this is my fate, I’ll lap it up. I’ll adapt. I’ll be useful. I’ll own it. I’ll wear it.

CategoriesHealthPoliticsHarrogate

Tory Contenders and Covid Deaths

Reflecting on the shameful vote this week by the majority of Tory MPs to support disgraced Tory MP Owen Paterson, and then for the Government’s immediate volte-face, my sense is that a potential challenger to Reckless Boris will soon break cover.

It is noteworthy that 109 Tory MPs didn’t vote for the Andrea Leadsom’s Putin-esque amendment (including Harrogate’s Andrew Jones and Ripon’s Julian Smith), with six Tory MPs voting against. Of the six, my analysis is that only Mark Harper MP is a potential challenger to Reckless Boris.

Harper previously stood for leader and has been critical of lockdowns. Candidly, I have not heard any chatter of Harper standing, but in most parties there is usually someone waiting in the wings for their moment to usurp their leader and this is such a potential moment. Thatcher had Heseltine, Major had Redwood, Blair had Brown, Cameron and May had Reckless Boris. But who challenges Boris?

If not Mark Harper, then Skipton and Ripon’s, Julian Smith MP – who took the unusual decision to demand the resignation of Phil Allott – is an unlikely, but potential, contender. He may trigger a leadership race so that others break cover.

My reading of him is that he is an honourable MP who is embarrassed by the Tories – yet again – descent into sleaze. By most accounts, Smith is meant to be a safe pair of hands, as judged by his time as Northern Ireland Secretary. In addition, Smith is unassailable in his constituency. By attacking Reckless Boris, with Brexit done, Smith is unlikely to suffer censure by his local Conservative Association, for the people in this area – particularly in Skipton, home to Skipton Building Society – abhor financial impropriety.

Watch this space.

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Out of the 830,000 people estimated to be living in North Yorkshire, according to figures collated by the North Yorkshire Outbreak Management Advisory Board, since Covid arrived in February 2020 there have been 559 excess deaths. According to Public Health England, in the same period, there have been 1,227 deaths where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate. Most deaths occurred during the first and second peaks.

Working on the assumption that dozens of deaths would have occurred indirectly because of Covid – for example, because people didn’t summon an ambulance for fear of catching Covid in hospital, and then dying at home; or because cancers went undetected – my educated guess is that around 400 residents of North Yorkshire sadly perished directly due to Covid.

There are 634 days between 1 February 2020 and 31 October 2021. Circa 400 deaths, in 634 days, for an above average-aged population, in a fairly prosperous and spaced-out population. Dreadful, but if you ask residents of this area, as I have done, what their own estimates of deaths in this area is, most likely you will get estimates into the thousands. In my social circle, the highest estimate I have heard was 10,000. Now that, if correct, would be rightly terrifying.

Each death, each Long Covid survivor, is tragic. But the figures, dispassionately analysed, are a cause for optimism. With our vaccines and boosters, armed with our knowledge and experience of this virus, though we must be cautious, though we must crush all new variants, we must enjoy life again.

CategoriesHealthThought of The Day

Dysautonomia 2: The Sequel

When your daughter theoretically starts to design the colour scheme for my custom-made electric wheelchair (I have not ordered one, for clarity), to enable me to attend her dance performance, you know that my world has turned once more. Yes, dysautonomia is back: worse – and yet better – and as baffling as ever.

After one month of passable, acceptable health, the weirdness returned. But for how long, I don’t know. Three months on and one month off: I’ll take that.

Genuinely, I am not down about it. I’m not! Saddened for its impact on others – sure – but as the only constant is change itself, we all must adapt. Moaning about it will only make the situation unbearable. Human’s adaptability has been the key to our success.

When some months ago the likely prognosis was the horrifying Addison’s Disease, I discovered that both JFK and Osama Bin Laden suffered from it. Neither lived long lives, but they were certainly eventful. My guess is that their condition turbo-charged their ambitions. They must have known that the condition had reduced their life expectancy.

