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On becoming human


Some of life’s pleasures

Being able to go outside.

Not having a spare second in which to look at a book, never mind hours in which to contemplate the futility of existence.


Normal looking wee.

Being able to walk around without being chaperoned by a saline drip.

Not having cannulas stuck in my arm as though I’m being cyber-converted.

Not having to wear a name tag and barcode.

Being hungry! Oh God, being hungry again!

Not having to read every page of every magazine I can find and do a book of extra-hard sudokus because there is literally nothing else to do.

Not having to ask a nurse to help put my stockings on.

Not having them be the “compression” type…

My belly not looking like the planet Venus.

Typing, rather than scribbling in a notebook.


And best of all, being at home with my family.

Moves like Jagger

So anyway, I got jaundice, and went into hospital, and just a week later I’m out again, or most of me is – my gall bladder remains behind as a gift to science. The surgeon who extracted it described it as “nasty” and said “the stones were mobile”. I’ve been the proud recipient of a laparoscopic cholecystectomy and an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography and despite the fact that I came round before the latter was quite finished (they only give you a light anaesthetic – “most people don’t remember much afterwards,” the charming doctor assured me, unfortunately I wasn’t one of them) — despite all that, the worst thing was the MRI scan. I say this partly because I’d just finished reading “Before I Go to Sleep” by S J Watson (did I mention that I had time on my hands?) which includes a scene in which the heroine has a scan that Mr Watson manages to make sound quite horrific, and partly because I’m more claustrophobic than I thought I was, and you have to lie for about half an hour inside a machine that makes incredibly loud noises, like being stuck inside a computer game from the 1980s, or some sort of conceptual art thingy.

What I was going to say was that the Public Health Service is incredible. I’ve always known this, of course, and routinely thank my lucky stars (actually I have a lucky Bootes Void, but you know what I mean) that I was born in the Western world in the 20th century. But having been through it (the Public Health Service) I now appreciate this even more, and the magnificent people who work in it.

What was the greatest development of the 20th century? The car? TV? Penicillin? Hauling a few rocks back from the Moon, or blowing up whole cities with a single bomb? I reckon a strong contender has to be the creation of the National Health Service in the UK in 1948. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are all very well, but they don’t get you very far if you haven’t got your health. In fact the first of these, “life,” is just a tad dependent on you being healthy, making it a bit of a surprise the Americans didn’t get there first (and still haven’t been dragged, kicking and screaming, into 1948 even now, as far as I know). Yet health should be a fundamental human right. There are thousands or even millions of needless deaths around the world, many of them children, that could so easily be prevented with a tiny fraction of a percent of the money spent on, say, the “War on Terror”. (And don’t say that would make the population problem worse, because in every country that has decent education, healthcare, rights for women and so on the populations always level off.)


We have the technology

Do we or what? I’ve had miniature cameras and whatnots whizzing around inside me, all that was missing were Raquel Welch and Donald Pleasence (which is odd, I’ve always suspected someone like Raquel was inside me, struggling to get out). It was one week from my contracting jaundice to being home again with a clean bill of health, a prescription for paracetamol and an injunction against heavy lifting. Fifty years ago, I’d have needed major surgery to fix a blocked bile duct, and a century ago, the cure might easily have killed me.

How SF is that?! And that’s just routine! How long before we start having cosmetic neurosurgery, or adapting ourselves to live under the sea?

So here we are, living in the future. How great would it be if we could share that future with the entire world? 1948 saw a genuine giant leap for mankind, one in which we actually tried to be nicer to each other. So it didn’t pan out as well as it might have, perhaps because later governments saw the NHS as the first place to make cuts. I think that tells you all you need to know about our glorious leaders, by the way. They’re all right, Jack, is all there is to it. I wouldn’t vote for anyone I thought might cut funding to health services or otherwise disrupt them. Health should be a universal human right, not just for those lucky enough to be born into a particular family or country or with the right connections or enough money.

My treatment was thanks to the New Zealand Ministry of Health, and I haven’t paid a bean for it except through my taxes.

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