Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Put that fag out....

Labour MPs are at last to be allowed a free vote on whether smoking should be banned in public places. About time. What the hell is wrong with this country? Just when every bleeding heart is bleating about the government running a nanny state when they don’t need to, they completely lose the plot when they really DO need to be decisive and forthright.

Frankly I don’t see why there should be a vote at all. Ban the filthy habit from everywhere except your garden or officially designated public smoking areas. Maybe this would reduce the hundreds of costly housefires caused every year as well as all the smoking related deaths and illnesses. The government’s existing proposals are that smoking should be banned in all premises serving food, including pubs and clubs. What an insult! Part of the rationale behind a ban was to protect those who work in smoking areas. So if you’re a barman in a non food pub then your health is of no concern to the lawmakers. That’s nice. Now try and get an appointment with your GP to discuss your breathing problem.

Why the hostility? Well, I have to declare a vested interest. I used to smoke, gave up for a year and then started again when I met Sharon. I gave up again and finally on 11th June 2003 and haven’t had so much as a puff since. She smoked like the proverbial chimney when we met and had done for 30 years. In February 2003 she was admitted to hospital with agonising abdominal pains. She’d been getting more and more ill since a mystery “attack” the previous November. She could hardly walk after that and she also went on to suffer blue feet and terrible sickness and diarrhoea. It transpired that the mystery attack was a blood clot in her superior mesenteric artery. This supplies a large portion of the bowel with blood and the pains, sickness and circulatory problems were all tied in.

Her legs were gradually being starved of blood as it was being channelled to her vital organs. The abdominal pains were the result of her bowel losing function. It was dying and becoming necrotic. That’s rotting to you and me. She was projectile vomiting buckets of bile coloured fluid, just like Linda Blair in “The Exorcist” and she was in such pain that nothing except death could relieve her. She’s had three children and none of them gave pain like this. When they operated on her they were surprised at what they saw, not least because they weren’t expecting it. The fact that she was still alive probably misled them into thinking it was something entirely different and they weren’t really prepared for what they found. Anyway, they excised the bowel, lashed up a stoma and we crossed our fingers.

A few weeks later, unable to get to grips with the stoma bag constantly falling off her abdomen and frustrated by the medical staff’s lack of expertise, the surgeons sewed her remaining bits of bowel back together (there’s about 90cm in total) and sent her off to Salford’s Hope Hospital for recuperation. She can now eat and drink with the rest of us but can’t absorb any nutrition. This she gets from being connected to a large bag of evil smelling liquid that’s pumped into her sub-clavian vein through a central line in her chest. A procedure that takes around 15 hours a day. The hook-up and disconnecting procedure has to be done under sterile conditions and we have to have a separate fridge to keep all her feed in.

She suffers from occasional uncontrolled bouts of vomiting that kind of take the edge off of going out for a meal. So far she’s only managed to throw up once in a restaurant (luckily nobody saw her and the waiter was a diamond). And the lady discreetly heaving into the bin in Tesco’s car park isn’t necessarily the neighbourhood lush because intriguingly, she can drink absolutely anybody under the table and walk out of the pub and drive home. Not being able to absorb alcohol is a double edged sword though, as she yearns to sink a couple of vodka and oranges and actually feel the effect.

It costs the local health authority upwards of £125 a day just to keep her fed (I laugh at those clowns who say they’re paying for their future health care with taxes on cigarettes. Only if you die quickly and young you are) and we’re now stuck here in Crewe because no other health authority will take us on. I had to give up work to be what amounts to a nurse because she’s not strong enough to do all the lifting, fetching and carrying involved in managing her regime.

Now obviously this isn’t a scenario that applies to everyone and you would think totally unrepresentative. Our conception of smoking related diseases is that you smoke, work, pay taxes and die young. You’re not a burden on the state too long past retiring so, thanks and all that. That’s why governments don’t discourage smoking enough – you’re good for the health of the nation. You’re expendable once we’ve had our money so hurry up and die quickly. I think I’d rather I lived in a country that genuinely showed it cared about its people and was able to reap the benefits of a healthy workforce.

It's not always the case that people learn fro their mistakes though, you know so you can't always poke blame at tobacco manufacturers and government. In the specialist ward that Sharon occupied at Salford while she learned how to look after herself were around 20 others who had similar experiences. You’d be amazed at the number of people who still smoked despite the agony they’d been through. By the way, she was lucky. We just happen to live near a world centre of expertise in bowel failure at Hope Hospital, one of only two in the country. Anywhere else and she’d probably have died of an infection caught at our local hospital by now. Maybe that’s the idea.

If I had any say in this democracy of ous then I’d be banging on my MP's door urging her to vote sensibly for a complete ban. I really would not wish what Sharon went through onto my worst enemy.

0 Vegetable peelings:

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