Which reminds me – most pretentiously – of a letter which Proust wrote to a Parisian newspaper in answer to this question: if a scientist proved that the world was about to end in the near future, what would happen? His answer:

“I think that life would suddenly seem wonderful to us if we were threatened to die as you say. Just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies, it—our life—hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future delays them occasionally.

But let all this threaten to become impossible forever, how beautiful it would become again! Ah! If only the cataclysm doesn’t happen this time, we won’t miss visiting the new galleries of the Louvre, throwing ourselves at the feet of Miss X, making a trip to India.

The cataclysm doesn’t happen, we don’t do any of it, because we find ourselves back in the heart of normal life, where negligence deadens desire. And yet we shouldn’t have needed the cataclysm to love life today. It would have been enough to think that we are humans, and that death may come this evening.”

This condition isn’t life-threatening, just life-limiting – if seen that way. Life is random. Live each day as if it’s the last.

CategoriesHealthEssaysThought of The Day

On Wasps, On CBT, On Oxbridge, On Change   

As a six-year-old, I had a crush on a classmate. I’ll refer to her as ‘S’.

One pleasant summer’s day, our family went on a walk, along a former railway line, behind our house. After a few minutes, I spotted S and her family: they were walking straight towards us. Inevitably, our paths would cross. This was going to be so embarrassing, I thought.

Thinking quickly, unbeknown to both families, I ran up the steep, wooded embankment, crouching behind a bush. Soon, S and her family would pass by, oblivious that I had evaded them. Blushes, spared.

Breathing deeply, as S’s family passed by below, what appeared to be golden pellets fizzed into the air from under where I was sitting. It was quite an enchanting sight, like being surrounded by all the local tooth fairies.

Then – ouch, ouch, ouch. Whatever these supernatural flying creatures were, they were attacking me. And it really hurt.

With greater speed than I have ever mustered, I hurtled down the embankment screaming, running past S and her family, making it to my own. So out of breath, in pain and distressed, I was incapable of explaining what was happening.

Quickly, my parents grasped that I was covered in angry wasps, crawling all over my tracksuit, stinging me repeatedly. With S and family watching on, my father stripped me down to my underpants and began jumping on my clothes. With superhuman strength, my mother picked me up, then ran the 600m, or so, back to our house, where she put me in a bath of warm water to which she added vinegar. Whether the vinegar helped, I do not know. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

In all, I was stung 12 times. My mother gave me 10p per sting: it felt like a good bargain. This bounty certainly cured my tears.

To this day, I have no idea what S and her family made of this hilarious incident. My bet: they don’t even remember it.

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It wasn’t until my 20s when I realised that I was quite nervous – understandably so – around wasps. Entering my 30s, unbeknown to me, this phobia became progressively worse. Into my late 30s, I couldn’t be in a room with a wasp, generating great hilarity to everyone else and significant embarrassment for me. To defend and deflect, I would tell the tale of S and my 12 stings. It is a good story.

When lockdown struck, “normal” people spent more time in their gardens, but I couldn’t. “Normal” people would barbeque, but not me. Frustrated, my wife enquired about CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – on the NHS. After screening that my need was only during wasp season, months later, my online sessions commenced with a super therapist.

I must confess that I thought that the sessions were going to be a waste of time; however, having represented hundreds of clients who had needed CBT, I was at least intrigued to know what it was all about.

Through these sessions I realised how ingrained and life-impacting my phobia had become. As homework, my therapist asked me to look at photos of wasps on the internet. To my surprise, I couldn’t, often peering through my fingers, before moving away from my computer. Looking back, I do not possess the word power to describe my disgust and fear at looking at such images. In my defence, images of wasps on a screen are – of course – far larger than wasps in real life!

Over time, lesson by lesson, always completing my homework, I made great progress. By educating myself about the vast number of wasp species and their role in the food chain and in pollination, I learned to respect – if not to love – wasps. Yes, I now love wasps! No more do I reflexively run away at the sound of a buzz in my vicinity. My mind, reprogrammed.

So confident I am now that I often work in the garden under the wasps’ favourite bush, alongside our mini-orchard – also a favourite haunt of my yellow and black friends. With my new hobby of drawing, I even sketched one (don’t laugh – it’s below) to prove my mastery. As evidence to my therapist of her success, I sent her the below photograph of my new workstation. I think it made her day.

Recently, I took my family to the fateful embankment, and, in a ceremonial manner, I buried a dead wasp that I had been asked to study. Of course, I didn’t kill that wasp, for it was already dead. Squishing wasps is not for me: instead, I open a window, because now I can.

wasp drawing workstation in orchard

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Walking in the garden now, I feel – oddly – powerful. Unafraid. Although I am proud of this small achievement, what excites me most is my mind’s – and anyone’s mind – ability to change, at any age. If my neural pathways can be re-wired in relation to something trauma-caused and developed over 35 years, in just ten online sessions, then a world of possibility has opened before me. And before you. But why didn’t I tackle this defect sooner?

Though not everyone will agree, the myth that many in my generation was implanted with – and which persists somewhat to-date – is that by the end of your formal education, the quality of your mind is supposedly set in concrete. As a result, your successes will flow from howsoever far your mind managed to develop in that time. I shall call this “The Fixed Mind Myth”.

First, so we were told, your life chances were allegedly moulded by your GCSE results. Next, your A-level results laid the foundations of your future. Thereafter, so the story goes, for those who attend university, the ranking of your institution and your grade determined your life. From that point, the condition of your brain was permanently affixed, incapable of improvement, your intellectual position in society, stuck. Fail at school and your life was over.

Until recently, I imbibed that bile. But where did The Fixed Mind Myth emanate from? And is it true?

For an answer, I’ll turn to a philosopher, whose name I shall withhold for now. He wrote:

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.”

This black and white analysis was from Karl Marx. The Fixed Mind Myth – if this was, as I propose, a society-wide notion – then according to Marx, it was disseminated by the ruling class. (Like him or loathe him, Marx’s criticism of capitalism has merit, but his hazily sketched-out model for a communist utopia was flawed.) I must proceed with a warning: there is always danger in overly simplistic analysis of complex issues, but as this isn’t an academic essay and as I have no training in biology (where, surely some answers also lie), I shall concentrate on this class issue.

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Born in the year that Thatcher (educated at Oxford) came to power, my first 18 years were lived under Conservative rule. Unquestionably, the Tories are the party of the ruling class and they have dominated British politics. Through their control, we can thank, or not, the Conservative Party for most of the successes and failures of the British state, including its myths.

Due to centuries of the ruling classes attending Oxbridge, coupled with predominant Tory rule (there is a connection), the notion that life was fixed by the time you finished formal education, was all-pervasive, inescapable. Beneficiaries of this system had no reason to contest it. The rest of us accepted it as gospel – well, that’s my firm recollection. And with Oxbridge forever top, everyone else’s place was set by their proximity to it.

Recently, Michael Gove’s time at Oxford University – which he left 33 years ago – was reported in The Times. Joining Gove, Reckless Boris and on-his-jollies-during-a-crisis Raab, attended Oxford, so did Dominic Cummings, Rishi Sunak and Theresa May, not forgetting Tony Blair, too. Matt Hancock studied at both, infamously hiring his “friend” from university. It is no surprise that today’s ruling coterie mostly attended Oxbridge: they always have.

Perhaps today’s politicians reached their lofty positions solely because of their exceptional talents, but perhaps Marx was onto something: that to attend Oxbridge guaranteed a place in the ruling class, and that The Fixed Mind Myth was then promoted by those who studied there. Once ensconced at the top of the academic hierarchy, to maintain your position in society, it was logical to proffer The Myth, brazenly or subconsciously. The Myth would therefore make sense to those who promulgated it and to those who heard it. With most Prime Ministers having studied at Oxbridge, the evidence was compelling, so it would have seemed. In addition, as I have previously blogged, clans help their own, only making matters worse.

One of the reasons why white bread became the most popular type was because, historically, only the rich could afford it. Similarly, orange carrots became the dominant type due to their popularity with the Dutch Royal family. In both cases, the predilections of society’s top strata, influenced all below.

Certainly, those who make it to Oxbridge today had academic talent at the time that they sat their exams. These students are likely to become successful – by traditional definitions of success. However, there are countless examples where this is not so: examples of non-Oxbridge students making it; of people without a university education, against the odds, becoming successful in their chosen fields. Some of the brightest and original minds that I know did not attend university.

Having worked with hundreds of lawyers, my anecdotal evidence is that an Oxbridge education does not always lead to the production of the best lawyers. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t. And those who become successful – as traditionally defined – without an Oxbridge background, have done so in spite of their “ignorance” and impeded by this class-based myth. This is because talent is not solely determined by formal education; because the brain is malleable, capable of growth at all ages, as I experienced. Some of the best lawyers I know obtained unenviable grades.

In these observations, I make no criticism of those who attended Oxbridge. Zero. Many of my friends attended. Is there an element of envy on my part? Perhaps: you decide. I’m also acutely conscious that, for some, an Oxbridge qualification may well be detrimental, perhaps pushing people into careers that ordinarily they wouldn’t have selected, because that’s what Oxbridge graduates are meant to do. Conceivably, the sense that, by attending Oxbridge you had made it, may well deter some students from continuous self-improvement, thereby leading to a less full life. And like the writer of a one-hit-wonder, who then spends a lifetime trying to recreate that magic, attending Oxbridge might feel for some as if it was the pinnacle of their existence, with everything downhill from there on in.

Irrespective of whether you concur with my observations, I hope that we can agree that attending Oxbridge is a thing. It is the sun around which the rest of us orbit.

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The philosopher, Nietzsche, who taught me much, instructs us to form our own codes by which to live and thrive. Nietzsche disdained traditional values, taboos and sacred cows, recommending that we move, amongst other ideas, Christianity and alcohol to the “deleted items” box in our heads. He said we should contest all doctrines that hold people back, however prevalent they are. Nietzsche, though a precocious talent, easily capable of attending Oxbridge, would have found the Oxbridge experience and all its accompaniments, suffocating. Never would he have promoted The Fixed Mind Myth.

On the contrary, he encouraged us to metamorphose from who we presently are, to, he called it, the camel, then to the lion, eventually becoming our true selves when we finally return to being a child: unburdened by society’s strictures, living in a liberated state of creativity and play. Only few “Supermen” (and women) make this mental transition, he said. Sounds delicious to me, it does, un-stung as well, and worthy of another blog.

Nietzsche is credited with the notion that ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. Perhaps sitting on a wasp nest was, after all, worth it. Those working-class wasps had been encoded to protect the hive at all costs, even to their detriment. What they needed was Marx, CBT and Nietzsche. Until my CBT, unconsciously I have been defending The Fixed Mind Myth. No more! The mind is flexible, plastic, hungry to grow.

I wonder which other ruling class-originated ideas that I should confront, and what unhelpful mental models I need to discard.

CategoriesHealthThought of The Day

The Good Thing About Suspected Heart-Attacks 

Although my robust heart has seen me through a lifetime of sport, including two marathons, this last six months she has become increasingly unruly. In the week that my umpteenth ECG revealed some minor niggles, she decided to run amok. Occasional, manageable chest pains; failing to pump faster when walking; then running wild when she shouldn’t be. When your heart misbehaves, it’s hard to think of anything else.

One Sunday evening, several weeks ago, she reached a crescendo of petulance: sharp pains into my shoulder; breathlessness; rapid beats, when lying down; and sweating. According to the 111 website, I should summon an ambulance immediately. Nah, it wasn’t that serious, I thought, so I called 111 for a second opinion, going through their more detailed questions. Ambulance en route!

Paramedics arrived promptly, performing another ECG: they were unconcerned by the results, even though my heart was running at double its normal speed, yet within a range that they deemed acceptable. Understandably, they were unaware of dysautonomia, but I cannot fault them. On the contrary, I am grateful and full of admiration for their professionalism, humour and dedication. The work of the angels, every paramedic should – at the very least – receive an MBE. Their very existence is a comfort.

Lying in bed awaiting an ambulance – which someone else regarded as potentially life-threatening – I decided to text my brother with my wishes, in the unlikely event that this was The End. Calm, I tapped away. Not so calm, my brother opened his messages: sorry, bro.

You’ll forgive me for not detailing my wishes, however, what I want you to know is that I did not have any deathbed regrets. Unlike clichéd regrets in such circumstances, I did not wish that I had tried harder at school, nor spent less time at work. I was – and remain – grateful for my lot. I demanded that everyone moved on quickly, with my wife encouraged to start the quest (should this be what she wants to do) for my replacement, commencing at the wake.

My tip, therefore, is to imagine such a situation for you. If there’s regrets in that list, fix it with utmost haste. I’m grateful for the clarity which this scary situation gifted to me.

(More thorough heart examinations have given it a near-perfect bill of health: it’s the autonomic nervous system which continues to fire inconsistent, erratic messages to my heart as well as all my other organs, causing havoc.)

CategoriesHealthThought of The Day

Tears For Fears

Men like me don’t cry: we aren’t supposed to cry. But we do. I do. I have, and I will.

Four times in the last week I have been moved to tears.

When my blood tests came back to indicate that I might well have Addison’s Disease, then I cried. Not so much about the impending doom which Addison’s may bring, but more for the reduced life expectancy. (Forthcoming blood tests will confirm – or not – the Addison’s; either way, my cortisol levels are far too low, with my body attacking itself).

Telling my son that we couldn’t go on holiday as a family unit, I squeezed him so hard, with tears rolling down my face. He didn’t see them, I think. They are now away, having a wonderful time.

Then I received a letter – yes, a letter! – from a friend. Previously she had emailed, receiving my out of office reply. Undeterred, she then copied and pasted the email into a letter, posting it, of course. What a palaver! Her efforts moved me to tears. Unlike the email, I shall keep the letter forever.

The fourth occasion is almost too embarrassing even for me to admit to, but given that I have become overly “sharey”, I shall confess. Watching A Place In The Sun, an adorable new couple from Halifax – soon to retire – found their dream home in Spain. He had just survived lung cancer; she had worked all her life, raising a family, too. It made my day. They were chuffed to bits.

Happily, though most of my plans and hobbies are now on the likely back-burner of perpetuity, I have never been more excited. A new world has opened-up, a creative world. Two novels to finish writing; drawing to learn (not knitting, as someone has suggested!); nature to investigate; blog-writing to perfect; photos to take; lyrics to conjure; Yorkshire to explore. And as this metamorphosis develops, there will be tears to cry, because that’s what we creatives are supposed to do.

CategoriesHealthEssaysThought of The DayBusiness

Surely, we can do better than this, right?

Wired-up to a portable ECG monitor whilst I type, I feel like a hybrid human-cyborg. Doubtless this state-of-the art gizmo is cleverly reading all the electrical signals going to my heart, but the contraption’s poor wearability contrasts sharply against the brilliance of the tech. When my heart plays up – or, when I think that it does – I press the green button on a small, dangling pad. The pad is the end point for all the wires criss-crossing my torso. The pad will attach to a belt in such an ungainly manner, wires hanging everywhere. Even more cackhandedly, the pad might just squeeze into a pocket, with the wires protruding as if I’m wearing some form of suicide vest.

Design-wise, clearly what would be optimal is if the pad could be strapped to the body – somehow – because when, say, one needs the bathroom, down goes the trousers, which in turn yanks the pad downwards, straining the wires stuck to my chest. What a palaver! Should the wires become disconnected from the pad, the ECG test fails, to be repeated next week, probably. Showering or bathing is out of the question, which again is a preventable inconvenience. If the pad attached to my chest, then I could then wash waist-down, but no.

Not in the least do I feel put out by this minor imposition, which will only last 36 hours or so, but what has fired me up is that the solution to the dangling pad is so very simple. Over the years hundreds of thousands of people will have gone through this process, but nobody has yet thought to improve its user experience. Why is this? Is it because the user – i.e. me, the patient – doesn’t purchase these things, rather it is the medical practice which does?

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Famously, from its seemingly impregnable position as the leading player in video rental back in the 1990s, through foolishness, Blockbuster didn’t become Netflix. When Blockbuster’s CEO recommended to the board that they moved into streaming services, the Board poo-pooed the idea, stating that they made too much money from late returns – returns which wouldn’t happen with a streaming service. Goodbye Blockbuster Video!

Similarly, due to inertia throughout all car manufacturers, a start-up electric car company, founded by someone who knew nothing about cars or manufacturing products, became the most valuable company in the world: Tesla. The other car manufacturers continue to play catch-up. Thank goodness for Elon Musk.

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Speaking to a senior paramedic recently, I asked him – just how invaluable did he and his colleagues find the health apps stored on smart phones, available to emergency workers? He had no idea what I was on about, so I showed him what I meant. (If you don’t know, your smartphone should allow you to record some basic health information about yourself, ideal if you’re unconscious and someone needs to know why that might be.)

Of all the thousands of paramedics, most will have smartphones. Of these, many will be aware of the healthcare app functionality and, I imagine, a fair percentage of these will have updated their own information. Despite this, it has not become standard operating procedure for paramedics (and police, we think) to access such information. Why has this happened? It seems so obvious to an outsider. Does the culture of ambulance services stymie positive change?

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Since Facebook became omnipresent, most users realise that they are the product; that data is a new currency. The more in-depth a platform knows its users, the better it can allow third parties to sell to their users. Mass data is powerful.

Though the internet is readily available in the West, I am only aware of Stuff That Works as a means of collating vast amounts of data on health conditions and using AI to link various conditions, for the benefit of all humans. This is a new entity, set-up by a lady whose daughter had a chronic health condition. Spending hours scouring the internet for tips, with a background in tech – having helped found the awesome app, Waze – she created this tool which I predict will revolutionise medicine. Watch this space.

But why did the NHS, or a similar organisation somewhere in the world, not create this? Why has an outsider – a non-medic, like with what Elon Musk did with electric cars – create this game-changing health tech, rather than an insider?

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Three interconnecting theories spring to mind.

First, as Tony Blair talked about in his famous 1999 speech to the Labour Party Conference – The Forces of conservatism speech – he outlined that in all elements of society, including within the Labour Party itself, forces of conservativism hold back progress. Many people don’t like change, goes the argument, blocking improvements in all sorts of organisations – be they public sector, private or third sector. Conservatism, with a small “c”, delays human development.

Blair said:

“And it is us, the new radicals, the Labour Party modernised, that must undertake this historic mission. To liberate Britain from the old class divisions, old structures, old prejudices, old ways of working and of doing things, that will not do in this world of change.

To be the progressive force that defeats the forces of conservatism.

For the 21st century will not be about the battle between capitalism and socialism but between the forces of progress and the forces of conservatism.

They are what hold our nation back. Not just in the Conservative Party but within us, within our nation.” My underlining.

Blair was right.

Second, as David Epstein argues in Range, often the most successful people in a given field, hadn’t specialised in that field early on in their careers. Citing numerous, compelling examples, Epstein posits that the generalist is more likely to make a breakthrough in a field than someone who has been working in that field for far longer. He says that generalists deploy orthogonal thinking to solve problems, drawing on their wider knowledge of often unrelated areas.

Third, in the case of the ECG machine’s dangling pad, capitalism isn’t at work here in the traditional sense, as the user isn’t directly parting with their money. Had Amazon reviews been an option, the minor adjustments needed for the ECG would have been made long ago.

Well, that’s my take on matters.